I meet Ben Rodgers at a coffee shop in Los Feliz, the kind of place where everybody knows your name. The first thing Ben does is tell me about a parking ticket he paid right before. “I was going to contest it,” he says, bummed out. But he’s immediately apologetic. “I’m afraid I’ll be horribly boring.”
I asked Ben for an interview after seeing him in Shitty Jobs at the UCB theater in Los Angeles. Shitty Jobs is comprised of a rotating cast that includes names like Donald Glover and Ben Schwartz, but Rodgers stuck out to me as particularly talented in the handful of times I saw the show. The format is simple: the improvisers ask the audience to describe in detail the worst jobs they’ve ever had, and then they do longform improv based on someone’s shitty, shitty job. Every time I’ve seen the show, I’ve been amazed not only by the group’s chemistry (most of the members have known each other for years) but particularly by Rodger’s consistent ability to make bold and surprising choices.
In a class of weirdos, Rodgers manages to make things a little bit weirder. But that’s his M.O.
What would be a dream role for you?
Some charming weirdo.
Unfortunately, well. One thing that’s great about improv is that you get to play whatever kind of character you want. Almost like being in a cartoon or an animated show. It doesn’t matter – there are no limitations. But usually when I audition for something, it’s like the most boring character in a show. Or that’s what I feel, so I try to bring something to it. But it’s often, like, the straight guy, the voice of reason in some show, and that’s not my style.
I love comedy, but the type of comedy I like is like the funny moments in the things that are classified dramas. I think the Sopranos is one of the funniest shows, and I love it, and – like the comedy in Paul Thomas Anderson movies. Like Boogie Nights. But those aren’t considered comedies. Those would be the dream jobs to get. Or something like a Coen Brothers movie. They build such interesting characters to me.
What compelled you to get into comedy?
I guess it’s just what I was into when I was a kid.
Any influences in particular?
Like, the Simpsons. Pretty much the main ones that everyone talks about. Simpsons, SNL. Monty Python. You know, those were playing in my house pretty much non-stop, and at the time I had a good memory. I had sort of an encyclopedic knowledge of all these comedy things. And all the people who I was interested in – I looked at their trajectories, you know where they started. Most of them started doing improv and sketch, so that’s how I kind of stumbled into UCB.
What did UCB look like when you got involved?
It was small. I went to school at Fordham in New York, and I happened to go to a show when I was in school, probably 2001-ish. I had just moved there. I thought it was great and funny and amazing. And then I went and saw another one and it was terrible. This is after I dragged all my friends there and they were like, “this place sucks,” but that’s when I realized that it was just a venue, just a crapshoot. That got me into it. So I stopped being so involved in college and started getting involved with UCB.
At the time it was really hard to take classes because one guy was running everything. This guy [Kevin] Mullaney was running everything. You had to sign up in person or on the phone, and they were almost always sold out. Or by mail – like snail mail. So after I took a class with a bunch of people, we slept in front of UCB once just to get our first pick of classes for some crazy reason. Eric Appel [of Shitty Jobs] did that, he was in classes with me at the time.
So it was just small. And pretty quickly after that it got shut down. I don’t know when it got shut down. I would say around 2003 maybe. The theater closed for some fire code violation or something, so then they had to bounce around to all these different places around New York. Until it found its current spot.
So, why come out to LA?
I think I moved here just because I was out of friends. I’m bad at making friends. All my friends had moved here, and I didn’t feel like making new ones. I was feeling just kind of lost, so I moved. If anything, I always feel like maybe I should have moved here a long time ago. All my friends moved here three, four years ago. But you get caught up in a bunch of weird bullshit wherever you live.
There seems to be a network of inside jokes at Shitty Jobs. I’ve never not laughed hysterically.
I’m glad. I think it’s also that there aren’t that many groups around that are people who are all friends doing a show together. A lot of them are formed by other people, or there’s a certain amount of people getting too busy…they leave, they get replaced, and the energy always changes. Which is inevitable with anything that lasts a while. But I’m friends with everybody in the group, and I would be friends with them even if we weren’t doing an improv show. And I’ve known them all for over 10 years and that makes it more fun. There are some shows where I’m worried that the audience doesn’t know what I’m talking about.
It seems to play. The energy is just so good.
You know, I teach classes at UCB and I always get freaked out when my students go, because it’s technically not the greatest show, and I don’t worry about all the rules. But you do get to a certain point where you don’t have to worry about those shows, and you just want to have fun. And hopefully that will translate to everybody watching. Sometimes it does.
With teaching classes – how did you get involved with that? Was it nerve-wracking?
I think it’s taken me a long time to get good at teaching, and I’m a different speed, I have a different style than a lot of other teachers. I got into it just because I needed a job and I spent so much time doing it and felt like I had a pretty good handle on it. I think at first it was pretty nerve-wracking because so many of my students were older than me. That’s not the case anymore, but I started teaching about 7 years ago and I looked younger at the time than I actually was. So some kid shows up with a notebook and you think he’s gonna be in your class, and then he starts taking attendance. Some people get turned off by that.
I also think I’m very blunt and some people hate that. I don’t think I’m mean, and I try not to be, because I don’t want anybody to think that I hate them or think that I don’t like them. It’s taken me a long time to find the balance between that.
What are some of the best experiences you’ve had in class?
In class, I’ve had a bunch of great moments where…the first couple times you get a really good scene and it seems like magic, and that can keep you going for a long time. What you’re always trying to get after are those tiny little moments. It’s like a drug, like chasing a dragon.
Practice, too. I’m not in any groups that practice anymore, but when you first start out, you practice probably once a week with your group. And I probably had more fun in some of those practices than doing any shows. The people I was in those groups with, we still joke about the weird shit that happened in those practices or whatever weird thing happened.
It’s like band rehearsal.
Kind of. But band rehearsal goes somewhere. Like, “this sounded pretty good, we should turn this into a song.” With improv rehearsal – I guess, if you have a really proactive group and you’re making sketches from things you like, that’s one thing. But a lot of groups don’t do this – I was never in one. A lot of people talk about it, but it’s hard when it’s like 8 people and you’re trying to get some sketch group together. Usually, it’s like you have this really great thing and then it’s gone. And that’s part of the fun with improv.
[At this point, Ben gets caught in the middle of a pretty aggressive ray of sunlight and slides down the booth to shield his eyes.]
I don’t want to, like, put my sunglasses on.
You can just impersonate Julian Casablancas.
There is something – I don’t know what age you have to hit where you can wear sunglasses all the time, but I’m looking forward to it.
60, I think. Like Bono. [Bono was 54 at the time of the interview.]
Yeah, because a lot of – I’m thinking more like Roy Orbison. Jeff Lynne. All those guys who wind up looking exactly the same for 30 years, you look at all the pictures of them and realize they just wore tinted glasses for so long. And have a lot of hair.
Although, I don’t know. Yeah, if you’re too young you’d look like a fuckin’ creep. But I think if you had the right look, it’s just like, “this guy just has weird tinted glasses.”
It’s like fedoras. At a certain age you’re just a douchebag, but over a certain age–
You’re a class act.
ON SHITTY JOBS
So, what is the shittiest job you’ve ever had? I feel like you’ve probably gotten this question…
No, I don’t get interviewed, or asked questions about things.
The shittiest job I had was at a hotel. It was the Grand Hyatt New York, and I kind of bounced around and did a lot of jobs there, but at the front desk, I would work until like 1 in the morning and that’s when they would run out of rooms. You know, these places are all bureaucracies that are run by assholes. Their strategy was, “a certain amount of people will cancel their reservations, so we’re going to overbook the hotel so we can maximize our profit.” So you’re some poor, little old lady who just got off a flight from Ireland or some place, and you get into New York City at midnight and you’re exhausted, you just want to get up to your hotel room. And you come up to me, and I have to be like, “sorry, we don’t have a room for you anymore.” And then you’re heartbroken. And the way they make up for it is they get you another hotel room in New Jersey or something. So you’ve got to get in a cab and drive like 40 fucking minutes to go to New Jersey.
Do they at least pay for the cab?
Yeah, but still. Basically, my job was just to get beat up all day. It was a terrible customer service job, more or less.
Any weird or interesting people stick out to you?
A million. This is what always shocks me about Shitty Jobs – the show – is how much people don’t remember things. Not just that job – I could tell you things about jobs I had for a week where I remember all the people that I worked with. I’m always shocked when people don’t remember anything. I can understand forgetting somebody’s name or something, but still, I remember the essence of the person.
But yeah, at that job, there were a bunch of weird people that I worked with…There was this guy named Caz, and Caz was a guy from Las Vegas. He referred to himself as my “gay uncle.” I think he slept at the hotel most nights, because all these dudes were picking him up. And so he would like, fuck these guys, stay there and shower there and then just go to work. So he basically lived in the hotel.
Then there was this Georgian girl – like from the country Georgia. And I kind of had a crush on her, because she was like the closest girl. In retrospect she probably wasn’t that pretty.
A crush of convenience.
A crush of convenience. One of her Georgian girlfriends needed a green card and she offered me, like, $3000 to get married to her, and at the time I was like, you know, super poor. I was like, “maybe I should do that.” And now I’m like, thank god I didn’t get married to some random Georgian girl.
There were some jerks, though. There was this guy James who was the manager, and he was a real piece of shit dude from Long Island who would just spend all day on Myspace. And he was in charge of everybody, but he was a real wimp. So he would – how it’s supposed to work is you would get beat up until the customer couldn’t take talking to you anymore, and then you were supposed to get the manager. Like all these shitty jobs. But he would hide because he was too afraid to talk to anybody. And also he would give me shit about my hair and stuff, because my hair is crazy, and back then it was shaggier than it is now. So everybody was like, “uh, Ben, could you comb your hair?” Which – it’s not like it’s out of control. There’s just nothing I can do about it. I put a comb in it and it’s gonna look like this still.
Anyway, that job fuckin’ sucked. I worked there for a good year.
I just think it’s really shitty that good people can’t get good work all the time.
Yeah, it’s a certain attitude thing. I think I’m modest and self-deprecating at the same time. I think some of my friends who are very successful have a very healthy ego, good or bad, but they have a very positive attitude, and everything that they do is great, and that starts to become a self-fulfilling thing. And I don’t have that.
You should read the Secret.
I saw an interview with the dude behind the Secret, on like 20-20 or something, and he seemed like such a fucking, like, a cartoon bad guy.
A successful cartoon bad guy.
Yeah, I don’t know. I guess I’m too skeptical for things like that. I reference the Secret a lot for jokes and stuff.
Me too! But I think you’re so talented. You should just put it out there, into the universe.
Yeah, no, it sucks. There’s not a ton of work in New York. Well, there is now, in the past couple of years since I’ve moved, I feel like there’s more out there. But I got a couple of jobs here or there when I first got [to Los Angeles]. When you’re new, you make a big push and go out for a bunch of things.
I came close on a couple things and didn’t get any. I’ve had a couple terrible experiences…I went out for The Flash last year.
Like the new TV show?
The new TV show that’s just now coming out. I had just gotten back, I had just not gotten SNL and I came here, and I was in a shitty mood. And the next day my manager sent me stuff about the The Flash and I got all excited because it’s, like, a superhero. And so I go in, and it’s all these extremely like – two dudes were talking about their, not Abercrombie & Fitch, but some store–
Something like that, and they knew each other from some shoot for that.
From their bag modeling days.
And so it was a bunch of model dudes. And I’m hearing their auditions through the door, and I’m getting really cocky. Because I had worked on it and I was like, “I’m gonna do better than this.” I went in, and I did great. And the casting director is in there, and he’s like, “maybe a little less funny,” which is a note you don’t always get. But I did it again, and he thought it was great. As I’m leaving, I’m walking to my car, and my agent calls me and he’s like, “hey, they want you to come back later this afternoon.”
So I’m feeling pretty good. And then I taught an improv class, which I probably should not have done. I watched improv scenes instead of, like, going over my lines. And I went back and I don’t know what happened, but I full-blown choked. I broke down.
My eyes started watering, I was tearing up, and I could tell. I walked into the room and it was sort of the same thing where I could hear the people before me, and I was like, “these guys are terrible.” And I’m getting cocky again. I’m like, I can’t wait to do my audition again and do my take on it because I liked it so much. And when I got into the room, the casting director had seen me before, and I could see him getting excited. Like, “this guy will cheer everybody up after this other person sucked.” But then I go in there, and fucking suck so bad. My body just gave out on me. And my eyes are tearing up. And I’m crying. All the lines are like [whimpering], “I’m so fast. My body moves so fast.” I made it seem so melodramatic. It seemed like it was a choice I made, to make it this serious, sad, emo Flash.
[Mocking] “My body moves so fast.”
[Whimpering again.] “My heart rate, it’s like a billion beats per minute.” So, yeah. Didn’t get the Flash obviously.
Yeah, stuff like that happens.
What’s your story beyond comedy?
One weird thing about improv is that it attracts people who are kind of lost, who don’t know exactly what medium is right for them. And that’s sometimes what I tell people if they’re not good at it. That doesn’t mean you’re not funny. Some of the funniest people I know are terrible at improv. It just means you haven’t found the right thing for you yet.
And I don’t know if I have either. For a long time I thought I was gonna be a comic book artist, until I went to school and then I stopped.
Do you still draw a lot?
No, not really.
Who are your favorite artists?
I have a big Dan Clowes obsession. He’s definitely very formative to me. I’m obsessed with that dude. Crumb, I copied Crumb for a long time.
I love Ghost World.
Yeah. It actually really bummed me out when, whatshisname, Shia LaBeouf ripped him off for that movie he made.
Did that movie actually get made?
Yeah, it’s made. It’s done. It’s a short film he made that’s just a rip off that story about that movie reviewer that Clowes did a while back. That sucks for him to get his shit ripped off obviously, but the real bummer to me, selfishly, was that, like, wait…do I have the same taste as that dude who everybody thinks is a fucking douchebag? Because I related to him. I was like, “I like this guy’s work too. He’s great.” And that sucked.
I love all his stuff. And just movies, too. I have an obsession with movies and genres. The look of some movies. That bums me out sometimes because I like so many movies and I see so few good ones the older I get, I feel like. John Pierre Melville movies I’m kind of obsessed with – I like the color of them.
You’re definitely very visual, it seems. Which I think works for improv. So much of it is knowing where your body is in relation to other people and knowing how things look.
For some people it’s that way. I’m more physical than some people, but some people are super funny who don’t do shit. They just sit down for every scene. And some of the funniest people can’t do voices, you know? It’s just how you plug into it.
ON BEING A WEIRDO
The comic book stuff is actually really interesting to me. You thought you would be a comic book artist. Were you just a quiet kid? Or were you more of a class clown?
Yeah, I was kind of like, I’m a person of extremes I guess. In some environments I’ll be absolutely quiet and not talk to anybody, and then it will be the flipside of that where I’ll be the loudest person around.
That’s how I was at school. In some classes, I would get sent home, not because I was doing anything wrong, but because teachers were freaked out, like there was something wrong with me. I had a teacher that made me take all these tests and thought I had some sort of mental retardation, or thought I couldn’t see. So I had to take all these fucking tests, including physical tests, because I would put my head down. I didn’t want to be there.
But in other classes, I was like a typical class clown. Even then, there were certain things I would hate. I hated other class clowns sometimes who would do stupid shit. The kids who would just slap themselves – that really bothered me.
Like, making robot sounds.
Well, that sounds a little cool. But yeah. I guess that’s when I first started drifting toward comedy. Making people laugh in class. I was a weirdo. I was a weird dude in school. I would have, like, cool friends I guess, but I was their weird buddy who all the girls were weirded out by. I would have loved to have a girlfriend in 8th grade, but they were all terrified of me.
What’s a really weird thing that you did?
I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I do remember, this is like a terrible memory, and this doesn’t answer your question at all but I was just telling this story to somebody else.
There was this girl named Jackie in my class who thought I was really funny. And we were kind of flirting, and playing this weird like, tag game – this is in 6th grade – and my hand slipped off her arm and hit part of her boob. And she played it off like it was nothing. In my head, it was like, “I just touched part of her boob,” and neither of us talked about it. But when recess was over, we went back into class, and throughout the day, I realized all these people were being weird around me. It was a true telephone game. I could hear whispers behind me, and by the end of the day, I had molested Jackie.
“Weirdo touched Jackie’s boob.”
That really sucked. I would just get thrown out of class for saying shit. And sometimes not saying things. My Spanish teacher threw me out because she didn’t like how I looked. I’m still mad about that.
Any words of wisdom for new improvisors? What’s your philosophy?
Maybe to have fun?
No, that’s a big one. There are a lot of really rules-y teams, I think. What’s the process like for you? Do you just show up and go, or–?
Yeah, I show up and go. I try to make choices that are fun for me. I try to make my scene partners laugh. I try not to be repetitive. I guess I’m just trying to have fun. I try to make myself laugh, too, and follow things I think are fun, and just try to communicate that.
Illustrations by Ilenia Madelaire
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN OUR 3RD PRINT ISSUE, THE FUTURE. TO PURCHASE A COPY, CLICK HERE.
Sam Phillips is a name you might not recognize, but you’ve more than likely heard her voice. She supplied the infamous “la la las” that accompanied the Gilmore girls as they walked arm-in-arm through Stars Hollow. Sam’s career, though, is so much bigger than her long-standing professional friendship with Gilmore creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (Phillips also scored Sherman-Palladino’s Bunheads). Phillips’ catalog spans decades and mixes elements of folk, pop, rock, and bluegrass to produce something uniquely bittersweet. Each album in her 30-year career has been a step forward, but her latest release, 2013’s ‘Push Any Button’, is what she calls “looking at the future through the past.”
Before I could ask her the first question, though, she was quizzing me on my own goals.
Taylor: I’d like to go into screenwriting, or something like that.
Sam: We need that, please do that. I was just talking with someone about, you know how it’s such a wide open thing in some senses, if you have something to say and you’re an optimist – because the networks need content.
Original content, especially.
Yes, and battling that sometimes is difficult, but it’s a worthy fight. As I’ve just seen my friend Amy Sherman-Palladino do with her show Bunheads. And I saw her fighting for what she wanted to do with Gilmore Girls. She’s an inspiration to me because she’s tough, she won’t compromise. And she doesn’t tell off her friends, which I love as well.
Yeah, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Bunheads, just because I was a big fan of that show, and it’s such tragic news that it got cancelled.
I know! You know it’s funny, having been in the record business for 20-some odd years, I’ve seen it happen with labels. They’ll find somebody, and they won’t quite understand what the music is about or how to market it and how to get it out to the people who would love it, and everyone is unhappy, and they end up getting dropped from the label. And I think that nothing is more true than that in this case. I think they [ABC Family] were just more comfortable with shows like Pretty Little Liars. Amy was challenging their demographic. There were older people in her show, smarter things in her show, and she really stuck to her guns about having the budget to do a show that looked beautiful and was high quality, and that just wasn’t their MO. They’re more comfortable with things that…are not gonna rock the boat – Amy is a boat-rocker.
I’ve been a fan of your music since I was a fan of Gilmore Girls, actually, which I grew up on and was so obsessed with.
I loved Gilmore Girls, and I don’t know if you related more to Rory or to Lorelai, but during the course of that show – my daughter was born right before I took on the music, and during the course of that show I became a single mom. So, at some point, I felt like the writers and Amy were reading my mail. I looked forward to the episodes as much as anybody else, because they were funny and relevant and a little heart-wrenching sometimes.
There was nothing like Gilmore Girls on [The WB] at the time, and there still isn’t much out there like what Amy does…There are shows like Girls – there are shows that are outside the box, and you might have to find a corner to make your show in, but I think those corners are popping up everywhere now. And to me, I think I see change is coming, and it’s very exciting.
Sort of related to that, the theme of this issue of the magazine is “the future,” so we’re really looking forward and trying to talk to as many people as possible to see what their vision is for the future of, in your case music, but entertainment and – how do you feel about the future for content creators in terms of, like, Kickstarter and crowdfunding – all of those venues. What do you see happening?
I don’t view the future in terms of those things. I think that those are quick fixes and short term things that are very good. But I think what is going to happen is that music is going to have to partner with other things. And just like rock-n-roll was a combination of musical styles, I think we will see more hybrids of music and drama. Plays, live things, live on the internet – I just think that it’s so open right now, it’s in such flux. It’s an exciting time. Any time the money people are confused and don’t know how to make the money and are a little panicked, they’re going to clamp down. But they’re also going to be so short sighted and so focused on the money that they’re not going to see all the amazing creative potential that we as artists and writers will see. And I think we have an amazing opportunity to jump in and create new formats, and new combinations of things. It is sad for me to see the record business as I grew up knowing it crash and burn, but on the other hand, that’s the only way I think that something new and something better can come along.
Is that how you came up with the idea for the Long Play? Because I feel like you’ve tapped into something really unique, the way you’re combining art with music. [Editor’s Note: Long Play subscribers had access to a year’s worth of exclusive music.]
I wanted to do something that was completely different from what I’d done before, and that was usually to take years to make an album. And I wanted to do a lot of content, but I also wanted to do it quickly, and I wanted to do an all-digital project as well because I hadn’t done that before. My listeners were great, they were up for it. They came with me and supported it, and it was really fun. And it was really basically just doing something that I was interested in doing, because at the time, I would have loved to pay a fee to just be in on the process of my favorite author, or even a fashion designer, or any kind of artist. I’d love to see their process a little bit more and hear from them and be privy to the things they were creating as they were created rather than after the 6-month marketing plan had been put into action.
And that’s what the Long Play was about. It was about making the music, getting it to listeners as quickly as possible, and then trying to give some things that would show the creative process – not to tax anybody too much, because it was a lot of music. I mean, I believe that a lot of the creative process for me is sitting and staring at a wall, and I don’t think anybody wants to see that. But I did want to bring out the more interesting parts.
Consequently, I decided after that – what I was feeling and hearing from my listeners and feeling myself was that I wanted something more physical. So I did an album cover myself, and I’ve done these art pieces that I’ve made out of old album covers that I’m housing my vinyl in. I pressed a vinyl by myself for the first time!
It’s really interesting to go from all digital to the really physical, and it’s really hands on, you know, working with the art, which I’ve done with ‘Push Any Button’. But I’m looking forward to doing other things as well, with more live performances, with theater involved as well.
Would you consider doing another Long Play?
I would. I mean, that’s a lot of music. I would have to feel that it’s the right time, that people would be up for it. I’m certainly up for it – I think that it would be fun. But again I feel that doing something all digital gave me a real yen for physical. For vinyl. I’ve been on a big vinyl kick, listening to almost primarily vinyl at home. I have a lot of art books and coffee table books. I really do love that tack of thing – being able to have and hold something.
That’ll be interesting, too, to see how all of that changes. It’s a system of checks and balances. People love the digital, love the freedom of having their library on their iPod, but that’s pushed a lot of people to want to collect vinyl and have a collection of music that’s physical as well.
I definitely see that reaction. Not just you, but everybody is really buying up vinyl. I’m 20, and I have a record player.
Yeah! My daughter is 15, and she plays vinyl all the time. What I would love to see is maybe even another format that’s more green and that’s more sturdy, because what I’m hearing from friends – people who are actually in the music business and have collections of CDs – is that some of their CDs are wearing out, even though they’ve taken very good care of them. Which is really disconcerting, because I think we all thought that’s the closest to an indestructible format that we were going to ever have, but apparently not. So we need somebody to get in the laboratory and cook up something that’s eco-friendly and that’s going to last. So far, vinyl, other than warping and scratching a little bit – which adds character – vinyl is pretty good. It’s lasted for a very long time.
So as far as Little Box Recordings goes – what do you plan to do with it?
Little Box is my…I can’t even say it’s my “imprint.” But usually what happens when someone has a label is that they own it and then they make a deal with a distribution company or a marketing company or a record company. And this is completely independent for me. It’s just a few people, and I’m the only artist on the label as of now. Whether we will go on and do more and have other people on the label, I don’t know. But it’s my label for putting out this ‘Push Any Button’ project. It’s really my first self-release in a more traditional sense, and my first physical self-release of an album.
We did do a best-of the Long Play called Solid State, but that was a little bit different because it was a very limited amount.
How would you compare this to previous recording experiences in terms of the amount of freedom that you’ve had?
Oh, actually this was a wonderful experience, because it started at the end of the Long Play. There were a few songs that popped up that I thought, “These are interesting songs, “ but I wasn’t sure they really fit. So I didn’t record them then.
But after that was finished, I started recording with my band, and we did it over the period of, like, two and a half, three years? It was nice, because we’d go into the recording studio and play and then we’d have a beautiful dinner and hang out. It was relaxed and fun and there wasn’t any pressure to get it finished. Especially because Bunheads came along during that time, that sort of kept me from working on it straight through.
And I think, these days when people have small budgets and they really have to get the record done and they can’t spend that much time on it, it’s a luxury to have that perspective. To be able to do a song and then in a couple of months listen to it again, see what it needs, see if we need to recut it. We did that with this record – we redid a few of the songs because we didn’t feel like we got them the first time. So I feel like I had an enormous amount of freedom.
And the kind of record that I made is nothing that would be considered extremely hip. It’s an impression of a time when I was really small and all of the music I was hearing at that time. It’s not even one particular artist or another, other than that it’s more traditional songwriting with melodies. It’s not avant-garde, it’s not odd. It’s more a tip of the hat and a love letter to that time.
Photo courtesy Sam Phillips.
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Emily Carson is brave, but not because she sword fights with pirates and bungee jumps from skyscrapers (though I’m sure she would if given the opportunity). Emily is brave because she decided to pursue a career in one of the most competitive and rapidly evolving creative fields: animation. After having spent the last few years vlogging on her channel, EmilytheBrave, philosophising, doling out advice, and geeking out about Pixar, Emily has now begun sharing her own animations with her 11,000+ subscribers.
Taylor: What got you interested in animation? And who are your favorite animators?
Emily: Like most nine year olds, I really liked cartoons. I also really liked to draw and make up stories. When I saw the credits during Monsters Inc., it dawned on me that people could actually make cartoons for a living, and I guess the rest is history. I have tons of favorite animators. I grew up admiring the work of Glen Keane (who did Ariel, Beast, and Tarzan), Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch), and Butch Hartman (The Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom) – their art is still a huge influence on my style. Nowadays, I adore Brenda Chapman (Brave, Prince of Egypt), Andres Deja (Scar, Jafar, Dr. Facilier), Pen Ward (Adventure Time), Natasha Allegri (Bee and PuppyCat), and Claire Keane (Tangled).
What about animation and technology do you think makes it a good medium for storytelling?
I might be biased, but I think animation is the greatest form of storytelling ever created – it’s timeless, ageless, and translates practically all over the world. John Lasseter said, “The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.” While technology has outdated many forms of storytelling, it’s only improved animation.
Where do you see your YouTube channel going in the next year? The next 5 years?
I don’t even know where my channel is going to be three months from now! Because YouTube as a site is constantly changing, I have to keep adapting the way I run my channel. I’ve recently joined Channel Frederator, an MCN [Youtube Multi-Channel Network] run by Frederator Studios (who is responsible for Adventure Time, The Fairly Odd Parents, and Cartoon Hangover). This means a lot of things for my channel, but mostly it means I’ll have an opportunity to do more animated videos, which is something I’ve always wanted to do, but have never had the time nor the resources for before. In 5 years, I’d really like to start creating animated web series, either for YouTube or whatever site has replaced YouTube at that point (Vine? Instagram video? Who knows? I don’t).
Do you plan to use the internet and new media to share your work, or are you looking to break into the more traditional industry? Do you see any room for overlap there?
Yes, maybe and absolutely! I don’t really know what the “traditional” industry for animation really is anymore because it’s still such a new industry and it’s changing rapidly. However, I do see a TON of room for overlap between the Internet and animation. In fact, it’s already happening with Cartoon Hangover – just check out Bravest Warriors and Bee and PuppyCat, they are both amazing cartoons, done traditionally (2D animated by a full production team), and thrive on the Internet. In fact, I see a lot of the future of animation on the Internet. Everything is becoming more accessible nowadays and the Internet gives absolutely anyone the power to share their creations with the entire world – which is both a scary and truly amazing thought.
What is one inconnu (or “unknown”) fact about you?
I was first chair clarinet in the 7th grade.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges you’ll face as you try to accomplish your animation goals?
The fact that it’s becoming an incredibly competitive field. Like, 70 years ago animation wasn’t really a career, but now it’s a booming industry. But I guess like any career, I’m going to face a lot of rejections. In animation it’s rough though because a lot of the time rejections are against your art or your stories which is very personal, but I think you have to learn to suck it up, learn from your rejections, and keep your head up.
What does the future of animated storytelling look like to you?
When I imagine the future of animation I think of Liz Lemon’s quote about creativity: “Creativity, to me, is just like… like a bird. Like a friendly bird that embraces all… ideas. Just, like, shoots out of its eyes all kinds of beauty.” As the technology is becoming more accessible, more people are going to be encouraged to create, and that in turn inspires other people to create and tell their own stories… like that giant creativity bird.
Photo by Melly Lee.
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*Piece initially published in the October 2013 Future Issue. Since publication, Helbig has left DailyGrace, which is owned by My Damn Channel, and is now making videos on her own channel, ItsGrace.
Grace Helbig’s DailyGrace persona has become the designated inspiration for a generation of smart and funny ladies on the internet. But for those of you who are uninitiated, there are a few things you should know about her. For one, she’s amassed over 1 million subscribers in her five years of daily video blog making. That’s five videos every week for five years. Grace has not gone on hiatus, and she hasn’t lost steam. It takes a real kind of genius to keep the jokes fresh and relevant when there’s so much content being produced, but Helbig has more than managed to do it.
The DailyGrace vlog, though, which exists both on YouTube and at MyDamnChannel.com, was just the genesis of Helbig’s career. Book deals, feature length films, national commercials, acting jobs – these are all part of Helbig’s reality. Grace got her first big acting gig playing Idol on the Fine Brother’s critically acclaimed interactive web show, called MyMusic (all while filming and editing her own daily web show). Have you seen those My Lowes commercials? That’s Grace. What about vH1’s Best Week Ever? G4’s Attack of the Show? Been to a UCB Comedy show?
Helbig and her best friends, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart, have brought their own brand of comedy around the country on the #NoFilter tour (all while filming and editing their own shows). Helbig, Hart, and Hart are also starring together in the upcoming feature-length film Camp Takota. Are you starting to get it?
I can think of few people who have it in them to be as consistently funny and smart in as many arenas as Grace has been. And with that, here is a brief Q&A with the soon-to-be legend herself.
Taylor: If you had a boat, what would you name it, and why?
Grace: Car. BECAUSE I’M SO QUIRKY.
What is one inconnu (or “unknown”) fact about you?
I’ve drunk eaten a pork burrito while being a pescatarian.
Would you be willing to trade the internet for magical powers (Harry Potter style – there are muggles)?
Where do you see the DailyGrace persona going in the next year? Do you have any plans to scale back?
I’m not totally sure where DailyGrace will go, but I’m hoping to take Grace Helbig into TV, film and books. And then maybe to that existential crisis meeting.*
What were your biggest influences when you were growing up? Books, shows, role models, etc.
My brothers. I have two step and two full and they were always the funniest to me.
What was your first “dream job”?
I interned at Late Night with Conan O’Brien when I was a senior in college and that was pretty special.
If you could trade places with any fictional character for a day, who would it be?
Sleeping Beauty. I have not been sleeping well lately.
Was there ever a moment you were close to giving up on comedy? And how (if applicable) did you get through it?
I haven’t had that moment yet, but the advice I give to people is to check in with yourself from time to time and make sure what you’re doing feels fun to you. If it’s not, make some changes. #Obama2012
Desert island: five snacks. What are they?
Pita chips, guacamole, those tortilla chips with lime, chocolate, vodka
Molly Austin and Shamikah Martinez are aesthetic gurus, but they are not your average Streaming Fashionistas. Their channel Emotistyle is like a Beauty Guru TARDIS, transporting their audience to a dimension in which fashion and comedy are one and the same. Every week, they answer viewers’ pressing style questions with equal parts inherent fashion sense and straight up fucking hilariousness. But if you were to ask these New York-based comedians what Emotistyle was all about, they would tell you to look beyond their bodacious (and totally well-dressed) mannequin Patrícia and see that it really is all about the comedy.
Taylor: Who are your biggest influences, both in terms of fashion and comedy?
Molly Austin: For comedy I would have to say Lucille Ball, Carol Channing and Maria Bamford. For fashion, I would have to say Cher (WWCD, What Would Cher Do), Vida Boheme from To Wong Foo, The Nanny and Pru from Charmed. Always Pru…
Shamikah Martinez: Comedy – Gilda, Lucy, Whoopi, and Tina Fey, Tracey Ullman, JOAN MF’ing RIVERS! I also enjoy the musical comedy tunes of Garfunkle & Oates and hope that Emotistyle can do a collab with them one day. Fashion: Rita Hayworth, Di from Clueless, Hilary from Fresh Prince (love those 90s).
How has YouTube helped you to achieve your goals?
MA: I love to make people laugh. YouTube has helped me reach a lot of people and tickle them in their armpits and touch their belly buttons.
SM: We’ve reached a large audience of young women, something I’ve always wanted to do – but never thought we could reach such a large number of them through the YouTubes!
Would you be willing to give up the internet for magical powers?
MA: I can speak for both of us when I say we would never be faced with that decision. We both already possess magic powers. We are kind of like witches. You ever watch Charmed? It’s like that. It is on Netflix watch instantly, if you need to catch up.
Fashion has often been perceived as a kind of trite, shallow interest. What do you think that says about our society, and what would you say to the people who think it doesn’t matter?
MA: People who say they don’t care about fashion are full of beans. If you put pants on you have put some kind of thought into it. Fashion is the only expressive art form that is primarily geared towards women so of course it is perceived in a negative light. Are there douchey aspects? Sure, but there are douchey aspects to music too. Justin Bieber exists, but no one is ever gonna call someone a dick for being into playing the guitar.
SM: I wouldn’t say anything to people who think fashion doesn’t matter, because to them maybe it doesn’t. And that’s okay for them. I enjoy expressing who I am by the hot pants I put on my butt. But, no one is going to agree on everything, right guys?
How do you think Emotistyle fits into the world of YouTube beauty gurus?
SM: If the world of beauty gurus were a neat coloring book, Emotistyle would be the crayons going all over the page, outside the lines, and probably some glitter thrown on the page.
MA: Doesn’t really. We are more comedy based than beauty based. (Don’t tell Patricia.) I also think that makes it fun. I don’t know. We have the nicest subscribers in the world. They probs have a better answer than mine.
Where do you see Emotistyle in the next 6 months? In the next 6 years?
MA: I would love to turn it into a TV show and a lifestyle brand while keeping the channel as more of a vlogging outlet so we can still talk to our Internet friends.
SM: You know how the Spice Girls went on a world tour with that double decker bus? Yeah…
Who are the most underrated stand up comedians working today?
MA: Maria Bamford. She should be making it rain like Diddy in the 90s. I don’t know what her bank account is like, but if it isn’t ballin out of control it should be.
SM: Yeah, when is Maria Bamford gonna get a personal umbrella holder up in here? (P.U.H. – I think the trademark belongs to Diddy though.)
What are your favorite YouTube channels?
MA: Hannah Hart/Barely Political. Anastasia Douglas is one of the most hilarious humans ever conceived in a womb.
SM: Chescaleigh, Daily Grace, Hannah Hart, BP, anything with singing babies in it. Babies can be anyone under ten years old.
Desert island: you get 5 non-essential accessories / items of clothing. What do you bring with you?
MA: Anything with sequins or glitter. If I’m stranded I’m probably gonna be naked but I would hate to lose the joy of sparkles.
SM: A giant J-Lo style hat so my head doesn’t burn, and the other 4 would be some sort of edible accessory because YOU GUYS – if I don’t eat like every 4 hours there’s gonna be trouble.
What is one inconnu (“unknown”) fact about yourself? About Emotistyle?
MA: I didn’t have bangs when we decided to make Emotistyle. I didn’t cut them until one week before our first shoot. They were funky at first. I think it made Sham a little nervous, I know I was.
SM: My “day job” is a music video producer. My favorite band to work with so far has been Fall Out Boy. Emotistyle secret: the first episode we ever did, we borrowed a letter from the “Dear Abby” website to get the audience to start sending in their own letters.