The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Varsity Show Writer
Written by Bwog Staff
Peter Mende-Siedlecki CC’07, Tom Keenan CC’07, and Rob Trump CC’09 are this year’s Varsity Show writers. Bwog dispatched Brendan Ballou to find out what they think of campus humor, what the writing process is like, why the Minutemen probably won’t play so great a role in this year’s show- and why Christian Bale may:
Brendan: I think campus humor is not nearly as good as it could be. I mean, there’s the Jester and the Fed, and I guess The Blue and White…
KEENAN: I think The Blue and White has a different kind of humor.
A more pretentious type?
KEENAN: I wouldn’t call it pretentious. I think The Blue and White has like this – ‘snarky’ is the word that’s usually used to define them – it’s not aiming purely to be humorous, but it injects humor into what it does, which is why I appreciate it.
MENDE: Pretentious has become this great word to throw around to mean so many other things. Some of which I think are very complementary.
MENDE: I don’t think snarky’s the only one. Sometimes it’s nice to read an article in The Blue and White that has absolutely nothing to do with a dick joke. The “Definitive Guide to Butler Sex” was awesome.
Did you see that Spec did a guide to sex in Hamilton?
KEENAN: That was awkward for everyone.
A lot more after the jump!
TRUMP: It was basically a random assortment of events that happened in Hamilton that had absolutely nothing to do with each other.
Well, wasn’t that basically what the Butler sex guide was?
MENDE: Yeah, but it’s an established trope of campus life, whereas I would never say, “dude have you boned in Hamilton yet? Fuckin’ do that.”
Will the Minutemen be a positive force for comedy?
TRUMP: Oh man, I think it’s almost played out already. My hope is that by the time the Varsity Show rolls around people will forget it.
Wait, why don’t you want to do the Minutemen
TRUMP: No, no, we totally would. The jokes are too easy right now, like “Bill O’Reilly is stupid,” and “Chris Kulawik says funny things.”
KEENAN: They’re handing it to us on a silver platter.
TRUMP: Did you see that thing in the Eye? “Bill O’Reilly and Chris Kulawik are gay with each other – hahaha.”
Don’t you have an obligation to cover this stuff?
KEENAN: I think we do.
MENDE: Ok, the Varsity Show’s at the end of April, and if we sat down right now, it would be, “Ok, those Minutemen jokes, that Minutemen scene, that Minuteman song” it will be kind of trite. So many important things can happen on campus before then that it would be a crime to focus on thing that happened now. I remember when the whole Baker Blast thing happened – and granted, Baker Blast wasn’t on O’Reilly – everyone was like, “Shit, can’t bring alcohol to homecoming? That’s gotta be like, the whole Varsity Show.” And people are coming up to us, and are like, “yo, you guys, you’re like Varsity Show writers and stuff right? So, here’s, like, my plan: they’re Minutemen, but they’re like colonial Minutemen, ok? What do you think?”
TRUMP: Or it only takes them a minute to have sex, how about that? Whoa – sex joke and Minutemen.
KEENAN: Minutemen, I heard your wife said closer to 30 seconds.
TRUMP: The guy who said “in Spanish please”…like, fuck the people who stormed on stage, I like the people just sitting there making fun of them.
Have you started planning and generating ideas?
MENDE: We, uh…
KEENAN: Everything is top secret. Everything from this point on is top secret.
So you can’t tell me anything?
MENDE: Well, we can tell you our one big idea
KEENAN: We’re in talks with Christian Bale, and we’re thinking of having a one-man cast that consists of only Christian Bale.
Newsies Christian Bale or Batman Begins Christian Bale?
KEENAN: We might have a Bildungsroman of Christian Bale.
TRUMP: Sort of from Newsies to Batman.
KEENAN: Yeah, and show how he changed from cowboy to Batman.
MENDE: With a lot of product placement.
TRUMP: He’s delivering the New York Times.
MENDE: And, ‘I eat at Café East’.
KEENAN: The one thing about the Varsity Show is that we really don’t have enough money, so we really need some corporate sponsors. We want everyone to try out because we’re thinking of having a three hundred to four hundred person chorus to support Christian because I’m not sure if he can sing like he used to.
MENDE: And his stage presence is – lacking.
KEENAN: Yeah, but everything’s top secret.
Maybe we need just an awkward silence then – I don’t know how to transcribe silence.
TRUMP: Put “expletive deleted.”
MENDE: I can say about the working process, what little we’ve talked about so far, we’re having a really good time.
Yeah, I’ve always wanted to know what the process is for writing a joke – is there some beautiful moment for inspiration?
MENDE: I’m sort of curious about that too because we haven’t really gotten started yet. I imagine as far as individual jokes go we might sit in a room and have this process where we build on each other, but a lot of individual jokes will come from people on their own and the others will say “that’s funny – nice work”. The overall arc of the show will certainly be us locked in a room until we figure it out.
How much does the Varsity Show change over the year?
KEENAN: Oh man, a lot.
MENDE: We have this thing called Turkey Day where we put on what we have for Varsity Show alumni. They come in, they critique it, they tear the show apart, and the creative team is like, okay, tears, tears, tears, and then they basically rewrite the show.
KEENAN: They go on a retreat over spring break and basically rewrite everything. The writers have a new vision and everyone else works from there, and it’s like “Okay, we have this new thing that’s completely different from what we had before,” and it’s hard because you really do miss a lot of the jokes that got cut. There are so many things from the last show Pre-Turkey Day that I miss because they were so funny but they weren’t really working. It would have been too edgy humor. You have to realize that while you can be very funny and very out there, you are also building on this 112-year tradition.
Why does the Varsity Show get so much money?
KEENAN: Why does the Varsity Show get so much money? That’s a good question. I think the best answer is that when people walk into Roone to see the Varsity Show they should be immediately blown away – and most of the money goes towards the set. So they should walk in and see the entire experience of Columbia distilled into some space onstage.
Does the set contribute to the humor?
KEENAN: Well, I don’t think the Varsity show is a purely humorous thing. There’s something great about having the entire Columbia experience made into something you can watch on a stage. I mean a lot of it is really hilarious, and a lot of it is poignant in ways too.
MENDE: I agree, I think it’s really an art form.
TRUMP: The way I’ve always thought about the Varsity Show since I’ve seen it and talked with other people is to Put on a Show. You have a lot of funny satire about Columbia, but more than anything it’s a big spectacle and it’s going to be funny and there will be songs you want to sing and there will be characters you get attached to.
KEENAN: You should walk away with more than a collection of jokes.
What’s going to constitute success for you?
MENDE: I was talking about the philosophy of the show with Mark Junek the other day and I think there are two really important things to remember for the Varsity Show: the freshman perspective and the senior perspective. Because for the freshmen this is their chance to really say, “you came to Columbia, and you made the right choice. Look at your campus’ flaws and recognize that these are your flaws too. Embrace that and laugh at it.” For the seniors, it’s like “you made the right choice also. You stuck with it. Four years here – that’s beautiful, that’s so wonderful” the Varsity Show, yeah, it can really be a beautiful thing in moments.