Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Interview transcript: Fred Wolf

A couple of things about Fred Wolf — he's a former Saturday Night Live head writer, screen writer (“Tommy Boy,” “Black Sheep,” “Grown Ups) and director (“Strange Wilderness,” “House Bunny”).
He's also the nicest and coolest local celebrity I've covered. That's no hyperbole.
I met Fred a few years ago, after “Strange Wilderness” was released in theaters. He called the newsroom himself, asking if anyone was interested in covering his film.
I jumped at the chance. Being a SNL writer was a pipe dream of mine, and if I could never achieve that dream, at least I could meet someone who had lived it.
The interview went well, although the story fell through. About a year later, “House Bunny” was coming up, and we met up again.
This time, I was busy working on multi-media assignments for the paper. I had mentioned this to Fred, who took an interest in the idea, and even offered to help out if the opportunity arose.
A year later, Fred visited the newsroom and talked about this series of animated comics he was working on, using the voices of his old SNL buddies and other comedians.
That idea eventually became "Beyond The Comics," which ran in beta at www.MontereyHerald.com in June.
He never mentioned that I had helped plant the idea for “Beyond The Comics” in his head, until I interviewed him in early-June.
Below is the transcript from the interview.
Fred, if you're reading this, thanks.

Q:Talk about "Beyond The Comics.”
A: What we're doing is, it's going to be a bunch creative cartoons. There are a total of 12 cartoons, there will be three new ones a day.
We got Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, David Spade, Sarah Silverman, Jack Handey, Craig Kilborn, Tim Meadows, Norm McDonald, Colin Quinn and Molly Shannon. As I showed you before, it's just scroll and click and play.

Q: You're writing every single joke?
A: I'm writing all the jokes for now, and if this goes well, I would have a stable of writers to make it easier for me. Right now, I'm actually going to all the stars houses and recording the jokes, and I'm doing all the crafting of the sound with “Garage Band.” This is amazing, these days, how you can do stuff. And then the ideas would be seven days a week, as many newspapers as possible, and hopefully it's a new way of viewing comics for the newspapers online.

Q: Where did you get the idea?
A: From you. A year ago, you and I were talking it, you told me you took a camera down to the Apple store and you recorded people. You said you couldn't go into the Apple store, but you waited for them to come out and you said “Hey, what was your experience in the Apple store at Del Monte?” And you said you took that back to your desk and you edited that and you said you put it on the online Monterey Herald. Remember this?
And, I was thinking, a guy like you, you could do stories like that anywhere and you could be picked up as a stringer for all these online newspapers. Remember we talked about that?
So then I left there thinking, you have access to stuff I could never get into, special events stuff. You could get into a Pebble Beach thing, you have a press pass. And I got to thinking, what could I do that was like that. And I thought comics. I could be interviewing comics. and so this whole idea came from the interview you gave to me. I never thought of moving content on the newspapers.
So I was driving away from our interview, thinking, ‘Man, what can I do?’ Well, I got access to these comics, what can I do with these voices. I've always wanted to draw comics for the newspaper. When I was kid, that's what I thought I was going to do when I grew up. Then I realized I draw like shit. And that's the truth.
So I designed these strips that I had other people draw, and I got other guys to do voices for it, and for a year, I've been pouring money into this thing. It's getting insane. My wife is furious.
So it came from you. It came from our talk, I should say.

Q: That sounds better, because that puts pressure on me.
A: Yeah, cause if it crashes and burns, I'll call you like ‘What the f---!’ (laughs).
Dan Lynch (was also involved). I drew up, really roughly, an idea for a cartoon, the first one. I drew it myself. It was terrible. But I had Norm McDonald's voice, so it made it feel fancy. So I showed it to him one day at a barbecue, and he said this is a great idea. I have a company, that does animation. We already do this sort of thing.
His company's a marketing company. Between the two of us, we've been working feverishly to get to where we're at right now. He's based out of Carmel. He and his wife own Carmel Realty.
The thing that's lucky, I was able to go to these guys (his comic friends) and say “I can't pay you now, but if this goes, there could be some money at the end.”
In the meantime, they're just taking the ride. They're doing it all for free and just helping me out, as friends.
A lot of them are happy too. It's a chance to be funny. I set the jokes in front of them, they get to read it, and they don't have to put on make up, they don't have to be anywhere at 6 a.m., or any of that stuff. And it takes about a half an hour to get the voice, and I run with it. And they've been really great about saying, ‘Hey whatever. Call us if it's successful.’ Or ‘don't call us ever again if it's not.’

Q: For you, what's the ultimate payoff?
A: Truthfully, this is funny. A lot of people in Hollywood, they might try to do something like this hoping to parlay it into a TV show or a movie or something. I've already done that, so in a way, I'm going backwards.
This is where I would really love to be, doing this. It truly is a lifelong dream to be in the newspapers, in the comics, and this is my way of doing it, maybe.
There's this
(Alfred) Eisenstaedt print, it was taken in the early '50s in Ohio. It shows these three kids sitting on a curb on the street, and they're reading the Sunday funnies. It's this beautiful photograph, and that used to be what kids did. They used to read the Sunday funnies. Well now, all these kids are going online, so I'd love to try to recreate that comic experience for the online papers.
My goal and my dream is to make it exclusive to newspapers, and not have it be something you could also find it on AOL or YouTube. Just something that you have to go to the papers to see it. And there's ways to do that where it's really hard to take it out and put it on YouTube. We're going to work on that.
The first person that I took it too, when I had six cartoons, was Joe Livernois. I just called him up and said, ‘We've never really met. He said ‘I know who you are.’ I said can I go down and show you what I'm working on.
He freaked out. He loved them. He said ‘I think this is a possibility to go in the papers.’ With his enthusiasm, I built six more cartoons. That's why we're at 12 now.
When I'm down in L.A., I stay at Spade's house, and I showed him my rough ones, and he said, ‘Hey buddy, I'll do something for this.’ I said ‘You would?’ he said yeah.
So I got this idea for a rock star, and he did it, and he goes ‘I got a better idea. I got this idea for a dog in purse.’ He goes. it's like one of these dogs that stars carry around in purses, and he just hates his life. I said let's do it.
So when I got Spade to do it, I went up and talked to Dana Carvey. He lives in Mill Valley. I said ‘I got this hippy guy.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, that's funny, but I got something better.’
So, every time I tell somebody something, they said, ‘I got something better than that.’ So he said let's do Church Lady. I said yeah, let's do it.
He's one of the few guys that went to SNL already owning Church Lady, because he did it in his act.
I went to Kevin Nealon, he said ‘Great, I'll do it,’ and then he said ‘But I got a better idea.’ And he gave me Mr. Hypochondriac.
That's why they're stars, and I'm sitting in traffic in Pebble Beach.
I do love it. Every time I go to these guys they go, ‘Yeah, your idea is funny, but I got a better idea.’
I've known them for 30 years. I've only screwed them over, each of them, two or three times each. So I haven't gotten to the magic number of five times of screwing them over. So they're taking the ride with me. We'll see what happens.
My ultimate goal is to get these into the papers and then once it's in, there's the first tier of friends I have, but then theres the second tier of people like Christopher Walken. I know him. I can get access to him. Once it's gong, I want to go to a guy like him and say. ‘Let's do something.’ And I'm hoping he'll say (in a dead-on Walken voice) ‘I have a better idea. Your idea is not good. I have a better idea. Let's do mine." Anything he comes up with, I'll do, by the way.

Q: Have you showed it to Adam Sandler or any of the guys in “Grown Ups?”
A: I showed them to (Adam Sandler and the cast of “Grown Ups”). It's funny, because four of the voices are in the movie. Spade and Meadows are in “Grown Ups.” Colin Quinn and Norm McDonald are all in “Grown Ups.” I'm going to show Sandler next week.
I wanted to get Sandler to do one, but I didn't want to ask for my 100th favor yet. I want to show him and say, ‘Hey, if you ever want to do one, they're there...’ But he might be all favored out.
I'm kidding, but at the same time, he's done so much. If it wasn't for Sandler, there's no house in Carmel...

I have a funny story. Jack Handey is the creator of “Deep Thoughts,” a long time writer at SNL. He lives down in Santa Fe. I went to him about six months ago and I said ‘I'm doing these comics and I'd love to do “Deep Thoughts” for them.’ And he's like a little bit of a J.D. Sallinger type of guy, real reclusive, and he goes ‘What do you mean?’ And I go ‘I'm doing these comics, and you click and play and it'd be perfect for “Deep Thoughts” ’ and for the newspapers. And he goes ‘For the newspapers? How can they be for the newspapers? They move right?’ And I go ‘Yeah, it's for the online version of the newspapers.’ He goes ‘What are you talking about?’ And I go ‘Comics. You click and you play them.’ He goes ‘I have no idea what you're talking about.’ I'm like ‘Jack, it's okay. You don't have to do them.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I'll do them, but I have no idea what you're talking about.’ I swear to god that's a true story.
He's like me. I don't' know this world in terms of how to do everything, but it was hilarious. We were like two old guys sitting at the table going ‘What? It does what? The newspaper you read? It's going to move? How is that possible.’ It was this insane conversation...
The most fun is having Colin Quinn and Norm McDonald in a room. Having those guys together for “Guy and a Robot.” It's a blast, because they're both crazy Irish guys. They're just saying this stuff that's raunchy and that I can't use.
I have me on tape going ‘Hey guys, you can't do that on the newspaper,’ and I have them on tape going ‘But it's funny.’
They've been really good friends of mine for 25 years, both of them. I got them there eventually, but it was funny.
Maybe (“Beyond the Comics) is a pipe dream, but it sure is fun.

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