Tommy Wiseau Discusses Americans, Chickens, and Questions He Hates

TommyWiseauHeadshotTommy Wiseau and his cult-classic film The Room are two of the greatest mysteries of the entertainment industry. Since its release in 2003, traditions have formed around midnight screenings of The Room that are similar to those that surround The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Most notably, at each viewing, fans come dressed as their favorite character, bring along with them an arsenal of shoutouts, and engage in various act-outs such as throwing spoons at the screen. Wiseau and his origins are the subject of great debate, to such an extent that co-star Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell teamed up in 2013 to publish the widely acclaimed book The Disaster Artist, which  documents the development of Wiseau’s enigmatic six-million dollar film and posits some theories with regards to Wiseau’s history. Fans can look forward to the film adaptation of this book by Seth Rogen’s production company, Point Grey Pictures, with none other than James Franco portraying Wiseau.

More recently, Wiseau has been developing his new sitcom, The Neighbors. The series is available on Hulu, and follows the mishaps of various tenants in an apartment complex. Wiseau portrays two of the show’s characters: Charlie, the protagonist and ‘manager’ of the complex, and Ricky Rick, the show’s main antagonist. The other characters in the series range from a woman who spends much of her time screaming and running around the apartment with a live chicken, a stoner, women in bikinis, a muscular repair man, a basketball-loving youth who rarely makes good on his debts, and countless others that could only be born from the mind of Tommy Wiseau.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Wiseau about the significance of some of the elements of his series, his expectations, and the questions that he wishes people would stop asking. Wiseau promised to award me with medals for my final two questions.

How to Name a Baby

zeldaIn the earliest days of pregnancy, the easiest thing to focus on, when you know nothing of parenting or babies or life after giving birth, is what you will name the baby. Josh and I didn’t so much “focus” on it as we glossed over it, around it, and through it, nightly, as we gathered ourselves onto the couch with Penny, our dog. “How did we name Penny?” Josh asked one of those early, first trimester nights. “You named her,” he added. “Yes,” I agreed, always happy to take credit for anything good we have done. “Well,” I continued, “I remember looking at her, after she fell off the couch, talking about the spot on her head, and it was really copper, and I thought, ‘Oh! Like a Penny!’”

A few days after naming Penny, I emailed my cousin a photo of her. “She looks JUST like our dog Penny!” she said. My heart sank. There was, in fact, another Penny. Inspector Gadget had a Penny. I knew a Penny in grade school. The TV show Lost had a Penny. The world was, in fact, lousy with Pennys. “I’m not so original, maybe!” I thought. But Penny grew into her name until, she was the only Penny I know. She inhabits the Penny name better than any Penny, before or after.

So, when I thought of naming my child, I took Penny as an example of “good naming.” I would name my child as I had named my Chihuahua: a good, strong name, not very common but not so obscure that it stuck out. And, for whatever reason, I operated, in the earliest days of my pregnancy, under the false assumption that my baby was a boy; I considered the possibility that it would be a girl, but discarded it because naming a girl seemed like a chore. Our son’s name would be Max. It was the only obvious and pleasing choice.

“Yes, I am Hamm. One of my favorite things about the secret man who drinks at work is that he is actually a different man. Don Draper is Dick Whitman, but nobody knows. Dick Whitman saw Don Draper explode, and then Dick Whitman became Don Draper, and now Hamm is Draper. I thought that this was the best, and so when we were filming the show, I would always end every scene by saying, ‘I’m not Don Draper, I’m Dick Whitman! Yowza!‘” —An oral unhistory of Mad Men.#

New York City, April 20, 2015

weather review sky 042115★ Not a shower so much as a boot-dumping over the morning, soaking coats and quashing plans. Somewhere under the cold water was a little more green. At school’s end there was a blowing mist, and a thicker mist lurking around the tops of the towers. It was hard to say exactly when the last drizzle stopped falling, only that what took over was a suddenly suffocating ambient humidity that felt unbearably hot while still being chilly. A robin hopped in a planting bed, its breast the same color as the soggy mulch. The fog descended.

It's Not a Desert When the Oasis Can Be Brought to You

a bounty of JELLOHere’s what seems like a weird thing happening in certain parts of Brooklyn that will feel familiar to people who live in prospering large or even mid-sized cities:

[F]ood culture in Brooklyn blossomed, and the new food options reflect the increased demand for all things organic and artisanal. The paradox is that this bounty is mostly unavailable in lower-income neighborhoods, where inexpensive options have been driven out. Since 2006, two large, affordable supermarkets on Myrtle Avenue have closed, replaced by apartments; smaller and often more expensive specialty food stores have moved in to fill the void, although there are plans for a Key Food to open in one of the buildings. The situation will soon become even more difficult. In February, Slate Property Group announced plans to close the Key Food at Lafayette Avenue and Grand Avenue in Clinton Hill. It, too, will be razed for residential development.

One might expect that the arrival of humans flush enough to inhabit the stacks of well-appointed domiciles going up in these neighborhoods would herald the development and construction of new grocery stores, at last bringing this “bounty” to their doorstops. And it might. But these humans are, by and large, a new species of gentrifier:

These residents live on a different grid than their new neighbors, one that is now invisibly overlaid over certain large urban centers (but not yet over the suburbs). They have their own transportation system; they summon cars in minutes, which will take them everywhere for a price that is objectively high but subjectively low. They receive food in a similar way, freshly prepared and delivered in a bag, or gathered from a warehouse and delivered in a box. Shopping is a silent and stationary activity. The goods come to the shopper, even furniture, not the other way around.

The Best Time I Went to Christian Charm School

LfVBPS7UoYB5rx7csldkZgzuI4SNT_LUvcBuMxcAks0In 1981, supermodel Cheryl Tiegs wore a plaid shirt on the cover of the Sears catalog. Tootsie Roll lip balm was the latest innovation in skin care, and Leggs pantyhose took up more aisle space than you’d think in drugstores.

That was the year I attended Christian charm class. In the same decade where Madonna sang about feeling like a virgin, the Christian Charm Manual was required reading for girls at my school.

I attended a Baptist school befitting my family’s evangelical fundamentalist persuasions. Girls wore skirts that extended at least two inches below our knees, a detail subject to inspection by the principal’s wife, who wore her hair in a permanent beehive. But the dress code wasn’t enough in 1981. It was time for our official submissiveness training.

The pink-accented manual still in my possession is a meandering onslaught of Biblical warnings and hair care instructions. Early in the workbook, the prayer to become a born-again Christian is complemented, presumably for the first time in 2,000 years of church history, by another vow: “I want to be attractive and charming, so that I will please others. I realize that this will not come about through wishful dreaming…I must work toward that goal diligently and steadfastly.”

I was already a literalist—I believed I would live forever in a mansion in heaven, where I would wear a crown to show how admirably I’d conducted myself on earth. Adding religion to my beauty care wasn’t my biggest leap of faith.

Burn the Vegetables

4829086828_87c137dc73_bA few months back, I went on a vacation to Oaxaca. While I was there, I took a cooking class, hoping to learn about some new ingredients, maybe have someone experienced walk me through a mole, the ridiculously complex and cherished sauce of Oaxaca. Instead I found out that I don’t know shit about cooking. Like, I didn’t even know how to heat up a pan.

Oaxacan recipes aren’t structured like ones indebted to the legacy of Western European cuisine. Sauces aren’t built the same way. Ingredients and equipment I hadn’t even realized were European—olive oil, enameled cast iron, chef’s knives, fresh rather than dried or preserved ingredients—were suddenly unimportant. Ingredient lists there seemed to include several barely distinguishable varieties of each individual item, like dozens of varieties of chiles, all used in slightly different ways. Precise, Frenchified knife cuts gave way to labored grinding in a molcajete, the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle.

One of the strangest techniques, I thought, was a thickening agent for a mole chichilo, an intensely savory version of the signature sauce: the seeds of a local variety of chile, along with a few corn tortillas, were placed on a dry, very hot griddle, and allowed to blacken—to burn. The burnt, bitter seeds and tortillas were ground and added back into the sauce.

This is unthinkable in most American food; if something is burnt, it means you fucked up. All I could think was, I don’t know anything about cooking. Over and over, as I ate grasshoppers and three or four other varieties of mole and tlayudas and chocolate and mezcal, I tasted smoke, which is a base flavor in Oaxacan food, as important as sweet and sour and umami. The burnt chile seeds and tortillas, blended with beef stock, tomatoes, tomatillos, allspice, toasted avocado leaves, and cumin, didn’t taste burnt. The sauce tasted dark and sinister, bitterness balancing richness and sweetness, all coming from a base level of smokiness.

I can’t teach anyone anything about real Mexican cuisine. But the idea of heating in a dry pan was something that was never really in my regular rotation, and now it is, and I think it’s very cool and maybe there are some other people reading this who also haven’t much messed around with it. For me it was the equivalent of getting, I don’t know, an immersion circulator, except way better, because I love what dry heat does to vegetables and the immersion circulator is sort of a pain and makes me feel like a real doof to use it. It’s a whole new way of heating up food, closer to indoor grilling than frying, sautéing, braising, or poaching.

“On TV, when one program ends, another starts, and users accept that experience. The Internet started as a newspaper, but now it’s turning into TV,” says a guy who is explaining why pretty soon every video you see on the web will auto-play. Also sometimes video “has something incredibly powerful to communicate,” says another guy, so why not start it without letting the user decide? It’s all about improving your experience anyway, right? I mean, that is generally the way we try to excuse the erosion of standards. I guess if you want to look on the bright side it’s that people still feel like they have to pretend they are doing this for reasons in addition to the money. So sure, it’s about storytelling. I mean, whatever, much like the planet the Internet is way past the the point of saving, what difference does it make how much garbage you chuck up to the top of the pile anymore?#

“’When we’ve talked to people who are involved in rehab treatment and all that, or users of other drugs, there is a stigma attached to meth use among New Yorkers,’ Brennan says. Many city dwellers think that it’s for ‘people in the trailers or out in hillbilly country or whatever’ and that they’re ‘too sophisticated’ for meth, she says, paraphrasing their comments. ‘They don’t view it as a “New York” drug,’ she adds.”#

San Fermin, "Jackrabbit"

If you are looking for something spare or stripped-down, San Fermin’s Jackrabbit, which comes out today, is not the place to turn, but there are plenty of other places to turn for that, so don’t get that face on. Sometimes it’s okay to open yourself up to an assload of orchestration. Embrace fullness, I say. There’s a lot going on here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Give it a go.