More Surreal: An Interview with Rich Fulcher

I lack an eidetic memory, so in order transcribe these phone call interviews I must record them through an app on my Apple product. My laughter was present throughout 80% of the conversation, because this man understands absurdity. The fact that the recording was audible despite my perpetual cackles and sniggers is nothing short of a miracle. In fact, the man I inter- viewed is a miracle. You probably know him from British television or from all the times your
keys and wallet go missing.

FulcherPortrait

What is your earliest memory?

Oh, God. I remember somehow being in trouble, and I was told to go in my crib, or playpen (is that was they call it)? Apparently, I rode my tricycle off the base where we had just moved because I was so excited that it was flat, so I went all the way to the main gate, and security picked me up and they drove me back. We were moving at the time, so my parents sort of lost track of me, but I just kept going on my trike, and I think I was relegated to my room for a while.

So you were a military brat?

Air Force brat, yeah. Get it straight.

Did you have to make friends over and over? What was that like?

A lot of entertainers are military brats because they have to adjust. You either, like, withdraw into a shell, get beat up or become a bully, or you try and adjust as quickly as you can. I always felt sick to my stomach whenever I went to a new school, and I would try to be a bit goofy. It would depend on the class, but I would either be a class clown or a, you know, a goofball. You know. You know how it is. I think the same thing happened with Louis Anderson.

[Laughs] No, I don’t know, I just said that randomly. Jim Morrison was a military brat.

Do you feel any sort of extra patriotism? Do you feel connected to the structure of our country because of your upbringing? Or –

The structure?

[Laughs]

I looove the structure of the US. It’s sooo well put together.

I mean more like the system. Do you care about elections and politicians?

You know, actually, I’m really into politics. A lot of it is just because I like to hear arguing. I love good arguments and debates, so I’ll watch like MSNBC and stuff all the time. It’s sort of like sports for me. But as far as being extra patriotic, I used to be more like that and then I just sort of became a little less… crazy.

When you go overseas you realize the good things and the not so good things about the U.S.

What are some of the not-so-good things that you’ve realized?

Well, it’s still a really young country, so it’s still a little uptight. It’s still a little up its own bum. It’s a bit puritanical. Anything sexual comes out in a weird way because it’s sort of repressed, so whenever you repress it in one way it comes out, like, bestiality. It’s not just treated as a normal thing. Like a country that’s been around for a thousand years has a different sort of attitude about stuff like that. But the good thing about the U.S. is it’s always changing and it’s always innovating, so you can never be bored.

If you want to be a ghost, you be a ghost.
Put yourself on the web.
If you want to do porno, you can.

Of course. Do you have any religious beliefs?

Do I? Not really. I think you die and dissolve somewhere.

Like oblivion or an eternal nothingness?

I think you go into like a big bucket of borscht, and everybody is cooked in it, and then it’s periodically poured onto the Earth, mostly through Russia and parts of Lithuania. No, I’m not even going, “Just in case, I’ll believe.” It’s like I’ve sort of lost that energy. Like “Ugh. I don’t see much proof of this.”

Was this before or after living in the U.K.?

Well, I was raised Episcopalian, which meant you learned to play golf, stuff like that. And the Church of England is a bit like that. It’s kind of mellow and not really that strict, so it’s easy to ease your way out of it. Whereas with Catholicism and stuff, you have to make a break, like prison.

Did you always want to be a performer? I read that you studied in law school.

Yeah, I wanted to be a lawyer. I wasn’t even thinking about it, I just knew: “I’m gonna be a lawyer, I’m gonna be a lawyer, I’m gonna argue with people.” And then you get there and you realize, “Oh, it’s not like that.” It’s about reading a shitload of cases. That’s all you do, and most of law is not exciting at all. I can see why people get into criminal law and constitutional law, because it deals with people’s lives. But all the other stuff, it’s like you’re pretending that it’s interesting. And nobody thinks it’s interesting. Even the lawyers.

So the decision to get into comedy—was it made while you were in school or after you graduated?

I decided to graduate, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to practice law, because if you start to practice then it’s like you’re on this track and it’s even harder to leave after that. My girlfriend at the time said, “Have you heard of this place in Chicago? It’s called Second City, there’s all this improv out there.” And I go, “Oh, really? Okay, I’ll do that.”

I had done like the law school talent show, and I had always been into comedy, but I just thought if I’m ever gonna do it, now’s the time to do it. So I enrolled in the classes, and after I graduated I went right to Chicago.

Was it a nervous decision?

Nervous?

Yeah, did you feel uncertainty, or were you very, “This is what I’m gonna do now, this is my track?”

I wasn’t really sure. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I was too dumb to be nervous. I just sort of thought, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna do this, go to Saturday Night Live, get into movies.” You know, it’s like a structure thing. And then I realized after a while, “Oh, there are so many people doing this.” And then people kept going, “Dude, you gotta take the bar exam, just in case, as a fallback.” “Really?” So I did the second year I was out—I took the bar exam, but then I never practiced.

Second City Logo

Did you pass it?

I passed it. I took it in Pennsylvania, so it was like Amish Law.

Say for some reason you woke up and didn’t feel you could be funny anymore—could you go back and be a lawyer? Or has too much time passed?

No, there are so many other avenues now with comedy; you can just do other things. That’s what L.A. is—the person who’s teaching acting used to be in The Sound of Music. There are so many other little things here, like writing or something. I wouldn’t go back to law. I’d rather eat hot coals.

Your site mentions that you’re working on a screenplay and a series.

I am? Who told you that?

It’s on your website.

I’m always writing a screenplay. I’m pitching and trying to do TV stuff. I’m doing this Comedy Central digital thing.

It would be online?

Yeah, but hopefully it will be developed for a series, but it’s too early to talk about. It’s kind of science-based. It’s about weird hypotheticals, trying to prove them. There’s another one I’m working on with Dave Hill. It’s about campus police. Really inept campus police.

What sort of elements would a Fulcher series contain?

It depends on the network. If I were in charge it would be very absurd, but still structured so that people could understand it. It’s like every writing team has a structure person and the guy that just paces the room and just yells things out. I’d like to be the guy that yells things out.

There’s another show in the U.K. I might be working on. All of these are too early to talk about. For me right now TV seems to be where it’s at. Films are great—I’d love to do films—but it just seems harder to get the wheels in motion. Don’t get me wrong, I love films, but TV is the new…film.

Well, it seems there are less limitations on what you can do.

Well, it’s just quicker. The networks aren’t as dominant anymore, so you can do a niche kind of comedy show and it’s not a bad idea. Adult Swim has its own niche, so Tim and Eric flourish and they’ll always have an audience, which is great.

I was going to bring up Rick and Morty, actually.

I love Rick and Morty.

You were on an episode. How did that go?

I’ve known Justin [Roiland] since I came into L.A. when I first got here years ago, maybe like 2004. We worked on a show called Crossballs together. It was like a reality debating show, comedy. We got real people to debate fake characters, and it was hilarious. We’ve always talked about working together, and he never wants to do it because he hates me. So I’ve done a couple things for Rick and Morty but, you know, fuck him.

No, he’s great. There are so many people that are on the same wavelength as I am. You know immediately when you connect with someone; it doesn’t matter what age they are whatever, you know. So those are the kinds of people who I want to work with.

Who are some comics you would love to collaborate with?

Shit. I will say this: There are so many great female comics coming up. I was just working on something with Megan Amram, and she’s gonna be great. She’s writing for Parks, and she’s got that new book out, Science for Girls.

Tim and Eric, Garfunkel and Oates (I just did a thing for them), there’s so many people. I love Key and Peele, Ron Funches. And then there are all the Brits. I’d love to anytime work with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, all the Boosh guys, Matt Berry. There are so many people that are out there now. I think it’s like the Gold Rush of comedy.

A Golden Age?

We’re in a Golden Age.

I feel that way about the arts in general. There’s this worry about what’s going to happen to the music industry, but people will still be making music if the old industry is dying. There are still creative people in mass numbers doing things that are just as good, and because of the internet we can easily have access and democratically elect individuals to become greatly recognized without going through the old channels.

That’s the thing. You don’t have to go through all that bullshit.

Have you ever thought of doing a digital show of your own, not connected to anything?

I would love to be independently wealthy and just do whatever I wanted. If you’re extremely poor you can do something like that, or extremely wealthy, but I’m in between now, so I wind up pitching shows to people to get a little bit of money. But I would love to do my own digital things eventually or have my own production company. I could do real snuff movies.

Every writing team has a structure person and the guy that just paces the room
and just yells things out.
I’d like to be the guy that yells things out.

 

Would you ever be interested in doing anything that isn’t comedy in entertainment?

I’d like to do something dance-related. Just dance, like a little three-minute thing. I have all these ideas for things and then, “Oh, I’ve got to prioritize them. Shit. I can’t do my cheese-monkey sketch just yet. I’m going to have to hold off on that.”

Say you were offered a very serious, dark role, like the part of a serial killer.

I would love to do it. I would love to do that. I don’t think anyone looks at me that way, though. My stereotype is “he’s crazy, but in a comedy over-the-top way.” But they never consider me for something like that. A comedy serial killer, but I would love to do something serious like that.

I’m more surreal.
No matter where I am.

How do creatives make it known that they’re good at lots of things?

You mean break out of your stereotype?

Yeah.

I think the main thing is you’ve got to do it yourself, unless somebody is really a visionary. There are so many producers who don’t really think along those lines—casting people, especially. It’s like they have blinders on: “Oh, you played a fat coach. We’re gonna look for a fat coach role for you.”

Take, for instance—who’s the guy? Doogie Howser.

Neil Patrick Harris.

Until he did that role in Harold and Kumar, nobody even considered him being this kind of cad, louse character. Know what I mean? He did that, or he took that role. You just gotta take stuff that you want to do, and then people will notice you for it if it’s good.

If you want to be a ghost, you be a ghost. Put yourself on the web. If you want to do porno, you can.

You can do anything on camera and get paid for it if you find the right audience.

You can do anything now on Youtube or something. You have to work at it. It’s like switching gears. It’s frustrating, though. It is frustrating, but people aren’t gonna make that leap. I mean, it’s hard enough now writing a script and having people go, “I can’t really envision what this would be like.” It says car chase on the script. Can’t you envision the car chase? Everybody wants, “I want a sizzle, or a tease, or something like that. A taster tape. Get me a taster tape. Here’s 15 dollars.”

Because you’ve been on a TV show or any number of successes, will old acquaintances will come out of the woodwork and just assume you have a lot of money or status to try to mooch something off of you?

Me? Well, sometimes people think from the Boosh, it’s been years since the show, but they still think I have a lot of swag. Like, I literally got it in my trunk. It’s like, “Hey, you got a t-shirt, man?” No, I don’t have a t-shirt. They barely gave me one. I wish I had a garage filled with Boosh stuff, but I don’t.

Sometimes it’s the opposite. This guy at the parking lot once recognized me and goes, “Hey man, I love you, blah blah blah. Are you still working?” I almost wanted to snap at him. “Of course I’m working! I’m a working actor!” It’s like your parents. Unless you’re on national TV, they don’t really care. Unless you’re on either a Clorox commercial or on Modern Family, they won’t really think you’re working.

Do you think there’s any real order to the universe, or is it all chaos?

I think there’s some kind of, like gravity, like there’s something going on there. I don’t know if we know. It’s kind of swirling out there, and sometimes we catch it, and then other times we don’t. I just talked about this with Matt Walsh. He’s the one that first told me about it; like when you get an idea, in the universe, it makes it easier for someone else to get that idea. You know when they taught monkeys on this one island to do something, and then the monkeys on the continent could do the same. They just learned it, out of nowhere. I think there’s some stuff out there that we don’t know that’s at work. That’s why you usually find people have the same ideas at the same time, like that guy who got screwed out of inventing the phone, all that stuff.

Even natural selection was thought of not just by Darwin, but also by Alfred Russell Wallace.

Yes. Usually it’s the best marketer that wins out.

Alfred Russell Wallace was kind of a timid person. And he was made a mockery of because he had an interest in Spiritism and ghosts and all that stuff. Naturalists were really hardcore, just objective physical reality, so of course they didn’t want his name to be—

Associated, yeah.

It’s kind of sad—I think people who are into this broader kind of spirituality have it right, to an extent. There’s a way of viewing the universe where everything is objective and concrete, like we’re separate from all these things. There are the animals and us and the different systems on Earth, and they’re all very mechanical. Certain spiritual views lead to this idea of oneness and being all completely connected and the separation of things being an illusion. That, to me, makes more sense. We are part of a constant flow, and what we perceive as our individual lives is just a single beat in an everlasting song, so we’re recycled in it or something. That’s as far as I’ve come.

Wow. I’m sorry, could you repeat that?

[Laughs]

No, no, I’m just kidding. I agree.

Do you think humor, comedy, is just a luxury that we have in this time in history, or is it important? Can we really change things?

Can humor change things? Well, I don’t know. I think stand-up is one of the few places where you can actually say, unfiltered, what’s on your mind. I think that’s a good thing, and other forms of comedy where you can’t just sort of make a point. It’s no different from Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal. Just like that, only a thousand-fold a day. When you read about it, there might have been one dude that was writing something about the king, and now there’s 500 comics writing the same joke about Obama or Dick Cheney in one day. It’s good—it keeps the whole thing honest. It’s just like music: there’s standard, cookie-cutter stuff that’s just cranked out, jokey-joke joke, and then there’s the stuff that makes a comment about our society. And there’s me. I’m more surreal, no matter where I am. But I still like everything. I still like political satire and stuff like that.

Have you had any unbearably awful sets or performances?

Oh, yeah. I would kind of do off-the-wall stuff in a working class. My first gig was in Portsmouth and I would say, “I’m an Aries, so I think that I’m the god of war,” something like that. Then I was booed so bad. This was my first gig, and the manager was literally stomping his foot on the side of the stage to get me off, and I just kept going. That was bad.

This is a scenario: the CIA has a plan to infiltrate the Islamic State and finally bring peace to the Middle East. They fly you over to Syria to perform stand up for 12 high-ranking ISIS officials. What’s your opening bit?

“I just got a new AK-47. Would anybody like to shoot me with it?” And then I throw it out into the audience. And then I say, “Hey, look, if you don’t like any of my jokes, feel free. Have at it. That’s what freedom’s all about, baby.”

Fulcher ArtIf you had one day left to live, what would you do with that time?

Oh, wow.

How about a week? A week makes it a little easier.

I’d find someone to get me Valium. That would take three days. I would probably drive around and see some friends and blog about it. And try to get on as many—what do they call it when you jump in the background of things?


Photobomb?

Yeah, I’d try to photobomb a lot of news shows and stuff. And then I would put myself to sleep, right before, and have somebody film it. Or maybe pour ice all over me, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, and then they could just say, “Oh my god, he died from the Ice Bucket Challenge.” Then maybe that would put an end to the whole thing. I have nothing against the charity; I love the charity. It’s just—the challenge would end with my death. “Oh my God. I can’t believe he died.”

What are the most important things in your life?

My kid, my wife and family. Really, really consider time is precious. Just being able to have free time to spend with really good friends. I sound like some fifties dad.

Just being able to be yourself around people. I think people spend too much time trying to be something they’re not. I’m not saying that I’m the perfect person but that it it’s stressful. You want to be who you are. That’s why friends are so good to be around. That’s one of the reasons why I love comedy—you can just fuck around with your friends and laugh and then die from the Ice Bucket Challenge.

You can follow Rich Fulcher @Rich_Fulcher
and check out his latest projects at RichFulcher.com

 

Interview conducted by David Luna
Artwork by David Luna & Kevin Cole

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