Paul and Storm is a comedy duo. They are also geeks. And when I heard that they were taking their show – w00tstock – to Seattle, I immediately asked if they might want to do an interview. Which is what you are reading now.
Paul and Storm have been active on the comedy scene for several years, first as part of the a cappella group “Da Vinci’s Notebook” and since 2004 as a two-man group. They have harvested the power of the Internet in several ways, from applying a Creative Commons license to their work, to organizing the w00tstock show, which apart from themselves co-stars Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage.
But it doesn’t stop there. W00tstock 2.0 (which was the official designation for the show in Seattle, followed by 2.1 in Portland, Oregon) featured a host of geek royalty including musical acts such as Molly Lewis, MC Frontalot, Hank Green and Load Ready Run, as well as segments by people such as Stepto and Lone Shark Games (watch for an upcoming interview with Mike Selinker from Lone Shark here on Another Passion).
All the guest performers were invited and/or hand picked by the w00tstock team. Both Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage are involved in that process. In general, there is a strong spirit of cooperation throughout the w00tstock project.Naturally, I was thrilled that Paul and Storm would take the time to do an interview, though I must admit I was a little worried about getting the photos right at first. With a show of this size – the stage was set at the Moore Theater and the crowd numbered about a thousand people – I knew both guys would be very busy and I did not want to impose or get in their way.
They told me to come by just after sound check, about an hour before show-time, and I was fully expecting to have to capture both Paul and Storm as well as the essence of the show itself in just a few minutes. However, I ended up documenting the show from start to finish from behind the scenes.
The above photo is the only one I got of the both of them posing for the camera. It was shot about half-way through the show, and instead of minutes, I only managed to make them stand still for a few seconds. But as it turned out, I worried for nothing and it wasn’t about posed portraits at all, but about telling the story. In the slideshow below the interview, you can see many more photos from w00tstock – set to Paul and Storm’s own song “Frogger! The Frogger Musical“.
AP: What is it specifically about comedy that appeals to you and makes it worth devoting your creative energy to?
S: I think humor would be part of anything we chose to do. If we weren’t lucky enough to be musicians, we would have ended up as funny plumbers or something. There’s just a certain type of joy you get when you make people laugh that can’t be replicated any other way.
P: Not to get all “amateur psychologist,” but it seems to me that all performers, to some degree or another, are seeking direct approval and validation. (Otherwise, they could just record things and release them without any live performance) And for me, laughter is the best, most rewarding type of approval, because it’s involuntary, and can’t be faked – it can be, but you know what I mean. It’s a certain type of power rush, almost — “I’ve made you laugh, I control your actions!” That’s overstating it a bit, I guess, but I think, beyond the joy I get evoking laughs, I really do personally get a “power rush” out of it. Sure makes me sound diabolical and manipulative, eh?
AP: Could you take us through your creative process? How are your songs written and how do you know which ones are keepers?
S: We don’t have a set creative process. Generally, you get a germ of an idea that comes from who-knows-where, and you run with it. Once we have the idea, sometimes one of us will build it out and then pass it to the other, and other times we’ll be on the phone shooting ideas back and forth. As for which ones are keepers, if it still makes us laugh after working on it for 12 hours, that’s a pretty good sign.
P: Given the comedic nature of what we do, it’s usually, though not always, a lyrical idea that comes first — a central joke for the song, a storyline or what have you. But there really is no formula. But generally, the good ones we both get excited about pretty quickly, and as Storm says, stay excited about later.
AP: You’ve chosen to put your original material out under a Creative Commons license, even though your songs are also available for sale. What is your experience with this approach to self-marketing and do you still sell enough to make it worth your while, financially?
S: Using Creative Commons is a terrific way to help spread your music organically. By making your material more easily available, it turns everyone who hears your music a potential member of your marketing team. And it’s great that people are at liberty to create something of their own from what we’ve done, and that you can choose which rights you wish to retain. No doubt it’s been profitable for us. Although a smaller percentage of people who hear our music are paying, the number of folks who are aware of us is much larger than if we used the traditional model. And we figure most of those people will help support us financially anyway — either by coming to a show, buying merch, or putting us in their wills.AP: How did w00tstock go from idea to show to tour, and what went into planning each show and the tour as a whole?
S: w00tstock started because Paul and I were looking to fill a couple of dates in LA and San Francisco, and we thought it would be fun to do a show with Wil and Adam, both of whom we were just becoming friends with. And since we knew a lot of other fun, cool, and geeky acts in both cities, we thought it would be fun to have some of them as guests to ramp up the fun and excitement. It turns out we were very, very right, and the shows were a tremendous success. For the 2.x shows, we made a big list of potential guests for and from each city, and then just started knocking on doors. Again, many of the acts are people we know, but a big part of the fun is discovering new acts or getting to know others that we’d only heard about, and then sharing it all win the audience.
P: Show-wise, we liken it to nerd vaudeville – in our original discussions, we wanted it to be “all the good parts of a Convention” – and we try to vary the acts and keep the pace up. So you’ll have stuff that’s musical, thought-provoking, funny, and even heart warming all in one show. In addition to the live acts, we also break things up with short films and animation, again to keep the pace varied and interesting for folks.
AP: It seems that with the first shows you were kind of testing the waters, and that the success of these paved the way for a West Coast tour with W00tstock. What’s next? Will there be a full US tour or perhaps a DVD, or do you have something altogether different in the works?
S: We have a lot of plans for w00tstock. The reaction to the shows has been so strong, and it’s really a joy for the audience and performers alike to be at a special event where every kind of nerdiness and geekiness can be celebrated. We’re certainly going to add more cities, though it’s hard to coordinate all three of our schedules, and we have dreams of doing an all-day or weekend-long event at some point.
P: We do intend, at some point, to film a show (or several shows). But that adds another whole layer of complexity to an already-growing pile of responsibilities we’re dealing with.
We are consciously working very hard to maintain the shows’ original “hey, let’s sweep out the old barn and put on a show!” spirit, even as the audience and performance space sizes grow rapidly. There is a very strong connection at these shows between the performers and the attendees, a sense of intimacy, borne out of sharing the same interests and joys. Indeed, the performances themselves are very interactive, with a lot of give and take between audience and performers. We’re wary of letting these events grow so large that that sense of intimacy is lost, because we believe it’s a very important key to the success of w00tstock so far.
S: First things first: we’ll be launching w00tstock.net soon, which we hope to grow into a hub for people to share all things w00tstock, and to tie together everything that’s happening on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and wherever people are hanging out.
The photos in the slide show are presented in chronological order.
Paul and Storm, their co-stars and many of the featured performers are also active on Twitter . Also, check out the many w00tstock videos on YouTube and photos on Flickr (yes, pictures and videos were not only allowed but encouraged during the show) and sign up for the w00tstock mailing list if you want to know if and when the show might be coming to your part of the world.
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