20 Questions: Gabe Durham, Boss Fight Books

Gabe Durham, Boss Fight Books

Gabe Durham is the brains (officially the publisher / series editor, but, whatever, brains) behind Boss Fight Books, an excellent series about video games that spans authors, generations, and genres. Depending upon the title you could read about somebody’s childhood, design theory, personal identity, or theological grappling…all through the filter of that author’s game of choice.

But whatever the game at the heart of the book, whomever the author writing it, you’re in for a thrillingly unique reading experience, and one that’s immensely rewarding. If that sounds like a gushing introduction, it’s only because the series has undoubtedly earned it.

I’m far from alone in thinking that; Boss Fight recently launched a Kickstarter for its third series of titles, including books on Mega Man 3, Katamari Damacy, and Kingdom Hearts II, and as of this writing it’s at about $30,000 of its $5,000 goal. That’s the result of a lot of satisfied readers. The Kickstarter is clearly in no danger of not being funded, but if you’re interested in the series at all, now is the time to pledge and get the entire set at a nice discount.

In celebration of Boss Fight Books series 3, I decided to ask Durham a few good questions, and a lot of very awful ones. Enjoy!

Earthbound, Boss Fight Books1) One day you had the idea for Boss Fight Books, and the day before you didn’t. Tell us what happened in your mind between those two points.

I was reading a cool book about Nintendo/Mario that I’d checked out of the Glendale Public Library, and it occurred to me that all the books I’d seen and read about games were vast industry histories — more stories about capitalism itself than the actual games. I wondered if anyone was publishing book-length criticism that approached games as art, using a personal and historical approach. Nobody was. Seemed like an oversight.

2) If you weren’t publishing books, what would you be doing?

Writing. And, for work, teaching or maybe some other new career track it’s impossible to know about. Oh god — maybe I’d be dead!

3) In an alternate universe, you didn’t write about Bible Adventures. What game did you write about?

Recently, I learned that actual Simpsons writers were involved in Tapped Out, the phone game, so what I think I’d do is write about that and use the book as an excuse to pick their brains and nerd out.

Bible Adventures, Boss Fight Books4) One Bible story that should have been included in Bible Adventures.

Sidescroller. You are Zaccheus the tax collector. You’re a wee little man: Mario pre-mushroom. In each level, you navigate through a crowd of people who hate you because you’ve taken all their money to line your own pockets. To appease them, you must throw coins at them. At the end of the level is a tree. You must climb the tree, avoiding animals, until you reach the top, where you ring a bell to get Jesus to notice you. As the levels progress, the streets get more dangerous and the trees get higher. At the end of the final level, the bell you ring comes alive and begins to attack you! You must throw coins at it until the last coin makes the bell ring out so loud that (1) the bell cracks, like the Liberty Bell, and (2) Jesus takes notice and says, “Zaccheus, you come down from there! For I’m going to your house today.” And in an animated cutscene, you and Jesus stand in your house, there are piles of gold everywhere, and Jesus waves his arms, zapping you with blue light, and suddenly—you’re big! You’re not a wee man at all! Thanks so much, Jesus!

5) Other than yourself, who is the most talented Gabe?

Newell! Marquez!

6) What video game has the best writing? No waffling. There can be only one answer, and you’ll have to carry it with you for the rest of your life.

Honestly, all my most-loved games aren’t loved for their writing! I’ll say Mass Effect 2.

7) When you grow up, you’re going to be…

An improv master. I do it in my free time — it’s challenging/humbling.

8) Who did you have a crush on at age 12?

Jeanette from school.

Chrono Trigger, Boss Fight Books9) Games that have a perfect soundtrack. Go.

Mega Man 2. A Link to the Past. All-time favorite is Chrono Trigger.

10) What’s the worst thing you’ve ever written in your life?

At 19, I wrote half of a novel about weirdos holed up in a hotel writing a novel. And wow, yeah, it was bad. I think it was the first blush of understanding that metafiction existed, but I was not deploying it for any reason other than just to do it.

11) Describe Boss Fight Books to a space alien.

Humankind makes a lot of stuff, but only in retrospect can we guess at what that stuff does to us/for us.

12) What’s the biggest / most surprising thing you learned from managing the Boss Fight Books project?

Sometimes people pay attention! They mostly hadn’t before.

13) Zelda or Peach?

Peach, for sure. When my girlfriend and I play Mario Kart 8, she’s Peach and I’m Morton. So now there’s an ongoing casual fanfic between us where we’re Morton/Peach shippers. It’s not weird at all. It’s totally fine.

14) Tell us about one piece of media you love that nobody else seems to.

The album Secaucus by The Wrens. I’ve been listening to it since around 2000 and it still doesn’t feel as if I’ve “solved” it yet. There’s so much there.

ZZT, Boss Fight Books15) Tell us about some reader / fan feedback that you’ve carried with you. Positive or negative.

Last week someone tweeted something like, “The last two Boss Fight Books made me tear up — let’s see if the third one does too,” and someone (in an unrelated conversation) tweeted, “Those books are too hippie dippy for me.” And, you know, fair enough. For better or worse, we’re not making books just about games, but games filtered through human experience. Not the best for “stick to the facts” types.

16) What’s your favorite Bob Dylan song?

“Hurricane,” “The Man in Me,” “To Make You Feel My Love.”

17) Is there one game you secretly hope somebody will cover? (I promise not to use this question to my advantage.)

The Binding of Isaac

Spelunky, Boss Fight Books18) Somebody wants to read just one book to determine if Boss Fight is for them. Which do you recommend?

I think they should pick based on the game they most want to read about.

19) Somebody wants to read just one book, period. Which do you recommend?

Yikes! Have they learned to read yet? Maybe Go, Dog, Go?

20) We’re making a video game about your life. Describe the most common enemy.

Self-doubt! And it looks just like a Red Slime from Dragon Quest.

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you haven’t gotten to say above!

Have you seen Everybody Wants Some!! yet? What a cool movie.

20 Questions: Magnus Pålsson (SoulEye)

Magnus Palsson interview

A while back I reached out to Magnus Pålsson, better known as SoulEye, and best known for composing the stellar soundtrack of VVVVVV. He had just released a metal remix of that game’s soundtrack, MMMMMM and he quickly consented to an interview to help promote it.

Great! …except that when my computer crashed soon afterward, I thought I lost the draft. Only recently did I find it, and it might have been a stroke of good timing, since Pålsson had some technical difficulties with his web-host that prevented anyone from purchasing the album until now. So, while the delay wasn’t deliberate, I’m happy to be able to finally post the interview at a time when you can actually buy the album!

(Also, on a personal note, I can highly recommend Adventure. It’s absolutely incredible, and has been on permanent rotation for me.)

1) How did you originally get involved with Terry Cavanagh? How did your contribution to VVVVVV come about?

VVVVVVFirst of all, thank you for having me on here on this excellent site for an interview! It’s my pleasure to answer your questions.

I had put up some of my music for free download online, and one of Terry’s friends named Charlie asked me if he could use one of my songs for his game. I said sure, as long as I can have a copy of the game when it’s done.

He came back a month later and gave me a copy. The game turned out to be a shoot-em-up where you play a severed dog’s head, raining hot death on evil attacking space-penises that attack you with semen. That game is spunky. It’s called Space Phallus if you want to play it.

Anyway, Terry naturally played Charlie’s game, and liked the song I had provided. (The song is “Retro Tune” and can be found as track number four on my album “S” here.) He emailed me and asked if I wanted to make music for his (then-supposed-to-be) free game called VVVVVV.

I thought it was a great idea, since I’ve loved games all my life, so I was happy to make a songs for the game.

2) How much guidance were you given in terms of your work on the soundtrack? Any specific atmosphere or tempo to reach for?

I got a beta copy of the game. It was using an old c64 placeholder song, but I was largely given free reign. Instructions were limited to just a few adjectives. He would give me the beta, I would play it, and then think, “What does the ideal platformer song sound like in my head?” And then I produced “Pushing Onwards.”

Terry put “Pushing Onwards” into the updated beta, and got inspired by the song so much that he created a new level. And then he needed more music! So I made “Positive Force.”

And then he had that one on loop for days on end, and made another level. And so it went on. We inspired each other, like a symbiotic relationship designed to evolve the game.

At a certain point, I felt there was enough good stuff in there, but I wanted a masterpiece in there, that would stand out for a long time. And thus, “Potential for Anything” was dreamed up.

I cut out entire sections after writing these songs until I got everything “just right.” It took almost a month to complete because of all the structures, details and harmonic intricacies that went into it.

3) I’m not sure I’ve ever read a review of VVVVVV that doesn’t specifically praise the music. Why do you feel it’s stood out to players in a way that few soundtracks have?

I am entirely self-taught when it comes to music, for good and bad. Many people come to me and ask what programs I use, how I get inspired, how to be creative. Sometimes, those who have the hardest time being creative are those who have been taught in various educations that there is a right way and a wrong way to create music. That you should follow a certain structure, follow the rules, and if you don’t do it right, you shouldn’t be in the business of making music.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, and most educations are great. This is not about saying education is bad. And I have a point to make. It’s that if you believe someone when they say that kind of stuff to you, you might unconsciously put a lid on the very thing that made you want to go into music in the first place: your own soul’s unique voice.

For me, music is an expression of my inner life. It’s a way of sharing myself to the world, how I feel. The music I write is therefore “true,” in the felt sense of the word. There have been few places where I’ve forced myself to make music in a certain way. This intuitive way of writing music has also made me make music only when I feel like it. Typically, I like to write music when I’m feeling really good, happy and enthusiastic. If I’m not, the music reflects that.

Given the above, consider that the songs in VVVVVV were written from my heart. They were made without any thoughts on profits, career in music, fans, recognition, future travels, and so on. They were made for the sheer joy of it all. No agenda. All the things that happened later were really unexpected.

4) What was the first album you ever owned?

It was Hey Stoopid (released in 1991) by Alice Cooper. I remember buying it because I liked the music and a part of me thought I became cooler just by owning it.

I would listen to it a few times, but not obsessively. At that point I had no plans for making music. I was just enjoying it. I remember being fascinated how one track was produced so that it naturally flowed into the next at one point. I would hear the click sound when the CD player changed tracks, and keep the same synths playing.

It’s a good album even today, but Alice himself was never my biggest influence. The most enjoyable thing on there was, as I think back to it, was Slash and his masterful play on the guitars.

5) What was the first video game whose soundtrack really grabbed you?

Wizball on Commodore 64. The first minute of Martin Galway’s title track is a stroke of genius.

It made me feel like I was tapping into something magical. Like…welcome to the world of wonders, where anything is possible. I had my C64 hooked up to my parents’ old TV, and its crappy mono-speaker (by today’s standards) was, for once, producing something clear, beautiful, new, and real.

I felt exhilarated by it, and wanted the world to know this feeling, this music, and have the same experience I was having. And my teenage self didn’t give an F. I opened the door to the garden, turned up the music, and hoped the neighborhood would rejoice in this wonderful new discovery of mine, that surely would make all those grumpy grownups a reason to put a smile on their faces. But the only result was my mom telling me to shut it off.

I’m happy to report that by now, my now 67-year old mom likes chiptune music. Well, mine at least. There are a few tracks she plays over and over at her house.

6) What was the first film whose soundtrack really grabbed you? How did it make you feel?

The truth is that I was never aware of being really grabbed by a film soundtrack. The only thing that comes up when I think of early movies with good music is Star Wars (1977). I was still in daycare when I saw that movie, and I didn’t completely get what was going on. The appreciation for that music came later on.

I saw an orchestra playing Star Wars music in my home town of Helsingborg a while back. That was an amazing experience. They played it so true to the originals, but the fidelity and quality of the raw vibrations of the different instruments resonating in my body is something I won’t forget easily.

7) MMMMMM is a complete reimagining of the VVVVVV soundtrack with live instruments in a very different style. What sparked this project? How did you come to collaborate with FamilyJules7x?

FamilyJules7x has a long history of covering game music soundtracks. I remember seeing him do a Super Meat Boy medley, and thought, “that’s cool, I wonder what my music would sound like there,” and a seed was firmly planted in me. Given half a chance, I would make it happen.

But I went on my merry way, and didn’t think of it until way later, when, one day, this subconscious dream was realized, and he made a medley of the VVVVVV music, presumably after a number of requests from his listeners. Or, as he put it: “VVVVVV‘s soundtrack is a work of genius and it’s a crime that I haven’t had a go at these songs earlier.”

Anyway, after popping all my gaskets while listening to that, I wanted to make a full remix album a reality, if nothing else, then for my very own listening pleasure. So I just emailed him and we worked it out. It was one of those “this is right; this needs to be done,” kinds of moments, where my guts had a stronger say than my brains.

I love those moments.

8) Explain “Plenary.” This was a track composed for the game, but which wasn’t ultimately featured, to my knowledge. Where was it meant to have gone?

Allow me to enlighten you. The name “Plenary” means “an adjective related to the noun plenum carrying a general connotation of fullness.”

The track which sounds like this in its original form ) is actually in the game but perhaps not heard very often, since it only plays once, when you complete VVVVVV. Am I to take it you haven’t completed the game?

It was a blast creating this jingle. It has a whole slew of intermingling leads, creating a pompous (in the good sense) fanfare that is fitting of a game complete stinger.

[ed: Believe me, I completed the game! I actually meant “Phear,” not “Plenary.” Magnus was kind enough to explain that track, too, once I’d had my mistake pointed out to me.]

“Phear” was a “song” (it’s more of a sound effect) which appeared on PPPPPP, the game’s soundtrack album, but wasn’t used in VVVVVV. It was supposed to be an Easter egg where if you stood still in a certain room for a long time, the screen would darken, and the creepy sound would start playing over and over at ever-increasing volume. Sadly, it had to be scrapped due to lack of time on Terry’s part for implementation.

9) Name the six biggest influences on your music.

Chris Huelsbeck, Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard, Jeroen Tel, Ben Daglish, and Tim Follin.

You may notice they’re all previous C64 musicians. There are so many others though, and much of what inspires me is unconscious. It’s easy to name these people, as their creations were the music playing during a lot of my formative years. Some of these have gone on to become famous on other platforms as well. Curious fact: one day a few years ago I saw that Jeroen Tel started following me on Twitter. That was a fun moment for me.

10) Name the six biggest influences on your life.

VVVVVVI like how that question was worded. I get to choose any type of influence! I’m going to give them to you chronologically, with the oldest influence first.

1. Games.
I would never be where I am if it wasn’t for computer games. I would play for hours on end, and still do some days, and escape from reality, like so many others. I love it. And at the same time, I’m aware that playing games too much can be detrimental to social interactions, which is where real life is lived.

2. Music.
Obviously. An offshoot from playing games, and hanging around tech-savvy people who liked computers. Music was often a joint interest, and some knowledge on how to work a computer was required to get games working back in those days when it all started. And then it became easy to get music programs working. Suddenly, I found myself at home in making music on a computer, and then I was creating music for others. And now I’m making a living off of it. It’s like I just fell into it.

3. Eben Pagan.
He is a well-known self-development teacher and business coach. He got me started on the road to self-knowledge, which is, like, the best thing ever.

4. Terry Cavanagh.
Again, obviously. And also inadvertently. I never knew what was in store, and how my life would change, after making the songs for VVVVVV. He didn’t either. Terry is one of the most straight-up good guys I know.

5. Decker Cunov.
Decker is transformational coach. If Terry’s influence made external things possible for me, Decker’s influence reshaped my insides in a profound way. With him (and his peers) as a powerful catalyst, I had my mind reset completely after a workshop in personal development back in 2012. I now have a completely different view and approach on life, and those who know me before and after can vouch for me changing.

Because of the great things I experienced in this workshop, I am happy to be part of a worldwide network called “Authentic World.” It consists of people who like authenticity and telling the truth, along with developing ourselves and welcoming different sensations. I educated myself in the subtle arts of the practices that Decker uses in his 6-month course held in your home state of Colorado, and now me and my friends do workshops in Europe in the same fashion, to my great excitement and benefit for participants.

If this tickles your curious bone, more info can be found here. We recently did a workshop in Amsterdam, and if you want to be part of the next workshop in Europe, I strongly recommend signing up for the newsletter.

6. Stefan Molyneux.
Stefan is a philosopher and runs the largest philosophy show in the world. He’s got some 60 million downloads of his stuff, and has almost daily videos put up on his youtube channel. His site is www.freedomainradio.com. If Decker Cunov changed my way of connecting with my feelings, Stefan has changed my way of thinking. He’s radically different than most people, and some of what he says is causing some upsets, but the show contains, in my opinion, healthy and important discussions for any decent human being.

11) The success of VVVVVV must have opened a lot of doors for you, but you haven’t composed for many games since. Are you just being choosy about your next major scoring job?

I have enough material to release a new album tomorrow on my hard drive if I could. There are many reasons for not releasing some stuff. I’ve made music for some games that were shelved at the last moment and now need a new game to make sense, and some games have yet to be released.

To be honest I’ve been dividing my time with other things as well. I’ve been traveling the world and exploring different life stuff. (See my answer to question #5!) I also have a few ideas about making my own game, and am doing research.

The game that is brewing in my mind is a social game about telling the truth or lying, and catching other players doing the same thing. I am still looking for a team on this one (coding and graphics to begin with), and it’s preferable if anyone interested has a solid sense of, and can differentiate between, both objective and subjective truths.

That being said, I’m open for music business! If you’ve got that killer game needing some Souleye TLC, don’t hesitate sending me an email. I would love to make some chiptunes for another fun game. Perhaps they will be chiptunes with some metal infused next time…

12) They’re making a live action VVVVVV movie. Who plays Captain Viridian?

VVVVVVKeanu Reeves. Haha! He took the red pill and became green. Maybe Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt would work as well…let me talk to their agents.

Already confirmed supporting actors are: Christopher Lloyd as Chief Verdigris, Kirsten Dunst as Doctor Violet, Scarlett Johansson as Doctor Victoria, Jim Carrey as Officer Vermilion, and Jim Parsons as Professor Vitellary.

13) Which Mega Man boss has the stage music?

My experiences aren’t THAT in-depth with the series. I’ve played through Mega Man 2 from start to finish, but that was a long time ago.

14) What has your experience been like with fans of your music? I have to assume it’s been positive, as you’ve collected many of their remixes and given them official release on the PPPPPPowerup album.

Oh, the people have been great. Just great. The fans are really nice to me. It’s one of the great things about being in this line of work; you get paid not only in money, but also in little internet hearts! I love my fans. <3 One of the most touching letters came from a guy who had been suffering from depression for months and months, and then he started listening to PPPPPP, and, I don’t know, subconsciously caught on to the subliminal messages that I would never admit to putting in there, because they’re not in there, and anyone who says they are in there haven’t played some of the songs backwards yet because that’s how you really get to…

Wait…I’ve said too much about those subliminal messages. They aren’t there…

Okay, enough with the joking. He claimed that my music helped him out of his depression in a very real way, and was very nice and thankful. His message moved me to tears. When I get feedback like that I sometimes feel like the effect the music had on him alone would have made it worth making the music.

Music is powerful.

15) Name one song that makes you want to turn the radio off every time you hear it.

Oh… I know where this is going. If I bring a song up like that to a friend, they’ll instantly start singing it back to me…

Haha! Well okay, it doesn’t matter. I’ll look forward to getting Rick-rolled with the song in the future.

That which you resists, persists, so… I’m going with a Swedish song called “Hej Monika.”

16) Go back in time and give one piece of life advice to Magnus Pålsson, age 10.

Trust yourself. Find out what your values are, what feels good. Learn how people make meaning out of words. And if the world seems to be doing it wrong, and you don’t quite understand it even if you really try, most likely they’re all doing their best with what they know and the only thing you can do is learn the ways they were taught to do it so that you one day can untangle those webs from yourself and others.

17) Go forward in time and give one piece of life advice to Magnus Pålsson, age 100.

Hey dude, I didn’t think you’d make it this long! But it’s time to face the fact: it’s near the end.

After you’ve said your goodbyes to your, well, to be honest, rather obscenely large family, I want you to have a good time and not fear death. I hear that hard drugs are effective in achieving that.

They’re also addictive and ruin your life in the long run, but there’s no long run anymore, so it’s time to find out what you’ve been missing! Full speed ahead! Geronimo!

On a more serious note though, what I believe is one of the best ways to go is to be in deep connection with your loved ones. Ask them to spend a lot of time with you during those last moments. Knowing that you’ve already imparted what you’ve learned about life with them, and that they’ll be all right. All what we got left is to be with each other, and stay connected for as long as possible.

But then again, that’s true for every moment in life, so why save that piece of advice for later?

18) If you were physically transported into VVVVVV, taking Viridian’s place, how far would you make it before dying?

VVVVVVI would die to the first thing that could kill me, because I’d be in total disbelief and want to see how it feels to die and respawn. If I respawned, I’d be yelling at the fourth wall a lot about wanting to be let out of this Groundhog Day-like spiked-hell existence, or maybe hit on Victoria to create some mini-Vs.

19) Who was or is the handsomest world leader?

Bill Clinton. I’m not that big into checking out political leaders but Bill is definitely charismatic. I even listened to his biography audiobook, read by himself.

20) Your star has risen to the point that every major gaming company on Earth is offering you full creative control over the soundtrack to the next installment of any franchise you like. Which series of games do you give the SoulEye stamp to?

Good question. I went through a bunch of games in my mind before singling out a series, and the honor would go to…


The Street Fighter series. I think I could really do it justice, legacy-wise, and bring something new and fresh to the series. A bit ironically perhaps, as some of PPPPPP (and therefore MMMMMM) has influences from Street Fighter II. But there you go!

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you haven’t gotten to say above!

I’m going to go out on a limb and give you a poem on life I wrote two years ago.

As I lay my heart to bare
plain for all to see
the pain I carried deep within
is shared, to more than me

The walls containing my fragile heart
came tumbling down, they broke apart
the life I thought was not for me
revealed itself, and it was free

Connected, I would sense the pain
of life, love, death, my sadness
and for the first time in my life
I made sense of all the madness

The cross I now have to bear
is holding pain, for all who’s dear
I want to ease your heavy burden
shoulder all your fear
staying present, to my purpose
I am with you here.

With strength and courage to be weak
I will shelter all the meek
Let me shield you from your pain
I don’t mind, it’s my gain

I must die, it is my path
from this earth I’m torn
And in knowing but this simple fact
my true love is reborn

20 Questions: David Ury

David UryEvery so often, the internet reveals itself to be a pretty magical place. This installment of 20 Questions is a direct result of that magic. David Ury, star of “Peekaboo,” my favorite episode of Breaking Bad, found my writeup of the episode and got in touch. He was also kind enough to offer me a copy of his new book, Everybody Dies, which was co-written with his half-brother Ken Tanaka, and which we discuss below. David Ury may make a living playing some truly off-putting individuals, but I can’t imagine meeting a nicer guy. (I’d just like to meet him in a well-lit area. You can’t be too careful.)

1) You’ve definitely been cast as a lot of…creepy guys, for lack of a better term. Which character would you say was the creepiest?

Boy, it’s hard to choose. I was a landlord in Community who hoarded women’s shoes. In Rizzoli and Isles I was a “death enthusiast” who went to crime scenes to photograph corpses. But maybe the creepiest was “Easter Joe” on Raising Hope…a guy who dresses like a bunny rabbit and drags a giant pink cross around town with him.

2) Did you audition for “Peekaboo” specifically, or did you come in for a general audition and end up in that role later?

I auditioned using a scene from a previous episode of the show. I had no idea what kind of character I’d be playing other than that he was a druggie. When I shot the first episode where I have a small cameo in the end [“Breakage”], I didn’t even know what I’d be doing in the “Peekaboo” episode as I hadn’t been sent the script yet….so it was quite a delightful shock when I discovered exactly what I’d be doing.

David Ury, Breaking Bad

3) You obviously got to spend a lot of time working with Aaron Paul. Did you get to meet any of the other main cast members?

I really only interacted with Aaron, Dale Dickey and Charles Baker in my scenes, and didn’t get to meet much of the rest of the cast. However, I had met Bryan Cranston when I did my first ever TV gig on Malcolm in the Middle in 2002.

4) What was it like working with Bryan Cranston back then?

I went to a table read of the episode where I had a tiny one word part. Before we got started on the read, he made a point of coming up to me, introducing himself and welcoming me to the show. I always remembered his graciousness.

5) Was the set as uncomfortable as it looked on screen? The makeup, the wardrobes and the squalor were all very convincing. Was it as uneasy to be in that environment and with those characters as it was to watch?

The kids were visibly scared of me at first, until their mother explained that I was a nice guy…and was just wearing a costume like on Halloween. The set we shot in was pretty trashed so it was easy to get into character in those very realistic surroundings. I just hope I didn’t traumatize those kids too much with my scary mug.

6) “Peekaboo” aired in the middle of the second season, and I imagine it filmed not long after the first season aired. Did you have any idea of the kind of sensation Breaking Bad would become? What did you know about the show ahead of time?

Because I had played meth addicts in the past, friends kept telling me I had to get on this new show. When I got the call to audition I watched the pilot and was blown away. After being told I’d booked the job, I watched the whole first season. I was really excited to be in a show with such great writing. At the time the show was more of a cult hit and most people hadn’t heard of it.

7) At what point did you realize this show had become a legitimate phenomenon?

Around 2012 it went onto Netflix streaming and suddenly people started to recognize me, and associate it me with that role.

I certainly never expected that four years after shooting that gig it would start to have such an impact on my career.

8) Last-minute rewrite: Jesse is crushed by the ATM instead, and Spooge replaces him as Walt’s partner. How do you see that unfolding?

Damn, I should have pitched that scenario to Vince.

Under Walt’s watch, Spooge gets clean, but Lady Spooge can’t or won’t. She’s too much of a loose canon to have around….bad for business…so Walt stages a tractor accident which flattens Lady Spooge making it look just another Albuquerque tractor tragedy.

9) What happened to the little boy after Jesse left?

All the marshmallow fluff you can eat!

The Little Boy

10) Quite a few characters that died on Breaking Bad made later appearances in flashbacks. Was there ever any hope or possibility that Spooge would come back in such a way?

Yep. I’m still hoping he might show up in Better Call Saul…maybe before he became an addict.

11) So your brother is Ken Tanaka. Am I correct in thinking that you two hadn’t seen each other for many years?

Yes. But I think the best way to share the story is through this video.

12) Whose idea was Everybody Dies? What was the genesis and the reasoning behind producing such a morbid book with a childlike approach?

Ken and I came up with the idea together. Death is such a taboo subject in our modern world, it will happen to all of us, and yet we’re all scared to death of talking about it. I think Ken sums it up well in the book’s intro:

Sometimes people ask me why I wrote a “children’s book for grown ups” about death. People seem to think that children need to be sheltered from the idea of death, but most children I have met are not afraid of death, or of this book. It is the grown ups who shake in fear when they read the words “Everybody Dies.” Grown ups are afraid of death. Grown ups know that it is coming, and it can’t be stopped. When we are truly overcome with fear, we are still children on the inside, no matter our age. We still want our mommies. Sometimes a grown up needs to be treated like a child for his own good. […] Although meant for adults, this book may be most effective when read aloud to frightened parents by their children.

13) “What Kind of Asian Are You?” has over seven million views on YouTube. What percentage of viewers do you think misinterprets its humor or intentions?

I think only a small percentage misinterprets the video, but they are also the ones most likely to comment.

The same is true for our new video about race and identity called “But We’re Speaking Japanese.”

14) Tell us about how you got into acting. What was your first role?

My first role ever was in a one act play in high school. I was a fisherman who drowns at sea and spends the majority of the play lying dead on stage.

It was pretty much foreshadowing the rest of my career.

Everybody Dies15) Everybody Dies covers an awful lot of possible deaths. Aside from “skull crushed by ATM,” what was the absolute best death in all of Breaking Bad?

Well, the one that sticks with me most was the scene in season 2 where Jesse’s girlfriend overdoses. That was pretty tough to watch.

16) What kind of challenges do you think a show like Breaking Bad faces when it treats serious social problems in an artistic – and often humorous – context? I’d imagine it would be similar to “What Kind of Asian Are You?” and Everybody Dies in that regard. All uncomfortable things to joke about, and yet they each double down on that fact rather than skirt around it.

I heard Vince give a talk at a library and he was asked a few questions like this, and also about symbolism, deeper meanings in the show, and so on.

His answer was that the writers are really just focusing on trying to tell stories. I think as long as the storytelling is strong, you can approach any kind of topic.

17) Skyler or Marie?

Spooge’s woman.

Spooge's Woman

18) If you could deliver advice to yourself at age 10, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid of trying to make a living solely off of creative pursuits.

19) If you could deliver advice to Spooge at age 10, what would it be?

Maybe just stick with weed.

20) Everybody Dies looks very much like a children’s book, visually speaking, and is colorful in all the wrong ways. Where would you recommend parents hide their copy so that kids don’t find it and have an early crisis of mortality?

I’ve actually seen and heard of many children enjoying the book. I think the parents are the ones more likely to experience a crisis of mortality. Maybe the kids should hide it from them.

BONUS – Say anything to the readers that you haven’t had a chance to say above!

Please check out the trailer for the book with some Breaking Bad cast members. You can buy the book here and keep up with me on Twitter!

20 Questions, T&E Edition: Michael Q. Schmidt

Michael Q. Schmidt InterviewRecently I had the honor of interviewing Palmer Scott, of Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! fame. As I mentioned at the time, I was hopeful that he wouldn’t be the last member of that cast that I got to speak with, as there was a wealth of fascinating individuals on that show.

Michael Q. Schmidt might be the most fascinating. Not only did he make his Tim & Eric debut a few years earlier than the Awesome Show gang, but he’s also had probably the richest, most varied career as well.

I was — and am — flattered that Michael took the time to speak with me, and so enthusiastically provided me with all of the images you will see in this article as well. He’s a smart man, very chatty, and up for anything, which makes him a more perfect fit for this site than I realized. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed speaking with him.

LAST MINUTE ADDENDUM: Michael has actually volunteered to answer any reader questions, so don’t be shy if you have them! They will be posted in a followup feature down the line.

1) You might be the longest-serving of Tim & Eric’s onscreen collaborators, as you played a central character in Tom Goes to the Mayor. How did you get involved with that project? And what about it appealed to you?

If not the longest, then at least the most uninhibited. I first met Tim and Eric when I went to a scheduled audition on a Monday in late 2003, at their old Dipshot Films offices in LA. They wanted character types to be the townsfolk of Jefferton.

I posed for pictures making expressions and clapping hands…stuff like that. The next day I got a call. They liked my (then) long hair and (still) big tummy, and stated that they’d like it if I would agree to being a recurring character in their upcoming series.

I said sure.

They said I might have to wear a dress.

I said sure.

I returned Wednesday and they gave me a few larger size dresses to check. We decided to go with the now-famous muumuu, and Joy Peters came to life.

Michael Q. Schmidt InterviewMichael Q. Schmidt Interview

2) Unlike some of the later collaborators, who might have at least seen Tom Goes to the Mayor for reference, I can’t imagine you had much of an idea of what to expect from a Tim & Eric production. At any point was there confusion on your part about what they were intending to do, or what the final product was going to be like?

I am always up for anything off-the-wall…and was invited a few times to sit in the production offices and see episodes before they aired, so it was a treat and not a surprise. I found myself looking forward to see what Joy was up to next.

And a couple times I got to be non-Joy characters. In season 1, episode 7, “Vehicular Manslaughter,” there were scenes where Joy was using the family laptop for her online sex business, and I was the fellow with whom she was having computer sex.

Michael Q. Schmidt InterviewMichael Q. Schmidt Interview

Hilarious. Also, in season 2, episode 5, “Wrestling,” I was Tim’s body-double when Tom was bulked up on “Flax-O-Max.”

3) You were the face and body of Joy Peters, but not the voice. Do you feel that that hindered your ability to put your “stamp” on the character in any way?

As I mentioned above, I was not always silent…I did react to Joy in my own voice for the “Vehicular Manslaughter” episode. Since I was not originally asked to put a voice to Joy, I trusted production to be happy with my giving her character believable action.

The “stamp” of body and movement was mine, and I was happy to provide. What production did with guest stars and town members was have us re-enact our scenes in costume and in front of a white-screen for a photo shoot. They then chose through the photos of actions and picked out ones to convert to the now-famous, blue-outlined, mimeograph-like townsfolk of Jefferton.

4) Joy’s voice was provided by Stephanie Courtney, which was a shock to me when I found out. Many people probably know her as Progressive’s Flo now…a sunny, helpful character that couldn’t be further from Joy Peters. Did you get to work with her directly?

I first met Stephanie at the premiere party on Sunday, November 4th, 2004, when the first episode aired simultaneously. I was introduced to her by Eric Wareheim and was surprised and pleased when she threw her arms around my neck and gave me a hug…telling me she loved what I brought to the Joy character. Joy was pleasant and polite to everyone except her husband Tom. She is an absolute doll.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

5) “Raise My Roof” only constitutes about 30 seconds of screen time. Why do you think it’s become one of the more popular and recognizable moments from Awesome Show? What causes it to resonate?

Well, beyond the actual screen time, “Raise My Roof” became a featured moment of live performance during the Awesome Show summer tours (at least in the southwest). It first went “live” at the Muscles for Bones show at LA’s Troubadour in August of 2007.

It was so very well received, Tim and Eric had me reprise it at several more such live shows. That first live appearance was filmed and became the basis for the later Awesome Show season 3, episode 5, “Muscles for Bones.” The live dance can be watched on the DVD’s extras.

6) Where did the dance come from? And the idea in general? How much of it was you, and how much was Tim & Eric?

Tim and Eric pretty well knew that I was unabashed and up for any sort of craziness. Series producer Jon Mugar called me and asked if I’d like to a wacky dance for their “new” series.

I said sure.

He said, “You might have to be naked.”

I responded, sure.

The day of the shoot, we shot the exteriors on a sidewalk a block away from the studios and then went into the studios for the dance. When I asked what kind of dance they wanted, they played their “Raise My Roof” music and told me to improv something that would work, so I did. It was their music and their trust that I would bring it home.

One simple sentence introduced what became strangely popular: “Hi, I’m Michael Q. Schmidt, and I’d like to perform for you a new dance I invented, called ‘Raise My Roof.'”

They did ask that I should treat the dance with a dead seriousness and not smile. I was fully naked for the in-studio taping, but for airing on Adult Swim, they placed a black square over my privates. However, each live performance after that, I came out in front of the audience, introduced myself with that same stoic line, dropped my robe and stood fully naked waiting for the music to begin.

When it started, I would perform the dance for about 60 seconds until the music stopped. And for an extra “zing” when the music stopped, I would look around nervously for the dropped robe, and with my backside toward the audience do a slow bend-over to get the robe.

The moon came out and the satellites were in orbit. The appreciative shrieks were astounding.

7) You’ve been in close to a hundred projects over the years, including video games, music videos, feature films…pretty much everything. Does it worry you that a certain number of fans will always remember you for doing a naked dance on a silly television show?

Well…several years before meeting Tim and Eric I had been doing nude art modeling for classes throughout southern California. So being “known” for being naked is fine with me. If the fans like it, I’ll do it. No problem.

Indeed, several times I have appeared at fan parties and performed live, posed for pictures, and signed autographs.

Additionally, as an art model I have been naked in public for many events in Los Angeles, including art installations at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, The Hive Gallery, The Post Gallery, The Blackstone Gallery, LA’s Art Walk, and I was naked for six hours in Chinatown as “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

8) Tell us about your modeling career. You’ve taken what could have been a joke and elevated it to a form of art. How did that recontextualization come about?

Well…the first thing for me, as an art model, is to separate what I am doing from who I am. I do not think about the many starring eyes studying my every curve and crevice; I concentrate on simply holding still.

From the very first time I (nervously) stood in front of a room full of strangers, and then had them thank me for sharing my body, I was hooked. Apparently artists are mainly concerned with capturing the human form in its many varieties — tall, short, thin, fat, smooth, wrinkled, young, old — and I found a niche. There simply are not that many fat guys able to “let it all hang loose” in front of strangers.

My professionalism allows me to be the model they want and appreciate. They’d far rather draw curves and character than draw GQ gym rats.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

9) Body image is a major issue in modern America, and it’s something that can be tremendously damaging, to young people and children in particular. Why do you think that is?

I think the causes for self-doubt in body issues is rooted in and caused by the fashion industry trying to convince little girls that they need to be unrealistic “perfect” little Barbie doll types wearing size 1 clothes, and little boys that they need to become buff with 32 inch waists. That unrealistic demand on our youth creates the ready market for plastic surgeons who use body modification to make payments on their new Mercedes or Lexus.

As American youth is conditioned to be visual, simply telling someone to not worry about physicality is likely to fall on deaf ears. What I do as an art model is show that body type is what it is, and does not define the inner spirit.

10) How many of the Awesome Show regulars did you get to work with directly? While you weren’t in the show proper more than a few times, I know you appeared on Tim & Eric Nite Live and were a big part of the Chrimbus special.

Including the live shows, and apart from the obvious Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim and producers Bob Odenkirk, Jon Mugar and David Kneebone, I got to work with the talented Richard Dunn, Tanese Gray, David Lieberhart, James Quall, Palmer Scott, Ron Austar, Doug Lussenhop, Neil Hamburger, and non-regulars Rainn Wilson and Seth Green.

And, yes, while I was not as “regular” as many of the others, I did my best to create memorable moments for the fans. Those who have seen or found Tim & Eric Nite Live will remember my “Santa No-Pants” at the end of the Christmas episode, and my “Cupid” in the Valentine’s episode.

No doubt John Mayer will remember my Cupid most of all.

11) Tell us about your experiences with the fans.

I loved meeting fans at the Tim-and-Eric-hosted AwesomeCons in San Diego the same weekends as ComiCon. It gave me the opportunity to share stories and bring smiles.

Most memorable are those times a fan invited me to attend a party or event and perform “Raise My Roof” live. It’s for them.

12) Of all the actors, artists, musicians, directors, and anyone else that you’ve worked with over the course of your career, who was the most surprisingly pleasant?

I have enjoyed working with and for so many great talents. Wow. Once while completely naked I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Tony Shalhoub, and there are a great number of rising star filmmakers with whom working was a real treat. Acting with talent such as Richard Riehle and Bill Pullman on 2008’s Your Name Here, I was both pleased and surprised at how nicely they treated me.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

But I have to give the nod to director Don Coscarelli of 2012’s John Dies at the End. He made me feel very special indeed.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

Of course, more recently I worked with the amazingly funny Chris Kattan…I’m pretty sure he will not forget our time together on Fox’s new show Riot!

13) You’ve just been cast as the next James Bond. Who do you cast as your Bond girl?

I’d want dual Bond girls. (James gets what he wants, right?) My choices would be actress Robin Jean Springer [above] and model Debbie Day [below]. We have all three worked together on film projects, and they are wonderfully warm and beautiful talents with delightful senses of humor.

Michael Q. Schmidt InterviewMichael Q. Schmidt Interview

I think you might agree. Working with friends who know my proclivities makes any project better.

14) How well did you know Richard Dunn?

I first met him while working for Awesome Show, and while I did not know Richard as well as I might have wished, I had the honor to be part of his final photo project before he passed.

He and I were chosen to portray Bella and Edward in a spoof Twilight poster promoting a Los Angeles film festival. He made a marvelously ancient Edward and I a very matronly Bella.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

15) When I interviewed Palmer Scott it was very soon after you and he had worked on the pilot for Your Honor. He was tight lipped with details, but in the meantime some footage and photographs have started circulating. What can you tell us about the project?

I was introduced to the project by its creator, Adam Carbone, and cannot tell any more than has already been hinted at…except to say that any who loved our contributions to the former Awesome Show will be delighted with this new project. Color me tight-lipped as well… but I will available for appearances and interviews after the pilot is released.

16) IMDB lists your earliest credit (narrating a short film) as 2001. What did you do professionally before becoming an actor?

Actually I did not “narrate” the film Schmucks!, but had the role of an on-screen narrator, seen smoking his cigar and sipping his wine while discussing what the viewer was watching, in the manner of Masterpiece Theater.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

Before turning to acting, I worked as a hazardous materials consultant. I began modeling and some early acting during that same time. Indeed, when other employees bragged about traveling during vacation leave, I was able to brag about being in a film.

My very first feature, Naked Shadows, was shot in 2002 during the week I took off for my own birthday. Being an indie film, it took a few years to finally get released. Kirk Bowman, the director, had so much unused footage of my character from Naked Shadows that he created the short Misadventures of Mort the Landlord as an extra for the film’s DVD.

When the company for which I was working relocated, I left them and concentrated on more modeling and lots more acting.

17) What’s your favorite Tim & Eric moment or skit that you were not directly a part of?

Awesome Show season 2, episode 9, “Pepperoni”…because the episode begins with a live action re-enactment of Tom Peters in the Mayor’s office. It was a salute to the series Tom Goes to the Mayor, and had I not been working a different gig when it was filmed, I would have been in the episode as Joy Peters.

Maybe grabbing Tom by his ear and scolding him. Maybe having Tom hug his shrewish love Joy. My loss. Gee…I wonder if they still have her muumuu in storage?

18) The entire stable of Awesome Show regulars seems to be polite, enthusiastic, and always willing to engage with fans directly. Why do you think that is? And how did one show manage to assemble an entire team like that?

I like to think that like attracts like…or it could simply be kismet, and that something special in our makeups drew us all together.

We all appreciate the fans and their allowing us to be part of their lives. I think Tim and Eric were lucky to have found us all.

19) What would your dream project be? Any medium, any collaborators, any concept.

A dream project? Perhaps as the lead naked guy in a comedy series that, like the former Awesome Show, celebrates idiocy and pokes fun at societal mores and misconceptions.

Or, totally against type, how about a horrific feature film where I am the antagonist serial killer who. like a Ted Bundy cannibal, feasts upon the bodies of his victims after he uses them for his personal delight. And in the film’s climax, it is revealed that my character has survived and escaped to haunt everyone’s nightmares another day.

20) If you could perform “Raise My Roof” one-on-one for anybody, alive or dead, who would it be?

Simply put, I would be honored to perform it for anyone who asks…without the travel limitations caused by distance.

BONUS: What would you like to say to the readers that you haven’t had a chance to say above?

I greatly appreciate that I am myself appreciated by so many simply for giving in to my own adventurous spirit. If a fan wishes to have the “Raise My Roof” dance performed live at a party or event, or if a filmmaker wishes a Larger Than Life actor willing to give beyond expectations or hopes, they need only contact Michael Q. Schmidt.

I also wish to add that I love contributing to music videos. Some may remember having seen me in some and thought, “gee…that guy looks familiar.” What a director wants, I give.

I can give a director anything except thin.

20 Questions, T&E Edition: Palmer Scott

Palmer Scott InterviewOne of the things I really love about Facebook is that a huge portion of Tim & Eric’s stable of actors is not only active there, but are given a platform to reveal themselves as what they are: really, genuinely awesome human beings.

Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! isn’t just one of my favorite sketch comedy shows; it’s one of my favorite shows, period. A huge reason for that is supporting cast. As exciting as it is to see Ted Danson, Jeff Goldblum or Fred Willard pop up for some silly skit, the actor star power is overshadowed by the minor stars, who gave the show much of its identity, and a bizarre, passive feeling of continuity.

One thing I’ve been wanting to do for a while is compile a set of interviews with the supporting cast, and I finally found a reason to kick it off: Palmer Scott — best known for “Sit on You” — is auctioning off his iconic Tim & Eric shirt on eBay. (You can find the listing here.)

With limited time and no preparation, Palmer agreed to a quick interview in order to promote his auction. So, if you’re interested at all, please do click through and place a bid. In the meantime, enjoy my brief chat with Mr. Scott, and stay tuned…hopefully this will not be the last Tim & Eric interview you see here!

1) Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Salt Lake City. No, I’m not a Mormon. And I was raised in an unincorporated area called Kearns. I was very interested in mythology and astronomy as a child, and as I got older history and science fiction. In junior high I became enamored of The Lord of the Rings.

2) When did you decide you wanted to become an actor?

In the fourth grade I started entertaining other students by doing impressions of cartoon characters and The Penguin. This slowly led to doing theater.

3) Were you familiar with Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job before you auditioned?

No, I’d never seen Awesome Show. I was only familiar with Tom Goes to the Mayor from one or two episodes.

4) How did they find you?

Well, I’m not — despite what has been said — an “internet actor.” I’ve been working in Los Angeles since 1994, and was doing commercials and television in Salt Lake since 1991. Awsome Show was a regular audition. They asked for comedic actors doing dramatic monologues, so I cut a piece from a play I’d recently done and went in with that.

5) How do you feel about the enduring love for such a silly song about sitting on people?

I’m amazed by the attention “Sit on You” has brought to me, and it would be really ungracious of me not to appreciate what it’s done for me.

6) Do you get recognized in public?

I’ve only had positive experiences from people recognizing me. I’ve been stopped on the street, the subway, buses, even in a hospital. I will always stop for a picture, preferably one where I’m sitting on the person!

7) Were you hired for Awesome Show specifically for “Sit on You”? Or was that just one of the things they wanted to have you do?

I was hired just for “Sit on You” only, but the fan reaction was so positive they brought me back.

8) Who are some of your biggest influences as an actor?

Zero Mostel and Jonathan Winters.

9) What was your response to seeing the lyrics to “Sit on You” for the first time? And for that matter, “Make My Bub-Bubs Bounce.”

With both of those songs my first thoughts were “Where are they going with this?” and “I hope I can do what they want.” I always try to be as professional as I can be on any set.

10) How much direction were you given for those skits?

The blank-faced character was from Tim Heidecker, but all the dancing is from me. Eric has always wanted me to be more bizarre and animated when I’ve done things for him.

11) What’s your favorite Tim & Eric skit that you did not appear in?

I don’t want to say, because many of the other actors from the show are friends. I don’t want to be seen as favoring one over another.

12) If you had total creative control, what would be your dream project?

Someone is working on a project that is still in the initial phases that I really want to do. The only thing I can say is that it’s a short film. As I’m not one of those actor/writer/director/producer types, all I want is a reasonably funny role in a sitcom. Maybe a college professor, or an office manager.

13) Tell us a little bit about working with Richard Dunn.

I only worked on one skit with Richard, unfortunately. It was the tennis game between Tim & Eric. But I did talk to him a few times. He was a sweet man and wrote a poem for me that I’ve misplaced, much to my chagrin.

14) Do you have friends or relatives that don’t quite “get” the humor that had you sitting on people and promoting healthy shrim levels?

Yes, I have some friends and family that are totally mystified by the whole Tim & Eric phenomenon. But some of them weren’t all that thrilled by my episodes on Nip/Tuck.

15) Your first major role was in an episode of Frasier. That seems like a pretty great start to a TV career.

It was wonderful! I had a three day contract, my own trailer and go to meet everyone in the cast. Peri Gilpin and Jane Leeves are beautiful with no makeup on. The only person I didn’t get to talk to was Kelsey Grammer.

16) Which cast of Saturday Night Live was the best?

I have to go back to my youth and say the original cast was by far the best! Jane Curtin, Chevy chase, Dan Ackroyd, how could you go wrong?

17) It seems like you’ve remained friends with many of the other Awesome Show stars. Why do you think everybody became so close?

This business gathers many people who seem to be either really nice, or evil incarnate. For some reason, Tim & Eric always seemed to cast the nice ones.

18) Who on the cast do you wish you could have worked with more, and why?

Again, I’d hate to play favorites. All the people on Awesome Show are unique and gifted individuals.

19) Can you tell us anything about the pilot you recently shot with Adam Carbone?

It’s not really my place to talk about it. Remember, an actor is just an employee. Adam and others have been working on this project for years, and it’s not my place to spoil it for them. But it’s really funny as hell.

20) You openly interact with fans on your Facebook page. How would you describe the Tim & Eric audience?

Tim & Eric fans run the gamut from teens who like the vulgarity of “Poop Tubes” to grandmothers who like to keep their minds fresh and not live in the past. The main thing they have in common is a broad sense of humor and the ridiculous, as well as a kindness of spirit.

BONUS: Say anything to the readers that you didn’t get to say above!

Because of the state of the economy I’m still flogging my short book Sitting My Way Through Life, and I have the original “Sit on You” shirt for sale on eBay.