Tuesday, February 14, 2017

7 Questions for Kurt Vonneguys: Alex Schmidt and Michael Swaim

Esteemed Reader, you know I love podcasts and audio books and I firmly believe that if you're doing dishes or working out or any number of other activities that prevent you from actually sitting down and reading a thing, you can still be taking in useful information to improve you as both a writer and a human being. The Kurt Vonneguys Podcast is my new favorite and I would definitely classify it as "useful."

Here's an official description: Join reader-comedians Alex Schmidt and Michael Swaim for a fun, digressive trip through the Kurt Vonnegut canon. It’s a book club, a comedy show, and a cavalcade of smart, entertaining segments. Discover Vonnegut works you’ve never read! Rediscover your Kurt favorites! And cure the terrible disease of loneliness by going on a K.V. appreciation deep dive with a friendly karass of your fellow listeners.

Here's a link where you can listen to it now, right now. Come back for the interview later:) Today, in honor of Valentines Day, I guess, The Slaughterhouse-Five episode goes live and that's probably a book you've read, so this is a good time to get in on this:)

I've been reading Cracked for years. I've laughed until I cried at times and learned things about the world I wouldn't know if I weren't reading for the jokes.The brilliant Daniel O'Brien was one of the first writers ever to face the 7 Questions and reading his stuff led me naturally enough to Michael Swaim and Alex Schmidt and the rest of the incredibly talented Cracked writing staff.

I'm a Hoosier and I once attended a reading and talk by Kurt Vonnegut. Despite this, I've always suspected he was a tad overrated. That's right, I said it, and while I'm at it, James Joyce is dry and intended for people who wish they were doing a crossword puzzle instead of reading a story! As a consequence of my prejudice, I had only read four Vonnegut novels (the big ones) prior to this year.

The Kurt Vonneguys have convinced me to reconsider the man and his work. Their show is very funny, naturally, but also extremely insightful. I'm learning more about this particular writer and his work than I did sitting through entire college courses on literature. I recently read God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater for the first time to keep up with the show and I honestly enjoyed the book more because I was anticipating what sorts of things Alex Schmidt and Michael Swaim were going to say about it. They're discussing Vonnegut's books in order, so there's still time for you to not only enjoy past episodes, but reread Vonnegut's later works in anticipation of future episodes.

I hope the Kurt Vonneguys will keep going even after they've completed Vonnegut's catalog (plenty of great writers to choose from). I wish there were more podcasts devoted to book club type discussions of writers. If you're thinking of starting your own podcast, please, follow the lead of the Kurt Vonneguys. Alex Schmidt and Michael Swaim are doing good in the world and I'm thrilled they made time for us today.

And now the Kurt Vonneguys face the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite Kurt Vonnegut novels (ranked in order of your love) and your top three favorite non-Vonnegut novels (ranked however you prefer)?


1. Cat's Cradle
2. The Sirens Of Titan
3. Slaughterhouse-Five

1. East Of Eden (Steinbeck)
2 & 3. Right now it's some combo of: The Handmaid's Tale (Atwood), The Book Of Dave (Self), The Brief & Frightening Reign Of Phil (Saunders), The Killer Angels (Shaara), Speaker For The Dead (Card), The Subtle Knife (Pullman). That varies year to year though.


1. The Sirens of Titan 
2. Cat's Cradle
3. Slaughterhouse-Five

Then, in alphabetical order (by Title)...

1. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
2. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
3. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Question Six: What attracts you to writing comedy and producing online videos, podcast, and other forms of media?

Michael: Absurd piles of cash for little to no work at all. I seriously just sit around making model airplanes and jerking off, and they pay me enough to feed a family of four for a decade. I don't feel guilty about it either, because laughter is so important and uplifting to the human animal.*

*In case you are very stupid, this was not written in seriousness, but in jest.

Alex: It's a blessing to get to make stuff you're passionate about, with exciting collaborators, in an environment where you can fail fast & fail often till the good things happen. The Internet is the sandbox for that.

Question Five: If you were to pick another author's work to discuss in depth on your podcast after you finish with the fiction of Kurt Vonnegut, what author would it be and why?

Alex: I talk about Ray Bradbury on our current show a lot. He did heaps of grounded, fantastical fiction in a way few people have before or since. And unlike Kurt's line about SF writers, Bradbury could write for sour apples.

Also I'd love to do Stephen King, because Michael would want to do that, and I want to talk about stuff with Michael. Also everything but 'On Writing' and Dark Tower Book 1 would be new to me.

Michael: Ray Bradbury, because Alex loves him so much and I like to talk with Alex. I would say Harlan Ellison--as fans of the show would no doubt guess--but I'm worried doing that show might reveal too much of my dark weirdness to the public. Ellison gets me, and I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Question Four: What is your favorite Kurt Blurt? For the uninitiated, Kurt Blurts are striking passages of Vonnegut's prose worthy of deeper consideration.

Michael: "I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all." 
-- The Sirens of Titan

Alex:  “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” -- Mother Night

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about hosting the Vonneguys podcast? What is your least favorite thing?

Alex: My favorite thing is when Michael, or a Vonnefriend reaching out to us, surprises me with a line of thinking that's so interesting it discombobulates my brain.

My least favorite thing is feeling like I dropped the ball on a part of the book worth diving into further, or better.

Michael: My favorite thing is having an iron-clad obligation to read for pleasure (and spiritual development) regularly. 

My least favorite thing is that I am only capable of talking about each book for a few hours, when in reality just the "Kurt Blurts" segment could be four to five hours long if we wanted it to.

Question Two: What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own podcast or otherwise build an online following for their creative work?

Michael: Do it, do it now! Faster Pussycat, Make! Make! Make! My point being, podcasting is an easy medium within which to execute, and if you're interested in doing one, there shouldn't be much stopping you. Think of a concept for a podcast you would want to listen to, make a LOT of episodes, learn from your mistakes, release the episodes, and if the podcast isn't a hit or runs its course, think of a new idea and make another one. In my experience, too often people think the idea of working in the creative arts is to find "the right idea," when really it's just to keep working on things that interest you. The audience will come or they won't. The sad truth is you have less control over that than you'd like. Keep your head down and keep at it until it's no longer something that fits well into your life for its own sake; then quit.

Alex: Do a lot of your thing. Keep doing it. Self-examine often, and kindly.

Question One: If you were to have lunch with Kurt Vonnegut, but could only ask him one question each, what would you ask?

Alex: "Can I buy your lunch?" Then if he says no, I insist on it till I wear him down.

Michael: MUST you fart every three to five minutes? Do you have some kind of medical issue; what's going on? 

BUT SERIOUSLY: What were your real beliefs--and how devoutly did you hold them--when you introduced the concepts of predetermination and handicapping for the sake of equality to so many of your fictional worlds? In other words...do you believe Free Will exists? Show your work.

Michael Swaim is head writer for Those Aren't Muskets, and performs in sketches regularly. He's a graduate of the UC San Diego department of theatre, a degree he is maliciously squandering by making stupid internet videos. He also contributes regularly to Cracked (the humor site, not the crack site) as a member of their group blog. He dreams of one day becoming a real boy.

Alex Schmidt is a Staff Video Writer for Cracked, where he makes sketch comedy, original YouTube shows, and guest appearances on Earwolf’s The Cracked Podcast. Before that he wrote comedy for BBC America, The Onion, Funny Or Die, CollegeHumor, My Damn Channel, McSweeney's, and more fun places.

He does stand-up comedy every week, in LA or on the road. He also does live sketch comedy every month, with his Pack Theater house team Gunslinger. 

1 comment:

  1. Improving as both a writer and a human being, are excellent aspirations! Great interview


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