Interview - John Cheese

Oh hi, small but dedicated reader base. It's been months--Hell, an entire season--since the last time I posted here, but I have returned, both with the promise of new and utterly trivial entries on the Simpsons, Die Hard and Animal Man, as well as a Very Special Announcement. Mack Leighty, best known to the Internet by his pseudonym John Cheese, has been entertaining and enlightening people for the past year with his weekly column on Cracked.com. Whether he's writing about overcoming his alcoholism or the Hell of being a video game sewer repairman, John's been consistently funny and touching in his output. To boot, he served as the basis for the eponymous character of Cracked senior editor David Wong's comedic horror novel, John Dies at the End, the film adaptation of which will be premiering at the Sundance Film Festival later this month.

Recently, John gave any random schmuck on the Internet the opportunity to throw a few questions his way, an offer I had a physical inability to pass up. So without further ado, Mr. Cheese holds court on humour, influences and cinematic doppelgangers.

DL: Looking at your older Magic Pimp Bus articles ("Teaching David Wong," "Hitler Stole My Belt," etc.) and the columns you write regularly for Cracked, do you think your sense of humour has changed, and if so, how?

JC: It definitely has, and it will for everyone in life. There are two reasons: time and experience. From a "real life person" perspective, age does that to you. When I was nine, I would laugh until I couldn't breathe when someone made a fart joke. By the time I was in high school, I'd roll my eyes at them. When I was in college, I was into the stereotypical angry comedian because angst was the feeling of that whole Generation X, grunge era. Now, I like my comedy to have some semblance of subtlety--little jabs that catch you off guard and set up for a huge, in-your-face uppercut.

From a writer's perspective, you just can't do the same type of humor perpetually and expect to stay relevant. A perfect example is Ron White. He's the "Tater Salad" guy. Chance are, if you're alive, you've heard the routine. If you haven't, look it up on YouTube. It's actually pretty funny... the first four thousand times I heard it.

Ron had plenty of other material that was just as funny, but his audience wanted to hear that story, so he told it over and over and over again. Eventually, people just started knowing him as The Tater Salad Guy, and now his entire career has been defined by it. For a writer, that's death. If you're not changing and keeping things fresh, not only are you going to burn out your audience, but you're going to burn yourself out, too.

DL: Who has primarily influenced your particular style or sense of humour? (counting friends, family, writers, comedians, etc.)

JC: I was a Seanbaby fan when I first started writing, and I've never seen a person who is more efficient with comedy to setup than him. The guy is a goddamn master. And David Wong. He taught me that you can write an article that has an actual social and personal impact while still keeping it funny. He's more subtle, using jokes that come out of nowhere, just when you were balls deep in the serious portions. After years of writing pure comedy with no other value than strict entertainment, this is the style I've adopted.

DL: You've mentioned before that the wackier style of articles (e.g. the Cracked Christmas party) don't get as popular a reception on the main site, with you citing the "in-universe" mode in which they're written. Do you ever consider creating a separate venue for this format?

JC: I've done it a couple of times with some now-defunct websites of my own. But the problem is that the traffic is so low on these types of articles, they're almost not worth the time required to make them. However, I am planning to use Tumblr for this type of comedy because though they're not really Cracked's thing, one does need an outlet for just straight-up goofy comedy like that. As a writer, it's not a good idea to be locked into a single outlet. Things can get stale really fast for you as a creator, and that's not good for you or the website that pays you.

DL: Craziest running-against-a-deadline story: go now.

JC: I had an article--I think it was about safe for work videos that were uncomfortably sexual--that was running right on schedule. The draft was approved, and I was almost ready to send it to layout. Then at the last minute, we found out that two of my entries had been used in an article written by Soren Bowie, several months prior. So I had to re-scout for videos, and I wasn't even sure if I could find ones that fit.

Eventually, I did, and ran it by Wong. He gave it the stamp of approval, and I spent the rest of the night rewriting those two new points. I think the whole thing was finally ready by 4am, which only left a couple of hours before it hit the front page of Cracked.

After the article ran for about an hour, half of the videos I had embedded in the article were removed from Youtue because of policy violations. Throughout the day, though, I was able to find other versions of the videos from other users, and replace those on the fly throughout the day.

DL: Even though John Dies at the End was written by David Wong, how does it feel to see a character you had a large part in creating [John Cheese] make it to the big screen?

JC: Absolutely surreal. I talk to Chase Williamson (plays David Wong) and Rob Mayes (plays John) through Twitter and Facebook. They're both incredibly nice guys, and they have the same twisted sense of humor as us. So I think it's going to work out well. I really, really wanted to be at Sundance this year (JDatE premiers there this month), and it's an absolutely crushing disappointment that I can't go. I really wanted to meet those guys in person and see how they portrayed the characters. Plus, seeing the movie with my best friend at its premier... it just feels wrong that we can't see that together. But Sundance is one of those festivals that fills up like a year in advance.

DL: Lastly, is there a particular subject or topic on the site you find funnier/more interesting than any other?

JC: I'm a huge wrestling fan, but we don't get to write about it very often. I'd like to do more with the subject, but it's one of those articles that has to be phrased in a way that grabs both the wrestling fans, as well as people who could give a shit less about wrestling.

And there you have it! Much thanks to John for taking the time out of his day to answer my questions. If you have any inquiries of your own, he'll occasionally field them on his Tumblr.

1 comment:

Jo-Anne said...

Enjoyed reading about John Cheese. Good article.