The DC Pierson Interview
Today’s interviewee wears many hats: Some may know DC Pierson for the popular stylings of his sketch comedy group DERRICK, the crew behind the movie Mystery Team; others know him for his novel The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep And Never Had To (or the awesome response he posted online to the youngster who didn’t feel like reading the book). Lately he has been acting and writing customized rap songs for the pre-orderers of his newest book. You can learn a whole lot more about him here.
Your first book was about young adults but not technically classified YA. Your second book is being released as YA. Was there a difference writing the two, style and tone-wise?
Even though both books are about the friendship between two teenage boys, there's absolutely a difference in tone. The first book was written from a first-person perspective, whereas the new one is written from a sort of wry third-person perspective, because I felt that was more in keeping with the genre of fantasy literature, a genre the book both belongs to and (gently) mocks.
The first [book], The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep And Never Had To, is the more "adult" of the two, though that term always makes me feel like I'm saying the book should be sold in a brown paper wrapper in 1970s Times Square. It was often mistakenly classified as "young adult" despite the fact that it features, among other things, boobs, drug use, and swearing — three things I had varying degrees of experience with as a teenager myself, one very little, one not at all and one a TON (see if you can guess which is which, given the fact that I grew up to be a comedian instead of a globetrotting Lothario, or a . . . drug guy). It's a relief for people to say about this one "It's about young adults — it must be young adult!" because it is.
The new book is called Crap Kingdom. Did you get any "crap" from your publisher or publicists on whether the title might hinder sales in more conservative markets? If so, what were some other titles that were considered?
I wouldn't say I got crap, per se, but there was definitely a lot of internal debate at my publisher as to whether librarians would be comfortable pushing a book called Crap Kingdom on children. To her immense credit, my editor, Kendra Levin, was a big advocate for the title of the book and I think we're now all on the same page that. While there may be the occasional conservative (I like to imagine, old-fashioned Shaker) parent who has a problem with the title, there will be just as many kids who are attracted to the book because the title features a relatively mild sort-of swear. In the darkest hours of the title discussion, I threw out the idea of calling it Epic Fail. It's cute but I'm really glad Kendra fought for the original title and her bosses backed her up.
In another interview you said that the experience your comedy partner Donald Glover had writing for 30 Rock helped you write Mystery Team. What specific lessons did you apply to the movie?
Donald's co-workers were obsessed with making every joke as funny as it could possibly be on the page, as opposed to writing down the first relatively funny thing that came to mind and relying on the actors to "sell" it in performance. This point of view, which led to many tedious midnight-oil-burning hours rocking back and forth in computer chairs trying to think if there was a funnier specific than "vomit-shark" on our part, really benefited us in a number of ways. We were making a movie completely independently, with very little time and very little money. On the production end, we were all wearing a number of hats. If we'd had to do all of the things we had to do every day to move the rock of the production up the hill in addition to being there, on set, in the moment, trying to figure out a way to make the jokes decent, we would've ended up with a very mediocre movie, in all likelihood, instead of one that we're all extremely proud of.
What are some of your personal favorite Derrick Comedy "deep cuts" — videos that might have flown a bit under the radar?
WQXR The Cool Breeze. Donald and I play morning radio DJs trapped in our station by a hyper-intelligent wolf. We slowly come to grasp the scope of the wolf's demonic designs, all while playing the hits of the '70s, '80s, '90s and today. Donald's read on "I was flippin' through the Necronomicon" is tremendous.
Including commercials, what have been some of your favorite non-comedy roles?
I'd say almost all of the roles I've played have been in some way comedic. But I was recently in an indie movie called Grassroots, which I think is coming to Netflix soon. In addition to playing a stoned goofball, I got to play a stoned goofball REACTING TO THE EVENTS OF 9/11. I made a choice to be shell-shocked and teary-eyed, a departure from what I did on the actual morning of 9/11, which was to be shell-shocked, teary-eyed and go down to the drama room to be with "my people" (I was a sophomore in high school). I'm proud of what I got to do in the movie and I'm excited for people to see it.
What program or old-timey materials do you write on when it comes to fiction, scripts and blogging?
I write ideas, stand-up set-lists and puns down in a Moleskine I have on me at all times. I KNOW. For fiction, previously I used Microsoft Word but have skipped to Pages for Mac. For screenwriting, [I use] Final Draft, the best bad screenwriting software there is. Recently I began using Scrivener for outlining a screenwriting project, and will probably use it to outline my next book — it's worth every penny.
How do you divide your writing time? Do you give each genre its own time per day or do you devote a day to writing books, a day to scripts and so on?
Right now I pretty much stick to one writing project at a time. A bunch of things will sometimes intercede on that writing time, including auditions for acting stuff. I've also written for a lot of award shows in the past few years, so that will sometimes place a month-long hiatus in an otherwise relatively forward-moving writing project.
For the past few years I've been working with Dan [Eckman] and Meggie [McFadden] from DERRICK on adapting my first book into a feature film script. We'll hopefully complete our latest draft by the end of the year. When we're done, God willing, I'll start the next (grown-up) novel.
What’s a site, comedy group, show or person that you take comfort in for its ability to make you laugh reliably?
THE BEST SHOW ON WFMU, hosted and masterminded by Tom Scharpling and ably assisted by his genius comedy partner/one of the best drummers in rock, Jon Wurster, is, I think, my favorite piece of continuing entertainment on the planet. I was turned onto it my first, and most miserable, year in Los Angeles, and, as most first time listeners do, I had 90 minutes of not getting it AT ALL. Then it snapped into focus and has since provided me with countless hours of joy. It's so, so good. I can't recommend it enough, to anyone. I have limitless respect for Tom as a comedian, artist and human being. The more you listen, the more wonderful it gets, and there's so, so much of it to listen to.
I read an interview with you where you said that you wrote your first novel partially out of a sense of competition when a friend of yours said that so many people claim they can write books but never do. You’ve accomplished a lot as a writer, performer and director, so how do you keep that competitive spirit alive? Or do you rely on other means of motivation once you can say, “OK, I wrote the book,” or, “OK, I put out a movie”?
My sense of competitive fire is, right now, kept alive in large part by plain ol' trying to get by: It is really, really hard to make money in any creative endeavor. So the pure motivation of "If I don't chase down all these different things all at once, I don't know if there will be rent or food or cell-phone-keeping-on money" definitely helps. That said, I could have made different choices, like going after a staff writing job on a TV show, or other avenues that allow creative people to settle into relatively (and in some cases, indisputably) comfortable existences. I haven't, on purpose, because when I "make it" (note: none of us know exactly what "making it" looks like and I assume that once I achieve my current vague notion of what it is to "make it" the specter of "making it" will swirl and transmogrify into something every bit as alluring and unattainable as whatever my old idea of "making it" was that I finally achieved after much toil and many podcast appearances) I want to have "made it" as myself. I want my name to be associated with a certain kind of cultural output. That is to say, cultural output that features both cyborgs and sexual awkwardness. I feel, maybe misguidedly, that those other things that would, right now, afford me a degree of comfort and stability, would also take away time from all the other things I want to do. And that may change at some point.
Guided By Voices' latest post-reunion album is called Class Clown Spots A UFO. This is hyper-pretentious, but I saw that album title and went, "Oh, sh*t, that is the phrase I want anyone to be able to use to describe my career."
Also: I listen to a ton of rap music about waking up, getting money and being awesome. That helps a lot.
As a person whose in-laws live in Phoenix and is always looking for fun stuff to do when in town, I'd love to know: What do you do when you go home?
I hang out a bunch with my family. I used to hang out with a lot of my friends that had stayed in Phoenix, but many of my closest friends now live in other places. So I guess what I'm saying, Claire, is you should hang out with my family (they're great) but you can't hang out with Chuck or Trevor because they now live in New York and Colorado, respectively. Also: Filiberto's has great trashy burritos.
What’s it like to be a IV? Do you feel pressure to keep the ball rolling with a V eventually or you prefer to break the name cycle?
No question that if I have a firstborn son, there will be a Five. I think it's more fun to work with in a pre-existing tradition and have whatever we end up calling him be an interesting riff on what the previous four of us have been called. Also: Can you imagine being fathered by a person who thinks in these terms? Who wants your name to be an "interesting riff?" My God. Poor kid.
What’s your hair-care regimen?
My girlfriend recently turned me onto a shampoo called Shampure. It's made by Aveda. She uses it, I use it — sh*t is adorable. I wash my hair about once a week. Around three or four days in I start wearing a beanie, because by that time, my hair has come to resemble an abandoned fairground. It doesn't look quite so bad with the beanie on, though. If I have an audition where it doesn't seem like the character would necessarily be wearing a beanie over their "middle of Charlotte's Web" hair, I'll throw in a mid-week hair wash, as necessary. I'm going to cut it soon, I swear. Many inches of its length can be chalked up to stubbornness, most of the rest to laziness, the final inch or two to the fact that my dad listened to a lot of Allman Brothers when I was growing up so I kinda think that sh*t is COOL.
How does it feel to be the 330th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
A thrill. I think Interviewee 331st will be hard-pressed to match me for aimless parenthetical digressions and for pure flakiness when it comes to getting you your answers on time.
I had fun, though.