It’s not often that I am offered a chance to attend what I might classify as a “perfect” event. One of those rare moments occurred a few weeks back when I was privileged enough to drop in on a screening of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension presented by one of my personal heroes, Greg Proops. The show also included a live taping of his podcast, “The Smartest Man In the World,” and a Q and A session after the movie. That podcast is available right HERE for those who want to hear it. I ask a question from the audience, its wonderful.
If you don’t know Greg Proops or Buckaroo Banzai… well, these are problems you’d best correct if you want to live a life of happiness. After the showing, I was able to briefly interview Proops, discussing his work in comedy, improvisation, podcasting and movie fandom. What follows is one of the interviews I am most privileged to have been a part of. You’ll also find some clips of Buckaroo Banzai, Proop’s podcast, and stand-up. Please enjoy!
CraveOnline: Let's start with how you got into comedy, improvisation or otherwise…
Greg Proops: I started in High School with my buddies. My boyhood friend, Forrest, and I used to write jokes and do them in class in grade school, and then later shows at our junior college, The College Of San Mateo. We got paid once in awhile. It was intriguing.
We moved to SF and went to State. We were roomies and did a comedy Team called Proops and Brakeman.… [We also] joined an Improv group called Faultline… See we were in SF. Forrest moved to LA, and I restarted the group with Brian Lohmann and Reed Rahlmann. It was Reed's group when I joined in 1979. Yes, 1979…. Mike McShane was in the act… [He] later did the UK 'Whose Line.'
And how did you get to the UK and "Whose Line is it Anyway?"
They came to SF and picked up McShane [and] then me. So, after a few years on the show, my friend, Tom Rhodes, and I were out at the Kezar Bar near where the old Niner Stadium was, and he said, "Aren't you on a show in England?" "Yes, I burbled." "Well, manhandle that bad boy." So I took Tom's advice. Tom is now maybe the most accomplished international comic, going [and] playing all over the world. Anyways, I did some dates. I got on a variety show called Viva Cabaret and did some sets. Then, my first Edinburgh in '93. That was a wild one.
Wild? How So?
One night a guy keeled over and had a heart attack. He actually recovered and I comp’d him back in. I had to. He was willing to tempt fate. [Edinburgh] really helped establish me in the UK. I did a bunch more in a row and had a groovy thing going. They really respect comedy, and you cannot bullshit the press or the fans there. They expect something, and I dig it.
Truer words have never been said… (here's a clip of his stand-up that we LOVE)
What about the move back to the USA? How did you get into podcasting?
We did the US "Whose Line is it Anyway?" and I was in LA. So, cut to two years ago, Matt Belknap and Ryan McManem, who run A Special Thing records and do Jimmy Pardo and Doug Benson's podcasts, approached me and asked if I would do one.
I was frightened of no one caring, but they assured me we would build. My wife was all for it, so we dived in. No format, no inkling really of what I was going to do. I found that I have never been more connected socially, aurally, orally, comedically and emotionally to my work. This is bigger than stand up to me. I never thought that could happen. The audience has responded so beautifully that I really want to get out there and hit the ball, baby. (Free episodes of the Podcast are available HERE)
It's great to hear someone embracing a new medium so fully. But on this show, and as a comedian, you are one of the [better] known intellectual performers on the scene. Do you worry you’ll shoot over the heads of your audience?
I don't really. I know I can save it. People should listen up, and comics should never dumb down. Okay, at a road gig I will slut up. But, in general, I tend to bludgeon the crowd with obscure references followed by the impugning of their intelligence….
Lets speak to your style… I’m a huge fan of your whatever it is you do, which somehow blends your gift for words with a very west coast delivery and a complete comfort to play with your subject. How did you become this person on stage? Is this how you define your style? How would you summarize yourself if you had to explain to someone who had never heard you?
‘Nuff Said. So, what makes something funny? What is comedy? When you set out to craft a joke, what are the tools you have to pull together?
Wild question. Totally subjective. For me, surprise, information and realization. I need to be hit with an opinion or a statement, [and] then blown out when it all ties up. That is what makes me laugh. For me, being funny is a combination of free styling and hoping enough craft informs whatever I do.
Who were your comedy heroes while growing up and while pursuing your work? Who impresses you in the world of comedy right now?
Groucho, Keaton, Hope, The Pythons, Bill Cosby, Lily Tomlin, Pryor, Laugh In, [and] George Fucking Carlin is my hero…Warren Thomas was my friend, and he [is] the funniest person I have ever known. Will Durst and Bobby Slayton, I look up to enormously. My contemporaries are awesome Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, David Cross, Laura Kightlinger, Maria Bamford. Now I love Jen Kirkman and Lee Camp.
I find it hard to define your podcast. It is both a conversation and a one-man show? Is it somehow both intimate and public? How do you define it? How did you develop this style? Is anyone else doing it?
I find it is defining me. I started just wanted to communicate. Now it is a crusade. I meet the crowd, which I would've never done with stand up. In stand up, familiarity lessens the magic. In podcasting, it makes me more accessible. The crowd listens intently. They have picked up on catch phrases, characters, [and] points of view. I really do talk about whatever I want, and they still stay. I love this medium for pure communication.
How hard has it been to market this podcast? Is it as easy to book this in a space as your comedy is?
Clubs are still getting used to it. Change comes hard. Most places are convinced once they see how fervent the crowd is.
You have pretty impressive freedom with a self-run and fan supported podcast. If you were offered the TV show equivalent with more oversight, would you move into that medium?
Yes, if it could be smoky and I could use profanity. Late night, I think. Got any leads?
I hope someone does! Now let's talk about Buckaroo Banzai. Why is this movie so amazing?
Because it is a well written piece of satire that works as an action film. Stunning cast of character actors and a consistent, offhand, sci-tone that bubbles along.
Is this movie an important “must watch” for the youth of today?
If they have a sense of humor, yes.
You had a lot of cool little-known factoids about this movie. To you, what is the most compelling?
That they hoped to make a series and the studio ran aground. It is the only franchise that promises a sequel and doesn't deliver.
We'll have more from Greg Proops, as well as a direct review of his podcast, here on CraveOnline.com. Stay tuned cats and kittens… its all right here!