Copyright © 2009 by Neil C. Obremski. These are exclusive interviews conducted by Stephanie Schoppert for FanSiter in 2009. MP3 files belong to individual copyright owners and used with their permission; they may be downloaded and played but not redistributed.
Cranius is a true WoW fan and gamer. He's been through it all, the good, the bad, and the undead. But what makes him truly amazing is that his love of the game turned into making videos. What started out small, grew bigger and bigger until Cranius was creating his own music to go along with his videos. The music became even more popular than the videos, so much so that Cranius has recently released his first album – Big Blue Dress, which is a compilation of 5 of his most popular WoW inspired songs.
Stephanie: Where did the name Cranius come from?
Cranius: I wanted a name for a mage in a game I was playing before WoW called "Asheron's Call" (AC). Mages usually maxed out "intelligence", which affected their magical powers, so I tried to think of a name that would fit someone with a large brain. Cranium became Cranius, and that character turned out to be my most viable. Soon all my gamer friends (and enemies) knew me as "Cranius" and it became my online identity.
Stephanie: So how did you get started with creating video game music and videos?
Cranius: The videos started first. I was initially inspired by game trailers for various games. For example, Turbine would release trailers for up-coming Asheron's Call patches to get players excited about the patch. I had the idea to use homemade "trailers" as recruiting videos to show would-be guild members what your guild was all about. The music came later as I found that the stories I wanted to tell really deserved their own original music, and also because I recognized that using copyrighted music might eventually lead to trouble, even if it wasn't being enforced at the time.
Stephanie: How long had you been playing WoW when you started making videos? Do you still play WoW?
Cranius: I started playing WoW on opening night in November 2004. I stood in line with all the other gamer nerds to buy my copy at midnight, and played through the night. I made my first WoW video about 3 months later. I still play WoW, though I have been taking a break recently to try out a new MMO called "Aion". I generally try every new MMO that comes out for a month or so.
Stephanie: What was your first song/video?
Cranius: As my guild was all about PvP, I made my first video, "Beer for my Horses", to show people what it would be like to be in a guild that liked PvP since many people hadn't really experienced that yet. Or if they had, their experience was bad. I wanted to show them what success looked like, to show them how fun it could be, and to inspire like-minded people to join our guild so that we could be even more successful. The video turned out to be a raging success and started a new creative release for me.
I wrote my first song for a movie in early 2006. It was called "Big Blue Dress", and is still my most popular song and the title of my album. It's about a mage who is lamenting the fact that he has to wear dresses (aka "robes"). Since writing that song, I generally only do original music now (with some exceptions).
Stephanie: How do you create your videos? What is the process?
Cranius: First comes the idea. I have little control over this. A vision forms in my head, images, sounds, critical lyrics. Sometimes I write ideas down so that I won't forget them, but generally it's just floating around in my head. I may shoot a few "proof of concept" scenes just to see if my idea really looks as cool as I think it will. If I'm writing an original song for the video, I'll agonize over the song for months (or worse), trying to dial in something I think people will like. Some filming I can do alone with my own characters and some requires actors. Once I'm ready to shoot the video, I recruit actors and schedule a time to do "filming" much like you would do for making a real movie. In-game filming is done with fraps, which records what you see on your screen into movie clips. After I have enough footage to start assembling the video, I start to edit it together with the music using Sony Vegas. Recently, Legs and I have been working together to make movies and so this process is a little different, but essentially the same steps are involved.
Stephanie: Do you start with a song first or a video idea first?
Cranius: After the "story" has developed, then usually the song comes first. Once I have a semi-final version of the song, I will start to film and put things together. Often times I'll then bounce back and forth between iterations of the song and the video until it's just right.
Stephanie: Why do you think your videos have become so popular?
Cranius: I think the biggest reason is that I was the first guy to write an original song for a WoW video. I think fans really appreciate hearing something especially written for them in their fantasy world.
Stephanie: How did you get the idea to come out with an entire album of songs?
Cranius: As soon as I released my first song, "Big Blue Dress", people started asking for more. They also kept asking, "is this song on iTunes"? So it was my fans' idea more than mine.
Stephanie: How has it been received so far?
Cranius: It's been amazing. I have no idea how well it's actually selling because that data won't come in for a while, but all the reviews, thousands of YouTube comments, emails, facebook posts, etc have been overwhelmingly positive.
Stephanie: What are you most proud of about releasing your first album?
Cranius: The fact that I released it. It has been something I've been thinking about for years, and was close to talking myself out of it for a variety of reasons. Mostly, I'm just a perfectionist and it's hard to "finish" something. I really have to force myself to do that regularly, and this album was no exception.
Stephanie: Do you have ideas for more albums?
Cranius: I've never had a shortage of ideas. The thing I find myself short of is time. Eventually I will be able to finish enough songs to warrant releasing a 2nd album, but it may be a while before that happens.
Stephanie: What do you find to be your biggest inspiration in writing music?
Cranius: When I find something funny, touching, inspiring, etc, I generally think others will feel the same way. My inspiration is really just my own experience. For example, when I did the Eastern Plaguelands, I was touched by the story of Pamela and her doll. I'm not really much of a lore guy, so when this story touched me, I knew there was something special about it. I wrote "Darrowshire" as a result of just doing the quest.
Stephanie: Horde or Alliance?
Cranius:Both, but my main characters are Alliance.
Stephanie: What's your race?
Cranius: Human, though I did spend a few years with a Gnome Mage back when their racial ability, "Escape Artist", was too useful for a PvP mage to ignore.
Stephanie: What's your main?
Cranius: My main is currently a human death knight. You may have seen him in "Don't Make Me Get My Main" or in "Last Man Standing". I had been playing a mage for 4 years. Other classes just didn't appeal to me. There was something about the Death Knight that caught my eye, and I've been playing him ever since. My mages are jealous.
Stephanie: Favorite instance?
Cranius: I really don't like instances very much. I know most people don't agree with me on this, but there are a lot of things about instances that bother me. Perhaps the biggest of these is that I can't kill you if you're in an instance, and I'm a PvPer. It kinda defeats the purpose of having a PvP server if you can just hop into an instance portal and be safe for hours. Some of the best times I've ever had playing games involved battling for control of important dungeons in games where instances didn't exist. I miss those times. That said, I do like to experience each instance at least once to see the content and the story line. My favorite is probably "Caverns of Time: Culling of Stratholme" because it was so awesome to see Stratholme before the plague and to see the characters involved in that story. I wish they'd do more of those, particularly something around the Under City (hint, hint).
Stephanie: Have you ever camped someone?
Cranius: Regularly, but only in retribution. It's what inspired both "Don't Make Me Get My Main" and "Happy Place".
Stephanie: Favorite battleground?
Cranius: Old school Alterac Valley, where battles could rage literally for days, and where you had to release powerful giants, armies of ram-riding dwarves, and flying NPCs to assist you. Good times.
Stephanie: What WoW achievement are you most proud of?
Cranius: I think I was perhaps most proud of hitting rank 12 (Marshal) in the old PvP system without the help of an organized team. That said, it was a huge grind and I swore off grinding after that.
Stephanie: Are/Were you ever addicted?
Cranius: I was, but I no longer am. I have been trying to spice things up a bit more and have been largely successful with that while still remaining a gamer at heart.
Stephanie: What do you think is the best video sharing site on the web?
Cranius: YouTube. There are technically better sites, and there are sites that are awesome for WoW videos or gaming videos specifically, but you just can't beat YouTube for trying to reach an audience.
Stephanie: What video is your favorite?
Cranius: That's a tough question because there are so many over the years that I have enjoyed immensely. There are also so many different genres and styles to choose from that it's hard to say that one is better than the other. I guess if I had to pick one video to call my favorite, it would be the one that inspired me to start making WoW movies. That movie is called "Medieval Man" by Balgosa Windspire, and isn't exactly the best example of movie-making. However, it was the first "machinima" I saw for WoW and it used a song from the old Warcraft II CD, which had a hidden track with this song on it. I played a LOT of Warcraft II and was already familiar with the song. This movie struck a chord with me and inspired me to start thinking about making music videos for WoW
Stephanie: How long does it take you to put a video together?
Cranius: The movie can take a few days or several months depending on the complexity and the techniques used. I think the average from start to finish is probably a month or so.
Stephanie: How many tries does it usually take to get a scene just the way you want it?
Cranius: If I have a very specific scene I want to get using in-game filming, I'll generally shoot it 2 or 3 times. One of those will usually work. Sometimes I have to go back and try again if I didn't notice something that needs to be fixed until later. Also, I often get "happy accidents" where some of the best scenes in my movies weren't planned at all. They just happened while I was filming.
Stephanie: Are all your videos made entirely from game play?
Cranius: Of the videos I've made myself, only 1 has a single composited scene. Everything else is filmed in-game. I've been recently collaborating with Legs, and she brings new skills to the table that I don't possess. We try to do in-game filming wherever possible to make it seem more "real", but there are scenes that you just can't film in game. For those, Legs uses her compositing techniques rather than in-game filming. There are some really good examples of this in our recent collaboration "Wrought". That movie wouldn't be the same with just in-game filming.
Stephanie: Did you ever think your videos would become this popular?
Cranius: No, I really didn't. When I got started, nobody had heard of YouTube. Video streaming wasn't common, and there was a huge tax to pay in downloading videos (the time it took to download, and the hard drive space it required to store). Video sharing and social networking weren't what they are today. Today it's just part of the culture to pass video links around, and I certainly didn't anticipate that, especially for "gamer" videos. I also really didn't anticipate how much people would like my music. That was another pleasant surprise.
Stephanie: Are you going to continue creating videos? Are more on the way?
Cranius: There will definitely be more videos. I'm working on a new song now and I have about 5 more ideas in the oven.
Jeff Barrett is a comedian that has been all over the country performing in comedy clubs. He has even been featured on the Showtime, but he tempers that by the fact that he has also been on America's Most Wanted (for a reenactment). Jeff Barrett's comedy is filled with current events and nonpartisan political commentary. He is never afraid to tell it as he sees it in both his comedy and his art.
Stephanie Schoppert: So how did you get into comedy, because that is most times that's not exactly a chosen profession.
Jeff Barrett: No it is not. I had been interested in comedy from the first time HBO had a comedy special. And Saturday Night Live, I used to go over to one of my best friends' house because his mom didn't care if we stayed up late and watched TV. So we would just die laughing watching Akroid and Belushi, so I was always into comedy and I remember sneaking to a friend's house while we were on vacation and they had George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on TV. So I remember I'd let everyone else go out and play and I'd sit in the bedroom and just listen to that for an hour.
After I graduated high school I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and graduated from there and came down to Central Florida and worked my way up to Art Director. But I was going out to comedy clubs in Orlando, way before Bonkerz there was club that was in town and they had an open mic once a month. It took me about 3 years, I finally got the nerve up and wrote my own five minute bit of material and went up on open mic under several gin and tonics. Man all it takes is getting that one laugh and you're hooked.
It took me about another year before I worked on some other stuff and then got back out and started hitting open mics. Then when Bonkerz came to town, that was back in the early 80s I got hired on as one of their house MCs so I got to work with great acts, Seinfield, Rosie O'Donnell, Paula Poundstone, I toured with her for a bit, on her Florida dates. And you know, just worked my way up and that's what it is, there is no school. The school is the clubs, so you got to the clubs, you watch comics that you like, you try not to steal the material but learn how they got their style and that's it.
I think a lot of young comics don't do that anymore or as much as we used to. It was every chance you got to watch a big name comedian, you took it, cause that was your education. So we used to work the comedy clubs, work around comics to get advice from them and then a lot of us would go to some late burger joint, it would be Denny's usually and you'd stay there till four in the morning. Comics would just share stories, share ideas, and help each other write bits and you know you move on from there.
Stephanie: So do you ever get heckled?
Jeff: Oh yeah, still get heckled and it's no fun either.
Stephanie: Now come on, don't you talk back and have some fun?
Jeff: Well here's the logic with hecklers and for some reason people are trained to think that's what you're supposed to do is go to a club and disrupt a show. It's one thing to get heckled, and I don't mind hecklers as long as somebody's getting a laugh, I don't care if it's the heckler or its me. I don't have to be the dominate one but yeah its real easy to slam people and usually that's all it takes, but when you get somebody that's so drunk that you can't even reason with them. One you can't even understand what's coming out of their mouth that proves to be a challenge cause how do you come back to jibberish. I have a great line I use, where I just got heckled by a doctor of all people, a drunk ass doctor in a show. He was yelling something incoherent out and me and the crowd could not understand what he was saying. So I turned to the crowd and said "let me look up Rosetta Stone for drunk asshole doctor and see if I can manage the language to communicate."
So those are things you keep in your pocket for worthless heckles like that but for the most part, it's not fun, it can be fun slamming people but you know we had a show that we came prepared to do and so like I said if somebody heckles and you slam them and move on, then it's great for everybody. But if its somebody that has to keep coming back for more, it gets old, it wears you out, it wears the crowd out and it just gets old. If you're working great clubs then they'll usually handle that. They'll let you take care of the heckler until it gets out of hand and then they'll come and police the room and tell people they are out. So I don't mind it, I get heckled from time to time, it's just part of the business. But the more seasoned you get at it, I mean I've jumped the gun too early and gotten heckled or I've slammed somebody so hard to where the crowd turned against me, so the key is, you got to let them piss the crowd off first before you get to vicious, then it's gold. It's patience just like anything else.
Stephanie: So have you ever had a bad show?
Jeff: Oh yeah, I've had lots of bad shows. I mean you don't want a bad show and it can be a number of things, it can be that you're not right for that crowd or it could be so much to do with atmosphere of how a crowd is set up. You know a lot of clubs, especially one nighters that are in bars, they don't think anything about atmosphere. For a comedian our voice is our instrument so if we don't have a good sound system, that's to our disadvantage, horrible lighting or no lighting, again if you are doing facial expressions nobody can see your face and if you're performing in the dark well then you must not be that important for this show.
But I've had bad shows just where I've started off wrong or wasn't in the right kind of rhythm. It just happens. And again it's nothing you really want to happen and sometimes a show will start off slow or bad, and you can turn it around and sometimes it gets progressively worse. All comedians still can have bad shows from time to time, it's just the unluck of the draw.
Stephanie: So what do you do if you are starting off in a bad show, how do you try and turn that around?
Jeff: Well your mind starts racing and you know most of it for me is usually a rhythm. I can get up there and I can tell my rhythm's off, like if I tried something new and it didn't come over well. So your mind is racing, so it's like okay what do I got to do. So it's either you're looking at it from a pace standpoint where you got to speed up your pace or maybe you got to slow it down, maybe you're going to too fast and you're trying to rush stuff to get it out. So sometimes it just means taking a deep breath, taking a swig off of beer and going ok, lets try this again. I've done that. And things will happen in your show, where a whole tray of glass might drop and break and you know if you just come up with something witty. A typical stock line is "Oh just put that anywhere." But it's just being able to work fast on your feet so that comes whether you have hecklers, or disruptions in your show or a bad set in the stage you are standing on or your show is setting off sluggish, it's up to you to turn it around.
But I always tell comics, especially younger comics that the crowd has no idea what is coming out of your mouth. So a lot of times people put more effort on screwing up you know. I always said the crowd doesn't know when the punch line is coming typically, unless they've seen your show. So if you do a joke, you know in a split second whether it is getting a laugh or not and instead of drawing more attention to it by saying "Oh I guess that didn't go over" you know tighten it up, move on to the next joke. All they know is it was a long setup, they didn't know that they were supposed to laugh at a certain point.
You know you can only do that for so long before people start going well okay this guy's not funny at all but you just have to like I said be fresh. There's times where I haven't been up for a show and I had to. I've been sick as a dog in my room and it's all I can do to get to the show and get to the stage and then you've got to muster up every ounce of energy to put on a good show. Then go back to your room and die a horrible death. So there's a lot of elements and when you're booked you're booked, you're going to go on.
Stephanie: So do you consider yourself to be an observational comedian?
Jeff: Yeah probably if I had to put a label on it. Observational. Political. I do political humor but I don't do like left-right humor. The political humor I've been doing especially in my current show is consumer based. So I do a lot of politics but my politics are about healthcare, about medicinal marijuana, on hemp being illegal for a ridiculous amount of time, so I do like social awareness comedy, I guess you would call it.
Stephanie: Have you ever been criticized for being too offensive or going to extremes?
Jeff: Oh yeah constantly. I happen to love the F-word and unfortunately never everybody has the wonderful ambition that I have to use it. But there's times that I don't. But yeah I get criticized a lot, everybody gets criticized, you open yourself up for criticism, especially when you are speaking your point of view. I used to do a lot of, and I still do, anti-smoking jokes and so I would go on these rants about smokers and you know I was addicted to tobacco so I'm not an entire hypocrite about it. But I would get people coming up after the show going "you're an asshole" and I said "why because I told you everything you should know and should do?" and he goes "yeah" and I go "well you're an asshole because you're still smoking."
But yeah I get criticized and that's just nature, people criticize art, people criticize music, they criticize comedy, that's their right, that's their opinion. I'm pretty solid in the political stuff that I'm throwing out there, like I said I rip on fad diets, and healthcare and big pharma companies, I show no mercy with those people. But I have a lot of people on my side, especially now. I've been doing jokes about this stuff for ten years and people now are just finally starting to wake up. I've been screaming about it, they just weren't listening. But especially any time you are doing social commentary jokes you're opening yourself up obviously.
Stephanie: You are also an artist, do you have the same personality in your art as you do in your comedy?
Jeff: Yes and no, as far as my own personal art, I would have to say yes. I did a painting for a show once at the Orlando Museum of Art and the title of the show was "Humor in Art" and I went well I've been wanting to get involved in these shows and I'm a comedian and artist so it was a no brainer. So it was pretty much that was the topic "Humor in Art" and you could paint whatever would spring a smile or make somebody chuckle in a painting. So being a vegan that I am and wanting to get a point across I did a beautiful airbrush painting close-up of a baby breastfeeding. And the baby's looking at the viewer, while he's breastfeeding and I put a milk moustache on the baby and called it "Got Breasts?" And my artist's statement that had to go with the painting was all pro-breastfeeding, pro-women and anti-dairy and milk and formula, and wrote a humorous stint about it.
And the painting got rejected from the show. So I called the woman that I got the rejection letter from, who I knew and asked "well was it because it was an airbrush painting?" because a lot of art galleries snub airbrushed art like it isn't art. She said No, it was a beautiful painting, and I come to find out that it was a bunch of old ladies on the committee and they thought it was distasteful. They obviously didn't read my artist's statement which was trying to prove a point that breastfeeding was something natural that everybody should be able to do and not be scrutinized.
But yeah some of my art gets criticized and that's fine with me. You know art is a story, just like comedy is a story, hopefully humorous, but I love criticism. I would rather hear criticism than praise because for the most part you know when you've done a good job and I want to improve. Not that you have to take anybody's advice, the criticism isn't always the right criticism.
But yeah my art, time to time I'll do straight beautiful pieces that people admire and then I'll do you know which is the stuff I love to do which is the stuff that…I was to raise consciousness and that is what art is supposed to do. It's supposed to make you stop, think and have a lot of imagery.
So I have the best of both worlds. I've had people ask me, which do you like better? Comedy or Art? It's like well why do I have to choose? I love them both. I don't need to choose I can do them both, freely.
Stephanie: So who is your favorite comedian?
Jeff: I have a lot of favorite comedians but I have an older comedian and I have a newer comedian that unfortunately has passed away. But I'm a big fan of Lenny Bruce, him and I share the same birthday and he was a big political satirist in his day and obviously rustled a lot of feathers wherever he went. And he was never known as like a drop dead funny comic. He was always known as that Lenny Bruce was "dirty" of course over history and stuff nobody really knows a lot about him unless you are really into comedy. He hardly ever cussed, he would use foul language in his act, he was in a nightclub and he had a lot of great social humor and was constant criticizing whether it be the government or the status quo and he had great audiences with lawyers and all kinds of people that really appreciated that kind of humor. So Lenny Bruce is one of my favorite comics and Bill Hicks of course.
He was a comic's comic and just about any comic will tell you that he is right up there as one of their top favorites. I'd say he was the Lenny Bruce of our generation and I got to actually meet him and work with him and he unfortunately died at 32. He did a lot of Bush 1 jokes and its funny because he is getting real popular now and unfortunately he's dead, but a lot of his jokes about Bush were relevant to Bush 2 when he was in the White House. And he was alive when Clinton was still in term and he would definitely take his shots at Clinton. But he was just a great social critic comedian and you know now all you can do is watch his videos and listen to his albums. But those are probably my two favorite comics.
To learn more about Jeff Barrett visit his website.
Mr. Deity (Brian Dalton)
Mr. Deity is a hilarious webshow that follows the daily life of the creator and the trials that come with managing his creation. Luckily he is not alone as he has help from Jesse (the savior, the boy), his assistant Larry and his on and off girlfriend, Lucy (Lucifer). The show is geared toward making you laugh while trying to explain some of those infamous contradictions.
Stephanie Schoppert: What first inspired you to create this series?
Brian Dalton: I was inspired by the 2004 Asian Tsunami. It was just one of the most gratuitous awful things I can remember in my lifetime. My brother-in-law (at the time) was from Sri-Lanka, and his family lost a number of people they'd known. I saw how it affected him, and the classic question of theodicy (how there can be evil when God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful) kept rolling around in my head. So, I wrote this short script about it which people now know as Mr. Deity and the Evil. That's what started this ball rolling.
Stephanie: What would you say is your favorite episode of the series?
Brian: That's a really hard question because I like different episodes for different reasons. There are a number of episodes that are just pure comedy — they have nothing much to say philosophically, but rather go for the joke. In that vein, I love Mr. Deity and the Man from this third season. Of the ones that have a bit more to say, I really love Mr. Deity and the Evil from season one, and Mr. Deity and the Book, Part Deux from season three.
Stephanie: What would you like to have happen with this show?
Brian: We really want to expand the show and do it as a half-hour, one-camera sitcom.
Stephanie: Is it all about being a skeptic and questioning religion? Are you against religion itself or just the hypocrisies that may be found within it?
Brian: The show is all about whatever I'm feeling when I write the episode. Sometimes, it's just pure comedy. Religion has been so sacrosanct for so long that it's presently a goldmine of rarely excavated material. So, when I just want to have fun with it, that's what I do. But sometimes I want to educate. In a culture like our own, where the majority religion still saturates our public lives, it's very hard to step back and look at the things we believe and hold dear. I know how hard it is, because I was entirely devout for a while. What I like to do is hold up a bit of a mirror and say, "in any other circumstance, you would probably see the absurdity of this or that belief. Look, if you dare."
As for religion, I am generally opposed to people taking religion seriously. In general, I'm opposed to any philosophy or ideology to which a greater measure of devotion results in a more frightening world. I believe that religion should be used like any other recreational drug: One should engage in it sparingly. It should never be allowed to take over one's life. It should be kept private. It should not be exposed to children. And one should always have a large bag of Doritos nearby in case the munchies set in.
Stephanie: Your shows seems to take place in no real frame of time because things in the present affect things that happen in the past and things that have yet to happen yet will be mentioned. Do you do this as part of a criticism as "Mr. Deity" being all-knowing or is it more a way of making it reachable to a wider audience?
Brian: One of the things that I love about writing the show is that there are no boundaries. You have a central character who, along with his associates, can do anything, anywhere, at any time. There's really no statement there. It's just a fantastic set-up.
Stephanie: Have you ever come under fire for some of things you say on the show?
Brian: The most criticism I received was for the episode with George W. Bush. Both sides hated me for that one, and I learned my lesson — stay away from politics! The other episode that got me a bit of heat was the episode about 9/11. I think that for some people, it's never going to be okay to comment on that event or make humorous observations about the way people deal with that kind of tragedy. I understand that position, and I have great empathy for it. I simply don't agree, and I certainly don't think that the rest of us should have our thoughts and feelings held hostage because someone might be tender.
You have a nothing is safe approach to the show, after all you sell T-shirts that say "Breast Cancer?" "Yeah Leave it in." Are you pushing boundaries for the sake of pushing boundaries or is there a true ulterior motive here?
Brian: I actually created that shirt for a fan in her late '20s with whom I've become good friends. She devoted her life to social work, got married, adopted two little girls, and was then struck by cancer, which has since spread to nearly every part of her body. When she originally wrote me, they didn't think she'd make it to Christmas ('08). Thank whomever, she's still with us.
As for pushing the envelope, I'd say I'm a little late to that party, if that was my intention. I don't really even think in those terms. I just write what I think and feel. If I can't defend what I've written, we don't shoot it. If anyone in the cast thinks I'm taking a cheap shot or being mean-spirited, we don't shoot it. I don't want to offend. I know that's not always possible, but I really do try hard to keep my motives pure and my scripts free of "pushing the envelope" for the sake thereof.
Stephanie: Did you ever really understand the holy trinity?
Brian: No. And I'm in really good company — with everyone else who has ever lived!
Stephanie: You seem to know quite a bit about religion, were you raised in a religious household?
Brian: I grew up as a Mormon. I now call myself a Formon (former Mormon). I didn't take to it well until I was 17. Then, I got religion with a vengeance (as Woody Allen might say). I became frighteningly devout. Instead of my parents telling their teenage son that I needed to get my act together, I was telling them how they ought to be living. Over the course of the next ten years, I gradually thought my way out (as an old friend had predicted I would).
Anyone who knows me will tell you that whatever I do, I do it 209.43%! Religion was no different. I read, and read, and read. Not just Mormon stuff, but everything I could get my hands on that had to do with religion. I know Christianity, Mormonism, and Judaism backwards and forwards.
Stephanie: Do you think your episodes have taken on a more intellectual side as they have progressed and gotten longer or has it just been the natural progression from asking questions?
Brian: Season three is much more "edgy" than season two. But the first season is pretty heady (I think) and vocal, and I think I've simply gotten back to that in season three. I will admit that I am presently much more concerned about the effects of religion than I was three years ago when we started. I've had a lot of emails from believers that have concerned me. Most of the email I get from believers is very positive. Having been a true believer myself, I knew when I started this that the vast majority of them would be able to laugh at the show. And that has been the case. But, there are a significant number of people out there who take their monotheism very seriously, and truly believe that I'm going to Hell, and dragging others down with me. I've never received any kind of physical threat, but I have been truly disturbed at how people cannot see how entirely evil the doctrines of Hell, damnation, and sin can be. I have realized from these emails that the more devout people are, the more we're all in serious and immanent danger.
Stephanie: You are obviously a skeptic and like to question religion and in one episode you allow a skeptic into heaven, is this indicative of your own belief of what would happen if heaven did exist? Do you think you have what it takes to talk your way into heaven?
Brian: Well, I don't think it's a matter of talking my way in. I really do believe that if there is some a God up there, I have nothing to fear. I know my heart, and I know I've made an honest attempt to search for truth. One of the reasons I am where I am philosophically is that when I was a believer, I took Jesus seriously. He said the truth will set you free, and so that's what I've pursued. To me, the Christian idea that God cares about what you think and believe more than what you do and how you live your life, is the most evil doctrine ever conceived. If God exists and he is actually good, I'm covered.
Stephanie: "Mr. Deity" is supposed to be all knowing and all powerful and yet your portray him in the manner of someone who is just winging it and trying to figure it out as they go. Was the reasoning behind this solely comedic or do you consider it just another device to encourage people to start asking questions?
Brian: Mr. Deity doesn't keep his all-knowingness turned on — it's just too disturbing for him. That also gives him some cover (ignorance is bliss). It's also impossible to have conversations like we do on the show, when one of the participants is all-knowing. His response would be, "yeah, I know," to everything that is said.
Stephanie: Voltaire once stated that "If God did not exist, it would be necessary for us to create him." How do you feel about that statement is the idea of religion necessary? Especially in this new modern age that we are living in?
Brian: I think Voltaire was probably right. Although, I don't know that mankind needed monotheism. To me, that's where things start getting ugly, because in it's most primitive form, monotheism has to be intolerant. The only way you get rid of that is to secularize both the state, and to the extent possible, the religion itself. We have done that fairly well here in America by stripping religion of it's power and making it compete in the marketplace. Subjecting religion to the pressures of competition has reduced religion in America (for the most part) to it's lowest common denominator — fast and easy salvation.
Stephanie: You have a new series that is a bit more down to Earth, shall we say, what can you tell us about it?
Brian: Our new series is kind of a behind the scenes show of Deity, and a behind the scenes show of itself. We basically just play versions of ourselves (I'm the most warped version because I know how far I'm willing to push it). Everything that happens on the show is reality based. We just bee it up or change the circumstances a bit. It's a lot of fun, and a great diversion/extension of Mr. Deity and the Deity universe (so to speak).
To learn more about Mr. Deity and to watch all three seasons visit the official website.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
Zach Weiner has been writing Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for years and has gained a very strong following for his comics which span a large range of topics and ideas. His comics have the ability to question religion, politics and society in a lighthearted and fun way. And unlike most comics these are anything from mundane and simple, though the jokes come easy, they have an understated intelligence. From day to day you will never know what his comics will be about, the only thing you do know is that you are going to laugh.
Stephanie: How/When did you get into writing comics?
Zach: Probably around 1997 or 1998, while in high school. A friend and I decided to write comics and essays together for a website. I ended up taking it over.
Stephanie: What was your first comic about?
Zach:It was your standard couple of guys hanging out being sarcastic webcomic. In my defense, it wasn't THAT much of a cliche back then...
Stephanie:What is your favorite comic that you have written?
Zach:I'm not sure I have a favorite, but one I was happy to have pulled off was the one where a guy looks like he's flying (dressed as Superman), but the fact that the caption is written up one side of the panel tells you that he's just falling.
Stephanie: Do you have any aspirations of syndication outside of the internet either in a book or newspaper?
Zach: Publication, yes. Syndication, no. Having talked to a number of webcartoonists who tried syndication, I've been turned off of the system. Why would I want to have my work edited when I can support myself without it?
Stephanie: What do you say to fans when they complain that you don't update fast enough?
Zach:I actually almost never get this. SMBC is updated 7 times a week.
Occasionally I fall behind by a day, but this is rare. And, usually people are pretty supportive.
Stephanie: Why did you decide to do a web comic instead of publishing elsewhere?
Zach:Well, the only other options are making a 'zine or hoping to get syndicated. The first requires you to interact with the outside world, and the second is about as likely as winning the lottery.
I actually sent packets out to syndicates reallllly early on in my cartooning "career," but was rejected or ignored by all of them.
Stephanie: Where do you get the inspiration for your comics? They seem to span a wide range of ideas and topics.
Zach:I don't have a specific writing method, but I try to read a lot and write a lot. I find that if I'm low on ideas, it's usually because I'm not being exposed to enough new media.
Stephanie: How did you promote your web comic in order to increase awareness?
Zach: Lots of ways. You can run ads, post in forums, join voting sites like topwebcomics.com. But, the best way to get new traffic is to get a link off another site. The best way to do that is to make a really good, consistently updated webcomic.
Stephanie:What was your most controversial comic?
Zach:The only comic I ever got any trouble over was one where frat boys draw obscene stuff on a dead frat brother's face. Apparently you can have suicide, child abuse, and Jesus being a dickhead, but jokes about frat deaths are off limits. I've found that the typical rule is this:
You can't make fun of things with two qualities. First, the victims have support groups. Second, the experiences can't be couched in familiar terms.
So, for example, child abuse is only okay if it's your parents being bad parents. Everyone understands that parents are imperfect. But, if you cross the line to, say, beating a child, you're violating the two rules.
Most people can't understand the idea of beating a child via personal experience. This is the same reason you're probably better off avoiding jokes about cancer, rape, molestation, etc.
Oddly enough, you CAN do murder jokes. I think this is mainly because of the first principal. You can't have support groups for dead people.
Or at least, that's what I think. Despite being somewhat "controversial," I've gotten very little nasty mail over the years.
Stephanie: How did SMBC theater start?
Zach: James Ashby and I have wanted to do it for /years. /Then, a few months ago, our manager Mark Saffian asked us to do short films for a show he was planning. Coincidentally, we'd been planning to try the sketch comedy thing, now that we had a little income and a few connections.
In essence, it started because my brother Marty can do effects, James has access to many talented people, and I have an audience of people who like my sense of humor. Necessity met with desire.
Stephanie: Do you read any other webcomics?
Zach: I do, though not as much as I used to. I have so little free time these days, the only comics I check on a regular basis are one-offs, like XKCD and Cyanide and Happiness. I also like GWS, Oglaf, Kate Beaton's stuff, and several others.
Stephanie: What do you do outside of writing comics?
Zach: I read a lot, and I study physics and mathematics. I also write scripts for shorts, and co-write longer stuff with James Ashby.
Stephanie: What is your guilty pleasure?
Zach: Checking my stats. It's like having a stream of crack into your home, only worse, since it's crack you can claim is important for business.
To read Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and learn more about it check out the official site.
Addendum questions ...
NeilO: How did you come up with the red button and/or why?
Zach: A while back, SMBC was listed on a few webcomic voting sites. In essence, the way these work is cartoonists have vote buttons on their pages, and people can click the vote button to give a point to a particular cartoonist. Over the course of a month, the top vote-getters are tallied and put on a list. It's a nice way to share traffic.
One of the things that developed was the possibility of offering rewards for votes. One of those, for me, was what you now see as the red button comic. Eventually, I felt I had sort of outgrown voting sites, in the sense that my audience was large enough that I was always gonna get the top slot at the expense of a newer cartoonist. So, I quit doing vote buttons. But, I wanted to keep the little bonus comics, since people seemed to like them. Hence the red button, whose comic readers often call "the votey."
NeilO: Did that recent "mom pillow" idea from a CSI episode? That's what I thought of immediately.
Zach: Never seen it :)
Comments or questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.