Interview with Ian Staley
We recently caught up with media contributor Ian Staley who lately is at the top of his game. You may know him as the creator and performer of the Kid in a Cape production “The Spanish Conquistador.” For the first time, he opens up publicly about his show and his influences.
Kid in a Cape: Nice to finally meet you in person, Ian, but you’re a little different than I expected.
Ian Staley: Oh, well, hope you’re not disappointed.
KIC: Well being we both are employed by the same boss, I will say no.
IS: Ah, smart man. Then allow me to say you, sir, are exactly what I expected.
KIC: And are you disappointed?
IS: What was it said, being we have the same boss…?
KIC: Understood. So let’s get down to business.
KIC: The Spanish Conquistador.
KIC: How did the name come about?
IS: Well, there is a funny story about the name.
KIC: Isn’t there always?
IS: Um yes, well, for this one, I never planned for a Spanish character. I know virtually no Spanish, can’t do a Spanish accent worth a damn and know almost nothing about Spain.
KIC: Well you must have had some interest in Spanish culture.
IS: Actually, not really. I like the tapas concept, but that’s about it.
KIC: Then how did the concept come about?
IS: Well, I always saw the Spaniards as the explorers of the years. Christopher Columbus, while possibly not even Spanish, did his expansion under their flag. It just made sense to me, if I wanted to bring in a lot different locations and not quickly run out of story ideas, making a Spanish character would be a good idea.
KIC: Makes sense.
IS: But Christopher Columbus is only a very small portion of what makes up the Spanish Conquistador. I thought of a Spanish character first several years before I ever thought of this character, the conquistador. For inspiration to want to push a new character through, I had to watch the Shrek movies.
KIC: Ah, yes. Puss In Boots.
IS: Exactly. Puss in Boots or more specifically Antonio Banderas. Now, that role is largely a play on his Zorro character of course and the conquistador has a lot in common with Zorro as well, but I see the Spanish Conquistador largely a Puss in Boots type character. Even still when writing him, I think of that character’s appearance in place of anything I could create.
KIC: Wow, I never knew that. I guess that kind of even explains the voice, too.
IS: The Spanish Conquistador’s voice is definitely something that came about very organically. I never have to try to get into his character. Others I listen to and have to let evolve how they will, but his to me is definitely the most natural. Good ole conquistador. You know he wasn’t even originally a conquistador, either.
KIC: He wasn’t?
IS: No, he was a matador. I still picture him as Puss in Boots, but with a red sheet for challenging the bulls. That’s why in the original intro for the show, I say quite deliberately “The only character to wrestle raging bulls… and that’s no bull.” It’s all matador jokes. No one’s ever really seemed to notice that’s a description of a matador, not necessarily a conquistador, but I like it and think it works. The change wasn’t even a conscious one either, I liked the word conquistador and changed it in my head and that simply blended to the page.
KIC: Well, I know we around the KIC office love the word conquistador as well. What is its technical definition?
IS: Basically it’s just an adventurer. The word explorer has been attached to it, but for the purposes of the show, I keep it to adventurer. Less limiting story-wise.
KIC: Well, that’s how you conceived your character. How did the show come about?
IS: Well for that, I never will take full credit. I probably wouldn’t have even thought to do an audio comedy if not for my good buddy Joe Krause. You know Joe as well, right?
KIC: That I do, of ZatU, right?
IS: Yep, Zelda and the Unibrows. Joe’s band with his buddy Paul. But it wasn’t any musical project that sparked my interest in doing a show.
KIC: It wasn’t?
IS: Nope, Joe used to this show called the Mangler. I didn’t learn of it until late in it’s run, but I’m the type of person that finds people who create and latch onto them. I am very much a person who thrives on the creation process and very much want to surround myself with people like me. Well, anyway, Joe was very accommodating to me. He invited me over for a read of an episode and I even got to have a line or two in it. It was extremely cool for me to see how one of those things was put together and I thought Joe was very professional, maybe the only professional one, even. I remember when coming out with the microphone, he announced to the cast they had now produced 47 minutes of The Mangler.
KIC: For the unfamiliar, could you tell us a little about what The Mangler was.
IS: Oh, sure. The Mangler is an audio comedy originally made by Joe’s company Waiting For Lunch. Its format is similar to that of the Spanish Conquistador, but in my opinion, they are a very different kind of humor. I’ve tried hard to do my own thing with my show and with Joe’s direction, I think my show has come up with it’s own style.
KIC: What do you see as some of the differences?
IS: Good question. Well, aside from the type of humor, the main characters. Joe’s Mangler had psychic powers to see into the future and see what babies would grow up to be criminals. To prevent this, The Mangler would eat the babies, thus fueling his powers. The conquistador has no powers. I wanted the conquistador’s world to be extremely simplistic. Kind of like a Robin Hood type character. The worlds are very much different. The Mangler lives in Detroit and assumingly, the conquistador in Spain somewhere in the woods.
KIC: But in a manor in the woods.
IS: Well, of course, that’s my little Zorro and Batman nod. It just seemed to fit having them all live together.
KIC: So Joe let you into an episode of The Mangler. I don’t think I remember that.
IS: Well, the episode was never fully produced. I’m sure it’s still on a hard drive somewhere. Boy, that’d be a rarity if you got your hands on it. The episode, not the hard drive.
KIC: (laughs) Wow, did you do anything else with that show?
IS: I wrote a script for an episode called “The Other Mangler.” It was that script that really made me love the format of writing for that kind of show. I got to use monkeys who take cocaine, which I thought and still think is an absolutely hysterical character title. If I could have blatantly ripped off Joe and stole characters from him, it would have been those.
KIC: Aw, but you got your Super Squirrels.
IS: Yes, and Bi-polar bears.
KIC: Not bad in your own right.
IS: Well, I guess, but I miss those monkeys. I mean come on, what’s funnier than a monkey? I even made a prostitute monkey in a Supergirl costume with a banana in a place I can’t repeat here.
IS: Yeah that was a really fun script for me. That’s why I made my show, really.
KIC: Oh really?
IS: Yeah, I wanted to create something too. I didn’t have the quality of equipment or the willing actors like Joe did, but I figured I had myself and a computer microphone. I had extremely cheap recording and editing software, so I sat in front of the microphone and just started talking and that eventually became episode one.
KIC: You didn’t prepare anything for it?
IS: No, I really didn’t. I improved the entire thing and for a few episodes, that was my format. I would say what sounds natural and record in a linear fashion changing from character to character.
KIC: Wow. So that’s how you make the show.
IS: Well, that’s how it started. I made that first episode and admittedly did steal a lot from Joe for the format. It’s not even a full anything really. I introduced Gludlum, sent his squirrels up to kill the conquistador while he’s in an insult match with a character I never even introduced. They don’t even do anything in that episode. They fall asleep. End of episode. Then I do the three questions, much like Joe, and end the episode. A minute and a half. It was nothing. I just did it for fun and made it up as I went. It wasn’t anything serious.
KIC: You must have liked it. You’ve kept with it all this time.
IS: Oh, I loved it, but again, I must give credit to Joe for keeping me with it. He was the first person to tell me it was funny and he liked it. That was a big boost for me to continue.
KIC: He even hosted it too, right?
IS: Yes! That was the coolest thing to me. I was posting it on message boards to people I knew online all over the world and getting some decent feedback from them and I thought it was awesome to have my show heard on 3 continents the first day it was made, but even that was only a handful of people. Most people either didn’t care because they had no idea who I was or didn’t want to download it through the YouSendit.com link I was posting. Getting online server space at Joe’s site WaitingForLunch.com was awesome. I sent a link in which they could stream without downloading and many more people latched onto it. Most were friends I guided there, true, but not all of them. I followed the comments made on the site and people who heard it seemed to enjoy what I was doing.
KIC: Well that is terrific, Ian.
IS: Yeah, that’s how the show came about. I don’t think I’ve ever told that full story before.
KIC: Oh you’re not done yet. Don’t try walking away yet. I have more questions still for you. That’s really only one you’ve answered so far.
IS: Oh man, we’re going to be here all day. I better not drink too much of this water.
KIC: (laughs) We’ll let you pee if need be.
IS: Oh well thank you. So what other questions you got? I’ll try to be pithier from here on out.
KIC: Well, that would save me some typing when I later have to type this up.
IS: Oh you’re typing this? Well in that case, when I was born, I came out and my mom looked at me…
KIC: Haha. We’re don’t need to go back that far. It’s not a Barbara Walters interview.
IS: Oh good.
KIC: But I might make you cry.
IS: (laughs) Only if you don’t let me pee.
KIC: Okay, moving on, why doesn’t anyone like the Unnamed Assailant?
IS: (laughs) I wasn’t aware no one liked him. Do you dislike him?
KIC: Can I give the same boss excuse again?
IS: Ok, I might not want that answer in the interview anyway. Well, I did intend for him to be the butt of a lot of the jokes in the thing. Not to mention the fact, I gave him a really high-pitched voice. The early voice on him is something even I don’t fully enjoy, especially on that horrible built-in computer microphone I used to have. I’ve lessened his annoyance level somewhat I think in how he sounds. Hopefully, anyway. If people continue to hate him, I’ll have to clean house some, I guess.
KIC: You said you see you see the conquistador as Antonio Bandaras.
KIC: Who would play the Unnamed Assailant?
IS: Oh man, that’s a hard one. That character wasn’t really based on anyone in particular. My intent was to just not have my hero be alone the whole time. Who would he talk to? The Unnamed Assailant was even against the conquistador in the beginning.
KIC: Right. Are they ever going to have that duel to the death?
IS: Well, if I have to clean house, maybe. But I see them as dueling every episode in a love/hate kind of way anyway. The Unnamed Assailant clearly has loving feelings for the conquistador.
KIC: So, maybe a duel isn’t the direction they’re heading?
IS: Well, I’m keeping it ambiguous on purpose. It’s pretty PG and going to stay that way.
KIC: Ah, okay then. What about Gludlum? Great name by the way.
IS: Well thanks. What about him?
KIC: How’d he’d come about?
IS: Boy you are certainly picking my brain, aren’t you? Nice to have someone finally care. Well, the name is the thing most people compliment me on and the funny thing is that has no origin at all. I wanted a main villain that would plot against the hero. Not a very original idea. Mad doctors are kind of cliché in my opinion and The Mangler had Dr. Horatio. A lot of what I do on the show is try very hard not to do things that have been done before, or at least put constant spins on what has been done. If you noticed the name of the Super Squirrels got longer every episode. I kept adding adjectives in there as a running gag and man did that get hard to say by the end. By the end, they weren’t even squirrels anymore… what I was explaining here…?
KIC: Well, I asked about Gludlum.
IS: Oh yes, Gludlum. So, I wasn’t going to use Doctor Gludlum and not once during the show will I ever call him that. I assume he has a PhD in something, but he will always go by Professor Gludlum. I think that’s just funnier, really and much less used. And so, I had Professor and I was recording and needed a name and just plugged in the first thing that came to mind. Something I also thought sounded funny. Like Alphonzo Spaghettiwurtz.
KIC: Whoa! Who is that?
IS: Oh just another name I came up with and never used in anything. I like the name though.
KIC: Me too. Gludlum is better though.
IS: Well, I guess. It’s funny to have people talk to me about Gludlum.
IS: Well to me, he’s really still a character in my head. I had him more fleshed out than any other character when I started and filled in every character as I went except him. I only used him in the first few seconds in the series and didn’t have him return the entire first arc. So, from my point of view, he was a character that was really only for me. I kind of fell in love with the character.
KIC: But we saw him return in the new arc.
IS: Yes, and if you notice, I even gave him more on airtime than the Spanish Conquistador. That was a deliberate choice. I decided to split the show between the hero and villain more.
KIC: Did that idea come from The Mangler, too?
IS: No, that actually came from Buffy.
IS: Yeah, I watched that show and noticed what they called The Big Bads on that show got a LOT of screen time and evolved over the course of an entire season. I’ve always respected people like Joss Whedon who can tell an ongoing story in that fashion and build both sides. I really wanted to push my show in that direction because I love that style of storytelling so much.
KIC: Well that is an unlikely source for inspiration for a show like yours.
IS: I know. It really is. My show’s a lot goofier and is strictly a comedy, but maybe I’ll get serious or dark with it at some point. Depends on the story I want to tell with it.
KIC: Well that would be interesting to see vampires on the show.
IS: Could happen. I’d put in a lot more jokes though. Though Buffy had its comedic moments, too. My show makes fun of itself a lot more than that type of show really can. Like with Gludlum. He’s not a serious villain. He just does his tests on unsuspecting animals. He’s hasn’t ever done anything directly toward the conquistador. He’s not the type.
KIC: Well, it’s nice to see him coming through more on air. He’s finally coming out of your head.
IS: Oh, I think Gludlum is great. I saw a movie recently that really embodied exactly what I pictured Gludlum to behave and look like. Bowler Hat Guy from Meet the Robinsons. It was eerie. I kept telling people he was my character! I loved everything about him. The way he moved, his lack of intelligence, his whole presence on screen. It was really amazing for me to see. He fit the mold exactly for Gludlum. I loved him. I want that character to get his own movie. I’m thinking of even mentioning Gludlum wearing a bowler hat soon. Nice character trait to add in.
KIC: Speaking of adding to Gludlum’s character, you gave him an assistant. What was his name, again?
IS: (laughs) Nicely done. Are you sure you don’t write my show? Yeah Unnamed Assistant has been my biggest hit character yet. He was introduced in my latest episode and everyone who’s heard it is demanding more of him. I find that great. His voice is relatively simple for me too. I gave him an extremely calm, almost southern accent. At least one from a very relaxed place of living. It works well off Gludlum’s voice which is the one I hate.
KIC: You hate Gludlum’s voice?
IS: Oh yes, most definitely. When it started, it was just my voice, but shouting. I’d say all of the early voices have changed for the better and someday, I’ll probably remake those early episodes knowing what I know now. But Gludlum’s voice is horribly painful for me. When I do his voice, he’s all I can do that day, so I try to put him off until the end.
KIC: Oh so you record by character now?
IS: Yeah, that was a change that came out of the need for continuity between the characters. I found that going back and forth, the voices would bleed into each other and I’d have trouble getting them back to how I wanted them. I practice these voices a lot now and can do the characters at will, which is not a skill I had when I created them. But now I do what I call character reels. I go through the script and will record all the dialog for a single character, then another, then another until I’m done. It’s more of a challenge in editing, but also more gratifying. They still aren’t perfect and while my microphone now is a hundreds times better than the one I started with, it’s still not at the quality level of say The Mangler and I hear that in every episode I do, but I make due with what I have. It’s good enough for now. Mostly, only people in the know of audio quality even notice how badly my show sounds, so that’s good. At least I think it’s getting better and overall so am I.
KIC: Well, I agree completely with you there. The show is getting better. I can’t wait to hear where this Bi-Polar Bears story is heading.
IS: And I’ll get that out as soon as I reacquire the software I used on that episode. I will gladly take donations.
KIC: Well, I’ve asked you about all the main characters now aside from the narrator.
IS: He is my favorite character because his voice is simply my own. I get one guy that can just steal my normal voice and I put him in every episode. Usually with the most lines, too. Go figure. I don’t think the show would work without someone keeping it going. He’s the referee of the show.
KIC: Yeah, most narrators don’t have the interaction with the characters he has.
IS: I didn’t do that when I started the show. The show was largely based on The Mangler, but a lot of what seemed taken in the format was more so mimicking the old time radio serials. I did listen to them a lot as a kid. The Shadow and The Adventures of Superman. I see those as the type of show I created and was striving for. I love those shows and those formats. Everything from the intro of “It’s…” to the three questions closing each episode. I would bet Joe thought those were taken from his show, but really what I was copying was The Adventures of Superman from the 40’s. I was insistent on keeping those because of my love for those old serials until I had a conversation with Joe about the Spanish Conquistador. He gave me some insight that really allowed me to open up the format a lot more and looking back he was right. I told him how I saw the show, as an ongoing serial a la Adventures of Superman and he said that wasn’t how he saw it. He suggested it was more of a Rocky and Bullwinkle kind of format in which anything could go. Outlandish jokes to get the laugh, interaction with the narrator and audience, complete silliness. I don’t think I fully understood the potential for that topic until I considered it. I started to slip in little lines that challenged the fourth wall. It grew and grew in my head and now the narrator is a full character in the story. He does mostly observe, but the characters are aware of him and vice versa. He even lives with them now and still narrates everything they do. How annoying must that be for them?
KIC: Wow, well it’s a good thing you came to that conclusion. I think those things are one of my favorites things about the show.
IS: And I agree. I like the process of letting something grow and evolve on it’s own. I try to make a fun show and it’s true I am my own biggest fan. A complete narcissist am I, but I think for a show like this, you have to be in order to keep coming back and wanting to do it. True, I haven’t put out a lot of episode, but I never stop thinking about the show and it’s potentials. I do a lot of non-show related stuff with these characters as well.
KIC: Oh? What have you produced? Anything the site could use?
IS: Sure! If you want all the stuff I’ve written, I’m happy to hand it off to you. There was a fictional history I wrote up and loved setting the creation of the show in the 1940’s. I’ve written several blogs about the show, the Spanish Conquistador has his own profile on Facebook with many friends that I interact with in character. That’s a lot of fun and good for getting the word out. I had an old free site displaying my work as well on Angelfire. It was for that site, I first came up with the logo I use to this day. I wrote up a podcast script and got my show submitted to iTunes. You can now subscribe to the show through the Kid in a Cape RSS feed. I think that much is up on the site already, but it’s a cool feature I think. Oh I wrote and recorded an interview I gave to the Spanish Conquistador on the fictional 24-hour news network devoted entirely to the Spanish Conquistador called SCTV. That was fun breaking that fourth wall even more and introducing him to me for the first time. Then of course, there’s this interview too.
KIC: And we’ll get this posted ASAP. We could use more episodes too!
IS: Oh, I’ve written many times more scripts for this than I’ve actually produced. That ratio is going to become much more even soon, with luck.
KIC: Well, you keep making them, Kid in a Cape will keep giving them a home.
IS: And I thank you for that.
KIC: It was an honor conducting your first interview.
IS: Oh, I know you just saying that because we share the same boss.
KIC: No, this time, I’m serious. It was an honor.
IS: We’ll have to do it again sometime. Is there anything left to talk about?
KIC: We’ll come up with something.
IS: Oh great. Then you can hear me ramble some more.
KIC: I look forward to it. Thank you, Ian.
IS: No, thank you.