One of my goals in life is to figure out a way to get paid to watch Bollywood movies and yell at the TV screen. According to an article in Salon by Sumana Harihareswara, someone (actually four someones) has beaten me to it:
“Uncle Morty’s Dub Shack,” which just finished its first season on the ImaginAsian cable network, is the “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ of bad Asian films, and like its predecessor with the then-unknown Comedy Central, it could help put the obscure iaTV on the map. The conceit of the show is that four loser friends — Trevor, Aladdin, Jimbo and John — earn a little extra cash dubbing martial arts, action and Bollywood films into English at the Dub Shack, run by an old crank named Morty. Uncle Morty doesn’t have the translated scripts, so the friends turn the movie scenes into sketch comedy. For those of us who didn’t warm to MST3K, “Uncle Morty’s” is easier to love, because it’s only half an hour long (the films are significantly, and mercifully, edited down), and the writers create believable alternate narratives for the flicks instead of merely smirking at them.
Unfortunately, iaTV is not offered by my satellite provider, so I had to make do with the clips on Uncle Morty’s website. (Of the Bollywood clips, I enjoyed “Goatman” and “Chicken Members” the most.) The episode guide lists Dushman Duniya Ka, Dand Nayak, and Soch among the cinematic treasures given the Dub Shack treatment. (The channel has also been airing the intriguingly-titled Duplicate Sholay.)
The Salon article contains an email interview with two of the show’s writers, Jimbo Matison, also known as the guy who used to scream “SEGA!” at the end of SEGA video game ads, and Trevor Moore, erstwhile host of a late night comedy show on PAX-TV. Due to Salon’s insistence on shoving a thirty-second car ad down your throat before allowing you to access any of their content, I will excerpt extensively from the article:
Is it easier to write funny commentary for Chinese kung fu/action movies or Bollywood musicals?
Trevor: I think they each have their advantages. The kung fu films tend to have these great, expressive, comic-relief characters that are just so easy to write jokes and come up with voices for. And the Bollywood films have all of those musical numbers that you can write songs for.
Jimbo: I love writing new songs for the Bollywood musicals. It’s great to watch with the sound off and think, “What are they just not singing about?” and then have them sing about it. With the kung fu films it’s fun to figure out the most absurd reasons for them to fight each other. It’s also dang fun to throw on the goofiest sound effects when they hit each other. Usually it starts with lots of fart sound effects, just to get it out of our system, and then on to better sound effects like foghorns that sound like really big farts. We’ve really been aching to get our teeth into some bad anime. I think we’re getting some for the next season. Oh, it’s gonna be so nice.
p>The secret to their comedy stylings? Being dumb:
Jimbo: I think our sketch comedy works because we dare to be dumb. I love writing the stupidest thing I can think of. It’s like a contest I have with myself. That’s not to say I try to write something unintelligent, though. I don’t enjoy unintelligence.
Trevor: I think we sort of bask in stupidity. We are sort of proud when we’ve written something incredibly stupid and juvenile, but then every now and then we’ll throw in a point or social comment and that just gives the show a very weird feel. It’s intentionally stupid and I think that just appeals to some people.
Jimbo: We do think very hard about the writing. We’re ruthless with each other, too. If I’ve written something bad, Trev will hand it back with the words “useless waste of time” on it. Equally, I will write “bag of shit” on his work.
p>Jimbo stands up for the right of all Americans to make fun of cheesy Asian movies, but provides a few sensible guidelines:
Do you think it’s odd that two white guys are the ones writing it, when you’re making fun of Asian movies on the ImaginAsian channel?
Jimbo: I actually don’t think it’s odd that we’re making fun of Asian movies. To me, that’s America. One second generation Latvian [Jimbo], a Taiwanese Canadian [John was born and raised in Ontario], a third-generation Irish guy [Trevor] and one Bengali [Aladdin] goof on bad movies from Asia. What a great mix! That’s America.
I actually don’t like the term “white guys.” I’m proud of my Latvian blood. Latvians are nuts! If you go to France and then Ireland you won’t come back thinking they have the same culture. Same as if you went to Japan and India. Big difference. Maybe that viewpoint is also from my growing up in San Francisco in the ’60s and ’70s. I love everybody, baby. Don’t get me wrong, though; I do use the term “white guys,” but I use it for predictable consumers who lack culture. [Laughs]
I think we respect the films, too. We would never want to goof on a film that was a classic and endeared by the country of origin. We also don’t come from the viewpoint of, “Hey, let’s make fun of Asian people!” That would be screwed. For instance, we never use outrageous Asian accents on our characters. That would just be lame, predictable and insulting. We do, however, use outrageous French accents and such, because it’s just absurd and silly. The French have a right to be offended at our show! We consciously don’t use stereotypes as humor, because to us it’s just not funny. Our viewpoint is, “Hey! Let’s have some fun with these old B films!”
For those of you that are actually able to watch the show, new episodes begin in February, but there will be a first season marathon on Halloween starting at 9 p.m.