Waiting in a hotel lobby for US comedian and actor Baron Vaughn on the first weekend of SXSW, it’s clear from the people checking and checking out of the establishment are feeling the effects of a heavy night prior, as were we all. SXSW Comedy has been a constantly growing element of the Texan event for some years now and this year’s round up of comedians in Austin was as entertaining and diverse as ever. Vaughn himself, would be performing a few stand up sets while hosting some filmed events for TV, but I’m here to chat with him about happenings outside of SXSW – 2016 is set to be quite the exciting one for the LA based performer.
Settling in on some couches in a deserted part of the hotel, we discover that Vaughn’s familiarity with Australia’s comedy scene is a strong one already – he counts the likes of Sam Simmons and Wil Anderson as mates, to begin with.
“I know Wil Anderson pretty well,” Vaughn says. “I have asked him – when I say ‘asked’, he might portray it as ‘begged him’ – if I could do a tour with him in Australia. As you know, he is very well known down there and I was like, ‘I’ll just open for you so that way, I can introduce myself to the audience!’ I have a feeling that Wil Anderson fans will enjoy me. He is probably the Aussie comedian I know best, but I have met Jim Jefferies a few times, but I know he more came up in England than he did in Australia…”
On his SXSW showcases, Vaughn describes the differences between doing stand up in a normal environment and TV spots, versus performing for a pre-recorded cable show type environment.
“I have done a couple of TV sets, but I have never done a television set for ‘premium cable’,” he explains. “So [for] Comedy Central or Conan or whatever I’ve done, there are always language restrictions, there are also content restrictions. In a common set, ostensibly you are aiming for four and a half minutes, which is an impossibly short amount of time. This [set] was actually really refreshing because of the [lack] of language and content restriction. You can talk about anything in any way and it just felt like a show, like a regular comedy show. So it was pretty good with a packed audience.”
When he’s not up on stage, he’s behind the mic in studio, creating podcasts for a growing base of online listeners. Most recently, Vaughn’s been working with legendary US film critic Leonard Maltin on the Maltin on Movies podcast, where he’s thrown himself into reviewing and critiquing, himself.
“Podcasting is such an interesting medium,” he says. “What I am interested in most of the time, is the purity of communication that could come out of it. So Paul Scheer created this podcast. He is a very funny comedian, writer, producer and he basically wrote me an email saying, ‘Would you be interested in being in a podcast with Leonard Maltin?’ and I said, ‘Yes. I would.'”
“I hate to mention this,” he continues. “But we have the same birthday. We must be a match made in podcast heaven, then! It was pending a meeting, because the whole podcast was going to stand on the chemistry that Leonard and I have. So we met, liked each other and then started podcasting. [It] Took us about two or three months to find our groove in how we communicate with each other and how we jive. So after that, it has been smooth sailing. The podcast is easy, the workload to do the podcast, ’cause we watch three movies every podcasts, that’s the difficult part.”
On having to analyse the film’s at hand and take a more objective, isolated viewpoint on the material, Vaughn admits the difficulties surrounding the task.
“I am not a critic,” he laughs. “I love movies and there is a psychological trick that comes when you have to watch a movie, not because you want to, not because you’re like, ‘I’m bored, I’ll put on a flick,’ but more like, ‘I have to watch this, I have to really pay attention because I have to have intelligent things to say.’ Even if I know that the movie is going to be good, it’s like, ‘I have to watch this, this is homework now! I’m getting a grade!'”
“When you are doing criticism, it is so easy to be overly positive and it is so easy to be overly negative. So you have to find that balance. It was harder than I thought it was going to be.”
The rest of 2016 looks to be pretty busy for Vaughn, who is about to start production on the second season of Netflix’s Gracie and Frankie. Following on from that, his role in the upcoming reboot of beloved US series Mystery Science Theater 3000.
“It is a very classic show in America,” he explains of Mystery Science Theater 3000. “It has been around for multiple decades and there have been many spin offs. In a nutshell, the show is a bad movie; as you would with your friends watching this movie, you would rip it to shreds and just have fun, that’s what the show is.”
“There are little seats at the bottom of the screen and three beings in the seats can talk to the screen and one is going to be this comedian Jonah Ray and then the two are these robots that he’s built. He is basically trapped on this spaceship, there is this evil scientist that makes him watch his movies and he has to go do it and he builts robot friends out of spare parts. There are these two robots named Crow T. Robot and one named Tom Servo, I am going to be the voice for Tom Servo. It is a crazy show. The original series is on Netflix.”
Stepping into the role of Tom Servo for the show’s reboot could bring with it pressure to live up to the expectations of fans of the original show, pressure Vaughn has definitely felt – he’s confident he’s going to win people over with his work on the show, though.
“There is pressure, but it is all imagined to myself. I mean, it broke the Kickstarter record, which means Joel Hodgson (the creator of the show) correctly assumed that the fans of it are so voracious that they would fund it, and they have. As you might know, nerds love what they love and they love it to be the same. The fact that there is any change is jarring, it’s basically like mum got a new husband and she’s like, ‘Go ahead and call him dad!’ and I’m like, “I’m going to call him Tom! That’s what I am going to call him, he is not my father!” Basically, I am stepping into that role with these voices and I’m just going to win them over. I hope it will happen and even if I lose the true devotees, I think there will be people who will come around.”
“It’s a show like Star Trek,” he says. “The essence of the show will remain the same, even if the cast changes. So there is always new iterations of it and even though we are playing it, the two of us are the same characters. That’s how Joel intended it, that there are going to be multiple iterations.”
Find out more about Baron’s podcasts here!