Anthony King is a very talented comedian, actor, writer, and artistic director of the UCB theater and together with Scott Brown he has written Gutengerg! The Musical! a hilarious and inventive sendoff of not just theater but of the people who make theater.
How did you and Scott Brown meet and who is Scott Brown?
Scott and I have differing stories about exactly when it was that we first met (his story involved me dressed up like a cougar, so if it is true, I've probably blocked it out), but we both agree we met in middle school in dirty ol' Durham, NC. We were close friends all through high school and reunited after college in New York City to battle the brutal New York winters. As for who is Scott Brown - some say he was the original Wesley on "Mr. Belvedere." Are those people lying?
What was the inspiration for Gutenberg: The Musical?
During that first brutal winter in NYC, I was an intern at Manhattan Theatre Club in the Musical Theatre Department. I read scripts of musicals all day and went to readings of musicals in development at night. These were shows hoping to find producers to take them to Broadway. Most of them were horrible, but even the horrible ones had an incredible passion behind them. The authors clearly had no idea that their shows were bad or, in some cases, laughably bizarre. So I had the idea to submit the beginnings of a terrible musical to my boss at MTC under fake names, just to find out what he would say about it. And thus Bud and Doug (and Gutenberg! The Musical!) were born.
What was the writing process like?
Intermittent. We wrote the opening number immediately and then lost interest (i.e. dated girls). When we picked it up again, we started to get caught up in our passion for our own terrible musical and thought, "Hey, we should actually perform this."
How did you prepare for the act of writing the play and how long did it take?
I believe you have to masturbate at least three times before you can start writing. Otherwise you keep getting distracted. As for this project specifically, most of our research was my actual life experience going to these readings all the time. We did very little research into the life of Johann Gutenberg, but we did discover a bio that read "detailed records of his life and work are scant." That seemed like the perfect justification for making up anything we wanted.
What sort of snacks did you eat while writing?
A horrible and stultifying combination of Brooklyn pizza, Carvel ice cream, Zatarains' Rice and Beans from a box, and salsa.
Did you know how the play was going to end before you wrote it?
Not at all. Our original ending, which was completely misguided and a little embarrassing, was Bud and Doug admitting they had not finished writing their show and asking the audience to sing along to Extreme's "More Than Words." We quickly realized that was lazy, made no sense, and was probably created in an ice cream and pizza-induced haze. So we wrote the current finale, but didn't create the actual ending with the Broadway producer until just before the first performance at UCBT when our original director, Charlie Todd, pointed out that the show-within-the-show had an ending but we had not yet written an ending for Bud and Doug.
Is that episode of Seinfeld where George and Jerry start writing their sitcom at all like what the writing process was like for you?
I'd say our writing process was more like that episode of The Cosby Show when Mr. Huxtable keeps bringing those cakes out of the kitchen.
If the writing process were a sitcom, what sitcom would it be and why?
Perfect Strangers. Scott and I are probably the perfect combination of Larry Appleton's frustrated self-hatred and Balki Bartokamus's ignorant optimism. Broadway or Burst!
How did you combat procrastination or was that not a problem?
See above comments re: masturbation.
What sort of commentary does Gutenberg make on religion, education, power, and art?
I don't think there has been a work of literature since A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that has engaged these four topics as well as we did in Gutenberg! The Musical! Honestly though, I think we were commenting more on the people who take these themes so seriously than we were on the themes themselves. There's such a self-seriousness and self-importance necessary to creating anything, and when that creation doesn't work, artistic agendas quickly becomes ridiculous. That's probably most evident in dramatic musicals, especially the bombastic pop operas of the 80s.
Do you ever plan on making Guttenberg! The Musical! The Movie!
We're more interested in Gutenberg! The Musical! The Videogame! It's going to be a horribly boring game in which you stand on a stage and take hats on and off. We're hoping for reviews that say "this game is mesmerizing in its repetitiveness."
Your play taught me a new word: niggling. How did your use of the word niggling come to be?
I think of niggling as something between a "poke" and a "tickle," akin to a "diddle" but without the baggage.
What are some of the other lessons that your play teaches?
I hope it doesn't teach any lessons. If we accidentally created a fable of some sort I'll be very unhappy. Aesop sucks!
What are some lessons that you've learned as artistic director of the UCBT?
It may seem obvious, but the biggest thing I've learned is that most comedians have absolutely no self-discipline. Getting talented people to actually complete, revise, and perfect their projects sometimes feels impossible. Of course, the ones who do are the ones who make it. Stop being so lazy, you talented comedians.
You've directed quite a number of shows, but I'd like to know about the shows that you've written and performed.
I've written and performed two solo shows in NYC. I performed the first one, Chosen, in the Fringe Festival before I got involved at UCBT. It was a typical autobiographical one-man show about the fact that I'm God's chosen one. I thought that would be a grabber of a first line, "Hi, I'm Anthony King and I'm God's chosen one." The second show, Day 8: Take Complete Control, was a character show thematically connected by the wisdom of Tony Robbins that I performed at UCBT. It had two pieces I'm particularly proud of - a well-meaning but probably racist nerd eating a hamburger at a diner and a clown who makes balloon-animals while trying to justify stabbing an audience member.
What are some projects that you're currently involved in or contemplating?
I'm working on a new solo show about the south and working on a few projects for stage and screen with Scott Brown. Also, at the end of March, Scott and I are debuting a new show at UCBT called, "Shut Up! I Hate You!" We describe it as The McLaughlin Group meets Best Week Ever meets a knife fight. It will hopefully be a funny and brutal panel discussion of current events coupled with personal attacks...and a quiz.
What's your secret?
See above comments re: masturbation.