DC Pierson is a comedian, author, rapper, and a founding member of DERRICK Comedy, the sketch group with Donald Glover, Dominic Dierkes, and Dan Eckman. You might recognize him as Duncan, self-appointed boy genius from the group's film, Mystery Team, or as occasional Greendale Gazette member and Human Being on Community. The UCB alum talks about his new book, Crap Kingdom, good and bad writing advice, casting Werner Herzog in his ultimate feature film, and other things.
Karen Lo: How did you pitch your book, Crap Kingdom?
I didn't pitch it -- like the good honors student I am, I wrote the whole thing out and sent it to my literary agent, who then sent it to publishers. That's what I did with my first book, as well. It's easier to sell a non-fiction book on a pitch than it is a fiction book, or so I'm told.
I think the dream, for a lot of people, is selling something off a sentence or idea and then getting paid and then going and making the thing, once payment is in hand. That certainly sounds like a fun thing I'd like to try one day, but there's also something gratifying about finishing something and then sending it out and having somebody actually react so positively to the whole work that they want to put it out there.
That's not to say the work doesn't change after it's sold to a publisher and you're working with an editor. Awesome, de-crap-ifying contributions have been made to both my books by their editors. You don't get to be an editor by being a dummy who doesn't know anything about writing. My editor on Crap Kingdom (Kendra Levin) had some awesome ideas that made the book much better. She is a smart cookie. (Hold on a second, writing the words "smart cookie" just now gave me an idea for a sci-fi horror book about sentient baked goods. Hopefully Kendra will edit that as well.)
Tell us a good pun.
Jada Pinkett Sith
Who is the best smelling celebrity and what do they smell like?
I write for a lot of award shows to make sweet sweet cash-ola in between other jobs. But I think celebrities are at their most washed in an awards show setting. I don't remember any celebri-smells too distinctly.
George Clooney was so precisely as charming and easy-going as you'd want him to be that my memory is telling me he smelled like a driftwood beach-fire and a new batch of brownies, but that's probably a trick my mind is playing on me. I'll bet there's a Radiolab episode about this exact thing.
What's the difference between cats and dogs?
With my new biological innovation "dats," the two have been fused into one creature and we never need to have a discussion on this topic again.
Or "cogs?" Should they be called "cogs?"
Who is your dream team mix tape collaborator and how would ask them to collaborate with you?
My friend Donald had Tina Fey on his mixtape. Wale had Julia Louis-Dreyfus on a mixtape.
There is exactly only one way to top them: Joan Rivers.
I'm told she doesn't do anything for free, so: Kickstarter.
This is DC's first mixtape, which he released in February 2013.
It doesn't have Joan Rivers on it, but you should still download it here.
DC also has a soundtrack planned for "Crap Kingdom," scheduled for release and free download on Thursday, March 7. It features songs from The Rosebuds, Ted Leo, Jean Grae, and others. You can download Ted Leo's track "Return to Crap Kingdom" from The A.V. Club
If you got to direct a feature with anyone in Hollywood, which actors would would you work with?
Ricky Jay - If you don't immediately recognize his name, you'd know him if you saw him. He's in a lot of David Mamet stuff and is a real-life magician and also a repository of knowledge about con men and other cool things. I would just try to sit near him at lunch every day and pimp him into telling stories. Bonus: great beard.
Laura Dern - My girlfriend and I have been binge-watching Enlightened, which is a really beautiful, funny, wonderful show unlike anything else on TV, and she was also great in The Master last year, and I may just be confusing her for the character she played in both of those things, but I kind of feel like she would bring a very earnest, chilled-out vibe to the proceedings. Probably turn me on to a new kind of tea I hadn't heard about.
Emma Stone - She's great, but it would really just be to verify my long-standing suspicion that we would get along famously if we ever met.
Tony Sirico - Sirico played Paulie on The Sopranos and is, for that reason alone, a national treasure. His character will say stuff like "watch yourself, pal," and "not for nothin'" a lot, and we'll make millions of dollars.
Werner Herzog - He was in Jack Reacher as the villain apparently, and I was like, you can just cast Werner Herzog in things? Why is everyone not casting him in things all the time? He doesn't even need to be in the script, just mic him up and let him narrate the craft services table: "The cruel indignities... of the hard-to-open beef jerky bag..." Tremendous!
If you could remake any classic film, what would it be?
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Now it's Dat On A Hot Tin Roof.
Or should it be Cog On A Hot Tin Roof?
If you had to direct a French film, what would it be about?
Girl on bridge.
An argument over the jukebox.
Without giving a name, describe the most irritating person you've ever worked with.
Just as a general rule, you should be nice and respectful to people of the opposite sex, and just because you think you're smart doesn't mean you're NOT a sexist dickhead.
And YES, I'm talking to you, Cloris Leachman.
What's your favorite swear and non-swear word?
Favorite swear word: Fuck. (I mean, come on. It's the Citizen Kane of swear words.)
Favorite non-swear word: Lonesome
DC and Donald Glover prepare for battle on "Community" Season 3, episode 13,
"Digital Exploration of Interior Design."
Tell us one thing you need to get off your chest.
It upsets me that when I post a link to a twee indie-pop song I like on Facebook, it gets a ton of Likes from my friends, but when I post a link to some Atlanta strip-club rap, nothin'.
I also may need to think about budgeting my upset-ness better.
Where would you go on a date or day trip with Barack Obama?
I used to take girls to the Chinatown Fair Arcade in NYC, but I think they closed it down, and I don't live in NYC anymore, so I don't think I'll ever get to play a flirty game of Tekken 3 with our Commander in Chief. Not at this rate, anyway.
If you could travel by flying animal, what would that animal be?
Falcor from The Neverending Story. I don't want to be immature and say "doy" here, Notes On The Road, but... doy.
Falcor the Luck Dragon, or DC Pierson's flying animal of choice.
What's the most creative way you'd promote yourself if you didn't have access to the Internet?
Old-fashioned reggae soundsystem. Like ninety speakers. Me on the mic. A lot of delay pedals but underneath the thick layer of dub you could hear me saying, "Everyone buy my fanzine about pop-punk."
What are the best and worst pieces of advice you've gotten about writing?
Best: "Real writers hate writing, but they love having written." Without it, I might not have felt like a real writer when, in college, other kids would be like "I can't wait to go home and light a candle and just WRITE." I feel like you don't look forward to writing, it's just something you have to do. And you DO have to do it, unfortunately.
Worst: I can't think of a particular one, 'cause if it's bad I typically wouldn't take it to heart or remember it, but I don't think there's a whole lot to be gained by getting "inspired." Like anything that has to do with "where do you get your ideas?" is pretty fruitless. Advice on doing the work can be very helpful. Advice about what exactly to work on, less so, I think.
DC offers writing advice
Have you ever started out writing a sketch and the end result was completely different from what you'd intended to do?
Not usually. Sketches are such a small expression of a single idea that for me there isn't a lot of room for it to completely get away from that original idea I was meaning to express. They're small enough structures that ideally the execution of the idea is kind of contained in the idea itself. You might not have expected to include certain details from the outset, but that's true of everything.
Sorry if that's an un-fun answer.
Are there any sketch ideas that you hold on to even though you never got to use them?
I always really liked the idea of a Mr. Holland's Opus parody trailer about a man who's a biologist who studies elephants, and then his son is born elephant-blind, i.e., he can't see elephants, and thus cannot experience this thing his father has devoted his life to.
If you know an elephant, we can shoot that this weekend.
DC Pierson laments other elephant-related dreams deferred:
What are your tips for staying up all night?
Somebody put me on to yerba mate tea. It's less jagged-feeling than coffee, so you can kind of just sip on it and then it takes a while before you realize "Holy crap, I'm a being made of pure light and energy now."
Coffee still rules, though. It's all love, coffee. I see you, girl.
Also: dick around on the Internet a bunch. That's a great way to stay up all night if all you want to do is stay up all night, not necessarily get anything done.
DC talks about the plot of "Crap Kingdom" on this episode of My Damn Channel
Having lived in LA and New York, what is one difference between the two cities that people might not know?
LA has a subway too! If you know this, it seems obvious, but I'm always amazed how few people are aware of it.
Granted, it kinda only goes in a few directions and in no way grants you access to as many places as the NY subway does. But if you want to go from next to the drugstore a few blocks from me to downtown and back (before it closes at like midnight) then the LA subway is for you.
LA is actually a wonderful place, but it and New York are so hugely different there's really no point in comparing them. Not even apples and oranges. Apples and Usher.
Tell us about your first ever open mic experience.
Not technically a comedy open mic, but my first week of college there was an orientation performance by the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe (a big spoken-word institution in NYC) and at the end they had an open mic portion. Pretentious, attention-starved dick that I was, I went up and did a lil' poem I'd written on the back of my program about how NYU was so EXPENSIVE, man! It got a big applause break... from a bunch of people who (like me) had just fully consented to paying NYU's ridiculous tuition prices and (in many cases) taking on a huge debt. But I was speaking truth to power, MAAAAAN! Still embarrassed thinking about it.
30 Minutes of Stand-Up from an older, wiser DC Pierson
How long does it take you to do a personalized name rap, and what's the most difficult name to incorporate so far?
About a full day. I typically write it in an afternoon and record it the next day.
I just rapped the name Payman Falatoonzedah. He gave me a really good pronunciation guide and I still tripped over it. That's not to say "Ugh, what a weird name!" That's to say that I'm a loser.
I like cool/interesting/long names. They're way more inspiring than someone whose name is, like, "Sean Michaels." That said: if your name is Sean Michaels, preorder the HELL out of my book before March 7th and I'll write you into a rap.
Here's a little sample of what DC has done so far, with names 151-200.
What's the most valuable thing you took away from your time at UCB?
So many things that it's kind of hard to pick just one. But this is one I was thinking about this week:
They used to do a thing at the beginning of the Del Close Marathon (UCB's annual weekend-long non-stop improv festival) called the Street Ritual. A group of improvisers would get a suggestion from a random person in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, start chanting that suggestion while walking towards the theatre in Chelsea, picking up other improv groups stationed all along the route. As you'd walk, the chant would naturally morph, and then this gigantic parade of improvisers would rush down the stairs at the basement theater in Chelsea chanting whatever the suggestion had changed into over the course of the hour-long march through NYC, and that suggestion would be the one the first group of the marathon would use to inspire their show. It was really, really cool. They had to stop doing it because of new, facist-y rules about public assembly. Boo. At any rate.
The first year, my friend (and DERRICK associate, and now roommate) Dominic and I were with the ritual from the very beginning, because we'd been charged with taking a shopping cart full of fliers for the festival from the theatre offices down to Tompkins Square so they could be handed out throughout the ritual (the ritual's central purpose, besides being awesome, was to advertise the marathon. The theatre was about 1,000 times less well known than it is today, even though at the time it was 1,000 times more well known than it had been when it started.)
About halfway through the march, we were in Union Square and Matt Besser, one of the four founders of UCB, ran over to the lawn where tons of people were sun-bathing, and started hurling fliers over the fence at them. People would look at the fliers, and the chanting, insanely dressed marchers, but being that they wanted to prove what non-plussed NYCers they were, few of them got up to actually check the fliers out.
"TAKE A FLIER!" Besser screamed into a megaphone. "DON'T JUST BE CURIOUS! DON'T JUST BE CURIOUS!"
"Don't just be curious" is a really wonderful tenet to live your life by. There is so much wonderful stuff out there (and we are bombarded with more and more of it every day) that it's tempting to sit back and feel like "if something's REALLY great, someone will shove it into my eye/ear/mouth-hole. Until then, I'll just sit back and be vaguely aware of stuff." Reminding yourself to not just be curious, to actually go and partake in all the cool things life has to offer, is really, really important.
Also, as a marketer (which you have to be if you make things but you don't have millions of dollars to hire a publicist and buy billboards and junk), getting people to not just be curious is your whole job. Getting them to come across and actually pay money for your thing, or even just come out to your free show, is the real trick. Getting them to do it now, because if they don't do it NOW, they'll click away and forget about your thing entirely.
UCB built themselves on the street, doing weird stuff and handing people fliers and screaming "Don't just be curious." They did not ask for permission to be incredible. It is endlessly motivating, when you think about it for a second.
What does a "rapper's second album" kind of life look like?
"Rapper's first album" life = struggling against money troubles and indifference. Nothing is timed right. No one seems to want to help you. You think "Do I really have to do this all myself?" and then you realize "Yes, I do," and then eventually you go, "I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Rapper's second album" life = You have the help of people you are paying to help you. You also have the help of people who are making money off of your success. You sit by a pool and think "What do I write about now that I am massively successful?" That's a problem I'd like to have at some point.
If you could invent something that was in everyone's homes, what would it be?
A thing that just picked what you were going to watch on Netflix for you. Maybe it even forces your eyes open like in A Clockwork Orange. But either way, many a meal has gone cold while I try to pick something to watch while I eat in front of the television, and it HAS TO STOP, America!
If you became the supreme ruler of the Earth, what would be your first act?
Make it mandatory for a love of nuance to be taught in schools. That things are really complicated and not everything is black and white and it's OK, even cool, to think about stuff at length. In other words, take legitimate steps toward making it a Lisa Simpson kind of planet.
For more, check out DC during this recent visit to Google LA, during which the author discusses his career and his two books "The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To" and "Crap Kingdom."
Click on these links!
For his newest book: Crap Kingdom
For his first book: The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To
To read his mind: DC Pierson
You can also follow him on Twitter
DC also hosts Big Money, a weekly "stand-up comedy blow-out" in LA