Erich Beasley, author of Comics' Comics
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Though the Lakeshore Theater is now long shuttered, Erich Beasley definitely put his time there as a bartender to great use. While he was working there, he’d ask visiting comics to draw whatever they thought was funny, no questions asked, for eventual publication in his zine, FLARP. When he was laid off from the Lakeshore, Beasley went about making all these drawings into a book. Comics’ Comics, the result, is out now and features doodles by Doug Benson, David Cross, Maria Bamford, H. Jon Benjamin, and more. The A.V. Club caught up with Beasley to talk about comedy, drawing, and that time he went to a gay bar with Andy Dick.
The A.V. Club: Why did you decide to make these drawings into a book? And is FLARP still around?
Erich Beasley: I haven’t made my zine in a while. It took so much time to do it, and I had to find a place to print it. I used to use the printer where I worked, but I don’t have access to that anymore.
The reason I put it in book form was that, first, I used to put these zines around town, and I thought it was cool if someone found one and there was a drawing in there by Andy Dick or some famous comedian. It had a photo, and there was legitimate proof that they did it. It was a fun little thing to do. So, anyway, I was bartending, and I started getting those drawings so frequently that I couldn’t crank out the zine fast enough. I couldn’t make one that was nothing but cartoons. That would be lazy on my part, not coming up with content.
So, I got laid off like two months before [Lakeshore] closed, two days after Christmas. I had just gotten married, and it was hard finding a job. I had toyed with the idea of making a book out of it before, but had no real availability, so when I got laid off, I thought if there was ever a time for me to do it, it was right then. I had no nine-to-five, and I could use the income. I got with a good graphic designer, who I also knew from Lakeshore, and we just worked on it. We submitted the book to hundreds of publishing houses. Luckily, the first one I ever sent it to contacted me months later and said, “Hey, can we take another look at that thing that you sent a while ago?” By then I had a more refined project, and I just lucked out. It was great that, in one e-mail, such a burden was lifted. I knew how difficult that process was, and I was really happy it paid off. It came to fruition, and now I’m published.
AVC: Did anyone say “no” when you asked for drawings?
EB: Yeah, but no one was really a dick or anything. I really wanted Tim Meadows, for example, and I even asked him twice. The first time he was just like “nah,” but then I was interning at iO theater and he was doing a show on Sundays. I would see him every Sunday for a couple of months straight, and during that time between me asking him for the first time and the second time, I got the book picked up by the publishing house. So I thought I would ask him, because now he wouldn’t just think I’m some fanboy collecting drawings, and I went to him all excited, and he just gave me the same “not interested.”
I mean, not everyone’s going to say yes. A few people weren’t interested, but I can’t even remember who. I don’t blame them, really. A lot of people are self-conscious about their drawing.
AVC: What were some of the better experiences you had?
EB: David Wain was awesome. I met him in a park in New York. I went there to meet with my publisher and arranged to stay there for a week trying to just knock out as many cartoons as I could get that week. That’s all I was there for.
So, anyway, I met with him in this park somewhere in Greenwich Village, I think, and we just sipped coffee and talked while he drew the cartoon. When he was done, he asked if there was anyone he could help us get that he might know. We said H. Jon Benjamin because, me and my photographer, we’ve been friends for so long, and he’s just always killed us with Home Movies and his other projects. So he arranged it, and the next day we ended up going to Jon’s house. When he buzzed us in, he said “Come aboard” in this Coach McGuirk voice. We practically squealed with our hands to our mouths. It was just so cool. We hung out with him for 30 or 45 minutes and he did a really awesome, awesome drawing.
I met Neil Hamburger. I’m a big fan of his, but I met him at a really, really shitty place. It looks like an old VFW or roller rink in DeKalb, [Illinois]. I don’t know why he was there. He was doing this show, and I’ve seen him a handful of times, but this was definitely the smallest show I’ve ever seen him do. He just kept that whole persona and attitude when he drew the cartoon, so he was a curmudgeon. I love Neil Hamburger. It sounds weird, but I think I appreciate his comedy more than most. I really love him. Like my wife and brother will be talking about seeing him, and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you guys don’t get it. He’s really good.”
I went to a gay bar with Andy Dick. It wasn’t weird, but the bouncer at the door didn’t want to let me in. I was at my worst looking and I had this long, scraggly beard and hair. I looked a little homeless.
Anyway, I loved The Andy Dick Show. It was one of the funniest shows that was ever on MTV, and it was definitely one of the best sketch comedy shows ever. So, meeting him was a big deal. He was one of the first famous people that I actually cared about that I met. He was the first that I really admired his work. I don’t give a crap about his personal life because I enjoy him as a comedian so much.
We went out for pizza and he said, “Do you want to go to this bar with us?” I think it was called Minibar. I was like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll go.” I knew it was a gay bar, but I didn’t care. The bouncer wouldn’t let me in, because he said I was wearing tennis shoes, but there were a ton of people outside smoking in tennis shoes. We were like, “No, we’re cool. We’re with Andy Dick,” and they thought we were lying. Lucas Dick came out, Andy’s son, and he said that we were cool, and we got to go in. It was just a different experience than anything I’d ever experienced. Like all the bartenders had no shirts on, and they were all ripped. Seriously, they were in such good shape. It wasn’t good or bad, it was just whatever, a different experience.
Andy was sober because he’d just finished sober house, so he couldn’t drink liquor, but he drank so many pints of pineapple juice. He was super sweet, and I always feel for him when he’s in trouble in the press, because he really is such a sweet guy.
Norm MacDonald, I met downtown at 6 a.m. after he did an interview. I had no way to meet him otherwise, because he was doing a show in the suburbs and I don’t have a car. I just wanted him in the book so badly, so me and my photographer went and waited for him to finish this interview on a morning show. We stood in front of the NBC station downtown. We were the only people there, and we watched the sun come up. When he came out he was super friendly and drew this awesome cartoon.
It’s hard sometimes because you really want to nerd out, like, “Remember when you did this? It was awesome,” like The Chris Farley Show. But it’s a project I’m working on, and I had to suppress that inner nerd a lot. Like, I ate breakfast with the Mystery Science Theater people, and that put me in a similar situation. You really have to suppress your nerdiness, so you’re not like, “Remember that pod people episode?” When you see them offstage, they’re just regular people.
I think being a bartender was a real upside, because when people came to Lakeshore, I was working and they were working, so when I talked to them, I wasn’t talking to them as a fan but as, “Oh, I work here, and you work here, but this is just a second thing I’m doing.” It brought validity to the project early on, even though I was just a bartender.
AVC: Are you still collecting drawings?
EB: I want to do a second one really badly. If this one sells three copies and gets a thumbs down, I won’t be able to, but I’d like to.
AVC: Who do you want to get that you haven’t yet?
EB: I have three: Conan O’Brien, Steve Martin, and Weird Al. If I could get those three, that would be the most mind-boggling thing. Those are three comedians that really influenced my thoughts on comedy as a child. I think Weird Al’s Food Album should be on the Rolling Stone list of the top 500 albums of all time.
AVC: What are you doing now, job-wise?
EB: Right now I’m just kind of freelancing, and I’m in this promotional phase for the book. I worked with Publisher’s Weekly covering this comics and medicine conference. I’m looking for a job, and I’m freelancing, and I’m promoting this, and I pick up odds and ends things. I don’t know. I think I’m going to apply at Groupon.