Are You Experienced: Maynard James Keenan on comedy
The uber-serious alt-metal singer isn't exactly a barrel of laughs ... or is he?
A musician comes to town, so we ask them about their new record. A director comes to town, so we ask them about their new movie. A writer comes to town, so we ask them about their new book. We know what you’re saying: Borrrring. With Are You Experienced, Decider breaks that journalistic mold by asking an artist to talk about something they’re decidedly not known for. This time, we spoke with Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan—not about his new musical project Puscifer, and not about his new Arizona Stronghold wine (which he will pimp at Whole Foods from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday), but about comedy, which is something he’s dabbled in but never seriously pursued.
Decider: We’re going to talk to you about comedy today. Does that work for you?
Maynard James Keenan: Sure. Is it okay if I’m not very funny?
D: The less funny you are the better.
MJK: Oh, good. I’m okay with being the butt of a joke, though. That’s fine.
D: You’ve palled around with some pretty great comedians over the years. For example, how did you come to know Bill Hicks?
MJK: We reached out to him in the original days of Tool, and we actually credited him on Undertow. We were driving down the road listening to Relentless and Dangerous in the van during the L.A. riots.
D: You’ve also done some comedy performances yourself. Was there ever a time you thought you might pursue that as a career instead of music?
MJK: I guess so, but I gravitated more towards music. I’m just not a solid, well-rounded actor. I’m kind of a recluse.
D: Did other people tell you that you weren’t a good actor?
MJK: Part of it is spending so much time in L.A. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but everyone is so … jaded. Extremely jaded. When you roll into town, and you’re that fresh face wanting to tear up the world—“I’m gonna be famous!”—everybody around you who has failed, everyone who tried the same thing you did, or they’re the children of people who are successful and tried to make it but they knew too much.... They tried to take the back way and use their connections to become famous, but it didn’t work, because they forgot to write songs or bits—they’re all telling you that you can’t do it. Just to make some money, I went to do a couple of commercials, and that was a disaster. I had no training. I had no idea how to go over the top and sell products. I went in there and tried to use some of the acting skills I had learned, and they were like, “Uh, have you started?” [Laughs.]
D: One of your few comedy appearances was in some early episodes of Mr. Show. How did you get involved with that?
MJK: Back in the early-1990s, I used to go to a lot of comedy shows in L.A. There was lots of cool stuff happening back then. That was when [Laura Milligan’s multimedia comedy revue] Tantrum was going on, and UnCabaret was happening. I spent a lot of time seeing those shows, and if you go back and look at the list of people who were doing stuff back then, it’s just incredible. Will Ferrell was in Tantrum a couple of times. It was pretty exciting. It was kind of like being in Seattle right before Nirvana broke.
MJK: Who wouldn’t want to be in a bit with John C. Reilly? I have fantastic footage from my little video camera when Tenacious D was playing at Café Largo, where Jack Black is dressed up as Spider-Man and he keeps swatting John away, and John gets so made that he runs out in the lobby, pours green paint on himself and comes back as the Incredible Hulk. And they do this whole battle scene with Spider-Man vs. the Hulk. It’s just incredible.
D: Are there any current TV comedies you like?
MJK: Tim And Eric Awesome Show. It’s just so freeform. I mean, they definitely have a method to their madness, but it’s never what you expect. It’s not your typical sitcom or variety show. I’d love to work with someone like them. Of course, it would be great to just do a cameo on some big show like 30 Rock as well, just to see how it works, what it’s all about.
D: Who’s the funniest non-comedian you’ve ever worked with?
MJK: A guy who should have his own talk show, if you could just get—you know how it is, you have guys who once you aim a camera at them, all of that goes away. You pretend the camera’s off, and you can get them saying unbelievably funny stuff in such a way that no one would think could possibly work. I know two guys who are like that: Sean Kinney, the drummer for Alice In Chains, is a funny motherfucker. And Danny Lohner, who started out with Marilyn Manson and is now involved with Puscifer. Those are two guys that, if you could get them on camera without them knowing they were on camera, you’d just have endless, endless material. But as soon as the camera goes on, they just freeze up. I’ve tried it.
D: You just finished doing some cabaret-style Puscifer shows in Las Vegas.
MKJ: That was actually a reunion with Laura Milligan from Tantrum. She helped us put that together. We’ve been working with Mike King at Flea Circus to try and put some short films together about it, but we need a fresh set of eyes to take a look and say, “Hey, edit this stuff out.” We’re just the guys who are writing this stuff and saying, “This is funny!” And it’s not.
D: You used to practice Gracie Brazilian jujitsu. Would you fight Joe Rogan?
D: He’s a comedian who’s also really into ultimate fighting. He also studied Brazilian jujitsu.
MJK: Nah, probably not. I haven’t done it for a while. I’d have to get a look at him. I weigh 150, and I don’t know how big he is, so I’d have to say that would be a deciding factor right there. But I would probably cheat, so if he was really sticking to the rules, and really truly wanted to win legally, I could probably take him. I would do everything in my power to cheat, and by the time the match was over, he would be wearing a tutu.