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xmag.com : August 2004: Talk of the Town

The Famous Mysterious Actor Latenight Talk Show is some funny fuckin' shit. I'll admit I had no idea of its existence until they called me to be a guest back in April. It's a post-apocalyptic post-modern stew of Saturday Night Live-style sketches riffing on politics and current events, strange public service announcements, gimmicks that are designed to fall flat and local star power.

The Ash Street is turned into a television studio for FMA, and onlookers become the live studio audience. Portland celebrity guests are all but ignored while Famous freestyles in his annoying nasally whine and the slicksters in suits act smug and, well, slick. Towards the end of each show, a local band plays a song or two and then is invited up on stage for more weirdness. If you like the Dead Milkmen, you're gonna love Famous!

Not surprisingly, the show has become enormously popular. So popular that local art star Mona Superhero deigned to be a guest on the show ("My tit fell out of my dress onstage....I was so nervous I didn't notice!") and subsequently fell in "love" with Famous. So in love that she took time out of her busy art star schedule to do this interview with the crew: FMA creator Joe Frice, German-speaking slickster Cutter, Ed McMahon foil John Schmitt, producer J.D. Fisher, videographer Wally Fessler, intern (who doesn't have an intern?) Kris Lutsock and, of course, Captain Happy.



MONA SUPERHERO: Joe, you began performing with the Bottom Rung in Eugene, OR. Tell me about the Bottom Rung.

JOE FRICE: REAL cutting edge stuff. Corporate comedy. We would get hired to do faculty shows with community college related sketches. It wasn't really funny.


MS: Had anyone had performing experience prior to that?

FRICE: None of these guys were in the Bottom Rung. It was me and three other guys. We did it for a couple of years and then I moved to Portland.


MS: Did you get your start at the Ash St.?



FRICE: Jimmy Maks was the first place. Week after week we had a continuing storyline with Famous, the other John Schmitt, Cutter and Denny.


MS: What happened to the original John Schmitt?

FRICE: He got kicked out and was so despondent that he spawned an evil doppelgänger John Schmitt...who was dedicated to destroying everything the Famous Mysterious Actor stood for. Famous loves freedom.


MS: Did you have an ultimate battle of good vs. evil?

FRICE: In evil John Schmitt's mind, but to the audience it was like, "Well, this guy's not entertaining."

SCHMITT: He had fireballs.

FRICE: Yeah, he would throw imaginary fireballs.

KRIS LUTSOCK: Chucking T-Bone halfway across the room was good. [All agree.]

FRICE: T-Bone has been there all along. He was the first person I met in Portland.


MS: Had anyone done any comedy prior to that?

LUTSOCK: J.D. and I wrote comedy in High School that we never thought we'd actually perform. It was sort of a continuation of playing Dungeons and Dragons.


MS: So you're saying you never got any tail in high school?

FRICE: That sentence could end at tail.

LUTSOCK: Do you have any ice I could chew on?


MS: There's quite a buzz surrounding the Famous Mysterious Actor.

FRICE: I think I'm inside the bubble. I don't hear about the buzz because all my friends are in the show.


MS: Would you consider televising the show?

FRICE: I would because on TV you have much more control over what the audience is looking at. You can use the medium and really focus on the bits.

SCHMITT: It's the logical next step.

FRICE: We need to find a TV studio with beer taps.


MS: You air videos, "commercials" and trailers during the show. Are there any plans for a full-length film production?


LUTSOCK: Trailers are much more interesting.

FRICE: Trailers are always better. I know what the Two Brothers movie is about. Tigers. One is regular, one is bionic.

SCHMITT: A bionic tiger?

FRICE: Haven't you seen the trailer for it?


FRICE: It was going to be called the "Battle of the Bionic Tigers."


MS: If you could be any animal, what would you be?

SCHMITT: Anything animatronic.

FRICE: What's it called when you never die?

LUTSOCK: Immortal.

FRICE: I would be an immortal seagull. I'd be at the beach all the time and I'd never have to pay for food.

SCHMITT: You wouldn't have to worry about Alka-Seltzer.

FRICE: I don't want to be chased off by the other seagulls though. "Why don't you go to the dump? Go pick over that shit. Forever."


MS: How much of the show is improvised and how important is that?

FRICE: There's not a full rundown with everyone in the room until about an hour before the show. Everyone has a good idea what their role is but they don't know what the others are doing.

SCHMITT: Ideas have been kicked around but nobody knows what will happen. Basically, the guests make it.


MS: Who has been the most outrageous guest?

[Unanimously]: Jimi Hendrix.

SCHMITT: He was out of his mind, wasn't he? What does he call himself? A Jimi Hendrix look-alike. Not an impersonator.

FRICE: He doesn't impersonate Jimi in any way. He just looks like him.

SCHMITT: He can't sing, can't dance, can't play guitar. He wouldn't even touch the guitar. He was like "Get it away from me!" Dude, it's a prop. I'm not asking you to play it.

FRICE: I think Famous' perfect guest would be a mirror.


MS: Who are you influences?

FRICE: I don't think we have any...

SCHMITT: I've loved comedy since I was a kid.

FRICE: Yeah. I can't think of any direct influences that shaped the show. It's basically a diagram of the late night talk show designed by Jack Parr and Steve Allen. We follow that format as Johnny Carson did, Letterman does, Leno, Conan. We have influences that we liked but I don't know that they have directly influenced the show.


MS: You are being compared to Andy Kaufman.

SCHMITT: That has been said for a long time.

FRICE: I don't know where the comparison lies, but especially at Jimmy Maks we would do stuff that one third of the audience loved, one third hated and the last third was just confused. We would show up in the middle of open mic comedy night. There would be four comedians and then we would come up and weigh a watermelon. I don't think the show we do now is Kaufmanesque. We're going for laughs. We don't want to creep people out. The confusion comes from people wondering why this fucker has a talk show. He's not the most eloquent.


MS: Is there a chance we might see you...



MS: We see you do that every two weeks! Is there a chance we might see you perform in another context?

FRICE: Oh yeah. Until we started doing the FMA show about a year ago, we were doing other characters at the open mic and comedy nights.


MS: I want to hear more about P.U.S.S.Y.

SCHMITT: The Portland Underground Showbiz Society, Y'all. It was a collective.

FRICE: It was the FMA players. We also had F.I.C.T. The Freemont Institute of Technology. They were scientists. We would conduct experiments and do audience interactive comedy.


MS: If you could have any superpower what would it be?

FRICE: Kris has a list of them.

MS: One of them is getting tail.

FRICE: He'd be happy just to have the power to convince women that they have had relations with him. So the woman is walking around going "Yeah, I did him."

LUTSOCK: Josh and I sat down with our friends and came up with a list of our superhero powers. I could eavesdrop on free-range chickens.


MS: John Schmitt?

SCHMITT: Mutant hand. Like in Total Recall where that guy took off his hand.

LUTSOCK: I can tell you that Josh would assume the power of China O'Clock and he was the Master of Monkey Choad Fu.

CUTTER: [Translated from German.] Does that include chinchilla style?

LUTSOCK: Despite my undergrad degree, I know nothing of Eastern cultures.

FRICE: I probably wouldn't be in a situation where cops are chasing me but if bad guys were chasing me and I was like "Oh man, I'm doomed!" and I was running across rooftops then I could jump and splat up against the side of a building and slide down like a Wacky Wallwalker. Hell yeah.

SCHMITT: Brush the dirt off, wash yourself with soap and be sticky again.

FRICE: That's the thing. It would be an exciting episode because there's no soap to be found!

CUTTER: [Translated from German.] I would be able to grow large and crush buildings at will. I could also make myself small again.

SCHMITT: The commissioner would call you up. "We need this building demolished now!" You could make some money.

FRICE: Do you remember the show Captain Nice? It was about this mild mannered guy who would eat these pills and turn into Captain Nice.

SCHMITT: He was an asshole? He'd have to take the pills to be nice in certain situations?


MS: I know that's how I operate.

FRICE: He'd be flying Great American Hero style and the pills would wear off and he'd be f'd. Captain Nice went off air and Mr. Terrific replaced him.

CUTTER: [Translated from German.] Was it live action?

FRICE: It was done by the people who did Get Smart. Buck Henry and Bernie Kopell.


MS: The ship's doctor?

FRICE: On the Love Boat.

LUTSOCK: My one qualm with the Love Boat...

SCHMITT: You had a qualm?

LUTSOCK: They all had white guy afros.

SCHMITT: What's wrong with the white guy afro?

LUTSOCK: I have very straight hair.

FRICE: You'd never get on the show.


MS: This question is for Patty. Lovers: salty or sweet?

FRICE: I am a lover of all things that are sweet.

SCHMITT: I'm a salty sour kind of guy.

FRICE: Salty sour is good. You gotta have the best of both worlds. Laffy Taffy and Cheetos.

LUTSOCK: Is this a veiled reference to what kind of tail we like?

SCHMITT: He's trying hard to think back to the last tail he had.

LUTSOCK: I'm still looking through old issues of National Geographic.

FRICE: Can I buy you a drink?


MS: Alright.


Don't miss the next convergence of these freaks on August 4th, featuring guests Sam Mallory and Mike Clark, and the FMA anniversary EXTRAVAGANZA on August 29th, featuring all of Famous' favorite guests, including myself and Mona Superhero!






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