Darth_FEATURED

Darth Vader Impersonator Impersonator

Intro from Jay Allison: In the attempt to explore the nature of evil, the interview with the real Darth Vader Impersonator didn’t work out. So, producer Sean Cole had to go to the next level. This piece was made in Boston for Benjamin Walker’s strange and remarkable local program "Your Radio Nightlight." In the encounter with the Dark Lord, we must also come face to face with public radio’s sound and style, as faithfully rendered by one of its own.

Listen Now
Listen to “20021009.cole.darthvader.mp3”

Notes from Sean Cole

Vader Surprise
One element of evil is surprise.
Photo: www.decaturvader.com

This piece was truly a collaboration, the sort I hadn’t been a part of before. Ben called me and said he was doing a show called “The Dark Side” in two weeks and would I want to write something with him. He had a sketch of an idea about a Darth Vader impersonator who was pathologically obsessed with the character, even after his obsession had alienated the people who allowed him to live his dream. He wanted to write it as a mock public radio news report which is also something I’d never done before. After a couple of phone conversations just brainstorming different plot twists and details, Ben hammered out a rough, partial outline and I e-mailed him back with the first few minutes of the story. Ben e-mailed me back with changes. I changed his changes and e-mailed back more script. It went on this way for a week until I was sitting on Ben’s couch reading the final script into his mini-disc recorder. (And even then we argued about the ending until we came up with some writing we both agreed on.) I recorded the “tracks” first, then me-as-interviewer asking “Darth” questions, then me-as-“Darth.”

Bathroom Break
Even a Dark Lord needs a moment of privacy.
Photo: www.decaturvader.com

I thought writing a made-up news report would be easy, even freeing. After all, the “facts” could be anything Ben and I wanted them to be, the “actualities” could say anything. But, for one thing, I hadn’t written fiction since 1995, and since then I had re-calibrated my brain to process and put together true stories. And even though I write a fair number of poems, I worried that my imagination wasn’t broad enough (certainly not as broad as Ben’s) to create a listenable, engaging story out of thin air. Then there was the fact of our doing it as an “ax and trax” public-radio-style profile. Throughout the writing, there was a little tiny nay-sayer in my skull that spoke up now and then, resisting the very concept of presenting fiction in a format normally reserved for truth: a kind of “this does not compute” voice. I never tried to reason with it. I just ignored it, occasionally reminding myself that some of my favorite short fiction is that of Donald Barthelme, who often threw off the bounds of the traditional short story format in favor of, for example, a list of numbered sentences, or a fictional travelogue about another Paraguay, one that is nowhere on any map.

I don’t know if Ben and I succeeded in writing a listenable, engaging story out of thin air. But it was fun flipping off my inner, uptight drip.

Touring the Empire
Darth Vader tours the empire in style.
Photo: www.decaturvader.com

Notes From Benjamen Walker

In my radio show ‘Your Radio Nightlight‘ I often have talk shows that are not real talk shows, news reports that are not real news reports and documentaries that are not real documentaries. For some reason people always assume that I am doing this in order to do satire or parody. Of course there is a little bit of this but in the end satire and parody only takes you so far – if you are truly serious about connecting with the listener you need to have stories.

That’s really all I’m doing – using familiar radio devices to make up stories. And it’s a lot of fun. especially when I get to work with my friend Sean Cole.



Additional Support for this work provided by
Open Studio Project

with funding from the


Corporation for Public Broadcasting

and

The National Endowment for the Arts
NEA

Sean Cole

About
Sean Cole

Sean Cole was hired as a newsroom intern at WBUR in Boston in 1997. For some reason, they later began paying him. He worked at the station for nine years as a producer and reporter, spending two of those years with WBUR’s award-winning documentary series Inside Out. Along the way, he has also contributed to This American Life, All Things Considered, Only a Game, Studio 360, Weekend America and other shows. At this writing, he is a regular contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace. Sean also writes poems and, sometimes, bios like this one.

Comments

  • Jay Allison

    10.15.02

    Darth Vader Impersonator Impersonator

    In the attempt to explore the nature of evil, the interview with the real Darth Vader Impersonator didn’t work out. So, producer Sean Cole had to go to the next level. This piece was made in Boston for Benjamin Walker’s strange and remarkable local program "Your Radio Nightlight." In the encounter with the Dark Lord, we must also come face to face with public radio’s sound and style, as faithfully rendered by one of its own.

  • Jake Warga

    10.17.02

    The power of the dark side

    Sean-
    I remember going to the premiere of ‘Empire’ on the paramount lot when I was young Jedi. There’s a photo of my friend and I standing next to ‘Darth’, we are each being chocked by his dark hands, grinning like fools. He was evil, and I would not know he was a father till later. Even so. I like your story, but I must confess that I don’t like your character. Maybe this was intentional on your part, but what an angry man. Nothing human came out of him, you yes, but I didn’t like him till the end when he tried throttling you, but did you make narrative funny on that later or on the field? Maybe if you found a Luke. There have been many stories about people reaching into the silver screen and becoming a character (ie: Luc Burbank’s Superman, the film ‘Trekies’ comes to mind), but the interest for me is when the ‘real’ person is reached. This guy just seems like a freak.

    May the force be with you, your mic your lightsaber, and above all, be cautious of the dark side.

  • Sean Cole

    10.17.02

    Jake’s message

    Jake –

    Thanks for listening and writing. I think you’re right that Bo isn’t particularly likable, isn’t a sympathetic character. And yet it wasn’t intentional. This is really what I meant when I said I wasn’t sure if my imagination was broad enough for the task. I mean, in the end, when you’re making a story up, you can imbue it with any and all of the elements of the best, most engaging and moving, true story… a rich, likable character being the most important element. I really did want Bo to be attractive people but I fear I’m a little like Dr. Frankenstein: I set out to create a human but I lack the skill. So I created a monster instead. That said, when Ben and I were working on the story, we would talk about Bo like he was a real person and always end up saying "Oh Poor Bo!" and laughing like you laugh about a friend who tries to pop a wheelie on his ten-speed and ends up falling on his ass. I think Bo is consistent with a lot of the fictional people on Ben’s show. In over-compensating for feelings of inferiority they become self-righteous and arrogant, and they’re always paid back for that arrogance. They always get theirs in the end. It always makes me laugh because I’ve known people like that. So in that way the characters ring true, I guess.

    What do you think Ben? After all… you are Bo’s father. (post up heavy breathing up here for :05 and then fade to black.)

  • Julia Barton

    10.17.02

    I laughed, I coughed…

    …but I have a cold. I thought it was great! Radio fiction, the final frontier.

    Good use of music, by the way. It both moved the piece along, but it was also very funny.

    Are you sure this isn’t satire, just a little bit?

  • bw

    10.17.02

    the real behind the mask..

    Jake -

    I like the movie ‘trekkies’ too.. but lets face it – popular culture has a sick and twisted way of effacing real identities… not only of cultures in general.. but individuals in particular..

    and when you decide you want to be superman or darth vader or madonna or whomever its usually because you don’t want to be the person you are…

    but as far as ‘liking’ goes.. I’m not sure I’ve ever thrown that element into the crockpot when making up characters.. the goal is to make compelling characters.. they can be unlikable.. I know lots and lots of unlikable ‘real’ people..

    and Julia

    glad you liked the music..

    I’ll tell you what it is next post.. as soon as I find the cd… its around here somewhere..

  • Sean Cole

    10.17.02

    Re: I laughed, I coughed…

    Thanks Julia. Ben is responsible for the music, for the entire mix actually. (Now that I think of it, I feel like I answered Jake’s question as though I were the sole writer on the piece and as I said in the intro note it really was the two of us equally. Ben wrote a lot of it and provided most of the structure.)

    Sure it’s satire. But there’s a narrative to it, which isn’t true of a lot of satire (i.e. National Lampoon, Rewind, the Montana Logging and Ballet Company, SNL, Second City, etc.) Most satire is just jokes (set up, punch-line, set up, punch-line). Which is great. I love that stuff. I think all Ben means is stories, narratives, pull people in more, carry their interest. But again I shouldn’t speak for him.

  • bw

    10.17.02

    speak for me anytime Sean

    but stop being so modest!! Sean always impresses me with the care and dedication he brings to the stories he works on.. and it was really interesting to see how this didn’t change even though it was a story where we were making everything up..

    and as far as satire goes.. Sean and I think exactly alike.. and what he says in the above post could be applied to most of the skits and jokes you hear on public radio..

    but the real issue is of course humor… and I ask this question in all seriousness.. can public radio be funny?

    and I’M NOT TALKING F#$KING GAME SHOWS

  • Jake Warga

    10.18.02

    Huh?

    I think I might be missing something, was this a fictional story? I was never sure actually, but found no reference to it. The force is not strong in me I guess.

  • Jay Allison

    10.18.02

    Triumph of the Dark Side

    was this a fictional story?

    Unless I miss my guess, this question fills the black hearts of Ben and Sean with glee, evil glee.

  • Jake Warga

    10.18.02

    You geeks

    Ok. joke’s on me. Whose the true dork? one that makes the joke, or the one that falls for it? Think it just transfers ownership. Will someone take it off me? Explains the lack of depth I searched for. Guys, the force is strong within you. But is this fair to not prompt listeners who expect nothing but, in the least biased, truth on the dignified airwaves of public radio? This is not new, this is war of the worlds. But I fell for it and would like to return all the supplies I bought when I thought aliens were invading.

  • Jay Allison

    10.18.02

    too late

    I fell for it and would like to return all the supplies I bought when I thought aliens were invading.

    The coffee mugs and tote bags? Not returnable.

  • Jake Warga

    10.18.02

    "Curse my metal body, I wasn’t fast enough!" C3PO

    Darth Vader: "Obi-Wan has taught you well. You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me."

    Yoda: "You must unlearn what you have learned."

    Obi-Wan Kenobi: "He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil." and "If you strike me down, I will only become stronger." all come to mind.

  • MJ Butler

    10.18.02

    Can Public Radio Be Funny?

    Loved the Vader piece. As to your serious inquiry, "can public radio be funny?," I assume you’re asking that of the people involved, not the medium. I mean, I’m no expert on comedy*, but as hit-and-miss as the National Lampoon Radio Hour was, if it was brand new and aired today, how could it not be hailed as a revelation? (Example from the show: In a cross between Gigi and Last Tango and Paris, they had Belushi as Brando singing: "You used three fingers?" "No, just two." "Ah, yes. I remember it weeelll…")

    Granted, National Lampoon in the early to mid-70s was a unique convergence of comedy talent, and perhaps not a lot of comic minds are thinking today, "You know, I want to do a show on public radio," but isn’t that more a reaction to the LACK of comedy on public radio? Or, hell, the lack of comedy on radio itself… commercial comedy radio is represented by morning zoo crews doing sound effects and fart jokes. Is there anything on the horizon to provide an alternative?**

    Okay, enough self-promotion, but I really do appreciate guys like you trying to expand the horizons of radio comedy. Or even recognize such a thing exists.

    MJ

    * Winner of the Best Comedic Web Series award at the HBO Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. See http://www.twistedmojo.com/la.html for details.

    ** About to launch a comedy radio module series in a couple months. See no-frills page http://www.twistedmojo.com/demo.html for details.

  • MJ Butler

    10.18.02

    Okay…

    According to my screen, my post was somehow posted three times, and my asterisks were posted as these dots which both legitimize my self-importance and minimize my self-depreciating intent.

    MJ

    * This dot symbolizes that I’m an important poster. If you scroll up, or look through other posters in other topics, you shall see no such dot. This means you should pay special attention to this post. You will remain by your computer screen to await further instructions.

  • Jay Allison

    10.18.02

    emptying ashtrays

    Having arrived in the morning to tidy up a bit, I will now remove two of MJ Butler’s three identical postings, but leave her explanation for the extras, because it’s amusing.

    Josh, this extra posting thing seems to happen fairly often. Can we prevent it? Perhaps by administering a mild electrial shock to certain users?

  • Sean Cole

    10.18.02

    Jake’s "Huh?"

    Jay wrote: Unless I miss my guess, this question fills the black hearts of Ben and Sean with glee, evil glee.

    I don’t know if I’m FILLED with evil glee. Maybe half-filled.

    More than wondering if anyone would actually BELIEVE it was true, I wondered if people would think it was believABLE. But I never actually banked on anyone thinking it was true… a) because the story’s so preposterous (sp?) and b) because I talked about making up the story in my intro note. I realize now that I shouldn’t have assumed people would read the note before listening to the story. Or maybe I should have stated more explicitly in the note, this is fiction. What I’m trying to say is: Jake, I didn’t mean to bamboozle you. But now that I have I guess my black heart does have glee in it. Not because I’ve pulled off a successful (if unintentional) con but because it means, maybe, that the story is at least somewhat believable. But this is what I was talking about when I said I felt funny using a construct reserved for truth to tell fiction. Any thoughts out there on this? Is it a sin? Nice parlor trick? Just a gimmick? Is it a good gimmick or a bad gimmick? Should it be done more? Never done again? (Sorry I just came from one of those public radio workshops so I’m filled with the desire to workshop everything out. But then I guess that’s what this site is about.)

    As to whether public radio can funny. My answer is of course it can. It even *is* funny sometimes. I have belly laughed listening to public radio, mostly listening to funny moments on TAL but also other programs. Our workshopper (Stephen Smith from American Radio Works) today played a piece from Lost and Found Sound about an astronaut in a decompression chamber filled with helium talking to President Johnson on the phone. He was trying to be all serious and offical and yet he sounded like an adolescent frog. It had the room roaring. But I do think public radio isn’t funny enough. That it could be funnier. That funniness could even (heaven forbid) find it’s way into a hard news story. Not every story, obviously, but many of them. Right now it seems we have the funny over here and the seriousness over here and never the twain shall meet.

  • MJ Butler

    10.20.02

    Public radio does funny

    Sean,

    "Right now it seems we have the funny over here and the seriousness over here and never the twain shall meet."

    I guess I wish there was more funny over here, there, or anywhere. I don’t mean the lighter side of news, or finding funny human interest stories, but comedy as a genre represented more permanently. Actually, I wish a lot of genres were represented on American radio. Think of your favorite shows on television, then think of your favorite shows on radio. Now compare the diversity in both lists. I’m guessing your list of TV shows will not be limited to documentaries or news/talk shows (or game shows).

    In a recent Current, they had a piece about Public Radio Weekend and Jim Russell was asked if it was a comedy show. He answered, "God no. That would be setting ourselves up to fail. ‘I’m going to be really, really funny’ — what a loser proposition." I’m not saying Russell wants to create a comedy show with PRW, but if that attitude is prevalent and no one is willing to try elsewhere, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    MJ

  • chelsea merz

    10.20.02

    The grey side

    Hi Seancole, Hi Ben,

    As far as the polarization of funny and serious on Public Radio–it’s hard to tell if this is true –(it probably is– with the exception of Joe Frank who is more outrageous/grave and TAL, which is oftentimes reflective/humorous) but this piece, of course, is both.

    What makes this piece serious is your understanding of Bo. What makes it funny is your documentation of his life. If Bo were to tell his story it would be too much to bear–it would be far too bleak and oppressive.

    When Bo exclaims "Darth Vader’s focused–he keeps it simple, " like Jake, I’m a believer. I love this line. It’s an amazing distillation of evil. And only Bo would study Vader’s ethos to the extent that he could so elegantly simplify him. This piece is full of these moments. And the end–gosh, I love the end-your contemplation of evil is transcendent.

    Could you guys offer a few examples of your collaboration, perhaps discuss how you negotiated the ending?

    When you have a moment, Sean, could you talk about what it’s like to be a field producer at BUR? I heard the Bob Oakes interview with the Harvard entomologist. How much of your sensibilities make it to pieces like that in contrast to the pieces you exclusively produce, such as your quest to distinguish a tomato as a fruit or vegetable?

    Thanks, Chelsea

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    10.20.02

    shocking tendencies

    in my case a multiple posting happened when I had left the screen for a long time and upon returning pressed "reload" without knowing what
    repost form data meant.
    Oddly, there was no "delete" button available after it posted.
    Isn’t it a good idea to reload? What are the options when you want to
    recheck a section without going home or somewhere first?

  • operations

    10.20.02

    REPOSTS

    Thanx Nanette.

    From your posting, it seems the cause of reposting is hitting "REFRESH" on th page you go to immediately after posting. Does this seem correct for your experience?

    Also, I’ve set up a little place where you guys can let me know of any problems you might run into here at the Transom:

    operations "Suggestions for the Site?" October 13, 2002 05:20am

    Thanx

  • bw

    10.21.02

    collaboration means no fighting

    well.. not all the time. There were some things we argued over.. Sean didn’t like the line about Hitler and I wanted the piece to be even bleaker – although Jake’s disdain for Bo "he was a total freak" makes me think that ok.. maybe it was bleak enough.

    but for the most part we were totally on the same page (in fact we kept emailing the same page back and forth to each-other) but collaboration is pretty damn hard.. and I guess I wouldn’t recommend trying it unless you seriously trust and respect your compatriot.

    and MJ

    I looovvveee that line about comedy meaning setting oneself up for failure…

    those npr game shows should put that on their letter head!

    but to clarify what I mean by ‘can public radio be funny’- I’m not saying that humor should be brought out in every newsreport.. (even though right now it would be pretty easy to do this – the end of the world might not be exactly funny… but man our president and his administration of musty-closeted-gun-totin-aliens sure are) as Sean says – hard news isn’t exactly supposed to be funny –

    so I guess maybe YOU have to start an npr comedy show..

    I’d listen – as long as it wasn’t a game show.

  • Sean Cole

    10.21.02

    collaboration

    "Could you guys offer a few examples of your collaboration, perhaps discuss how you negotiated the ending?"

    Ben pretty much summed up the essence of the collaboration upstairs… though we didn’t so much argue as whine at each other. (Phrases like "pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaase" and "aw c’mon!" were not uncommon, as I remember it.) Really it was just like being edited, if one of us felt strongly about something he’d push and if the other wasn’t married to it he’d concede and save his strength for the battles that really meant something to him. Or one would push and the other would push back and we’d struggle until we reached a compromise. (We talked about the Hitler line a lot. It still makes me cringe when I hear it. I tried to couch it with a follow up line in the script but that line had to be cut for time.) The ending was an interesting case because we both wrote separate endings and then basically merged them. At the risk of getting too much into the sausage making, my original ending was this:

    SITTING IN HIS BASEMENT, WATCHING BO PRETEND TO THROTTLE ME WITH A GLOVED HAND, MY MIND STARTED TO WANDERING TO WHAT EVIL MIGHT MEAN. PERHAPS IT MEANS BEING INVULNERABLE, ABLE TO WEATHER ANYTHING THAT COMES YOUR WAY. OR MAYBE BEING EVIL MEANS YOU’RE INURED TO EMOTIONS THAT COULD LEAD TO LOSING A HAND OR TO BEING CRYONICALLY FROZEN. OR IT COULD SIMPLY MEAN YOU HAVE NO PAST. THAT NO ONE EVER HURT YOU. THAT YOU WERE THE ONLY ONE WHO EVER CAUSED HARM.

    And Ben’s original ending was something like this:

    SITTING IN HIS BASEMENT, WATCHING BO PRETEND TO THROTTLE ME WITH HIS GLOVED HAND, I REALIZED THAT THE INTERVIEW WAS OVER. BUT I ALSO REALIZED HOW LITTLE IT IS WE KNOW ABOUT EVIL. WE’RE SO CONDITIONED TO BELIEVE THAT EVIL IS SOMETHING WE CHOOSE– AND THIS MAKES SENSE WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THINGS LIKE MURDER OR THEFT. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE EVILS OF POVERTY, MENTAL ILLNESS, NEGLECT – NO ONE EVER CHOOSES THESE THINGS… BUT ARE WE REALLY CAPABLE OF FACING THE POSSIBILITY THAT PERHAPS THOSE WHO LIVE ON THE DARK SIDE DO SO FOR NO REASON THAT COULD BE CALLED THEIR OWN.

    So then we had to talk about what we wanted to say with the ending. Are we talking about people using evil as a defense or are we talking about evil as a kind of living entity that draws vulnerable people into itself. Ben wanted to hang onto the idea of evil seeking people out, which was fine with me. But if it was going to seek out Bo, I wanted it to be sseking out Bo because of who he was specifically. So, Ben and I got on the phone and started hashing out, I did the typing. We came up with this:

    SITTING IN HIS BASEMENT, WATCHING BO PRETEND TO THROTTLE ME WITH HIS GLOVED HAND, I REALIZED HOW LITTLE IT IS WE KNOW ABOUT EVIL. WE’RE CONDITIONED TO BELIEVE THAT HUMAN NATURE IS ESSENTIALLY GOOD, THAT EVIL IS A CHOICE. AND PEOPLE CERTAINLY CHOOSE TO DO BAD THINGS, TO CARRY OUT SO-CALLED "EVIL" DEEDS. BUT HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU KNOW WHO’VE CONSCIOUSLY CHOSEN TO GO OVER TO THE DARK SIDE. MAYBE EVIL IS SOMETHING THAT NOBODY CHOOSES, BUT RATHER SOMETHING THAT PREYS ON ITS LIKELY ADHERENTS, SOMETHING THAT SEEKS OUT THE WEAK, THE SCARED, THE ALONE.

    This is pretty close to the way it appears in the story. But when I originally recorded this track, Ben thought it still wasn’t quite right. The language and the rhythm still bothered him. So now we were getting down to specific word choices. We started trying out lines by just reciting them out loud, each of us changing slightly what the other had just said as I crossed things out in the script and scribbled out other things in the margins. Until finally we had something we could both live with.

    It’s funny to dissect it like this because really the process felt almost effortless… certainly it felt a lot easier than I’m making it look here.

  • David Greene

    10.22.02

    Feel free to kick the soapbox out anytime…

    Sean, when you wrote:

    Sure it’s satire. But there’s a narrative to it, which isn’t true of a lot of satire (i.e. National Lampoon, Rewind, the Montana Logging and Ballet Company, SNL, Second City, etc.) Most satire is just jokes (set up, punch-line, set up, punch-line).

    I’m assuming you just forgot to include the phrase, "on tv and radio today". Otherwise, that sound you hear is Voltaire, Twain, Swift, Chaplin, etc… doing donuts in their graves. Aside from that nit, I think you’re right, and I think the reason is that most of what passes for satire today, especially in the examples you cite, is really just parody. Its intent is just to make fun of something, get the laugh, and move on. There’s no effort, or desire, to make any kind of statement beyond that. Will Ferrell doing George bush mangling words is funny, but, it ain’t satire.

    A lot of people much smarter than me have expounded on the reasons for the death, or at least, very serious illness of satire. Occasionally, a "Larry Sanders Show", or the great short CBC series "The Newsroom", or even an occasional "Simpsons" episode comes along, and you realize that true satire can still be done, but, how rare it is.

    As to Ben’s question, "Can public radio be funny?", I think the answer is, of course it can. But, if the question is, "Can public radio do satire?", I’m more dubious. I think we and our listeners suffer from a thinness of skin that makes embracing satire difficult. As an example, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard ATC air a mildly satiric Harry Shearer piece, only to be deluged with listener complaints. Of course, if Tom Lehrer started writing songs again, who knows?

    Sean, you should have absolutely no qualms about using a "construct reserved for truth to tell fiction". That is, as long as you’re prepared to deal with the ire of people who fall for it when you do it well.

    I realize that I’ve exhaled a lot of hot air, and said nothing about "Darth Vader…" I’ve listened to it a few times, and, while I’m convinced that it’s a really good parody of public radio story-telling and production techniques circa 2002, all the way down to the gratuitous use of "quirky" music, something is keeping me from embracing it as satire. It may be my own stupidity, so, I’ll just leave it at that.

    Oh, and before I go, lighten up, Ben.

  • MJ Butler

    10.25.02

    Insert publicly approved and tested humorous subject title here

    "so I guess maybe YOU have to start an npr comedy show.. "

    Well, it won’t be for lack of trying.

    Oh, and before I go, don’t lighten up, Ben.

    MJ

  • Sean Cole

    10.27.02

    David wrote: "something is keeping me from embracing it as satire. It may be my own stupidity, so, I’ll just leave it at that."

    On the contrary, David, I think your delineation between satire and parody is very smart, and very true. (Point well taken too about Voltaire et. al.) I think you’re right that parody is often confused for satire these days and I’m as guilty as anyone for doing so. Perhaps the Vader piece is more parody than satire in its style. But, it’s funny, I think what I/we were really trying to send up, more than the Public Radio sound, was the "Trekkie" type fan-dom that leads people to confuse fantasy for reality. I remember when I was 14 (and using a British accent 24/7) I went to a Dr. Who convention (dressed as the fourth Doctor, the cool one, Tom Baker) and I was accosted by this guy that had to be well into his 20’s. He was pretty heavy, had a mustache, bottle-bottom glasses, bad acne. He just walked right up to me and instead of saying "Hello" or "Great convention, huh?" He said "You know, if Zaphoid Beeblebrox hadn’t have saved the universe we’d all be dead now." Referring, of course, to the two-headed, macho man-about-space in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. I’m just looked at him, wondering if he actually believed what he was saying or if he was so far gone that the only way he could connect with someone was in this kind of sci-fi code, the geek version of a secret handshake. The thing is, I was just as bad as he was. I actually corrected his pronunciation of the name. "It’s Zay-phod," I said.

    Anyway, whether or not "Vader" is satire or parody or neither, I think Ben’s show is often satirical, in that it explores American hypocrisy and vice and is very funny, often darkly funny. And no this probably isn’t want the "average" mainstream run of public radio listeners wants to hear. Then again, maybe if they heard it enough, they’d get tired of calling to complain and just change the station instead, tuning back in when something they liked came on.

    Chelsea: I’m sorry I haven’t gotten to your question about being a field producer yet. I will soon. Right now it’s "all election all the time" at work. Interviews with all 5 candidates etc. So we’ve got a lot to do.

  • Jay Allison

    10.27.02

    Producer Impersonator

    Sean, I’d like to ask, in the spirit of the Krulwich Topic, how or if you manage to get slivers of your personality into your daily news production. How does the Darth Vader Impersonator Impersonator (does everyone realize that Sean plays *both* parts in this piece?) reconcile himself with the demands of the "straight" sound of public radio? Do you keep the worlds separate or do you sometimes bring them together?

    How do the notions of "truth" and "acting" relate to your "real" job? Which is which?

  • Sean Cole

    10.30.02

    Improducenator

    These are all such great questions I’m worried my answers aren’t going to live up to them. But I’ll give it a try. (And maybe I can fold my answer to Chelsea’s question into this response as well.)

    First I should note that my production load isn’t daily. Generally speaking, my host Bob Oakes and I average a piece about every 2 weeks. (Plus I help out producing in-studio interviews and occasionally do a report of my own.) So Bob and I are usually given the luxury of time to really craft what we put on the air. That said, there really isn’t much room for my own "personality" or "style" in the pieces I produce for Bob. For those of you who might not know, Bob is the local host of Morning Edition on WBUR. And my job is to get him out of the building, into the field, reporting, talking to people and then to take that tape and make it into radio. Thus, one skill I’ve had to acquire is making Bob sound like Bob. After two and a half years of doing this job, I think I can safely say I’ve learned to write words that will fit into his mouth. I’ve spent countless hours listening to him talk, both in person and on tape. I know his cadence and I know how he phrases things. I find that when I’m working with other people on copy for him, I can tell them when they’ve written something he wouldn’t say. Speaking (writing) in someone else’s voice is like learning a language. I think it’s as beneficial too. I think that once you can express ideas in someone else’s voice, you can express ideas in your own voice that much more easily. And when I’m writing for myself I sound nothing like Bob. I say things in a way that he would never say them. So, truth be told, when I’ve been able to work on my own stories, I’ve found it very liberating. And I think that’s where any "personality" or "style" I might come out.

    But I think that style, the style that’s more akin to what you heard in the Vader piece, is based on accident. (And so I’m knocking on wood as I say this.) I’m a big fan of accident. Or "happy accident" anyway. Generally, when I’m wondering how to start something, I struggle and squirm and beat my head on the desk and go outside and smoke, and come back in and stew because, frankly, I just don’t know how to do what I’m doing. In a way, I feel like the main character in that old TV show "The Greatest American Hero." When I’m wearing the suit, I have powers. But I don’t know how they work. So when I jump off the cliff, I sometimes fly and sometimes plunge toward the parking lot pavement because I have no control. If I’m lucky I come out with something that I like, but that I think my editor will never allow. And luckily, I’ve lately had an editor that will let me start stories with lines like "At first, I thought the best way to find out if a tomato was a vegetable or a fruit would be to ask a tomato. So I did. and this is what it said. [PAUSE]" In truth, this is acting because, of course, I never asked a tomato anything. But because the joke is obvious, and because my editor is nearly as weird as I am and knew that I was actually going somewhere with this first graph, it got on the air.

    I think the only times when I think I can imbue some of my own sensibility into piece I do with Bob is in choosing the tape. I think I might choose tape a little differently than the last person who had my job. For example we once interviewed a colorful, charismatic, Boston street-musician who had been a mainstay of the music scene here. He was away a long time and then came back, so the peg was "Flathead is back." While we were interviewing him, a drunk, ornery, homeless guy came up and started cursing Flathead out nonsensically. Normally I would think "This is chaos. Better cut it out." But the way he said what he said, and the way Flathead responded was such a perfect, candid moment and so indicative of who Flathead was that I kept it in (with the swears bleeped of course.) So I think sometimes "personality" and sensibility can be exercised in what you include as much as in what you write. Anyway, I hope this ranting is answering some of the questions.

  • Robert Wright

    11.04.02

    I liked it

    The problem with a humor piece, it won’t appeal to everybody. That’s just the way humor is.

    I happened to like it.

    I thought it was key how he insisted on depicting Darth Vader as purely evil. Did he long for the depth of the absolute? Did he fear that his true identity would be apparent if Vader was watered down? Did he insist on evil to mask the comical? Was his inflexibility a symptom of his psychosis?

    This is the story of True Believer in the land of Unitarians.

    You know, if masturbation was as evil as they said it was, he would have achieved something. Ah, but no such luck.

    Yes, I liked this piece. And it’s inspired me to dust off a couple of humor pieces I have on the shelf.

    Good going.

  • Robert Wright

    11.04.02

    funny numbers

    More thoughts on humor.

    When I write a good serious piece, I know it’s really good if everybody likes it.

    When I write a good humorous piece, only 7 out of 10 are going go like it, if that many.

    I don’t think anybody breaks that 7 out of 10 ceiling for humor.

    The humor piece I’m writing now is something I thoroughly enjoy but everybody I’ve shown it to reacts like I’m showing them lint from my jacket. Everybody but two women (who happen to be Mexican, a coincidence I don’t understand.) And one of them not only laughs but she chokes when she reads it. I love that, though it would be nice if there were more people with her (our) sense of humor.

    When you write humor, you love those phone calls you get from people who’ve just read your work but they can’t talk because they’re laughing and choking. I remember a newspaper editor who had to hang up and compose himself and then call me back before he could talk business.

    But no matter how much laughing and choking I hear, there’s always that 3 out of 10, usually more, who react with a yawn or say, "I don’t get it," or, "That’s nice, but kind of silly," or, "Are you trying to be stupid on purpose?"

    What’s this have to do with the Darth Vader Inpersonator? Just this: I think it’s a wonderful piece which may or may not be the majority opinion.

  • Jay Allison

    11.05.02

    Robert Wright, marry the Mexican woman.
  • Sean Cole

    11.08.02

    Thanks, Robert.

    I’m glad you liked it. And it’s certainly encouraging to see your breakdown of 7 out of 10. No one said they didn’t think the Vader was funny, but you could tell when they were saying "I thought it was funny" just to be polite. This is really my first foray into humor so I’ve never had the experience of someone calling up while choking. So, I envy you. Also, I’m with Jay: marry her before she gets away.

  • Robert Wright

    11.08.02

    Really?

    A first foray into humor? That’s astonishing. It’s top notch. It’s a gem.

    As for marrying this woman, I thought we writer/producers were supposed to live fast and loose lives and that if we did get tied down, it would be with a woman like Xanthippe so we’d spend more time in the studio.

    But I’ll mention it. I can live with a yes or no but I’m not sure what I’ll do if she laughs.

  • bw

    11.11.02

    well.. maybe you should just elope??

    yes.. thanks for the kind words about the piece..

    and as far as the lady goes.. I only have this story for you -
    I set my friend G- up with this girl who he informed me "laughed at everything he said" but it still didn’t work out.. and there was much frustration and gnashing of teeth

    so – proceed with caution

  • Qui Gonn Jenn

    12.11.02

    Beautiful parody of NPR style radio

    If I wouldn’t have known that this wasn’t real, I would have been very convinced it was real and in true "War of the Worlds" asking around about this character with my friends who are more hardcore and into the convention/costume thing. One nitpick: Bo was supposed to be 38, which would have meant that he would have been born in 1964, and thus he would have been 13 when Star Wars came out in 1977.

    This is also a wonderful parody of the Star Wars phenomenon and Lucasfilm’s often hostile proprietary relationship to fans.

    Great stuff!

    May the Force be with you!

    Qui Gonn Jenn

  • Amy O’Leary

    2.14.03

    Outed by Perfection.

    Despite a long standing personal concern I maintain for never appearing the sucker, I begrudgingly admit that I too, was taken in by this piece. Initially. I was beholden to Sean’s piece and rapt with attention until the moment when the interview with the Darth Vader Impersonator began. Perhaps I’m too close a listener (but really, isn’t that why I’m listening to shows on Transom in the middle of the night?). The interview audio was precisely as clear as the commentary audio. It sounded as though it was entirely recorded in the same place. That’s when I looked back over at my computer to see if the whole thing was parody. As an aside, this is also the detail that usually limits my enjoyment of Rewind’s parodies. If he had recorded the interview audio in a different room, perhaps, with some kind of ambient noise, I might have swallowed the whole thing hook, line and sinker. You see, every other detail was devilishly perfect. The transition music, the narrative structure, the "what does it all mean" reflection at the end; it was a perfect fiction — just too perfect.

  • Hans Anderson

    3.03.03

    How did DV eat?

    Excellent work. Yes, I realize it’s fictional, but on Bo’s late night ice cream runs in full getup, how did he eat the ice cream?

    Who is going to make the parody of what it would have been like in the juror’s room if Bill Clinton would have been selected? You are just a simple Clinton impersonator away from endless possibilites as Bill tries to dissect what the defendant meant by his use of "is".

  • mikael

    6.12.05

    darth vader

    i want darth vader