Comic Book Men star, Bryan Johnson, discusses some of his favorite moments from the season, his behind-the-scenes trip to the studio behind Rick and Morty, and the surprising ways his podcast and Comic Book Men have helped people.
Q: Comic Book Men has had so many great guests this season. Was there anyone you particularly enjoyed meeting?
A: Ralph Macchio, which is kind of weird because I’m not a huge Karate Kid fan, but I am a Crossroads fan. He just turned out to be a very cool guy — which is ironic because the day he came in to shoot the scene, the air conditioner in the store broke. So if you watch the scene, everyone is sweating balls. They had to bring in air conditioners and all kinds of stuff that didn’t work very well, but at the end of his bit, instead of leaving, he hung out and had lunch and talked and stuff. He was a good guy.
Q: Were there any other memorable moments for you from set this season?
A: When we went to Geppi’s museum, that was pretty cool. I’m not super cultured so the word “museum” makes me think, “Oh, well this is not going to be fun,” but it was more than just comics. It was a lot of pop culture stuff, and a lot of really old stuff too, like really old posters. The sheer amount of items that this guy has is insane — and the condition that they’re in! As someone who is completely disinterested in all this stuff, even I was like, “Wow, this is pretty amazing.” And the museum is in this old train station that he renovated, so everything is brick and wood and it’s very cool. I didn’t hate it.
Q: Did Walt and and the guys give you a stern talking to after manhandling Detective Comics #27 in Episode 10?
A: I think he was more aghast that I would touch it at all, let alone not care. Sometimes these guys have to be reminded that it’s just paper, and like everything else, everything in life has a lifespan. They care more about comics than they care about themselves. These guys are deteriorating before your very eyes season after season, and they care about a comic book that came out almost 80 years ago? I’m the only one that looks the same. They’re going gray; they’re falling apart. Look at Ming, he was a kid when we first started. Go back to Season 1 and look at their faces and look at my face — I’m the only one that’s been preserved, like I’ve been in formaldehyde the whole time. They stress out too much.
A: Let me tell you something, I aged two months when Rick and Morty came out, because I do think it’s pretty cool and my heart rate went up just a tad. Brian Quinn, from the podcast we do, he called me one time and said, “You’ve gotta watch this show, you’re gonna love it.” So I checked it out and he was right — it’s exactly the kind of weird, twisted, animated show that I would like. It used to be The Simpsons was the bar of crappy parenting or mentorship, with a dad strangling his kid, and then Family Guy came along and South Park. Then Rick and Morty came along, and it’s in that same vein of awful parenting and mentorship, but so twisted and bizarre, you literally couldn’t conceive of what’s coming next if you tried. I like it when something even mildly interesting comes into the store, but that [issue] was something I was excited about — just to meet another person who was really into it. Because the guys don’t recognize it — look at Walt, you know? He’s still fretting over the Detective Comics. He won’t watch it.
Q: Being something of an animator yourself and meeting creators on the convention circuit, have you been able to get a behind-the-scenes look at Rick and Morty?
A: I went out to the Stan Lee Comic Con in the fall, and I went to the studio where they make Rick and Morty and it’s amazing. It’s this self-contained office, which is pretty big, with tons of people, all like-minded and all working on this project. We met the people who paint the backgrounds and we met the directors, and this guy and that guy, and you see why it takes so long. It’s way more involved than you ever imagined or than I imagined it would be, having zero experience in how that kind of animation is made.
Q: In an interview with Mike this season, he said your super power is that you can spend one minute with someone and learn the one thing to say that would hurt them the most — the Doctor Doom of witty barbs. Do you agree with that?
A: That’s nice of him. Well, I’ve only had very regular jobs up to this point, because my only strength up to this point has been to be like a sniper, except instead of bullets they’re insults. Comic Book Men is the perfect vehicle to use the only talent that I have, which is to demoralize other people. So, I would agree with Mike.
Q: What do you think everyone else’s superpower would be?
A: Ming’s superpower is the ability to put on a happy face no matter what the circumstance. That could include the death of family, friends, anything meaningful to him, and sort of operate as a robot. Having no real human feelings would be Ming’s superpower. Feeling too much — I’m not sure if that can be considered a superpower — but that would be Mike’s. [In the show] you see a lot of crushing expressions on his face when you say something to him, and then there’s a shot of him and you can almost hear his feelings breaking like crystal and tinkling to the floor. And Walt — I guess his superpower would be the ability to put up with those two. To tolerate them, day after day, month after month, year after year. I couldn’t do it.
Q: You say that Comic Book Men is the only place you get practice demoralizing people, but you’ve actually got another outlet to showcase your talents on your podcast, Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave.
A: That’s true, I should discern between the two. Comic Book Men is the one vehicle where I can get paid to do it, and Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave is the one where I do it for free, just for the sheer joy of it. [Laughs] I didn’t go to college or anything, and people always ask me, “Oh, how do you do a podcast, how can I do what you guys do?” I think back to the late ’80s/early ’90s when I used to work with Kevin at Quick Stop and RST [Video], and we worked like 10 to 12 hour shifts, so we would just sit there and talk and shoot the sh** and make up scenarios. And we didn’t think about it at the time, but really, it was just all practice for what we would eventually be doing on podcasting — which is just talking and being with your friends, never dreaming that other people would want to listen in to your conversation, but they do.
Q: The podcast hit 300 episodes over the summer. What was that like for you? Was it a big milestone for you guys, or just another session?
A: It was a big deal. We set up a wedding for another guy on the show, Git ‘Em, and he married just a whole bunch of girls — way more girls than I ever thought would write in and agree to marry someone they’ve never met. So we chose two people and played games. Every once in awhile we try to have an “event” episode instead of us just sitting around talking, and that was one of them, because 300 was kind of a big deal. Early on, when we first started it, Kevin was like, “Oh you guys should do a podcast,” and we were like, “Yeah… I guess.” We recorded one and didn’t put it up until a couple months later. Walt only agreed to do it because he thought that I would quit a couple episodes in and lose interest, but once we started doing it, I got to see Walt and Q [Brian Quinn], guaranteed, once a week and just sit around and talk, and to me, that was pretty fun. It’s sort of like going to a shrink but with two completely untrained therapists.
Q: Have you ever had any interesting interactions with fans of TESD?
A: You never would have thought it, but the unanticipated side effect is people write in and say, “I was going through this…” whether it’s a divorce, or a breakup or some tragic circumstances, and people say, “This show really helped me through it.” Which to me is crazy, because I think if I was in those circumstances, would listening to something help me? I don’t know, but it means a lot to a lot of people — and that was something I never saw coming. Someone said that about Comic Book Men, too, when we were up in Niagara Falls or Buffalo. This guy came up to us and said he was part of a veterans group for PTSD, and someone brought up the show and he said [the group] started talking about things they had as kids. [The man] said, “And then it got to the point where, we would come in once a week, watch the episode, talk about the episode,” and then they would talk about the things they had as kids. It’s pretty cool, that these things are going on that you have no idea about. It would never occur to me that a group of veterans suffering from PTSD would watch the show together and reminisce and think about better times. That’s why people like nostalgia so much — it was better times. As you get older, everything sucks.
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Comic Book Men will return with new episodes on Sunday, April 9 Midnight/11c.