Congrats on catching our attention for our first-ever Comedy Prize. I’m not sure if you wrote this piece for the contest or already had it, but as I ponder your process, you’d have to agree, worst rumspringa ever, right?
Thanks to SLQ for selecting my work and for running this contest! So cool that the journal decided to showcase humor writing; I’m honored to be included. I wrote the piece fairly recently after realizing I’ve probably used (and read) the word “silo” more often during the last few years than I had in my entire life previously. At some point I started imagining all of us typing away and streaming news-adjacent content in personal grain towers, and then my mind jumped to that silo scene in the film. But yeah, poor little Samuel. When it comes to exposure to worldly vice, it doesn’t get much grimmer than a homicide in a public restroom.
I rented and watched Witness for the first time back in high school. I was pretty sure then that the falling grain wouldn’t kill that guy, that he could ride it to the top, cover his face, something. Answer me this: Would I have been thinking about shit like this if I had a girlfriend and was just making out during movies like I was supposed to?
Well, let’s think this through. On the one hand, the chemistry between Kelly McGillis and Harrison Ford makes Witness a solid date movie, so you and your hypothetical girlfriend would’ve had that going for you. On the other hand, that silo scene might’ve really killed the mood. The scene itself is pretty horrifying. It just seems to drag on—I guess during filming, the actor had a tube rigged up so he could breathe under all that corn. Though you’re right, the danger does seem sort of implausible at first. Like being drowned in a dust storm or something. But then the corn … just … keeps … coming ….
My high school movie nights were also mostly solo affairs, if it’s any consolation. I rented a lot of Woody Allen movies back then. So yeah. Probably for the best.
So the terrorist guy who dies at the end of Die Hard, long blond hair, dancer’s physique, is Rachel’s pre-Book love interest here, the guy she would have married had this mess never happened. Do you think it’s the same character, or are they just played by the same actor?
Yes, good eye! Here’s where I admit that I watched Witness for the first time in its entirety just this year—before that, I’d only seen bits and pieces—which is maybe why the material felt fresh enough to write about despite the film being almost forty years old. But in the early scenes I immediately recognized that actor from Die Hard (Google tells me his name is Alexander Godunov, and he was indeed a trained ballet dancer). If he’s the same character in both films, my theory is that Hans Gruber recruited him off the farm and into international terrorism for his strong hands and unimpeachable work ethic.
Getting back to the the-guy-could-have survived angle, do you remember that season of Scooby Doo with celebrities, Dick Van Dyke, the Harlem Globetrotters, etc.? Do you remember when Mama Cass and Scooby were buried in that room full of popped popcorn and had to eat their way out? Eh?
You know, I wasn’t quite as into Scooby Doo as I was obsessed with ThunderCats and Land of the Lost, so I don’t remember those celebrity episodes! I assume Scooby and Mama Cass escaped the popcorn death trap with only minor stomach aches and solved the mystery together. As for the Globetrotters, I’m imagining an amazing trick play in which the episode’s villain is encircled by whizzing basketballs, unmasked in the middle of the court and publicly shamed on the Jumbotron. Close?
At this point, I should probably ask you about your writing, like what inspires you to write flash, who you’re reading, who your comic influences are, etc. But this is the last question, and you’re running out of space if we’re going to keep this under a thousand words [Editor’s note: He’s supposed to keep it under 1000 words]. In a future interview, would you be open to that kind of thing?
Totally. But I think I’ve got room for a short answer, which is that I’ve been writing flash—sometimes in spite of myself—ever since I took Pam Painter’s terrific flash fiction workshop during my MFA stint at Emerson College (even with interview space dwindling, I should give credit where credit’s due). For comic influences, I just really admire writers who can pull humor out of bleakness. I teach memoir and absorb a lot of difficult personal stories, which have their own kind of resilient power but definitely bend toward the serious. So if I’m being honest, it’s a steady diet of smart cultural satire, Hayao Miyazaki films and shows like Bob’s Burgers that has kept me feeling faint crackles of hope on days when bad news is everywhere and I’m tempted to pack up my life and move to a remote farm where modern technology is banned.