Last week, I wrote a post about the staggering difference I perceive between an incredibly popular, traditionally formatted show like The Big Bang Theory and a much smaller, more unconventional show like Children’s Hospital. Through the wonders of Twitter, I encountered actor and author John Ross Bowie who has acted on several episodes of both shows. He very kindly agreed to speak with me.
Can you talk a little about what it’s like to work on a traditional multi-cam, laugh-tracked or live studio audience show like The Big Bang Theory?
Well, first of all, one myth to dispel: there is no laugh track used on The Big Bang Theory. Even when they shoot something outdoors, they play it in front of the audience and record their laughter. Those 200 or so people love the show and love the characters. I have been on shows that are laughtracked, and you have to listen to the crew force themselves to chuckle, and it’s hard to be around that. BBT is the only show I’ve ever worked on where, honest to God, they have to cut laughs short for time.
I’m aware that there’s a snobbery concerning multi-cam – I have an internet connection, after all, and the article that prompted our correspondence kind of declared the medium dead. I think multi-cams are comfort food, and there’s no coincidence that they are cheap to make and on the upswing in this economy (NBC ordered a bunch more this year, and TV Land is going super old school with a “Hot in Cleveland is filmed before a live studio audience” announcement.)
The shows are incredibly fun to work on – it’s theater with a safety net. If it goes great, it goes great … if you screw up, the audience is thrilled because they saw a blooper! There really is nothing that beats an audience, and most actors will attest to that. BBT has a crack staff of joke writers (which is what the medium is all about) and a really, REALLY strong cast whom I will defend to my grave. I doubt anyone will ask me to go that far though.
In comparison, what’s your experience working on an unconventional show with a shorter run-time and manic pace like Children’s Hospital?
That’s a totally different beast. It’s much more collaborative, because it airs at midnight on a channel that a lot of people can’t find and it’s written by a lot of old friends. That means that everyone’s comfortable and when there’s less money changing hands, there’s more room for experimentation. I think that’s true in any business. I’ve known Rob going on 17 years – we temped together in New York City. There’s a lot of wiggle room, everyone’s really chill, and you spend the day hanging out with Fonzie and Karen from Will & Grace. BUT there’s no live audience and you’re in the spookiest abandoned hospital in the history of spooky abandoned hospitals. So they’re both great venues in which to be funny, but as different as apples and spooky abandoned hospitals.
You’ve worked on some terrific shows including Party Down, Arrested Development, Reno 911 and of course Children’s Hospital, as well as plenty of great commercial and film work. What’s your favorite type of atmosphere or shooting style to work in? Any anecdotes you’d like to share?
Confession: I was never on Arrested Development. That showed up on my IMDB page and I’ve never bothered to take it down, because, you know… that show was amazing. Plus, I don’t even think IMDB knows how to remove a credit. Nobody ever asks them to. If someone submitted that I was in, I dunno, Anal Cuties Volume 7, I might protest.
I’ll talk about Reno 911 a bit. That show was incredible because even auditioning for that gig was more fun than working on most other gigs. You basically went in with a couple of ideas, improvised with Tom Lennon or Ben Garant, and then they shot your idea or they didn’t. If they liked you, they started writing for you, and that’s how my wife and I got to come back. That was a really fun show to work on. We pitched a bit at a Renaissance Faire, where we worked at the Faire and we’re trying to report a crime, but we wouldn’t drop the dialect (“Some rapscallion didst abscond with yonder horseless carriage!”) They liked it, and the next thing we knew they’d built a whole Ren Faire set, and Patton Oswalt showed up to do a bit as his D&D nerd character, and they shot a bunch of stuff there for their 3rd season (I think?). That was the beauty of that show, you immediately had a creative stake in it.
Of the shows and films you’ve acted in, what’s your favorite to watch?
Ugh. Um. Hm. I did a scene in He’s Just Not That Into You, where I’m hitting on Jennifer Aniston at a wedding. I can watch that and not want to punch myself in the genitals. Also, briefly, I was in a series called AUSA back at the dawn of the century. I can watch that without swallowing fistfuls of Ambien.
You wrote a book about Heathers, an indisputably badass film. What research did you do for the book? What made you decide to write it? Have you considered doing more writing, either books or for television or films?
I loved writing that book. My Buddy Sean Howe got the job editing the Deep Focus series, and asked me if I’d like to write one, and to pitch him a couple of ideas for movies I could base a whole book on. This was almost two years ago, publishing moves at a snails pace. I pitched Heathers, he liked the idea and my reasons for doing it, and I got the go ahead.
I went with Heathers because of a striking convergence of events. I saw it my senior year of high school, which is exactly the right time to see that film – I saw it with a girl named Heather, who was the second (!) consecutive Heather that I had dated, and I had worked with the film’s director Michael Lehmann on a couple of things, and we had stayed in touch. So I had the interest and the resources to do a pretty complete job on the film. That whole series is amazing, I’m reading Matthew Specktor’s book on The Sting right now. It’s great.
More writing? Working on it. I have two kids so it’s just a matter of scheduling and keeping my caffeine levels at full productivity.
Thanks very much to John Ross Bowie! Be sure to follow him on Twitter; he’s a super funny fella.