I was first introduced to my next interview subject when he would occasionally comment on my articles when I wrote for RetroJunk. I had no idea of the depths of his talent or his pop-cultural knowledge until several years later, when we befriended each other on Facebook. His name is Ken Reid, and his knowledge of retro pop culture is so deep it makes me look like a piker by comparison. He’s well-known for creating and hosting the TV Guidance Counselor podcast, where he’s interviewed scores of famous entertainers from the fields of comedy, acting and music. I knew he would make for an interesting interview subject, and we spoke on May 22nd. I hope you all enjoy getting to know this tremendous talent.
Say hello to Ken Reid!
Johnny: Hello, Ken.
Ken: Hey, how are you?
Johnny: I’m doing good. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Ken: Oh, you’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Johnny: Alright. I’d like to start off with this question: Before your comedy work, you were a member of the punk band Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. What are your favorite memories of your musician days?
Ken: That’s a tough questions. It was always more fun for us to play than it probably was for people to listen to us (laughing), but it was a good opportunity to kind of travel way more than a teenager normally would. We played all up and down the East Coast. We got to play with a bunch of really cool bands like AFI and the Suicide Machines. I also got to meet a lot of cool people. I got to meet Joe Strummer from The Clash. I still have my guitar signed by Joe Strummer. That’s probably a highlight.
Johnny: Alright. Jumping from music to comedy: Who have been your biggest influences as a comedian?
Ken: Dana Gould, easily. Bob Newhart, for sure. Probably, weirdly, the rest are old sitcoms.
Johnny: Alright. You attended college in England. What was the biggest difference between college in Europe and college in America?
Ken: The big difference is you don’t take general classes, so there’s no prerequisite classes. Your major is all you focus on, so if you’re majoring in communications, you only take classes in communications. It’s also a three-year degree instead of a four-year degree, and the bar is set much higher. Luckily, I was American, so they had kind of a stupid American program I was in (laughing), so I didn’t have to work as hard as if I were a British student, but it was a much higher bar.
Johnny: Alright. Speaking of England, your earliest comedic work was performed there, reminiscent in a way of American performers like Rich Hall and Rita Rudner. Did you tailor material to British audiences, or did you work from the American perspective?
Ken: I definitely did because I was just starting there, so I couldn’t really make references to stuff they may not know there. I ended up doing a lot more stories about growing up, and personal experience kind of material that was a little bit more universal, which is still what I kind of do now. It definitely sort of guided the material that I did.
Johnny: Alright. I asked this question of British-raised adult film star Magdalene St. Michaels, and now I’d like to ask it of you. Which do you think is funnier, The Benny Hill Show or Monty Python’s Flying Circus?
Ken: Oh, God. No contest. Monty Python.
Johnny: Alright. One of your early gigs was in the comedy group The Untrainables. What did performing in a troupe of talents teach you about comedy?
Ken: It was a much different kind of comedy. It was sketch comedy. When you get used to doing stand-up, where you’re kind of the boss and can change things on the fly and do whatever you want to do, you have to develop a really different set of skills in reading the people and their different sensibilities. It makes you a better comedian because you are sort of forced to take on, and acknowledge, different comedy styles in order to complement them, so it was a well-rounded sort of training ground.
Johnny: Alright. You created the comedy show The Damaged Goods Auction. As you’ve done a lot of buying on eBay, was that an influence on the show, or did it come from somewhere else?
Ken: It was absolutely an influence on the show, where a kind of flippant remark gave me the idea for that. I just had so much stuff and junk. I used to get rid of some, and so I thought I should just auction it off onstage. I then started to think about it a little more seriously, and see if I could make that into something worth watching. It kind of started off as a joke, and then became a real thing.
Johnny: Alright. As an inveterate pop culture buff, what was the coolest thing you ever acquired on eBay, and what was the biggest bargain?
Ken: Ooh, that’s a good question. Coolest thing? Let’s see. I have an original prop from Night Court that is a Bull Shannon ventriloquist doll. That is probably one of my more cherished things. Biggest bargain? That’s a tough one. I always forget what I paid for stuff, but I got a Monster Squad British quad poster for the subway years ago. It was before the Monster Squad resurgence. I got it for about five bucks. It’s huge and it’s awesome.
Johnny: Definitely. We first came to know each other via RetroJunk, my previous writing base, when you offered up some kind words about my articles like my tribute to your fellow Boston-based comic Steven Wright. I may have asked you this in a PM on there long ago, but I forget the answer. With your tremendous talent, did you ever consider writing an article or two for the website?
Ken: Yeah, I definitely did. It’s always hard for me, especially then, because I could only write when I was in the mood. It was always kind of difficult to muster up the time to sit and write a whole article, because I tend to do things where, once I start, I kind of have to finish it all in one go. I have trouble starting something and going back, so that was always sort of a barrier for me.
Johnny: Alright. What has been your best gig as a comedian so far, and conversely, which one was the worst?
Ken: Ooh, that is difficult. Let me think. My favorite gig was probably when I recorded my second album. I did it at Meltdown Comics on the NerdMelt stage in L.A. That’s just my favorite room ever. A lot of people in the audience were former guests of the TV Guidance Counselor, and it was just a really cool, fun show. I’ve also gotten to open for amazing people. I did a Summer tour a few years ago with Bob Saget in big venues. I’ve worked with people like Patton Oswalt and John Oliver, and all those have been great. Worst gig? There’s been so many. I did get in a physical fight once with someone in charge of the stage when I was doing an English show during a hockey play-off game at a bar. That was terrible.
Johnny: Ooh. Are there any topics that you consider taboo for comedy, or is everything fair game?
Ken: I think everything’s fair game, BUT the more dangerous territory you go into, the better of a comedian you have to be. I think a lot of people mistake shock for humor, and while they both get reactions out of an audience, they’re very different things. If you’re good enough and smart enough, you can make comedy out of anything, but I don’t think people realize the fire they’re playing with when they try to make comedy out of anything. I think it’s important to be able to make comedy out of anything, because once you start picking and choosing some topics that are off-topic, it sort of becomes more offensive to the topics you do think are okay to make fun of. For example, I would say, I don’t do this anyway, but “I can’t make fun of gay people, but I can make fun of black people”. All of a sudden, you’re become the kind of racist or homophobic or sexist thing you claim you’re trying to be wary of, you know?
Johnny: Alright. We now come to the TV Guidance Counselor podcast. What was the impetus behind the creation of that?
Ken: I didn’t do any pop-culture topics in my stand-up, but it obviously occupies a big part of my brain, and I really do have pretty much every TV Guide ever made up to right now. They’re on big spinning racks in my living room, and when people would come over to my house, they would grab one and flip through it and go, “I remember this show”. A friend of mine, Sean Sullivan, who I was in The Untrainables with, said “you should do that as a podcast”. It was kind of that simple, so I did (laughing). If not for him saying that, I would not be doing it today.
Johnny: Alright. Was it difficult to get guests for the show at first, or was it easy with your experience as a comedian?
Ken: It was easy to get comics because they were all my friends. The people I first started with were friends of mine, and I was lucky enough that the people I started in comedy with have become very successful, so I’ve been able to get some main comics early just because they were friends of mine. From there, it went to friends of friends. Once I started getting a little bit of a reputation and had some more high-profile guests, it became easier to get other guests just because of who I already had on.
Johnny: Alright. You’ve done several live episodes of your podcast from various conventions. Are live shows more difficult to do than regularly recorded ones?
Ken: They’re not quite more difficult. They’re more different in that when I’m one-on-one and not in front of an audience, I can be a little more intimate and a little more conversational, but I think that in front of an audience, you have to fight the urge, especially as a comic, to try and make everybody laugh and try and get a laugh instead of just having them sit and be interested. I also try, to various degrees of success or not, to incorporate some sort of visual element to the show when I do it live, and I haven’t quite hit on what the right formula is yet. I’ve been happy with all of the live shows, but it’s definitely missing another element that it needs. People are listening and watching in a group, and they don’t actually see it.
Johnny: Alright. What five guests would you most like to interview that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
Ken: Ooh. Paul Reubens, who’s Pee-wee Herman, John Waters, Winona Ryder, Stephen King…This may sound ridiculous, but it’s weirdly difficult to think of them because I’ve been so lucky with whom I’ve gotten to have on, and the last one? Chris Isaak.
Johnny: Alright. You’ve interviewed talents from multiple eras of MTV. Although I’m younger than you by about two years or so, I prefer the primarily music video era of the channel. I feel that the network started wobbling in the mid-80s when they aired WWF matches, The Monkees and The Young Ones, and then started rolling downhill with Remote Control, making me something of an anomaly even among quite a few of my fellow 80s pop culture fans. What’s your favorite era of MTV?
Ken: Probably the era when it kind of went downhill for you (laughing). To me, that was the best of both worlds. You still had a good amount of music videos, but some great shows also fit the sort of vibe of it, The Young Ones being one of the most important shows to me ever. I loved The Monkees. I loved Remote Control, which was a perfect show and also kind of captured the vibe and the feeling of MTV. I would say probably that sort of mid-to-late-80s era.
Johnny: Alright. Do you feel that your experiences in a decade can impact your feelings towards that era’s pop culture, or do you think they can be easily separated?
Ken: You mean, like my personal experience?
Ken: It can be separated. One of the most important things to me, I think, when examining pop culture is being aware of context and intent. Context and intent are really key to understanding things, and they’re very separate from personal experience. I find both things very interesting, and they feed into each other a lot, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s easier to separate personal experience from a thing’s context and intent.
Johnny: Alright. Have you ever considered fusing your comedy with your musical background and doing work in that style?
Ken: Oh, God no. I have no musical talent. (Laughing) I was lucky enough to have four other guys who were very talented musically, and I just kind of screamed. I fell into it. I’m a big music fan, but I know that I am not meant to be a musician.
Johnny: Alright. What advice would you give to people looking to become comedians?
Ken: You just have to try it. It’s one of the odder arts in that you can’t practice it on your own. It’s the kind of thing you just have to jump in and do. It’s a thing that, if anybody’s thinking of doing it, I always recommend that they try it and see if it’s for them. I think that once you try it, you kind of know if it’s for you or if it isn’t.
Johnny: Alright. Now for my final question: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ken: In 10 years? Hopefully living in Los Angeles. I’m pretty happy with my life as it stands, so it would be kind of more of the same 10 years older, and probably still having all my hair.
Johnny: Alright. Well, that about does it for my questions. It was good to finally be able to speak to you. We definitely do have some history going back to the RetroJunk days, and it was good to finally be able to speak to you about your work.
Ken: Yeah, absolutely.
Johnny: Thank you very much for your time again, and have a good afternoon.
Ken: You, too. Take care. Bye.
For more about Ken Reid’s comedy, you can visit his official Facebook fan page. For more about the TV Guidance Counselor, you can visit the podcast’s Facebook page and the show’s website, which has links to all the episodes.
Thanks as always for reading. Who will I flash back with next? Stay tuned.