The King & I
What was the catalyst for you and Rob creating the original Kings of Con series? Was there one particularly funny thing that happened that made you think “A show based around this world could be something”?
It wasn’t one thing but more like a continual string of things. Rob and I found each other funny and recognized that our individual humors worked well together. The idea of doing a show was really inspired by the camaraderie Rob and I developed and the exaggerated versions of ourselves we discovered and leaned into as a part of the improv we did together on stage at fan conventions. We recognized that those characters in the unique and untapped universe of cons could make for great TV.
The “Bring the Ding” era of fandom was maybe my favourite time. Were you surprised
by the level of engagement from the fandom?
Flabbergasted is more like it. We didn’t know what to expect and were truly floored by all the
support and engagement. Still to this day, we are incredibly appreciative and always will be.
What do you remember about the first day of shooting? Were you nervous?
There's so much work that goes into everything – from writing to casting to location scouting, set building, costume design, etc. – that by the time day one came, I wasn’t very nervous. Focused, sure. But not nervous. The only part that is a bit nerve-wracking day one with a new crew. I obviously knew the department heads because had prepped with them. Like Mark Evans our DP, Tina our producer (Tina Densmore then, now Tina Bell, 'cause she got married), Mando our sound guy, Elly our associate producer. I actually brought Elly with me to the show. She worked at our management company before I coerced her to leave there and come with us. So we had already spent time with most department heads already, but meeting the people who worked *for* the camera department,*for* the sound department, and all that – there were a few nerves surrounding that.
Pretty sure the first scene we shot was Misha and the monkey. And the courtroom scene was also day one. I remember it being very hot and very fun. And I remember being glad we were finally rolling. (RSJFanWorld: Misha was, indeed, day one).
What do you know now that you wish you knew back then?
Well, hard to say. I mean, I’ve directed a lot of other projects since then, but even so, when I go back and watch “Kings of Con,” I don't think there's much I'd change. It is a pure reflection of the energy of that time. We came in knowing what we knew with the skill sets we had and made the show that is now out there. It’s a great snapshot of who we were and what we were able to do with what we knew and what we had. I am proud of the work we turned in. I stand behind it all.
You know, at first, part of me wanted to answer this question by saying that I wish I'd known we were only going to have one season. But why would I have known that? And knowing that might have just made the whole process disheartening, so I guess I'm glad I didn't know.
Did budget or time constraints impact filming at all? Is there anything you wrote that you couldn't shoot?
No, there wasn't anything we couldn't film. We wrote the show anticipating that we would have no money, so we wrote for what we knew we could afford. Take the scene where I am thrown off the balcony. We found a way to shoot it to make the joke work without any big rig or stunt element. We told every story we wanted to tell and just figured out how to tell it with the time and money we had. Time wasn't really a concern either for the same reasons. We knew the hurdles we would be up against and planned accordingly from day one.
There was a similar show that launched around the same time as KOC that, to me, felt kind of disparaging to fans. Was the possibility you might upset your fan base at the back of your mind, or did you trust that we had your backs?
I know about the other, but I never watched it. Not out of any sort of ‘sour grapes’ thing, it just seemed very similar in concept to ours so I thought it was smarter to keep my mind pure for our show. Consequently, I didn't realize it was disparaging to fans.
As far as our show goes, I was never worried about upsetting our fan base because “Kings of Con” isn't about fans. It’s about actors and photographers and agents and everything that goes on behind the scenes at conventions. The fan characters that are featured in our show always have their act WAY more together than the broken neurotic, narcissistic actors they are there to support. And that’s the joke. That’s the whole conceit. We would never knowingly offend fans. Our goal was to do the opposite – entertain them! That said, I'm sure some people somewhere saw something in our show they didn’t like, but hey, such is the nature of entertainment. If you try to please all the people all the time, you end up with what we in the business call “a heap of crap.”
I feel like it's pretty dead. I love and am very proud of the show we created and the product we delivered. Yet still, we couldn’t get any traction from anyone on doing a second season. Honestly, it baffles me. It was so efficient, affordable (as far as TV goes) and well done. Yes, I know I'm saying that about our own show, but I think Rob and I nailed it in terms of production value, characters, comedy, and everything else. It’s just one more example of how brutal this business is. It knocks you around pretty good. I guess never say never, but if I have to answer the question 'is the show alive or is it dead?', sadly, my answer is dead.
Is season 2 definitely 'dead in the water' or might it still happen?
In the show, Rich has a bevy of ex-wives. Did you plan to bring them onto the show, and if so, were there any casting ideas?
We did discuss doing that in season two, and Briana Buckmaster’s name came up a LOT. It would have been very fun to get her on the show and explore the comedy of that storyline.
Maybe. Not sure. We could have done a more bittersweet ending where the boys head their separate ways or something. Bugs me to this day that we didn’t get to keep the story going, even for one more season. But hey, as Rob Bennet says, “that’s just the biz.”
Did you have a series ending mapped out?
Season One has an open end. Had you known that you wouldn’t get another, would that have changed?
No, we never did that. The show had endless possibilities, so why think of an end?
By necessity, the KOC brand has changed from a show with fictionalized versions of you and Rob to a podcast as yourselves, including slices of your family lives. If KOC was to return as a scripted show would the tone change at all?
I don’t think so. As you say, “KOC: The Podcast” is real Rob and Rich and slices of their actual existence. Were we to go back to do the show, we would go back to the fictional format. I have no desire to make a reality show. Plus I liked who fictional Rob and Rich were. You don't want fake Rob and fake Rich to be too balanced or the joke dies on the vine. Granted, at this point, I think the characters might behave slightly differently because it's been so long since we last saw them. Maybe they would've progressed somehow because our writer brains would have progressed along with them, but it would still be fictional for sure, and it would still definitely be a single camera comedy taking a broad look at grounded situations. Let’s face it, fictional life is just WAY funnier than real life. At least in our case.
Would you and Rob consider developing another scripted show together?
We would and in fact discuss it often. We also talk about doing a feature film.
Kings of Con:
Are you a podcast guy and do you have any favourites, or any you are planning to check out?
I am. I listen to “Morning Joe” almost every day. I also like “This American Life,” “The Moth,” and “Revisionist History” with Malcolm Gladwell, among others. I was recently turned on to the podcast version of the BBC show “Desert Island Discs” and love what I’ve heard of it, especially the episode featuring Helen McCrory. It is both a fascinating and painfully poignant interview in light of her recent tragic passing.
When we covered the first anniversary of AMGIRS, we called it our favourite lockdown companion. What entertainment has been *your* favourite lockdown companion?
My kids. And yes, I’m classifying them as entertainment because they are each wonderfully engaging and funny in their own way. For all the negative surrounding the pandemic, the opportunity I’ve had to connect with my three sons during this time has been absolutely invaluable.
Dream podcast guest?
Steve Martin. Or Michael Stipe, Bill Berry, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills of R.E.M. (any or all of them).
As it seems like cons might finally be making a return, would you consider adding a live episode of the podcast to a con? (I’m thinking you and Rob interviewing a con guest, with Swain providing the songs).
We have talked about doing something along those lines. Could be fun. We’ll see if it pans out.
With that in mind, which podcast song would you most like to hear as a full Louden Swain number?
The Spanish Version of “Alpo” and the “Silver Lake Wine Theme.”
Do you see the podcast continuing as life returns to normal? Maybe as a less regular thing?
I do. The podcast gives Rob and me an excuse to connect and yap about nothing of substance with one singular goal – make ourselves laugh. I don’t see any reason to stop doing that anytime soon.
Kings of Con:
On September 15th 2020, Rob and Rich relaunched their lockdown podcast ‘And My Guest is Richard Speight’ as the latest incarnation of ‘Kings of Con’. To mark the first anniversary, I quizzed Rich about all things ‘Kings’ - from the original series, to the podcast and beyond.