Kevin O'Brien on the These Things Matter podcast and Mile High Sci Fi
Pop culture is important. We spend our time and money on it, litter our speech with quotes from it, and our lives are shaped by it. That's the premise of These Things Matter, a new podcast created by local comedian Kevin O'Brien and Taylor Gonda. Of course, for all the importance of pop culture, we also spend a hell of a lot of time making fun of it, because so much of it is ludicrous. The film-riffing comedians of Mile High Sci-Fi have made an art of that. And now those two forces will come together: These Things Matter invited Mile High Sci-Fi co-founder Harrison Rains to talk about B movies on the podcast, and then O'Brien will join Rains for this month's MHSF feature Raw Deal at the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax at 9:30 p.m. tonight.
Before the show, we sat down to talk to O'Brien about the podcast, Arnold Schwarzenegger and fulfilling a lifelong ambition to make fun of movies for a live audience.
Westword: Your podcast is called These Things Matter, which is a quote from High Fidelity, right?
Yeah, from probably the most important scene in High Fidelity.
What does that mean to you and why did you choose to name your podcast after it?
It started out [with] my friend Taylor [Gonda] and I at the Grawlix comedy show. We were just hanging out and I just noticed we had really neat chemistry when we bullshitted about things we liked. We both had very strong feelings [that] we related to the character of Rob Gordon quite a bit. So when we decided to do a podcast together, we batted around names and that one I think was the second one we came up with. It's like the whole essence of the podcast is just what he says in that quote, that it's not what you're like, it's what you like, and he points out that books, records, music, these things matter. So for us, that whole thing was like, "well these are the things that matter to us, so that's what we should name the show."
And your tagline is "Pop Culture, autobiographically." What's that about?
Yeah, Taylor came up with that. That kind of comes from a scene in High Fidelity, too, where he rearranges his records and he tells Dick he's doing it autobiographically. That's kind of the throughline of the show, is that so much of the things we talk about are based on our own experiences, which kind of separates it from other pop culture podcasts. Instead of just [saying] this is what's good and bad, we relate it to things that have been good and bad in our lives, and how these things that we love in music and movies kind of remind of us those moments.
Walk us through a typical episode of the podcast
A lot of it depends on the topic we're talking about and who the guest is. A lot of the things will be the same in every episode, like I'll go on long-winded, half-amusing diatribes about pop culture, Taylor will point out some nuance and be the ombudsman of the show, and kind of redirect if we're getting too far off topic. Those things are always there every show, but if you were to listen to the episode we did with Sam Tallent where we talked all about the road, because he's been touring in bands and as a comic for years, it's going to have a completely different feel than the episode we did with Harrison [Rains] where we talked about B movies. It's going to be a little bit different every time, but the things that will always be there will be me being a snarky smartass, Taylor being charming and laughing through the entire episode. And whoever our guest is hopefully being funny or insightful or something like that.
Is there anything else you want to share about the podcast before we talk about Mile High Sci Fi?
This podcast has definitely been pretty much been everything I wanted to do with a podcast. The format of it and my initial idea and everything has changed, and that pretty much comes from Taylor. She's a former theater director and sop she has a really great vision of how to make things palatable to an audience. She has definitely been ... I cannot imagine having a better co-host for the show. Also this is the most unique thing I've done pertaining to comedy in a while. it's been great. It's been invigorating. It can be frustrating from time to time when it comes to booking guests, but this is the most amount of fun I've had doing anything in performance in months, for sure.
How did meet up with Harrison and get dragooned into Mile High Sci Fi?
I met Harrison about a year and half ago, at Comedy Works, performing at New Talent Night. I met him through that and he saw me perform a few times and said he he liked my style. I would assume he liked my sarcastic nature, probably. He mentioned something about a year ago to do Mile High Sci Fi, but it's a monthly show and they have different guests on so it took a little while. He kept me in the back of his mind and [finally] asked me to do it about a month and half ago.
So since then you've spent the past month and half watching and rewatching Raw Deal?
As soon as they finished doing the last show -- they finished doing Independence Day at the end of June -- he took three days off, then we started at the beginning of July. We watched the movie I think six times now, six and half times, and we're probably going to watch it one more time before the show. The entire month of July has been dedicated to watching this terrible movie over and over again.
In this course of half a dozen viewings of Raw Deal, did you have any great insights into it, or Schwarzenegger, or movies in general?
The biggest insight I got from watching it over and over again is how insanely complex the plot of the movie is. We watched it a bunch of times and it took me until the fourth viewing to even piece together what the movie was trying to be. The thing I find really interesting from watching it is Schwarzenegger's performance. This movie was right before he became a real action star. There's these weird moments where you can tell he's really not comfortable being an actor.
It's funny, because if you watch Conan the Barbarian, he's really not a very good actor, but that movie is kind of campy. This movie takes itself so seriously, and you can tell he was in acting classes while he was shooting it. He's just so stiff, and there's this terrible scene where he tries to part his hair back after fighting, and it's just so hilarious. The main thing I took away from it is that Arnold Schwarzenegger was so much worse of an actor than we even remember from even something like Commando. He's just terrible. He's just the stiffest actor. It's mind-blowing that anybody would ever give him the opportunity to be in a movie.
Are you looking forward to your Mile High Sci Fi debut? Any nervousness?
No. The only thing I'm worried about is making sure I hit the jokes at the right time. I've been watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 since I was like seven or eight years old, so I think a big part of my humor or my taste in humor, just the way I developed as a comedian has been influenced by stuff like that. I mean, like a lot people, I've spent a large majority of my life just watching bad movies and making fun of it on the couch. The concept of the show, I'm pretty comfortable with it from the get go. The only thing I'd be worried about for this weekend is screwing up a joke, or just the biggest fear I get with anything in comedy -- not being funny. Aside from that, I'm really excited. i think it's going to be great. I've wanted to do the show for years so this is going to be great.
Anything else you want to say?
I'm incredibly privileged and fortunate to be a comedian and performer in Denver. The fact that I can do a show like [Mile High Sci Fi], that I've been dreaming about doing since i was a little kid, is incredible. And the fact that I am constantly surrounded by peers and friends who are way funnier than I am has forced me to be funnier and be harder so I can get opportunities like [this] has just been really really great couple of years for me.
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