An only child from Bexley, Ohio, Frank Lesser is best known as an Emmy Award winning writer for Comedy Central’s ‘The Colbert Report’. Frank attended Brown University, in Providence RI, where he was founding member of “The Beasts of Funny” comedy group, and a writer for the humour magazine ‘Brown Jug’. After graduating in 2002 with a Bacholer of Arts (Film), Frank worked as a production assistant for TV Land, and as a freelance promo writer for various Viacom stations. When not working as a writer for television, Frank has written and directed a number of short films, including ‘Danny Bot’, ‘Flora Bush’, ‘Who Ordered Room Service?’, and the real working fake sex line ‘LieGirls.com.
It takes a brave man to write a book exposing the truth about monsters and their problems. Were there ever any doubts or fears going into this project that you might step on a few claws, and inadvertently end up as the main course at a Halloween dinner?
I took precautions — garlic around my office window, a gun loaded with silver bullets by my desk, pictures of the monster’s ex-girlfriend on my nightstand (to distract the monster long enough for me to grab the bullets/garlic). Mostly, I figured these monsters would appreciate my efforts to humanize/non-monsterize them.
Where did your fascination with monsters come from? Did you have a Monster infestation under your bed as a child? Or was it just the one that followed you into puberty and stole your girlfriend?
Childhood trauma. When I was a kid, I wanted a puppy, but my parents bought me one on the full moon and it turns out it was actually a werechild.
Has the monster-under-the-bed situation been dealt with, or is the monster still at large?
It was tough having the monster under my bed steal my girlfriend. And very difficult to forget what happened prom night, when he brought her back beneath my bed. Actually, I did run into him in a Starbucks recently– you can read about that here: “The Monster Inside Starbucks”.
Childhood crisis aside. Do you think monsters would make good pets if they were sold in miniature form? Are there any monsters that make better pets than others?
Definitely not mogwai, although my book contains a list of the full rules for gremlin ownership. The most important thing to remember is that no matter what you try to do, your mogwai will turn into a gremlin (the preferred term is “engremlin” or “gremlinate”).
What type of research is involved in writing a book about monsters and mythical creatures? Did you take a contiki tour of Narnia, or blind date a vampire?
There’s a lot of Wikipedia research, although it’s not as reliable as quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore. Pro tip: If it’s not bound in human skin, move on.
Monsters, particularly sad ones, are not usually thought of as funny, nor as having the amount of existential crises and romantic problems that we see in the book. Is there any hope for these monsters, or just continued melancholy for the remainder of their existence?
I hope my book proves that not all monsters have the fantastic and unrealistic lives portrayed in Hollywood films. Audiences only ever hear about the “Brides of Dracula,” never the “Bitter Ex-Wives of Dracula.”
Every chapter in the book is written using a different format. Godzilla keeps a journal, Succubus has a personal advertisement, and the Zombies have an abandoned screen play. Was that a conscious choice, to change the format for every character, and limit the story to about 5 pages? Is that a way of containing the humour and message of each piece? Or is it the style you prefer or are most familiar writing in?
I enjoy the short humor format, but there aren’t many places for it — basically, the New Yorker’s “Shouts and Murmurs” and “Shouts and Murmurs’s rejection pile.” I wanted to make the sure the pieces were varied in style and at least somewhat in voice, even if that voice was a demonic one speaking to you through your shower-head.
The videos that accompany the release of this book are simultaneously funny and poignant. I don’t think I’ll ever look at realtors the same way again. Do you write these in tandem as you are writing the book? Is it just natural for you to visualise them as you are creating content?
Thanks. I wrote the script for “Bloody Murray” about 6 months after I finished writing everything else in the book — if I’d written it beforehand, I’d have crammed it in somehow.
Barry Julien mentioned that he thinks you have a fixation with mermen and mummies, and that many of the references on ‘The Colbert Report’ usually come from you. Why do you think you have an obsession with other-worldly or fantastical creatures?
Reality’s boring. Just ask any werewolf 29 out of 30 days of the month.
A lot of themes in the book include ones that are addressed on the ‘The Colbert Report’, such as gay marriage and illegal immigration. While you were writing ‘Sad Monsters’, were there any general topics covered on the show that immediately made you think it would be a suitable issue for a particular monster?
I wanted some pieces to have a satirical point, but I tried not to write anything that was too similar to stuff we do on the show. So barring Stephen getting bitten by a vampire (and us doing a theme show on it), I think I’m cool.
Do you find social commentary easier when expressed through someone else’s voice? Be it a monster’s or through the character of Stephen Colbert?
I think if you’re too direct with making a point, it can come across as preachy, which is why I’d rather have a merman preacher deliver my sermons for me (“When Bad Things Happen to Good Merpeople”). Or it’s possible that it’s just easy to deflect my own sincerity by having it come from the mouth of a monster.
The title of your book is ‘Sad Monsters: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside.’ Do you think the “crying on the inside” is the one thing comedians and comedy writers have in common with monsters? If so, how do you think that sensibility helps in scaring the pants off of them, or making them laugh?
Humor and horror both involve surprising the audience to get a reaction– a fright or a laugh. They’re also both ways to deal with real issues– or real emotions– without the audience (and sometimes even the author) realizing it.
David Sedaris’ “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” personifies animals, giving them human qualities and dilemmas. Was this book, or any other books of a similar nature a source of reference or inspiration?
By the time “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” came out, I’d already completed a final first draft of my book. I read a few pieces in it about a month ago because here and there people were comparing my book to it, but I don’t see too much similarity, aside from non-human characters acting like humans. A few pieces were inspired by the works they were parodying (“The Partisan Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “The Roommate of Dorian Gray”), but I probably owe a greater debt to Woody Allen’s short humor.
Drew Grant from “The New York Observer ” noted that many of the attendees of your recent ‘Monster Mash’ party could pass as the possible inspiration behind many of the characters in the book. Were any of the characters in the book based on people you know, or is it just a coincidence that your friends and colleagues pass as ‘Sad Monsters’?
I can’t get into too many specifics, since I think there’s a special form of libel related to turning someone into a monster, but various parts of the book are autobiographical. If you’re confused at any point, I’m usually the monster.
Do you think monsters and their problems receive a fair and accurate portrayal in modern cinema? Do you have any favourite cinematic monsters?
Like humans, monsters get pigeonholed. One of the monsters in my book is a vampire struggling against society’s perception that vampires are supposed to be interested in beautiful nubile maidens, when he’s much more sexually attracted to bats. But bats are so much simpler — when you call them with sonar, they call you right back, no games.
From your extensive catalogue of Monster knowledge, what do you think the Vampire and Werewolf communities make of the Twilight Saga? I can’t imagine this new wave of ultra buff teen creatures is helping the esteem level of the monster community.
I’ve actually never seen any of the Twilight movies. But if me pretending to be a huge fan will sell more books, then I am totally Team Edgar. (Edmund?)
When do you think we will see the day Monster issues are given the attention they deserve?
Easy answer is Judgment Day (or Ragnorak– don’t want to offend any Norse giants out there). If anything, I’m worried that we’re on the tail-end of the monster craze. If past TV trends are any indication, my guess about what’ll be big next is talking horses.
Are there any upcoming monster revolts coming that we should know about?
I’ve been advised by my lawyer to skip that question. Full disclosure: My lawyer is a zombie.
Have you heard any feedback on the book from the monster and mythical creature communities?
I heard from a few centaurs. The human parts of them liked it, the horse parts were indifferent.
Now that you have devoted an entire volume to monsters and ghouls, what kind of upcoming projects are on the horizon for Frank Lesser?
I’ve got a few other things I’m working on, and I think I finally got the monsters out of my system, although not necessarily the sadness. McSweeney’s recently ran a non-monster-themed piece of mine here: “Better Off as Friend Requesters”. And I’m aiming to tweet a bit more — @sadmonsters. Most of my tweets will be me regretting how I should have started tweeting two years ago instead of right before my book came out.
A big thank you to Frank Lesser for taking the time out to talk to us, and to the Hub Staff for helping me put the interview together!!