Michael Buscemi [Interview]

This brilliant photo was taken by Oren R. Cohen. http://www.orenrcohen.com

 

Today is a very special interview here at Trainwreck’d Society, you damn lucky readers, you! Today we have some words with a brilliant actor, writer, and filmmaker in his own right. His name is Michael Buscemi, and the odds are great that much like some of our previous guests on the site, have appeared in something you love! He was a re-occuring figure in the hugely popular and critically acclaimed series Nurse Jackie, and poignant and hilarious cast member in the AOL Original Series entitled Park Bench with Steve Buscemi.

He also happened to appear in one of my favorite films of all time, 1996’s Tree’s Lounge. Which if you are not aware of this film and just how damn amazing it is, I want to read this, enjoy it, and then get your life together and see this brilliant piece of art. It is seriously that wonderful, and features one of the most superb groupings of actors to ever assemble for a film. Michael has also been seen in films like Tom Siercho’s The Girl Who Invented Kissing that was released this year, and has a couple of brilliant short films under his belt which he wrote, directed, and appeared in, which we will be talking about in great detail.

Michael Buscemi is simply one of those damn fine actors who, when you even get the notion that he will be involved with a project, you know it is going to be great, and his presence alone will add to the story greatly. So as I usually should, but often don’t, I am going to stop rambling here and introduce our newest member of the TWS family, Mr. Michael Buscemi!

What was it that drove you personally to become involved in the world of acting? And what keeps you wanting to work in such a business?

Happy accident. A high school friend and I were brought to a place where  performers gathered every Sunday night. It was like walking in to a wild west saloon. I was amazed and thrilled. I cannot describe the scene as I would not bring justice to it.

Poets, musicians….., ranter and ravers.

All these wonderful and talented people under one roof. All this happening unbeknownst to me a half block and a quick turn of a corner from my lower east side apartment, ABC-NO-RIO.

The following Sunday my friend and I signed up to perform. It was  two minute vignette minus any dialogue. It went over pretty well and that gave us confidence to perform the following week.(with dialogue) Those Sunday’s lasted for eight years and many shows.

We and everyone else would put together show’s at different venues around the east village pre-gentrification which are now bar’s, restaurants, etc, etc.

I never thought about it as a career, nor did I consider myself a writer. One of us would come up with an idea and crack each other up and then just write it down. It was a thrill to have an opportunity to perform as well. When our community of performers were pushed out by high rents I moved out to Brooklyn. I remember lying in bed one night after leaving Manhattan and going, “What the hell do I do now”?

I never thought of making money performing our vignette’s, in fact if anything we lost money putting a show together but that didn’t matter.

Anyway about 6 months later someone got me a commercial agent and I began acting in commercials. It’s my love of acting which keeps me wanting to continue. As of the business,well that’s an entity all to itself.

 

Beyond being an accomplished actor in your own right, you have also done some work behind the camera, with short films like B61 and Dos C. The latter which I believe I caught a part of on a lovely tribute video to you made by YouTube user “Jazzalisa”. So my question is, what compelled you to expand your horizons and work behind the camera as well? And what are some less than obvious benefits of performing in your own written work?

Well I don’t know who this “Jazzalisa” is but I find that very sweet of them and a bit embarrassed (in a good way).

When someone ask’s you to write a short that they’ll finance, well the answer is a quick “Yes”. I did not have one written at the time so I pulled out bus scene’s from a feature I was working on. The bus scenes in the short where two men were sitting & waiting which took place over a three month period in the feature. I pulled them all out and re-edited them to take place over a six day period for the short.

I was curious to test the writing and if it went over well it would give me the confidence to continue writing the full length script.

It was the same for my first short Dos C, a good way (but scary) to test out material. I love collaborating, especially with friends and directing gave me the the opportunity to make my own choice’s whom I liked to work with. Also I love to be active. Setting up shots between scenes can cause much downtime for an actor. That’s when I loose energy waiting almost to the point of nodding out. Directing kept me on my feet constantly moving in the present moment through out the shoot.

You had a great run on the brilliant Showtime series Nurse Jackie. Can you tell us a bit about what it was like to work on such a well written show and being a part of such an amazing cast? What was set life like on this incredible program?

The cast brilliant, both in talent and people! I am thrilled to be a part of the show. Set life was amazing from the directors to the P.A.’s.

An opportunity to work with some actors I knew from before and some I never worked with which both had it’s own high’s. I loved the on going scenes with Meredith Weaver.


When pressed to divulge my Top 5 favorite films of all time, inevitably Tree’s Lounge will always appear on the list, in a varied order. It is a film that has reached a new level of cult status, in my experience with film goers that is. So, it would behoove me to ask even the simplest question about the film. What are your thoughts on the final product that has become a classic film?

So proud of my brother that he had his vision come to the screen and of his directing work. The film has so many great actor’s and I felt ecstatic to be around (and nervous).

I’m happy when people come up to me these many years later and say how much they related to the film, it reminds me each time of my brother’s vision of the film he wanted to make and that time we had while filming.

My father still has the original Trees Lounge sign stored behind the garage which my mother has been trying to get him to get rid of ever since.

If anyone wants to make my mother happy…..

I truly love the AOL Original Series Park Bench with Steve Buscemi that you have worked on with your brother. It is such a beautifully simple concept that is absolutely endearing and enjoyable. For my readers who may not be so well informed, could you tell us a bit about how this concept came to be? What made you guys want to get this thing going?

I was not aware that AOL still existed let own had there own shows when my brother first told me about it, but they were very generous, supportive, and wonderful people to work with.

I don’t know if many people were aware of the show.

My brother directed these commercials for American Express which I believe sponsored  an upcoming Vampire Weekend’s concert. So the commercials were a story line which led up to the final night of there performance. It was that format which gave my brother the idea for Park Bench.

I was not even the cast, ha! There was a different story line to the show and when the person needed to drop out the story line changed and that organically developed as to when I came in.

It’s alway’s exciting and educating to work with my brother.

And the guest he had on the show were mind blowing to me. Again as in Nurse Jackie, some I knew and worked with and some I had not. It was a nicely packaged gift.

 

Are there any plans for a return of Park Bench? Please? Maybe even a Michael and Gino spinoff?

You mean “Bench Talk”? Well don’t know about that. However if it does I could never bring myself to steal Geo as he is very loyal (but I’ll still try).

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug with our readers?

Good question,wish I had the answer. I do know what my desires are though. Right now to keep keep active between acting job’s I decided to just get out there and begin shooting. Fun and simple. Vignette type piece’s  anywhere from two to five minutes. Hopefully I can post them somewhere. Don’t know much about the whole web thing.

The difficult part is pinning down different friend’s schedule who I want to work with and also has a camera. I don’t know own one (I’m not good with tech).

So……If any one out there has a camera, uh hum…

What was the last thing that made you smile?

My double espresso this morning.

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New Music Tuesday: Lotte Kestner – Off White [Album]

Note: Welcome to our first edition of our upcoming irregular segment, “New Music Tuesday”. I know that music is now released on Fridays, and frankly I don’t care for it. We don’t have anything for Tuesdays now! So therefore, welcome to “New Music Tuesday”.

As many avid readers of Trainwreck’d Society can attest, I have been listening to and enjoying the work of Anna-Lynne Williams in different capacities for a very long time. She is a damned treasure for us here at TWS. She is one of those rare beings who has a beautiful soul, and is also conveniently talented as all hell and so very easy to appreciate as a delightful songwriter and the owner of one of the greatest voices of our generation. And with her latest full length Lotte Kestner album, Off White, she proves once again that she has definitely not lost her touch. In fact, the one thing that shines through the brightest in her work is her experience. After all the time and heartache that she has put into her craft, there is so much to love about her latest album, and absolutely nothing to despise. Yes, with each and every Lotte Kestner we have been blessed with, we are only just receiving more and more genius. And we should all be eternally grateful for the opportunity to hear it happen right in front of us.

Now with that, I believe it is important to note that with Off White, it really feels as though an entire new world is opening up. It feels like, as far as songwriting goes, we are seeing a whole side of Lotte Kestner. And let me tell you folks, it is far from disappointing. While I can always go back and listen to basically every track off the other Lotte Kestner albums and feel perfectly content, I have to say that I am truly in awe of the new direction that Anna-Lynne has taken us with Off White. What makes it so cool and different, is actually just how hard it is to truly pin down what has changed. We still get to hear that same beautiful voice over a consistently delicate undertone, but there is something new. When I hear a track like “Ashland”, it is as though I am hearing the result of a new take on love. And when a track like “Go To Sleep Now” pulsates through my brain with it’s infectious drum beat, I know that I am feeling a bit lighter of a heart whilst being reminded of what can result from fear and the forgotten consciousness.

It’s not to say that Off White is better than previous Lotte Kestner work. And it’s not to say that its really that different. It’s just that when you find yourself so highly invested in an artist’s work, you can sense the subtle shift in attitude and performance. And more importantly, you can appreciate it.

I seriously can not express just how much I truly love this album. Seriously folks, I am going record by saying that Off White is nothing short of magical, and is hand’s down one of the best of 2017, if not the best. I know we still have a good bit of year left, but the idea that something can top this album frankly seems absurd. So check it out everyone!!

Off White will be available on Saint Marie Records on September 1st. Check out the amazing official video for “Ghosts” right here:

 

Margaret Champagne [Interview]


Today we have a pretty damn great interview for you fine folks. To start with, Margaret Champagne is a damn fine actress in so many different ways it’s almost impossible to list them all out here in any sort of order. She’s absolutely brilliant. But, as it seems to always be, she touches us here at Trainwreck’d Society on two different fronts that specifically made me want to share some words from her.

If there are two genres of film and television that we tend to put the most emphasis on, it would have to be comedy and horror (FYI….we’re coming up on our Month of Horror!) And guess what? Margaret Champagne is a champion in BOTH! Some of you may recognize her from her regular appearances on the modern classic sketch comedy series Inside Amy Schumer. Another section of our fan base may be more inclined to recognize Margaret from her work with Troma Pictures, another staple that comes up more than frequently here at TWS.

So how damn cool is that? I’m not sure we’ve ever had just such a fitting person featured on the site! So how about we just get into it! Ladies and gentlemen, the brilliant Margaret Champagne!

When did you realize you wanted to join the world of acting? And what triggered the jump to move to NYC and work in the world of off-Broadway acting and what would eventually become your brilliant career to date?

It goes back pretty far into my childhood. I remember always trying to cut everyone up. I loved performing and singing and dancing in my house for my parents and brothers.  The moment that solidified my life as an actor was when I was in the sixth grade. I auditioned to play Santa Claus and I got cast, beating out all of the guys. I remember standing on stage creating the most insane “HO HO HO” sound I could push out of my belly. It was silly and LOUD and very exaggerated.  It made people laugh and that was joyous. It was my little play time where I got to be loved.

 I have been chasing that high ever since! Growing up in the small town of Sanford, North Carolina, I was lucky to have access to the local repertory company, The Temple Theater. There were some funny moments looking back. I auditioned for the role of Wendy in Peter Pan. The production called for actors to fly on cable wires with local stage hands lifting them. Sadly, I didn’t get the part. Later, hanging around in the wings I overheard the director saying he loved me but my weight would break the fly line. BAM!!! I was shocked because I honestly thought I was just a little chubby. (My introduction to weight standards in show business). A lot of NY actors came through that theater. My favorite was Miss Cleo King (a character actress you have def seen), she was in the summer show “Ain’t Misbehavin” by the amazing Fats Waller. I was just helping with costumes and was in charge of Miss Cleos changes. She was a strong woman, funny and confident. I wanted to be her! She would run off stage and I would help switch her into her new wardrobe, ripping velcro and pins and slapping on top hat and gloves. She was so nice to me. At the end of the run she gave me 30 dollars to thank me and invited me to hang with her and the cast at the hotel pool. She wore an all-white fishnet bodysuit and I was inspired by her badassery!  New York seemed like the place to go to be an actor but wanted to go for personal reasons. As quaint as my small town was, it was also backwards and bigoted, so  I had to get the fuck out of there. When I was 13 my dad came out of the closet and that opened up my mind exponentially. I started thinking for myself and less of what was expected. My fathers first partner got sick during the AIDS Crisis. He died months after the three of us watched “Angels in America” on Broadway. That was a very provocative play at the time and I was so lucky to have seen it with people I loved. I am grateful for that day of theater helping my family feel human when so much of our experience was ridiculed! Eventually,  I got a scholarship to PACE  UNIVERSITY and never left. I met Lisa Hickman, my best friend and creative partner for “Lipstick Garage”
Then right out of college I was  involved in avant garde experimental for a long time. I worked all over the city. Then something changed in me and I wanted a real story. “Shock and Awe” weren’t working anymore. I wanted relatable stories that I could understand. As I matured and began taking my art more seriously I moved on to a professional company, THE COLLECTIVE, where I reside as an ensemble member today. Some of the best work I have done there which is to say the most honest. This is where the clown took off her makeup and I haven’t looked back. Come to the shows!
When did The Brothel come about? And what can you tell some of our possibly uninformed readers about the group? What have you enjoyed the most about being a part of The Brothel?

The Brothel was a great run! Partners Shelly Shenoy, Marissa Miller Wolfson and I formed after meeting one another around the way! I met Shelly in a theater company called Love Creek. She is a big VO actress now. Marisa went on to make the documentary “Vegucated”. We ran a weekly show in the East Village for years demanding new material every week for ourselves. We were wild and uninhibited! Great time there!

You have had several appearances on the truly unique and original sketch comedy show Inside Amy Schumer since its inception. What is it like to work on a program like this? Is it as much fun to work on as it is for the viewer to watch?

This was such an exciting show to work on!

I really respect Amy and her work. She has always been ahead of her time. I met Amy doing stand-up and eventually we worked together in the company The Collective where she is a founding member. She and producer Kevin Kane (also a founding member) booked a lot of the company on the show. I loved the roles. “80’s Ladies” was a dream! The amazing Jessie Klein wrote that and we had a lot of fun. I mean come on, Rachael Feinstein, Nikki Glaser and Amy…what a powerhouse of women!!! Working on that show has been a highlight of my career. Amy Schumer is an amazing comedian and actress and I appreciate her dedication and care to many causes. Dan Powell was the amazing show runner of Inside Amy Schumer and he called me in to work on the Series  “Thanksgiving” where I got to work with my idol, Amy Sederis. That was super-exciting!

You have also worked in the incredibly fascinating world of Troma Pictures, which has made several appearances in interviews here at TWS, as we are HUGE fans of that world. So, how has your experience been entering the house that Lloyd built, especially in the Bikini Car Wash franchise. What do you enjoy about working in the Troma world? 
Troma is by far my most favorite place to work and here’s why, THEY DONT GIVE A FUCK. There’s no pressure to win an Oscar or change the world. They make the stuff they love and you can suck it if you don’t like it. Sure, no one is getting paid lots of dough but it is the most UNPRETENTIOUS time. I was introduced through Blood Bath Pictures with Thomas Seymore and John Gorman. Those guys are the finest to work with. They are smart, creative and they got a lot done on $10. Every film we shot for a week in Connecticut, there was donated beer (Hooker Beer) and a hot tub. Two things I would go to work for! I loved working with Lloyd and Debbie Rochan, the ultimate scream queen!

This is from “Merminators from OuterSpace” 2016 Troma:


Given the incredible variance in the work that you have put out, from sketch comedy  to horror to dramatic theatre and film, what would you say is your favorite genre to work in?
I love them all. My favorite recent role was in the picture Diane (to be released in September) where I got to play the hard-nosed Detective Phillips. I really enjoyed it because it was so different from the comedy work I do. I would love to be on a series as a detective. I sometimes dream if I wasn’t an actress I would have been one! I am also very busy doing stand-up which can be extremely rewarding when it’s working! It is also so honest, breaking the “fourth” wall is so refreshing and challenging for an actor! I run two shows a month called Coyote Champagne in Williamsburg and on the LES..
When you’re not hitting the stage or screen, what would we find you doing with say, a free Saturday or Sunday afternoon? What do you do for a bit of “me time”?

Well, I just had a baby, a sweet little girl! So Saturday’s I like to put her in the stroller and head out to the park with my man. Then I try to find a quiet outdoor Cafe where I can sit and have a pint! A reminder of the old days! Ha!

What does the future hold for you? What should our readers be looking forward to from you in the near future?
I am busy writing two screenplays. One is a horror movie that takes place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the other is a coming of age story about a young girl from the South. (wonder who?) I am producing the 5th annual 10 minute play festival for the Collective and hope to record my comedy album this September. I have a lot of new material being a mom now!
What was the last thing that made you smile?
Watching my partner Neil sing “Figero Figero Figero” to our daughter Bridie…

Sunday Matinee: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 [Film]

“Picking up several years after the events of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) is on the trail of Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and the rest of the Sawyer family for killing his niece and nephew years earlier. He has tracked them to a small town in Texas, where they have come across the path of a local DJ, known as Stretch (Caroline Williams). She accidentally records them killing two college boys that called into her station and turns the tape over to Lefty. He encourages her to play it in on the air, but this attracts the attention of Leatherface and his brother Chop Top (Bill Moseley), who come to pay their respects. Stretch convinces Leatherface to spare her life, but they kidnap her coworker (Lou Perryman) after badly beating him. She follows them to their home, an abandoned carnival above ground and a cavernous, maze-like horror-show below ground. Lefty shows up with a few chainsaws to save Stretch’s skin and get revenge.” – Diabolique Magazine

 

So, I was planning to skip over this week’s Sunday Matinee, due to time restraints and other commitments, as well as the fact that I have not watched anything new in the last couple of weeks and wasn’t sure what to write about. And then I heard some of the saddest news of 2017. It has been a truly shitty year for the world of horror, all on the cusp of our forthcoming Month of Horror here at Trainwreck’d Society. In less than a 12 month period, we lost two of the biggest pioneers of the industry. Earlier this year, George A. Romero, the man who originally gave us the fear of the undead returning passed away. And most recently, amongst the chaos and excitement of some sort of multi-million dollar punching match, we lost the man who brought us the most terrifying film of all time to be centered around cannibalism and inhumane torture in the heart of “middle of nowhere land”. Yes, the great Tobe Hooper has left us today and our hearts are being ripped apart by metaphorical chainsaws.

While Hooper’s film Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a seminal classic in the world of horror and film in general, I have always held a soft spot for the film’s sequel that was released a baker’s dozen years later, simply entitled Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I have always been a huge fan of the more camp like atmosphere in the world of horror. Especially when it is done correctly. And never before, and since, has the melding of camp and suspense been done so eloquently and beautifully as it was in this amazing sequel. There is just so much to love about this story.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 features some of the greatest performances the world of horror has ever known. Legendary scream queen and dramatic actress Caroline Williams is an amazing strong female lead with a gut-wrenching scream, and the return of Jim Siedow from the original film is a brilliant touch for all the die hard fans out there. But, the most impressive combination of terrifying characters is easily the appearance of one of the most frightening characters in so many different forms of horror, the great Bill Mosely, and the strange chance to actually root for legendary and dearly departed Dennis Hopper.

I simply cannot say enough great things about this damn movie. Of course, it is never going got be critically accepted as a classic compared to the series’s origin film, but die hard fans of horror know that this film is a classic, and I believe that is what Mr. Hooper would have really wanted. Rarely does a horror film hold all of the delightful elements that are possible. There is shock, terror, gore, comedy, and outlandishness, all boxed together perfectly in a truly entertaining hour and half. And in my opinion, this is what makes Texas Chainsaw Massacre not only a brilliant horror film, but a cinematic masterpiece in general. It is also another brilliant testament to the genius of the great Tobe Hooper that will be severely missed.

And with that I just want to say goodnight to father of Leatherface, the bringer of the Poltergeist, and one of the greatest writers and filmmakers of this generation and any one before.

R.I.P. Tobe Hooper

Terry Hart [Interview]


Hot damn do we have another great interview for you fine folks today! Continuing our new found love for speaking with some of the finest writers & performers in the world of comedy, I would say we stepped it up a bit even more, if that is somehow possible. Today’s interview subject is a man who has earned legendary status in the world of comedic television. Terry Hart is a man who has been creating some of the most classic comedic entertainment for about as long as most of us have been alive.

Die hard fans of comedy will know that there was a time when late night shows ran supreme. And there was no higher than The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It was the top of the food chain. It was clearly known during its tenure that a stand up comedian simply HAD to have a Carson appearance if they wanted to have even the tiniest glimmer of hope to make it in the comedy world. And Terry Hart was a man who was there! Terry has worked in some capacity on some of the most classic television shows the world has ever known. Going back to shows like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley to Bosom Buddies and Perfect Strangers. And how can we forget the brilliant 80’s run of Gimmie A Break! Essentially, when the situational comedy format was the mighty powerhouse of television, Terry Hart was at the forefront of it all. And even to this day we remains a highly respected force to be reckoned with in the world of television.

This one is HUGE folks! The legendary status of Mr. Hart is one that deserves our highest regards and upmost respect. And we would love to give him just that. So with that being said, it is an honor and a privilege to welcome to our digital space, legendary comedy writer and producer Terry Hart!

When did you first realize you wanted to write for a living? Specifically, what made you want to join the world of comedic television?

As a kid I had a particular sense of humor – which in my younger years got me in minor, but frequent trouble. Seemed not all adults were amused by sarcasm from a 9 year old. I always lived in a humorous universe, but the concept of writing comedy as a career wasn’t in my family’s Midwest values DNA. Writing wasn’t a long held goal. Right after college I went to work for a big-time, very stuffy advertising agency in NYC (J. Walter Thompson) as a suit & tie account executive. Turned out I was the most amusing executive in the New York office – a lot like being the best steakhouse in India. But enough for me to start writing jokes for a few standups. That led to the move to LA. At the time, the idea of writing (making stuff up) seemed like more fun than a real job. That turned out to be true.

You are credited as a writer for the legendary Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, that still stands the test of time. In the comedy world, there has been a lot of varied opinions about the modern day versions of late night talk shows. As a master of the writing craft, what are your thoughts on the modern day late night shows?

Television has evolved. But late night shows haven’t really changed since Carson’s Tonight Show, and even earlier. It’s like baseball – 150 years ago they laid out the dimensions of a baseball diamond. That’s it – our work here is done. Today the infield is the same. So’s late night. Monologue. Desk. A little more comedy. Guests plugging something.

There are some smaller differences. Even though Carson wasn’t the only late night guy, he dominated. His monologue was virtually the only comedic political and cultural commentary on TV. Today there are a lot more shows and all competitive. The material is edgier and most of the hosts take a position on politicians and policies. Carson was studiously neutral and his sharp-edged jokes were wrapped in his softer, Middle America persona. And clips of the current late night stars show up on cable news – didn’t happen in Carson’s time.

Unrelated Writer Note: When we wrote Carson’s monologue jokes (then, maybe 6-7 writers – each wrote about 16+ jokes per day) they went directly to Johnny. No head writer involved. And when Carson did your jokes he did the lines exactly as you wrote them – didn’t change a word. That was a rare experience.

 

You had a major role as a producer and writer on one of my favorite sitcoms of all time, the classic Perfect Strangers. With so many credits before and after this one, what would you say made your time with that particular program special? What do you believe just made this show work so well?

The foundation of a good TV comedy series is a good writing staff. Drama might work with one talented writer (the British sometimes demonstrate that, and maybe Aaron Sorkin). Comedies need bright, funny writers around the table – which Perfect Strangers had. But a lot of shows have great writers, and still fail. My belief… second only to good writing is casting. There are great actors who can’t do comedy – especially half hour comedy. Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot were (are) talented actors who could do comedy. As Cousin Larry and Balki they delivered dialogue with perfect attitude and timing. They were also amazing physical comedians. There were episodes where their physical comedy added minutes to the show and we’d end up with “as broadcast” scripts under 30 pages. I suppose this is where I use the cliché “good chemistry.” It was a fun, silly show. Great show and actors to write for…and very few late night rewrites. It was a good time. The writer/actor relationship is the core of successful TV comedy. But everyone on Perfect Strangers, crew, production staff, etc., were terrific and important.

But… Also worked on Bosom Buddies. Bright, funny writers plus Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. Two seasons – cancelled. Go figure.

There have been a lot of changes in the way that television is seen and created these days, with so many different platforms to showcase and create the product. As a man who has been in the business for some time, what are your thoughts on the modern age of television? Are we better off having 1,000 channels to choose from, or are the airwaves becoming diluted?

More choices. Fewer rules. More people being seen, heard and taking chances. All great.

When you look back on your amazing and successful career in the world of television, what would you say you are most proud of?

“Proud” might be a bit strong. But pleased and grateful that I’m part of a relatively small group. I make my living as a writer. Written some good stuff. More in the works. And written some dreadful shit. But never worked as a bartender (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Or a real estate agent (not that there’s a lot wrong with that). Mostly TV. Sold a couple screenplays (in its infinite wisdom Hollywood has, thus far, chosen not to produce either). Write and ghostwrite books, speeches, and special material. But, other than a couple early years on Madison Avenue, never any non-writing work. I have writer friends (I include actors, artists, musicians…), but more friends who are executives, lawyers, entrepreneurs, etc. Why do tens of millions of people choose to be executives, lawyers and entrepreneurs? I’m thinking because they can’t be writers. Not a ton of people get to do what we do for a living. We’re lucky.

 

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Writing-wise, I’m writing. But now projects I want to do, and have an understanding of. (Last sentence sounds pretentious. Sorry.) Recently put my two semi-perfect sons through college (both doing very well, thank you – neither living in my basement). Don’t have the same economic responsibilities I once did – that’s very liberating. Today? Future? Just finished two virgin scripts – half hour comedy and a screenplay. Clearing shelf space for multiple awards. Plus a book in progress that’ll probably appeal only to sarcastic, 9 year old assholes.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

In a previous question you referred to me as “a master of the writing craft.” That made me audibly chuckle.

Steve Bannos [Interview]

Today’s interview subject is one of those guys that you are bound to have caught in some sort of capacity over the years, because he shows up in EVERYTHING! The range of roles that this cat can take on is astounding. His name is Steve Bannos, and I am going to say it now…he is god damned brilliant.

Most recently, fans of the Netflix Original Series Love will definitely recognize him. And if you are a young person, or have one of those young people running around your house, his work on Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide may be how you know his genius. I know that I personally just continued to see him pop up in such modern classic comedies like Superbad, Bridesmaids, Funny People, Ghostbusters, Why Him?, and just about every damn thing that is directly related to, or stems from the Apatow universe, going all the way back to the beloved cult classic series Freaks and Geeks. This man has been there the entire time, and he is been doing some amazing work in this world.

And with that, we are absolutely honored to have Steve Bannos as our featured guest with us today! It has been a real pleasure to digitally get to know Steve. Not only is he an amazing actor and brilliant writer, he is also just a downright sweet and hilarious person in general. Which is always a relief! So ladies and gentlemen, please welcome one of the funniest folks we have ever had the privilege of featuring at TWS, the great Steve Bannos!

When did you first realize that you were destined to join the world of entertainment, specifically the world of comedy? Where you always looking to get a laugh as a kid?

Destined? More like cursed. I never really had a choice, I don’t think. I was a funny kid. Fat and hammy and funny and always out of control. I drove my parents bonkers. Always making noises. And faces. Always. I never stopped. All day. Even when I was alone, I’d make faces in the mirror, thinking there was a camera aimed at me. f I was a kid today, I’m certain I would be on a fruit salad of psychotropic meds. But I wasn’t. I was allowed to wacktastically flourish and eventually find my footing. 

You betcha I was looking to get laughs as a kid, and in grade school, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. I got into heaps of trouble because of my pursuit of yucks. Just constantly in deep shit. I spent agonizing hours in the Principal’s office locked eye-to-eye with a mad man, getting lectured about this and that and blah and blah. He’d drone on endlessly, trying to instill some sort of righteous wisdom, and I’d be miles away, thinking about the Incredible Hulk or boobies or my next Kit Kat bar. I cannot remember a single moralistic syllable that came out of his gob because nothing ever stuck. And, in retrospect, he was a dick. 

However… there might have been an exact moment when I first realized I had comedy super powers. When I was ten or so, I was at my Aunt Frieda’s house in Berwyn, IL, for a Christmas party. There was a piano as the focal point in her living room, and there was always a cousin ready to play or sing something to an invariably attentive room. It was a great scene. I was taking piano lessons, so without introduction, I ambled up to the piano and started playing. I can’t remember the song but it was short, and when I got to the end, without missing a beat, I started the song again. I acted frustrated, and it got a laugh. Then I got to the end again, and I did it again. Bigger frustration. Bigger laugh. I repeated the gag several times, kind of like a Victor Borge routine, if Victor Borge was a fat pimply ten year old. By the fifth or sixth time, I was going berserk and the entire room was rolling on the floor. People even came in from other rooms to see the source of the laughter. I finally ended by falling off the chair. It was glorious. And it was absolutely my first performance high. I had that entire room in the palm of my hand. I owned them. I felt like a rock star. A fat pimply ten year old rock star.

In 1994, you appeared in the controversial made for TV movie Honor Thy Mother and Father: The True Story of the Menendez Murders as Detective Tim Linehan, the man who was known for bringing America’s Most Wanted on board. What sort of research did you get into to accurately portray this fascinating character? Did you meet with Tim himself?

What a great experience that was. I auditioned for Haim Saban (Power Rangers) sitting across from him at his desk. When I was done, he said, “You have a good face for a cop.” And I booked it. I was so blown away, I called everyone to tell them. Then drank a celebratory bottle of shitty wine from the 99 cent store, and wound up blowing chunks into a bucket next to my bed as I spun to sleep. A star is born. That was my very first time in front of the camera, so it was baptism by fire. I didn’t do a stitch of research on my character. All I cared about was knowing my lines and playing it small and honest. John Beck (TV’s Dallas) played my partner. He was such a great guy and took me under his wing like a real mensch. 

That was a surreal day, I had to cross a Teamster picket line to get on the location of the Menendez house because Saban had pissed them off on another job. They brutally cussed me up and down as I walked through them, middle fingers defiantly extended on both hands. I didn’t give a shit. No one was going to keep me from my first TV gig. No one. 

The inner child of the 90’s in me is itching to ask about your work as a writer on the legendary young adult oriented programs like Doug and Recess, which will both forever be legendary shows for kids like me in the 90’s. So, when you were writing for shows like these, what was the ultimate goal when writing for amazing shows like these geared towards younger audiences?

Doug and Recess were my very first professional writing jobs, and there were wildly different show. The Doug jobs came first. Doug was soft and cuddly, and always with a some kind of a moral. Blech. Who cares? One of my episodes, “Doug Gets a Roommate” actually became a kids’s paperback book. I think I own the last three copies left on the planet. 

Recess from Disney’s One Saturday Morning, was about sneaky kids pissing off idiotic teachers. It was a match made in Elementary School. When they just got rolling, I somehow heard about it and obtained the show bible. I came up with five story ideas to pitch, so all I had to do was get in the door. It was pre-9/11, and studios didn’t scrutinize people coming into the lots that closely. Having worked Art Department on a bunch of TV shows and commercials, I was pretty good at getting into lots. A baseball cap, stainless steel clipboard, and a confident wave to Security was all it took. So, I got into the Disney lot, found the right building. Found the right floor. Found the right receptionist, and told her I had an appointment to pitch to the creators, Paul Germain & Joe Ansolabahere. She looked in her book. No appointment for Bannos. I told her I could come back but she insisted I wait. In a couple of minutes Joe came out and led me to his office. It was my first pitch meeting. I pitched all five episodes, and they bought three of them. I really enjoyed writing for that genre; you eliminate all laws of physics, and the sky’s the limit with your creativity.

 

Steve Bannos appearing in Ghostbusters (2016) directed by Paul Feig.

 

You have been a player in the Apatow revolution of the last 20 years for a very long time. From Freaks and Geeks, to a plethora of of the related Will Ferrell/John Hamburg/Paul Feig films, all the way up to your reoccurring role in the Netflix series Love. So, as a guy who is well versed in this universe, what would you say is most appealing to this style of comedy? What makes you want to keep coming back?

Luckily, I keep getting invited back. Paul Feig told me decades ago, “All it takes is one person to ‘get you’ and your career can take off.” Little did he know, he’d be that one person for me. He, and Judd, and Hamburg are all wildly loyal guys, and they “get” what I do. I’m very fortunate in that way. So, I guess that’s what keeps me coming back; the offers and the subsequent pay. And, of course, it’s absolutely a labor of love. I love acting. There’s no better high for me than being on a set. It regenerates my psyche. It’s as invigorating as Tapatio® enema (I’ve heard).

I think that their comedy, for the most part, has heart. It’s the real deal. The characters are real. The friendships are real. And their lead characters are vulnerable and flawed. (i.e. Love, Superbad, Forty Year Old Virgin, Pineapple Express) The appeal of the comedy of Freaks and Geeks was its gut-wrenching realism. Comedy that cuts deep into your own life experiences can be pretty visceral. It’s sort of a “better them than me” comedy. 

After all of your years working in the business, whether it be acting or writing, what would consider to be the biggest change to the entertainment industry with the technological advancements that have occurred since you first got into the business? What are some of the ups, and what are the downs the advancements?

That’s easy. Promotion has become ridiculously easy. Back when I started in 1982, actors got black & white 8×10 photos, and that was it. What you did with them was up to you. It was close to impossible to market yourself when you first get started. Now, all the photos are online, in color thumbnails, and your agents can chose any of a dozen they pick to submit you for a part. Also demo tapes have gotten worlds easier to make. In 1982 no one had video cameras, and if they did, once you shot the footage, it was horrible, and you’d have to haul around giant tapes to drop off. The day the VHS tape died, I filled my dumpster with mountains of them that cost me 100s of dollars to make. Good riddance. Of course, now everyone has cameras, and it’s easy to make your own demo tapes and self-tape auditions that you email to casting directors. 

Also being on set, shooting digital is so much more chill than shooting film. It makes for less stressful producers, directors, and camera crews; and when they’re happy, everyone is happy. I see no “downs” in any of the technological advancements. Except for the inevitable: getting replaced by a computer generated chimp. 

Through a bit of research on this thing we know and adore called the Internet, I have discovered the name Steve Bannos to be synonymous with something called “Gargantua”. It’s a fascinating thing really, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind telling our fine readers what about how “Gargantua” came to life?

Oh, you son of a gun. You found Gargantua, the 500 Pound Gorilla of Snapshots! Twenty years ago, in the dawning of eBay, I started buying old snapshots online, as well as at the flea markets that I frequented every weekend. Shortly after, I decided to sell them too. I picked the eBay name Gargantua (yes, it was so early in eBay that the name was available) and decided I’d brand myself as largest seller of snapshots with the persona of a giant goofy gorilla. I kept my alter ego a secret for many years, as I wanted to be viewed as an actor and writer, and not the hirsute huckster of photos, but those days of anonymity are over. I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished with my snapshot business and collection. I have a loyal international following and my found snapshots have been used in films, album art, and in museums all over the world. 

For those unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, it’s what the art world has dubbed, “Vernacular Photography.” It’s basically “found photos” that are other people’s old snapshots saved from obscurity and for whatever reason are elevated to art. Why in the world would anyone want other people’s photos, you ask? My stock answer is, if you look through a box of one thousand photos, if you’re lucky, one of those photos will take your breath away. Maybe a lover’s glance, a strange mysterious moment, a frozen kinetic abstract object, or a woman or man whose beauty transcends time. Some people call it, accidental magic. I’d love to share a couple of gems from my massive horde. Gargantua still sells his simiansational photos on eBay!

What does the future hold for you? 

Many, many more healthy years, I hope. I’m very fortunate to be a character actor. I was told ages ago by my mentor, William SE Coleman at Drake University, that I would find success as an actor later in life, and he was right. That is a rare opportunity. I mean, in what other field can a fat, bald, curmudgeon become more marketable the older and crustier he gets? I try to embrace that sentiment as each year zips by. 

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I just finished a phone conversation with two life-long friends, where I explained the most efficient ways for a Greek shepherd to make love to a lamb (which I will spare you details). We were laughing so hard that I my bonked my head on the kitchen counter, and now have a noggin knot. Does that count as a smile?

Check out this amazing collection of photos that Steve has been nice enough to share with us as examples of the beauty that he has described in this interview known as “Vernacular Photography”, I think you will definitely understand why it is such an amazing thing:

Rick Friedberg [Interview]

As a kid growing up in the 90’s, the parody film genre was one that reigned supreme. It was a time and place where the action and/or spy movie was reigning supreme at the box office. They were films that we knew weren’t particularly “good”, but we always went. And with some sort of natural gravitational pull, the parody film was born. And nobody reigned more supreme in this category than legendary comedic actor Leslie Neilson. The Naked Gun series will hands down be one of the greatest spoof series the world will ever know. There is little debate on this subject, but I welcome all of it!

But there is a stand alone Neilson project that has always held a special place in my heart, possibly just doe to timing and memories. It was called Spy Hard. It was something a bit different from Naked Gun series, but comparable on all the right notes. It remains at the top of my list when it comes to spoof films, right up there with the very first Scary Movie film, which ironically has some relatable figures involved. And today’s interviewee is one of the people who is directly responsible for the legitimacy of the amazing parody genre. Rick Friedberg spent a lot of time working with Leslie Neilson, and is the man who brought Spy Hard to the screen, based around a script written by a young Jason Friedberg. No, the common namesake is not a coincidence, Jason is Rick’s son! And together, and with some other amazing folks, they created one of the funniest films the sub-genre has ever known. The brilliant Spy Hard!

But, Rick’s career is not entirely defined by his work with the great Leslie Neilson, even though I have probably mentioned his name more times already that I have Rick’s. Which is just bad writing, and I apologize! Honestly though, Mr. Friedberg is a brilliant writer and director who has put out and been involved with so many brilliant projects during his tenure, not to mention produced the young Jason Friedberg, who would be one of the original creators of the Scary Movie franchise (see how it all came back around there?).

So let me stop the rambling and just dig into these brilliant words from the great Rick Friedberg, who we are honored to have featured on our digital pages today. So ladies and gentlemen, ENJOY!


When did you realize you wanted to be a filmmaker? What were some of your earliest inspirations in the world of film and comedy?

Although not a film student (I majored in Psychology at USC,) I was fortunate to attend a class in cinema appreciation, led by former film critic Arthur Knight,  wherein we’d see a noteworthy  film and have a Q&A with the director and/or writer.  The two I still revere most were Jules and Jim and, one of my all time favorites, Dr. Strangelove.  I had been an amateur writer, an avid reader from the age of six and I most loved satire (John Barth, J.P Donleavy, Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiassen, etc).  This movie (until the Coen Bros became my fav’s) was dead solid in my wheelhouse and I secretly had the dream to write, and possibly, make movies, especially satires.  Later, the Ealing comedies, A Fish Called Wanda and the Monty Python masterpieces were all embedded in my brain pan.

When was the first time you can remember seeing your name appear on some sort of screen in credit form? Do you remember what you were doing when you first saw it?

I made a sketch comedy movie about Televangelists almost no one saw, called KGOD aka PRAY TV which was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had, especially working with co-writer, Dick Chudnow (co-originator of the Kentucky Fried Theatre with Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Bros.)

 More than anything, I laughed again and again at the performances of the terrific cast that added so much to the already hilarious dialogue.

It was at the USA film festival in Dallas (a critic’s choice only festival – Pray TV chosen by L.A. Times film critic Charles Champlin,) that I first really registered my name on screen (though I’d seen it before) sitting with a packed audience that laughed throughout.

Your 1983 film Off The Wall was a VHS staple during my childhood, and it happens to be one of your first large projects and an 80’s comedy classic in the vein of Bachelor Party and Porky’s. After all of these years, what are your thoughts on this cult classic comedy? What do you believe has given this film so much staying power in the world of comedy?

It was a rushed endeavor to beat the Writer’s and Director’s strikes and not nearly ready to shoot.  The cast (except for Paul Sorvino) was not of the improvisational comedic talent I was used to and, again, the casting process was rushed.  I’m proud of a few scenes but it was not my best work by a long shot.  Nevertheless, my co-writer, Dick Chudnow and I tried our best to make it up as we went along.

Your 1996 film Spy Hard, an amazing Leslie Neilson vehicle and continuation of your work with the legendary actor, is still to this day a go to film when I am in need of a solid laugh. So thanks for that! After a couple of decades, what are your thoughts on the final product that is Spy Hard? What do you believe warrants the film legendary status in the world of parody films?

There are so many terrific, cinematic shots and scenes that were deleted by Disney because they thought them too high brow for their kiddie audiences.  Although the experience of  shooting it was an incredible thrill, Disney so eviscerated it, I can’t even watch it.
Again, despite this pain, I’m still proud of some of the scenes that have never before been shot, especially without the aid of CGI which we couldn’t afford anyway.

 Again, despite this pain, I’m still proud of some of the scenes that have never before been shot, especially without the aid of CGI which we couldn’t afford anyway.

Above all, I was able to cast the most incredible actors and loved everything they brought to the party.

Spy Hard also marked your first collaboration with your son Jason, who has continued to become a modern mastermind in the world of spoof comedies. How did this collaboration come to be? And what was it like to take your son’s work to the big screen? That had to be a pretty proud moment, right?

After working with Leslie for several years, directing his Dollar Rentacar commercials (some shown on the Superbowl) and spoof golf videos (Bad Golf Made Easier) Leslie recommended me to direct Naked Gun 3.  I told this to my son, who was in college at UC Santa Barbara and he, along with a partner, Aaron Seltzer, had sold T shirts they designed to kids in the dorms and both had a love for movies.  They then wrote the first draft of Spy Hard on spec, thinking this is what I should present to Leslie for Naked Gun 3.  I didn’t get the gig but showed Leslie the screenplay which he agreed to  do.  Yes, this made me proud.  But what made me even more proud was when Jason and Aaron wrote Scary Movie without any help from me.

So what is next for you? Anything coming up that you would like to tell our readers about?

I developed a screenplay with a young Canadian, Mark Friedman, called Go Get Carlos, which is a heist comedy in the vein of Snatch.(I’m a great fan of Guy Ritchie.)  It’s a terrific screenplay and I need financing.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Last night, watching Better Call Saul.

Wanna hear more from the great Rick Friedberg? Of course you do, you can do just that by check out his book, Hollywood War Stories: How to Survive in the Trenches!