Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An interview with Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain

By Charles Cassady Jr.

[Forward into the past, with a reprint of a 2001 article I did for a now-defunct local publication (aren't they all, though?]

A Cleveland joke surfaces in the cinema yet again in WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER when the caustic director of a summer-camp talent show scolds her amateur troupers by equating them with the Cleveland Play House. “The joke was that in saying how bad these campers are, she compares them to a truly respected theater company,” explains/defends filmmaker David Wain. “I figured why not make a reference to my hometown?”

In other words, watch your back around a natural-born satirist and Shaker Heights native, and son of WDOK and WIXY-1260 radio personality Norman Wain. David and co-writer Michael Showalter contributed to the cultish TV comedy revue The State, as well as Strangers with Candy, The Daily Show and MadTV. “Certainly comedy has been my primary mode of expression during my professional life,” says the NYU grad, who also performs. “In fact, I consider myself a `comedian' first and foremost. And my goal, for the moment, is to express my comic ideas in various media.” Indeed, Wain has spun his State schtick off into a book and a recording, concocted sage pieces for New York and Los Angeles, and has two further film comedies in the pipeline between TV gigs. “I actually like all media - they each have their ups and downs. What is most important to me is the chance to have some creative latitude.”

So why for his feature debut did he pick on cheesy summer-camp schlock flicks? Wain claims he didn't - even with footage of Olympic-class athletes playing capture-the-flag and the particle-beam weapon built partially of donuts. “While of course WET HOT has satirical elements, we didn't set out specifically to make a satire...Our movie is far more based on on our real-life camp experiences than it is on summer-camp movies.”

“I went to Park Day Camp in Cleveland as a young boy, then Camp Wise in Chardon for two summers, then Camp Modin in Maine for seven summers,” Wain continues. “This was a pivotal part of my development as a person, and the intensity of that for me is what sources the movie. WET HOT makes fun of many universal movie conventions, but I don't think its focus is on the summer-camp genre. After all, how many classic camp films are there? LITTLE DARLINGS and MEATBALLS are about it.”

The latter Bill Murray hit most people remember; the former was a success du scandal in 1980 for the then-daring premise of rival nymphets Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol contesting to lose their virginity amongst the cabins. “Smutty and sexist,” pronounced People magazine.

LITTLE DARLINGS is evocative of the golden age of camping for me,” judges Wain. “If you're interested in seeing the worst of the genre, check out MEATBALLS 2, 3 and 4, none of which have anything to do with the first. I think they were produced independently, then bought the MEATBALLS name after completion.”

Which comic writers and satirists does Wain admire? “The most influential ones in my life are unquestionably Steve Martin and Woody Allen, both of whom I have spent countless hours ingesting and studying as I've grown up. Of course, my dad has influenced me - he's my dad. He's one of the most creative people I know, and both he and my mom have instilled in me lessons - both general and specific - that I use every day.”

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