Hampton Catlin

Jesse Thorn Interview

Jesse Thorn truely is Americas Radio Sweetheart. Or at least I’m certain that he’s going to become one of the most recognized names in American radio. That’s why it is an honor and a privildge to introduce Jesse Thorn as my first victim here on Just as Loud. Jesse is currently the host of The Sound of Young America and an all around excellent guy. One thing about Jesse is, he’s incredibly differential to his talent. He is someone who points to the talents of others around him before himself. I highly recommend listen to some past shows up on their website. Now, for the interview!

Jesse, thanks for being with us here in email-land. Are you comfortable?

Mostly, Hampton. Something is poking me, but honestly, I kind of like it.

Great! So here comes a hard question. A question I know that you and Ira Glass, and dare I say… myself… hate. What is the show about?

In two words: “Maximum Fun.” In many words: our basic guiding principle is that funny need not mean dumb—so we try to find humor in smart places and smart in humorous places. We end up with a mix of great comedians, authors (generally writing about culture), filmmakers and actors, and a smattering of things and people that just fascinate us. After a disasterous run-in with Dustin Diamond (TV’s “Screech”), we decided never to book guests ironically, and it’s worked out great.

And we also do a little original comedy and banter. At first we did more, but let’s face it, it’s a heckuva lotta work. A couple of things we did in the early days are up on the website, including some live radio plays and stuff like that.

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Funny enough, I also had a run-in with Dustin Diamond. He came to my college campus a few years ago and completely desturbed every student there. It has gone down in legand with me and my friends. And his absolute anger in calling him Screech. Its like watching Bob Sagat do his dirty standup. I’m sad I missed that interview though.

He was like Saget in a way—only without a sense of humor about himself. Saget thinks it’s funny that he was on Full House, Diamond seems not to think it was funny that he was on Saved By The Bell. He told some awful jokes about disabled people, and got really defensive about his math-rock band. It was really a trainwreck. You wouldn’t have wanted to hear it, honestly.

If you want to hear a funny trainwreck on the show, listen to the interview with the woman from Steve Harvey’s Big Time (http://www.splangy.com/realaudio/bigtime.ram).

Generally speaking, I’d just rather talk to someone with merit, even if they’re less than famous, than talk to a famous person who hasn’t earned their fame. We are willing to talk to someone who’s past their fame prime if they’re awesome—we’re not against has-beens, just lame-os.

Give us your background… or if you wish, copy and paste your bio-line.

Like so many people at the margins of entertainment and media, every time I write a bio, I lose it immediately thereafter. So here’s some background:

I’m 24 years old, and I’m a resident and native of San Francisco. I’m an inner city youth, but in elementary and middle school, I was the scholarship kid at private schools, so I’m an odd combination of street-smart and faggy. I went to School of the Arts in San Francisco, a public high school, and I focused on theater. This wasn’t because of some great commitment to theater; it was more because at my neighborhood high school, Mission High, I would have been a bit, well… out of place. Perhaps violently so, if you catch my drift.

I majored in American Studies at UC Santa Cruz, where my thesis was on identity strategies in hip-hop. In school, I started The Sound of Young America with the two funniest guys I know—“Big Time” Gene O’Neill and Jordan Morris, “Boy Detective.” They stuck with me for some time, before heading off to follow their Tinseltown dreams. These days, Jordan is a Production Assistant on various TV shows, and Gene lives at home with his parents.

These days I lounge around my apartment, trying to think of how to pay the rent, make out with my girlfriend Theresa, and play this really fun baseball game called “Baseball Mogul,” where you’re the general manager of a baseball team. Oh… and perform with and write for my sketch comedy group, “Prank the Dean.” (http://www.prankthedean.com).

I have to ask… What ideas do you get to pay the rent in your fabulously unemployed life?

I help with events at a church here in San Francisco, a job I’ve had on-and-off since high school. It pays well (relatively speaking), and it’s pleasant enough. Plenty of reading time.

Besides that… I was in a television commercial [warning: I’m nekkid], and that payed a couple hundred bucks. Then the people who made and conceived of the commercial each hired me for a little job that payed a couple hundred bucks. Right now I have about a hundred dollars in my bank account, and the month is half over, so I’m getting a bit nervous. I’ve tried to find work in the radio industry, but it’s very hard, honestly. I’m over-qualified for an entry level job, but under-qualified for a real job. Right now, I’m just hoping for a miracle—otherwise I guess I’ll just have to borrow some money from the lady friend.

I had been working for the Jhai Foundation, an NGO that works on community-based development projects in the third world, but funding was very inconsistent, and thus… so was my job. I’m thinking about becoming a voice actor or a regular actor, but that requires headshots and other stuff I don’t have.

The Jhai Foundation…. did you make the foot cranked computer for Laos?

I didn’t personally, no. But my father, Lee Thorn, is the chairman. Of course, he didn’t make it either, but his long-time friend Lee Felsenstein did (with ample assistance from a largely volunteer team). Lee F was best known for designing the Osborne 1, the first portable personal computer. My dad had one for many years. It ran WordStar, as I recall.

I did go to Laos. It’s a really beautiful country, and full of kind, relaxed, pleasant people. Communism has in an odd way protected people’s way of life there, especially outside of the capital, Vientiane.

Jhai is a really wonderful project. It was co-founded by my father (a Vietnam vet), and our friend Bounthanh, who is a refugee from the American bombing of Laos. The goal is development through reconciliation—I learned in Laos about the top-down approach of most development projects, and it simply doesn’t work. When you talk to people about what they want and how your resources can help them create it, you can develop solutions that are effective in the long term. The foot cranked computer is just a tool, Jhai is really about the reconciliation development process. (Sorry to get all serious, I promise to make a crude joke soon.)

They have churches in San Francisco? I thought it was one big pagan bath house that the Lord was preparing to spite.

Well, the church I work at is as close to a pagan bath house as Episcopal churches get. (Boom! First sentence!) The services involve a lot of singing and dancing, and the rotunda includes saint icons of Malcom X, among others (http://www.saintgregorys.org/Icons/DancingSaints1.html). I’m actually an aetheist, but the people there don’t really mind. Or maybe they just haven’t noticed.

I can’t believe Malcom X got included as a Christian Saint and Martin Luther King got no mention… him being a minister… and not a muslim. I would volunteer at that church, just for that reason.

An interesting thing about Malcolm being up there—at least as controversial as the selection of Malcolm for the wall was the fact that he was/is wearing glasses. Doctrinaires argue that the body is made physically perfect when it goes up to heaven, so glasses would be unnecesary. Oh well.

My favorite saint at St. Gregory’s is actually the mathematician Paul Erdos. I think he’s up there for being a brilliant and generous mathematician, but what’s great about him for me was that he couldn’t take care of himself. He lived with his mother until she died when he was like 45 or something, and then he just lived at other mathematicians’ houses, and their wives took care of him. He didn’t even know how to make sandwiches or do laundry. But in exchange, he would solve the other folks most difficult problems for them, and he was the greatest mathematician of his day.

Would you rather…....... eat two whole jars of pickles every morning or never listen to rap music again?

I would have to talk to a doctor. I actually really like pickles, but I honestly think I could give up rap music. But if I had to give up rap music and soul music, I would probably go with the pickles.

How long before you are truely famous. And when you are, will you remember the little people?

I’ll certainly always remember Warwick Davis’ delightful performance in Willow, if that’s what you’re getting at.

As for fame… we’ll see. I think I’ve decided I have no interest in actual fame… the kind where people recognize you a lot. I could go for the kind where you get recognized like once a day, that’s about all I could handle, I think. And I’d like to be recognized for something good.

Like, I’m sure that say, Hank Shocklee from the Bomb Squad gets recognized sometimes, and people say, “It Takes A Nation of Millions” changed my life, man! But he doesn’t have to deal with creeps like Flava Flav does.

Can I just mention how infuriating your correct spelling of people’s names is? If this was the old west, my lad, I’d challenge you to a duel. You should obviously make the same mis-spellings as myself just to save me from embarassing. Moving on. Ok, so now let’s be honest, you are nationally syndicated, but you are, at heart, working at a college radio station. How on earth do you manage to produce such an absolutely fabulous show with stunningly awesome guests?

Well, if by “Nationally Syndicated,” you mean on in two discrete small markets, then yes, I am “Nationally Syndicated.”

That said, I think your overstatement is onto something there. I always describe the show as “an award-winning nationally syndicated public radio talk program” when I write to publicists. This, of course, is true, though they may be imagining Peabodys and not Metro Santa Cruz Goldies, and Fresh Air, not The Sound of Young America. Besides that, it’s a matter of luck, persistence, and professionalism. People who come on my show usually really enjoy their experience. It’s very rare to get the chance to do a “fun” interview that isn’t stupid. (Check out Patton Oswalt’s writeup of every awful radio DJ here:http://www.pattonoswalt.com/spew2004/spew_2004_dec.html#120504 . He’s more eloquent, more famous, and more talented than I will ever be and agood guy to boot.)

All that having been said—booking radio guests just isn’t that hard. It’s hard to get actual famous people, but I generally don’t book actual famous people. If your idea of famous is Art Spiegelman, then it’s not too hard to get famous people on your show. As long as they have a book to flog.

If you were forced to completely rename yourself (no derivatives), what would you pick?

Ace something. But here’s the issue: I have a brother, Brendan, who’s nine years old, and already rocks harder than I do. Loyal listeners may remember him from his recurring “Brendan Tells A Joke” segment on the show, in which he would tell jokes he wrote (example: Who’s big and blue and also he can fly? Fat Daddy.), or from his segment with Andrew WK.

Well Brendan’s band, Total Annihilation, had their first concert recently, and Brendan was selling(!) posters he had drawn and color photocopied. The posters were $2, and the autographs were free. He signed it with his new stage name: Eddy Demon. Just try to beat that shit. It’s impossible.

Does everyone want to challenge Jordan to a duel? The way he desecrates the holy face of Leo Laporte on his bio! His silence during your holy interviews! How many times has he been dueled?

Is that really Leo Laporte’s face? Boy. He certainly has the face of a computer radio host.

Anyway, Jordan is really, really awesome. Obviously, he hasn’t been around much lately, since he’s been working down in LA, but he’s a vital part of The Sound of Young America. Most all of the good, non-interview things on The Sound of Young America can be traced directly back to Jordan. I would encourage your readers in the Los Angeles area to go see Jordan Friday and Saturday nights at Ultimate Improv in Westwood, or catch him other nights performing standup in various hip, alternative shows to get a feeling for his sheer, unadulterated genius.

Now, I hate to bring this up, but its been all over the news. Is it true that “Big Time” Eugene O’Neill is actually his own mother? Some freak result of cloning a human with an ouroboros. Any comment?

That’s just a rumor. But it is true that “Big Time” Gene O’Neill watches “Point Break” all the time. Like seriously once a month. Like many things with Gene, we can’t really tell whether he likes it earnestly or not, but it really seems earnest. Also, he’s always listening to the theme from “Fletch.” I mean, I like Fletch, too… but Gene will just say, “Time to do some investigatin’!” and put on the theme from Fletch really, really loud.


Comments

Jan 8, 2009
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