Bringing 'Dead Authors' To Life For Book-Smart Comedy | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Bringing 'Dead Authors' To Life For Book-Smart Comedy

Play associated audio

H.G. Wells looks remarkably good for having died in 1946.

That's because he's being played by comedian Paul F. Tompkins.

Tompkins assumes the role every month for a series called "Dead Authors" at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles.

Wells — author of War Of The Worlds and other early sci-fi novels — activates his time machine to pull famous writers back from the beyond for improvised evenings starring some of comedy's biggest stars. The show has featured Kristen Schaal playing Tennessee Williams and John Hodgman as Ayn Rand. It's also become a popular podcast.

Tompkins talks to All Things Considered host Arun Rath about reassuring comedians that their literary knowledge is adequate, and trash-talking sci-fi author Jules Vern.


Interview Highlights

On recruiting improvisors to impersonate literary figures

People are always daunted at first. ... I say, it doesn't matter, you can pick anyone you want, I will do all the research, and I will only ask you questions that you can answer any way you want. I call them "emotional questions." I will never ask for a fact or a date or anything like that. I'll just say, "This happened" — I'll lay it out for them and for the audience — "How did that make you feel?" And then they're free to say whatever they want.

On Jules Vern, author of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Its very title is incorrect! League is not a measure of depth, it is a measure of distance, going rather more horizontally. Although at least it shows some imagination — because the rest of the book frankly just takes things that exist and then writes them down. "Oh no, a giant squid!" There are giant squids. That's neither science nor fiction.

On the common themes of the performances

One of the things that I've noticed about the show is that all the performers seem to gravitate towards the bitterness that can come out of a career in writing. There's a lot of jealousy, there's a lot of anger at people that ripped people off — and so much anger at critics. So much anger at critics, and it comes up again and again.

On getting into the mind of H.G. Wells

Of all the research that I've done on authors for the show, I think H.G. Wells is the one I've researched the least.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

How To Sell Diverse Books: A Bookstore Owner's Advice

It's not news that the publishing world isn't very diverse. But over on the other side of the industry, how do owners of neighborhood bookstores try to sell books for or about people of color?
NPR

Can Quinoa Take Root On The 'Roof Of The World'?

Quinoa, once a homebody crop, crossed the Atlantic for the first time this century. Now the Food and Agriculture Organization has a hunch it can thrive in Central and Southwest Asia.
NPR

Senate Control May Swing On North Carolina's Unpopularity Contest

Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan wants voters to punish her GOP challenger Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House, for unpopular laws. Tillis wants to aim anger toward the president at Hagan.
NPR

Islamic State Uses Online Strategies To Get Its Message Out

Experts say the videotaped killing of journalist James Foley is part of a broader propaganda strategy by Islamist militants. The group, the Islamic State, has become a master of the video medium.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.