Originally published on Ars Gratia Artis.
Late Sunday afternoon, I found myself following the Tumblr page of John Cheese, columnist for the vastly popular comedy website, Cracked.com, and none other than the John that, I guess, dies at the end of some book, or movie, or something, that was written by his friend, David Wong.
Known for his amalgam of reality and humor, particularly on life articles, my goal was to study his brain, to delve into the cavernous recesses behind the work.
My motives were well justified. It all started last Halloween. For long months I toiled, meticulously devising the ultimate manifestation of wit and humor. I would call it the ironic non-costume; the world would call me genius. But mere days before it could see light, Cheese seemingly thought of it first, making it his number one terrible idea for a costume.
He knew. He knew! But how? I could only rationalize a single explanation — he was secretly spying my every move through my Barbie Video Girl Doll!
I had to get one step ahead.
After removing that traitor from the equation, I hit the web. It was then that I caught sight of his open call for interviews. He was taking interviews from some of the most obscure, underground of writers. Yes! With standards like that, there was a chance he’d even take one from me! And what better way to probe his grey matter? I could cleverly conceal my lab-tested brain study methods under the guise of a fan based questionnaire!
The plan was perfect.
So I dropped him an e-mail. To my laughter ridden delight, he responded, none the wiser. We soon met in a shady alley that I called, “my office.” Naturally, I cased the place first, eagerly searching for a hint of other Cracked columnists, just in case. Specifically Seanbaby, or that Brockway guy. But he came alone, as requested.
Or so I thought…
Resting on some moist boxes, I flipped out my note pad, and with a short, knowing smirk, started talking:
So, Mr. Cheese. We meet at last. Tell me, you’re a funny guy, what is it about Comedy that speaks to you?
Comedy has always been my defense mechanism. Anyone who regularly reads my material knows that I had somewhat of a screwed up childhood. I learned early on that when things got really bad, if I could make a person laugh, it diffused them. It was the single most important lesson I learned as a kid.
Makes sense. So, how long have you been writing comedy online?
David Wong and I started writing comedy together around 1997 or so, on a website he used to own called Pointless Waste of Time. Comedy was not only our escape from the normal drudgery of life, but it was a means of expressing creativity without having to spend an assload of money on art supplies. Neither one of us have the performance ability to do something like standup comedy, so the internet was our stage.
Later, Cracked.com bought out PWOT and merged the two websites. I wrote sporadically for a couple of years after that on my own site (no longer exists), but eventually, I found out I could be making actual money for it, rather than just throwing it out there and hoping people liked it. Cracked not only paid me for it, but they provided a significant audience — something I had never seen before. I had my underground following of fans, but not on the level that I do now. The numbers I pull now are just insane.
Comedy has always been my defense mechanism.
I call shenanigans! How could you possibly keep coming up with new ideas after doing this so long?
It really depends on the article, but I tend to lean towards showing people a view of life that they may not have seen before. Or maybe they’re so used to things happening a certain way, that they’ve grown used to how absurd the idea is. For instance, I was grocery shopping the other day, and I saw the phrase “Made from premium pork” on the side of a package of sausage. Sausage… the worst cuts of pork. The stuff that is so bad, it can’t really be used in anything else. It’s one step up from the shit they put in dog food. And they called it “premium?” Then I noticed it everywhere. The next time you go shopping, look for it. You’ll laugh your ass off.
But I like to take stuff like that and infuse it with a larger point. So if you take that “premium pork” example, I wouldn’t just make fun of the fact that it says that on the package. I’d break down what that says about our society. What it says about advertising. What it says about me as a shopper. If there isn’t a bigger point, the article isn’t saying anything — I won’t write that, and Cracked wouldn’t let me even if I tried.
There’s inspiration like that everywhere, but you have to put yourself into article mode all the time. Constantly keeping your eyes open for anything that can be worked into an article. It’s hard. Not a lot of people can do it. Lots of people have a couple of those in them and then that’s it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but being able to pull it off 52 times a year is a point of pride for me.
Did I ever tell you I write “premium” literature? Anyway, moving on: Who have been some of your biggest influences?
Seanbaby was a huge influence — especially back in the mid-late nineties when I first started out. I used to be one of his fanboys even when I had gathered my own audience. So when I started working for Cracked and found out that I’d be on the same writing team as him, I was all starstruck. It was surreal to be able to message him and know that he’d know who I was.
And of course, David Wong was a huge influence as well. We wrote together for so long that we knew each others’ characters inside and out. Either one of us could adopt the persona of the other, and we knew it would work. Being best friends in real life helped with that. Everything he thought was funny, I did, too. And vice versa.
So…uh…what is a typical day in the life of John Cheese like? And I am totally asking this as a curious interviewer, not at all because this is a lab-tested brain study method.
To an outside eye, it’s pretty boring. I maintain the social networking sites for the John Dies at the End book, as well as doing some backend stuff for Cracked. I run my column. I maintain my own social networking stuff, and try my best to stay in direct contact with my readers as much as time will allow. I think that’s important — they’re spending their time with my articles. I at least owe them an attempt to give some time back to them.
But typically, I get up, work for 12-16 hours, catch a couple hours of sleep, and then do it all again. The only time I really take a breather is on the weekends when I have my kids.
I maintain my own social networking stuff, and try my best to stay in direct contact with my readers as much as time will allow.
What are some of your side hobbies? When not writing and spying of course.
I play video games, but my patience with them is getting shorter and shorter. Video games are starting to feel like a Hollywood movie formula to me, and I feel myself slipping away from them. But when I’m not working or playing games, my fiance and I watch WWE (RAW and Smackdown) and TNA Impact. When my kids are over, we shoot BB guns and play Magic the Gathering.
I see. And what are some of your future plans?
I’m writing a “life” type book right now, but I don’t think it’s going to see completion for a while. Books are a slow process that takes an immense amount of organization and planning. I’m doing my best to get it finished, but I want to be happy with what I’m putting out there before I stamp my name on it. I want to make sure that I’m not just putting one out to try and cash in on my audience’s support. I’m not that big of an asshole. I want to make sure I write something for them that they can use and appreciate. And that’ll take some time.
Write all the time. Even if it’s not being published.
So, book and spying. Got it. Finally, in closing, are there any words of suggestion you could offer aspiring writers/comedians?
Write all the time. Even if it’s not being published. Start up a website of your own — even if it’s just a Tumblr or some other blog type of environment, and write your ass off. When you get your first paycheck for your first article, do your damndest to never forget that moment.
And never under any circumstances, do you ever want to read the comments section. I did it once back in 2008, and I’ve never been back.
Immediately after finishing the interview, I felt the blunt sting of a needle pierce my neck. I struggled, but the unseen assailant bested me. It was Soren! Had to be. I’d recognize those chiseled man arms anywhere. When I awoke, I found myself in a tub of ice, in a cheap motel in San Miguel, with one kidney long since removed.
Through the deserts of a foreign land I stumbled, as the last drops of spittle dried upon my tongue. Over long miles I strode ever homeward, until finally, in my last moments of parched, hallucinatory consciousness, I reached my pc and wrote this down.
Thank you for the interview Mr. Cheese. You may think you’ve won this round, but little did you know that the kidney you stole was a decoy, planted with a camera. It was difficult getting it in there, but it all paid off in the end. Now it is I that shall be watching you, and soon the whole world will know your secrets!
Cue maniacal cackle.