On June 20, the Kapow-i GoGo marathon will be back again at the Peoples Improv Theater. Tickets are on sale now for $30 and available for purchase at the door or online here. I had the chance to sit down with some of the cast and creative team to discuss this unique show and how it came together. Leading up to the marathon, I will be sharing those interviews here.
In addition to playing General President Red, Whiskers, and Blammo GoGo, Stephen Stout is a producer for Kapow-i GoGo. In our conversation, he talks about his college days of Shakespeare and sketch comedy, millennial nostalgia, and the challenges of revamping Kapow-i GoGo from its Serials run to a 3-part, four-and-a-half-hour marathon at the PIT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in acting and theater in the first place.
I was a big D&D and Warhammer guy, so I’d spend most of my middle school in the basement after school, painting things and watching Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, and all the awesome mid-90s Comedy Central that I could possibly absorb. And my mom was basically like, “You have to get out of the basement, so like 8th grade, you have to do an activity.”
So my options were basketball or theater and drama club, and at that point, I couldn’t speak in front of people without turning bright, bright red and getting nervous and anxiety-ridden. My mom, basically at gunpoint, made me do it. My entire acting and theater life has been a way of avoiding physical labor, sports and things, avoiding competition in that way. I’m from South Jersey, so I did a couple community theater shows and then actually went to NYU. And that’s my origin story.
Would you say that TV or stage theater was more influential to you as far as your acting style and sensibilities?
I mean, the two things I did in college were sketch comedy and Shakespeare. I was part of a group that had a weekly show at UCB, and we’d be writing shows and things like that, and the only program at NYU that I really took a liking to was the classical program. So it’s funny to do something like Kapow-i, which has this kind of giant, mythic quality to it, but at the same point, to just ape Zapp Brannigan, all those sorts of things.
I definitely watched a ton of sketch when I was growing up, and it definitely was one of the things that drove me into it, I think.
How did you first get involved with Kapow-i GoGo?
I was one of the producers of the Serials at the Flea. I’m one of the founders and co-producers of it up until last December, so I was there for the first thing that Matt wrote, which was this epic George R.R. Martin parody called Kings of Crowns. So that ran for a while, and I think that was his first big switch from sketch comedy and improv background to more like playwrighting and stuff like that. Kapow-i was always, out of the gate, super, super popular. They did like three episodes of it, and then we went away for six months because we did a show called The Mysteries. Nothing else could happen in the building at the time because it was this six-hour-long insane thing.
So when we came back, Matt kind of rebooted and did season 2, and it was so fun and took off. And kind of at the same point, we had been doing this show called Women by Chiara Atik, which was an adaptation of Little Women done in the style of Girls, which went from Serials to the PIT, and then to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and then it did a commercial run in L.A. But around the time when we were doing Women at the PIT, I turned to Matt and said, “You know, you’re going to be the next one with the Kapow-i thing.” I just felt that within the hodge-podge of what all the inspirations are, it’s like a millennial nostalgia trip. Seeing how powerful that was, it was like, oh, that’s more interesting than just the silliness and the colored wigs and Team Trouble.
For people who haven’t seen the show yet, how would you sum up Kapow-i GoGo and how your characters – General President Red, Whiskers, Blammo GoGo – fit into the story?
Other people are really, really good at describing what the show is in two sentences. I feel like I always lead with the things that are insane, like it’s a four-and-a-half-hour Toonami comic mash-up. I mean, the way that we used to say was geek Coast of Utopia with blue-haired wigs and everybody’s a robot. But to me, those kind of vaguely pretentious ways of describing it are kind of accurate. Or we always talk about how it’s like watching the entire MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). It’s the KCU, on-stage, and you see the whole thing.
I remember when Return of the King was coming out, and me and my buddies sat down and watched the two extended cut editions before going to the theater. So it’s like, it ends up becoming its own thing. Even though it’s derived from and inspired by all these other things, it becomes its own unique little world.
Yeah, which is something I talked with Kristin (the show’s director) about, the notion of having something familiar but it also feeling new and fresh and feeling different.
Yeah, it’s like the architects of it, right? Because they’re so prevalent. I mean, for me, I didn’t grow up on the Toonami stuff. Most of the things that I relate to in it come from Chris Claremont X-Men stuff. Blammo started as a one-off joke at the end of the Serials run because he had wrapped up the entire plot of the thing, which is kind of the actual end of Part 2 of Kapow-i, is how he ended like ten weeks of writing the other thing. So it ended, and then there was this, like something might happen. And so another actor was playing Blammo as the young, what if John Connor came back from the future sort-of thing?
But then when we were looking at it, because each part of the show kind of represents a different era of its source material. Because we start in the 8-bit world of Zelda and Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, and we start aging up in the content. So by the end, we’re doing more self-consciously violent and overly edgy world. Like the cliché of the Nolan movies and kind of Man of Steel, which I still haven’t seen. It’s taking something with bright colors and making it dark.
Or like the later seasons of Buffy.
Yeah, exactly. Like season 6, when it goes kind of delightfully off the rails and goes into really dark stuff. I don’t know, I feel like with a lot of material you grow up on or you watch it over the years, there is how you are introduced to it, and you are changing so much over it. There’s something about how the material can age up and change with you.
Or even like Harry Potter.
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. You start as young adult lit, and it gets into a thing where you can have a moment of Hermione wiping her parents’ brains, and I was like, “That’s amazing!” So when we were looking at Part 3, it was kind of that thing. For me, I was like, oh, what if the son is like Cable or any of the weird screwed up timeline stuff from X-Men, you know? When you get into all the stuff of Summers’ bloodline and we sent our kid to the future and he comes back as someone else. So that’s like, with the Blammo thing, it seems like a plot hole, but to me, it’s kind of a celebration of that. I was a big X-Force fan, and I can’t explain to you who Stryfe was and how he existed, kind of like he’s a clone or something?
And then, for example with something like General President Red – when Kapow-i had come back from the hiatus at Serials, Matt had created a new villain explicitly for Colin Waitt. Colin was just coming off of playing Jesus, so Matt thought it was hysterical to make him this stereotypical mad-science villain, so that’s when the General President thing got invented.
So then when we were looking at splitting the show into this giant 3-part series, General President Thunderbolt didn’t exist in Part 1 of it, so we were like, let’s put in his origin, setting up the idea that the title of General President was kind of like the Defense Against the Dark Arts title. It’s a position that’s always meant to be vacant, especially since the show is so driven by the women. Like all of the female characters actually have the overarching, strong, amazing things that in the old days were given to the snotty-nosed young guy who learns how to grow up and take responsibility. Like the Ash Ketchum thing, reinventing that.
When we knew that Madame Blood was going to be the real villain, it freed up all the rest of us to kind of take the things that would be the archetypal of villains in a lot of these sort of stories and make them into overt buffoons. They are generally myopic or in over their head or don’t realize what they’ve done, and so for General President Red, he was what version one of this joke is going to be. Walk in as if you’re the biggest, most important superhero ever, so for me, it was also like, okay, it’s 60s-era Shatner, which is also slightly Zapp Brannigan from Futurama, but also a little bit like if Bruce Campbell was playing it. That very specific strong-jawed guy from sci-fi stuff, so that was kind of what I wanted it to be.
Even a little bit of Nathan Fillion in there too.
Yeah, exactly, that sort of high-status idiot, or Kevin Kline in Pirates of Penzance. You’re supposed to be the person who can do it, but you’re the one who gets the arrow stuck in your butt. The other reason was so we could have somebody who could bully General President Thunderbolt, because he has to do so many horrible things in Part 2, but then ultimately, we need to bring him back as a kind of redeemable figure, sort of like Snape or Magneto. Magneto is good, Magneto is bad, Magneto is good, Magneto is bad.
Dramaturgically, you want to start that off with you kind of feeling for him because he’s the second-in-command who always gets crapped on. And then it’s also ideally, you don’t know if he is going to come back, so then when he pops out at the end of Part 1, there’s this five minutes where it’s like, oh, the table is getting set for the next two-and-a-half to three hours of what you’re going to watch.
When we started rehearsing, I work a day job on top of producing, so a lot of my stuff is more behind the scenes, but I’m an actor. I really, really want to be in it, but we always rehearse during the day. But there were certain parts that popped up that needed to be filled. One of them was Whiskers, and Colin texted me and I agreed to it without thinking. And I think that, we have so many things that look, for our handmade aesthetic, kind of great, like costume-wise and so forth. It’s really important to have one thing that basically looks like a fifth grader was given a Sharpie and drew on his face.
Yeah, this was something else I talked about with Kristin, that the audience is very aware that this is theatrical and you have to use your imagination.
Yeah, because I think that a lot of us grew up really nerdy, and through the apparatus of loving things from the source material and through the show that we’ve set up, we get to actually play in the sandbox as if we were superheroes. Kind of like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost movies where they are doing genre deconstruction and also celebrating it. It’s kind of $20 million thrown at them to get to play Cops and Robbers. There’s an equivalent tied to when you’re five and running around and going, “I power-blast you with my hand!” But now, we have a piece of cardboard that flies. There’s something to doing these things that are impossible on-stage that’s inherently fun value.
Also, the sheer amount of props that there are in the show and the kitchen sink feeling, like (Spoilers! Highlight text to reveal) during the final fight between Kapow-i and Giggle when we do the bit where she’s thrown through buildings as the cliché of like, Hulk smashing up the African city in Age of Ultron. (End spoiler) But there’s something to these really arty, silly ways, like we all went to theater school and figured out. Like Maddy’s an award-winning mime from Alaska, and there are all these things that are usually supposed to be put towards very ostensibly serious, lofty ends and throwing them at absolute silliness.
People talk about the Peter and the Starcatcher vibe, like here’s these simple things, watch what’s implied, but I think what’s a little interesting is we’re actually much more explicit than that. When things keep happening, we tend to have another cardboard prop in there that actually tells you what it is. The magic bit is that there is a person gleefully running across the stage, showing you the emotion of a fireball.
Out of the three parts of the show, which one is your personal favorite?
As producer, one of the things I worked really hard on with Matt was a lot of the dramaturgy stuff, of taking something and reinventing it. For me, Part 3 is so satisfying because there’s this feeling of pay-off. We really, really tried to work hard to make sure that if somebody spends four hours with us, that last half-hour is going to pay off in hopefully surprising ways, surprisingly moving ways, and surprisingly funny ways.
So it’s totally Part 3 for me because that feeling of when we start the Avengers sequence and the audience kind of starts to know, oh, we’re going to get the team together and get Kapow-i’s Scooby gang together to fight Madame Blood. And you think about how much these people have changed since you met them in ways that are both self-consciously funny, like with Hicc-up becoming a bad-ass. For me, Part 3 is like all the pins have been set up, and we get to knock them down. It’s really, really fun.
If you could swap parts with any other cast member for one performance, who would it be and why?
I’ve told Matt it’s Mr. Snuggles because I realized you could do it entirely in an old-timey Brooklyn accent, and it’s really, really funny. I will occasionally follow Matt around and say some of the lines at him in a Brooklyn accent, just to underline how much that should happen. I think that as we go forward and we’re looking at how we are able to sustain this insane thing, like if someone gets a gig or has to go out of town, I told Matt, “I’m going to be your understudy because I want to be able to be Tony Danza at the end of the world.
Did you have a Saturday morning cartoon routine as a kid?
I did. I watched a lot of the old X-Men cartoon. It very quickly drifted into Monty Python and Kids in the Hall, but I would have a sugary cereal that I was allowed to eat sometimes. And I used to make myself iced tea that I would put into Coke bottles, so I’d drink that and feel fancy. Oh, and all the old Disney ones where they took the old characters and made them adventurers, like Rescue Rangers or Duck Tales, these things where they were supposed to be superheroes.
Tell me why people should come to the Kapow-i GoGo marathon at the Peoples Improv Theater on June 20.
Especially now that’s we’ve moved to doing it during the day – it’s awesome at night. At night, though, it turns into an alcohol-fueled rage monster. It’s amazing, but in the afternoons, it really is, it’s a joy-delivery system. It’s actually worth your time and energy and investment, of how inconvenient it is to go and see something live and spend money on it when you could have just watched something at home. But I think there’s something of that feeling of when you’re watching the premiere of a big-ass movie, and everybody is cheering, except with this, it is material that kind of nobody knows, that the audience is collectively experiencing. So you get to be there at the birth of a fandom.
Where can people find out more about you and your upcoming projects?
My Twitter handle is @stevestout, and I’ve got a couple other things I’m working on but I can’t unveil at the moment. We’re all just really excited to see where this Kapow-i thing goes.
The zombie apocalypse has hit the Capital! Who will you bring along to take out the walkers, Princess Cloudberry or Blade Gunblade?
Princess Cloudberry because she’s kind of a god. Like, we only really scratch the surface of it, but I imagine if she learned how to harness it, it’s like Dark Phoenix-level, which could also bring about the end of the world. I think I would risk it. She’s also probably be a nicer conversationalist.
Gummy bears or sour gummy worms?
Gummy bears, though asterisk, Swedish Fish, though neither of those were mine at the pool during the summer.
Captain Crunch or Lucky Charms?
Which would you rather have for a pet, Whiskers the Fighting Cat or a small flock of Moo-bats?
Small flock of moo-bats – they’re just delightful! I don’t know how they eat or live because they are just a head with bat wings, but they’re adorable. They always have nice, calming underscoring. It’s like a whale song in the Kapow-i universe.
“F—, Marry, Kill”: Twig, King Cloudberry, Madame Blood
I think Twig exists to be that perfect kind of young love, so maybe she’ll be the f—. I’d have to marry Madame Blood because she’d insist on it, but also, you’d get to rule the world for a time. And then unfortunately, I’d have to kill King Cloudberry but also because it’s really funny. It’s like a teddy bear getting dropped down the stairs.