I’m so excited for the new web series ‘Kings of Con’, which premieres on Comic Con HQ on November 15. Not only are its two stars, Richard Speight Jr. and Rob Benedict, talented actors and musicians, they have been making Supernatural fans laugh until it’s painful at conventions for the past eight years. I have a feeling Kings of Con is going to be equally hysterical.
I’ve known Rob and Rich since their very first Supernatural conventions back in 2008, so I was thrilled to sit down to chat with them a few weeks ago about Kings of Con. They had just done a ‘Kings of Con’ panel at the convention, in fact. Rob was still working out some arrangements for the band, so Richard and I started chatting.
Richard: So, the panel was good?
Lynn: OMG so good – you guys are always funny, but my stomach was literally hurting from laughing so much.
Richard: Awesome. I liked being on earlier in the day, we had more energy.
(That’s really saying something – nobody has ever accused Richard of not being energetic!)
Lynn: Fans have been very excited about Kings of Con, but that interview that you did on the morning show today (in Toronto) has made everyone even more excited. Because you really get fandom.
For those who missed it, the interviewer on Global News didn’t exactly have a positive view of fandom. Rich and Rob were talking about being invited to do conventions after they each appeared on Supernatural. The conversation went something like this:
Interviewer: Okay level with us, there’s part of that that’s really flattering and then there’s like woah, what’s wrong with you people…
Rob: Well, you might think that, but then we get there and the fans are actually way more impressive than we are.
Richard added that while the running gag back in the early days of Star Trek cons was that it was a quirky group, there’s been a shift.
Richard: Now you go to conventions and sit with fans and ask them what they do, and fans say well, I’m a physicist, or I’m curing cancer. And it’s like, what do we do? We make bad jokes.
Rob pointed out that really it’s the same thing as baseball fans going to a game.
Richard: We have a few friends who don’t know this world who asked a similar question. And I was like, ‘Dude, you pretend that you have a football team’. I’m not sure this is any quirkier than having a fantasy league, you know? It’s just like, what is your passion, what are you into?
Completely unrehearsed and off the cuff, that was one of the most eloquent and passionate defenses of fandom I’ve ever heard.
Rob: And that was the genesis of this, that the quirkiest people are actually behind the scenes, the actors themselves.
That interview had been passed around through fandom by the time I sat down with Richard. I told him how much fans had appreciated them setting the record straight.
Richard: Well, it never would have occurred to us to do something that would have made fun of fans. Because what making fun of fans means is making fun of people. And I don’t make fun of people. I didn’t make fun of people when I was a kid, and I don’t make fun of people as an adult.
At that moment, Rob joined us.
Richard: Hey, buddy.
Lynn: (silently) Awww.
Richard: Anyway, I don’t see a big difference between making fun of somebody for their job or their hobby – or because of who they are or how they live, it’s the same thing. We just don’t do it. It would never occur to us to take a stab at other people. The funny part for us is making fun of ourselves!
Lynn: You went even farther though – Rob, we’re talking about the morning show you guys did this weekend. You just got it so right. It was an eloquent defense of fandom. So if people were excited about Kings of Con before, I think they’re more excited now.
Rob: Oh cool!
Rich: That’s great.
Lynn: Do you think it’s these many years of doing these cons and interacting with fans that has allowed you to really get it? You had fans before as an actor and as a musician, but these past eight years doing Supernatural cons has sort of been a crash course in fandom.
Richard: It has been. We’ve been doing the course work for seven or eight years. We’ve got doctorates now…
Rob (laughing): If we would actually be that presumptuous…
Richard: Yeah, he’s right, we’d never actually get that degree.
Richard: But Robbie and I, comedically as writers, his style and my style are very similar in that the heroes written for our stories, and for our things written for each other, are always the flawed guy struggling to sort of do better for themselves.
Lynn: Yes, like The Sidekick (Rob’s excellent short film).
Richard: Yeah, like The Sidekick, or even America 101 (Richard’s equally excellent film), it’s still a guy sort of scrambling to make a point out of the pointless, know what I mean?
Lynn: I do.
Richard: Those are the stories we’re drawn to. I didn’t understand the fandom before I got in here though, for sure.
Rob: (poking fun, because it’s what they do) Yeah he was like, I’m sorry, I can only talk to actors…
Rob: Right, like you can pay me if you want Lynn, it’s gonna cost you…
Richard: But even not understanding them, it never would have occurred to me to mock them. We’re performers, man. We’re on a stage and if we’re not doing it for the audience, who are we doing it for? We do what we do for an audience.
Lynn: I was talking to Jensen today about how he gets to interact face to face with fans so much more than most actors ever do with their fans. Do you think that you have more of an appreciation and understanding because of all that interaction?
Rob: Yes, and for people who don’t know, that’s what I would explain. But I mean, like you said, we could be professors of this! We’ve gone so far beyond, we’ve served some time with these people. It’s like what I said last night, this is so much more than fan and performer. It’s like this group of people who have all shared this experience together.
Rich: Robbie and I know the fans so well that we know the vibe of a city based on the convention. The certain group of people, they’re all different, that part of the country and the fans’ particular energy…
Lynn: You really are turning into professors, that’s how I look at things.
Rich and Rob: (are laughing)
Richard: Rob, I was saying this before you sat down – at the end of the day, it would have never occurred to us to make fun of fans. It’s not like we had to remind each other, it’s not like we had to do rewrites of the script, it just never would have occurred to us. Why is that funny?
Lynn: Fans are so used to being stigmatized, that it was great to hear you say um no, you’ve got it wrong.
Richard: It was weird, they teed us up with a really strange question. I think the question was a dated question. I think maybe 10 years ago it might have been more relevant – and he’s an older dude – so to him, he’s picturing Jon Lovitz playing a Trekkie on SNL. He doesn’t understand what fandom has become.
Lynn: And he’s assuming that you guys have yourself on the ‘other side’ and are like laughing at that.
Richard: And he probably figures that’s what the show’s about, and the truth of the matter is – look, I wasn’t around when fandom started, but lord knows it’s changed because of the internet, because of the way communities can gather, because of the way cons have become popular. Deadline Hollywood just released an article talking about how badly actors want to do conventions now.
Lynn: Oh yes, that was going around social media too.
Richard: Michael Cudlitz and I were talking about that, it kinda put it in a bad light and made it seem like it’s all about the money.
Lynn: It did.
Rob: Wait, was it about Supernatural cons?
Richard: Only in passing. But the undercurrent of that article, what it doesn’t say but what it proves, is that conventions are now mainstream. They’re no longer niche. You’ve got guys wanting to do cons, not going eh, I’m not doing cons, let the B team do the cons.
Lynn: You wrote about your first reaction when you were asked to do a convention in your chapter in our book, Fan Phenomena Supernatural – you had your doubts.
Richard: But my first reaction was never about the fans, my reaction was always about I’m gonna look and feel like an asshole! Because I’m gonna be sitting at a table in an empty gym and people are gonna be shoving past me wanting an autograph and I’m gonna feel like a jerk. My fear was, Richard goes out and acts in a show — and I enjoy the response that people give if they can reach me somehow to say they like my work — but I never wanted to be a self promoter at that level. And in many ways that’s still true, we’ve just built our own thing [with Supernatural cons]. I still have no desire to go to a signing show.
Rob: I feel like it’s different with Supernatural. Certainly cons are getting more and more popular, but Supernatural in particular is really an experience that’s hard to describe to people – what it is, what the feeling is. I mean, Richard, what you and I do, that’s the story. The story that someone should ask isn’t how much money do you get to go to these cons, but that it’s an experience – the giving and the receiving, the interaction that we have, it’s almost like its own little world.
Richard: Well it is.
Lynn: Yes it is.
Richard: You and I and Cohen and everybody else in our group, a) we all get along well and b) we’ve always treated it, all of us, like live theater, not like an assembly line. Not like, now I do my autographs, now I do my photos. It’s always been theatrical.
Richard: Like the way we do last question with Jared and Jensen, the way we bring them out onstage, the way there’s music for everybody, the way Rob and I come out onstage, the way we do karaoke and the Saturday Night Special – it’s just more like a traveling road show.
Lynn: The music has made such a difference. Richard, I remember we went out for a bite after the first time Louden Swain was the house band for the weekend and you said, ‘we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, can we?’
Rob: (cracks up)
Richard: Which had been the goal! I knew if we hit ‘em once, Robbie, we’d get ‘em regular!
Lynn: You were so right, and it’s made all the difference for the Supernatural cons. How much of what we see of the con circuit on Kings of Con is reminiscent of Supernatural conventions?
Rob: It’s inspired by what this is. I mean, it’s really hard to shoot what this is though.
(We all look around at the expansive stage and giant ballroom where the current convention is taking place)
Rich: We can’t afford to make it look like this.
Rob: The set designer’s instinct was to make it look sad, like there weren’t that many people there to see us, but we said, it’s gotta look big. The stakes have got to be high enough that when Rich and Rob are making fools of themselves onstage or whatever, that there will be ramifications.
Lynn: Right, right.
Rob: The joke isn’t funny if there’s nobody in the audience! So we hired more extras, we filled it out a bit, but it’s really hard to capture the scope of what this is in real life.
Richard: But Supernatural fans will notice that our seating design does match this. There are screens, there is a stage, there are the same banners.
Rob: Even the dead trees onstage…
Lynn: (laughing) OMG you’re kidding!
Richard: (grinning) Even the dead trees, yeah.
Rob: And all our instruments onstage.
Rich: It’s not Supernatural, we’re not using the brand of the show, though.
Lynn: I’m sure Warner Brothers would have something to say about that.
Richard: And we also don’t want to…
Rob: We don’t want it to be just an inside joke for people who don’t know…
(In case you haven’t noticed, these two like to finish each other’s sentences, just like the two leads of Supernatural do all the time.)
Richard: And we base the comedy off this, but it’s not us, it’s fictional, the characters are fictional. That said, it’s going to look more like a Supernatural con to con goers than any other kind of con.
Lynn: Well that’s good! You’ve got a built in audience and the SPN Family is a great built in audience to have.
Rob: What’s funny is when we wrote it we described like, you know, a long line of women outside of Jensen and Jared’s photo op. And the people we were working with were like, you’ve gotta have more guys in there! And we were like, no, not really. (everyone laughs) But we did, so that part Supernatural fans won’t recognize, but just for outside people, we did.
Lynn: Oh that’s funny. (Like the convention episodes on Supernatural itself!) You have a lot of other Supernatural actors in Kings of Con too. What was their reaction, was everyone eager to do it?
Richard: I think everybody had a great time. Everybody we asked to do it wanted to do it. Scheduling wasn’t always easy, sometimes we couldn’t make it work for everybody, but the lion’s share of the people we went out to were able to do it. And we built their characters around some of the stronger personalities in the group.
Richard: To make an ensemble cast. It is an ensemble cast too. Yes, Rob and Rich are the key components to it, but we’re not doing it in a vacuum. It’s Cheers, it’s a group of people in a space interacting with each other, like 30 Rock does.
Lynn: And also that’s how it is in real life, it’s the whole family road show. It happens on both sides of the curtain.
Rob: That’s right.
Richard: And I think everyone did have a great time. And one thing I’ll say also is that everyone came remarkably prepared. Not that I expected differently, because they are all professionals. Beyond just knowing their lines, they came with different ways to see things and ideas about what their characters would do, and they were right in line with the story.
Lynn: So it was a little collaborative – people had input.
Richard: Certainly Robbie and I are collaborative creators, so we welcomed ideas. They didn’t all make it to the sheet, but we loved the ideas and everybody contributed something fresh and new to their character. Robbie and I were like ‘oh, we didn’t think of that. You wanna do that? Yes, you’re gonna do it.
Rob: We worked hard on these scripts, and wrote and rewrote and edited until we were in a place that we were really excited about them. And the people we had come in, they got the jokes right away. Yeah, they brought their own flavor to it, but someone like Sebastian was immediately like, I got it, you know what I mean? It was a nice compliment to what we did.
Lynn: And I’m sure he did, he got it.
Richard: It also helped that you don’t have to explain cons to actors on the convention circuit.
Rob: We had a couple actors who aren’t from this world and we really had to walk them through it.
Rich: On the other hand, it was very shorthand for Matt and for Kurt Fuller and for Kim and Gil, and completely not shorthand for some of the other actors. We had to give them like a crash course.
Lynn: You had to put your professor hats on!
Rob (laughing) Exactly, exactly.
Lynn: Is it done? Are you completely finished?
Richard: We’re done, we’re shot. We’re not finished in terms of post production, though, we’re in the middle of doing sound edits.
Lynn: And November 15 is the premiere date?
Rob: Yeah so we’re almost done, we’re in post production right now. The first few episodes are closer to done than the final episodes, but they’re all edited together and we’re putting in the final touches.
Lynn: I’m so excited about this, because in a weird way I feel like I was there from the beginning, when you guys first struck up this friendship. We were chatting with you one night at a con, Richard, and then Louden Swain was going to play at one of the very early cons, and we were like “Come on, let’s go hear this band.” And you didn’t even know them – we sat in the back, and I remember you were like oh, these guys are really good.
Rob: In Burbank! That was before you and I really knew each other.
Richard: Yes, I do remember that!
Lynn: So I feel like I kinda introduced you.
Rob: That’s so cool, yeah. And then he wanted to come say hey great show at one of our shows but he was really polite about it so he stood and waited in the autograph line.
Lynn: What? OMG I never knew that! That makes me happy.
Rob: What night was that concert, Friday?
Richard: Friday would still have been karaoke, so it must have been Saturday.
Rob: Or maybe it was Louden Swain and then karaoke, did they ever do that?
Lynn: It’s been too long, I can’t remember.
Richard: Oh yeah, because didn’t we one night invite the band to karaoke?
Rob: Oh yeah yeah!
(It was really kinda adorable listening to them go down memory lane together, gotta say. And by the way, guess who’s doing the music for Kings of Con? That’s right! One of my favorite bands in all the world, Louden Swain!)
Lynn: So do you poke fun at all at the hierarchy that exists at cons in Kings of Con?
Richard: The hierarchy within the fandom or the actors?
Lynn: Either. It’s really a triangle, the actors and the fans and then the convention organizers sort of in the middle. And everyone has become more familiar with each other over the many years of cons, so in some ways those lines have blurred. But in other ways the pendulum has started to swing back.
Richard: We deal with the hierarchy within the actor framework. We don’t deal much with the convention staff. We do have a handler character who’s a major player though. And we do have an episode that deals with what it’s like to be the accountant for all this. But we definitely don’t do that with the fans. The fans are there and very present, but the story is about behind the scenes.
Rob: The fans are there, in the background.
Richard: And it does not bleed into that – it’s very much this story we’re doing now, not that story.
Lynn: I think that’s what people want to see, behind the scenes.
Rob: We do deal with the hierarchy, like Jared and Jensen not knowing who we are.
Lynn: (laughing) What were they like in it?
Richard: They have a great cameo. I won’t say anything about it, but they’re very funny men.
Lynn: They are, that’s true. I can’t wait to see that. What was the best part of making Kings of Con? Is there a scene that stands out for each of you?
Richard: Ours may be different. Mine was one I’m not in. It was a scene with Rob and an actor who I’m not gonna name doing a scene that Robbie and I threw together at the last minute because we were gonna get this guy to come in and do a cameo, and it was just awesome. Fun to shoot, fun to watch and cut.
Lynn: Were you directing?
Richard: Yeah I was directing, so I was there, but it was a blast. And we had so little time to do it, but we pulled it off and it was great.
Rob: For me I think the bit we shot with J and J, I just can’t wait for people to see that.
Lynn: Oh I can’t wait too, believe me! Anything that was not fun?
Rob: No, I mean, it was a challenge, we had a lot to shoot in a short amount of time and there was stress, but at the end of the day we’d get a beer and talk about the next day.
Richard: (glancing at Rob and looking very sincere) And I would do that every day for the rest of my days. It was amazing.
Lynn: Awwww, you guys.
Richard: And we also were blessed with an amazing crew. We did not know them, we didn’t bring them in.
Lynn: How did you get them?
Richard: Robbie’s good friend who’s a writer and producer came on board as the sort of 800 pound gorilla EP and he put in charge of our show a woman who he works with, Tina Densmore, who was just a firecracker. She came in and hired the whole crew. Robbie and I have done this enough that we could have sort of piecemealed it out, but it was a way bigger project. Even if we had time, it’s like, do you hire a general contractor or go out and do each piece yourself? It’s just not time effective especially when you have somebody out there who has a rolodex of people who all work well together, knows the world and can just dive in. So she brought in everybody but the editor. The editor was somebody that Rob and I have both worked with many times. We ended up with an incredibly young crew, late 20s to 34, hungry, super talented, in it to win it. The DP is a talented guy who cancelled family vacations and July 4th parties to wrap this thing and was just an awesome collaborator. There was nobody that we would not use again.
Lynn: You put a tremendous amount of work into this, but you also got lucky.
Richard: We did. I’ll tell you where Rob and I got lucky. We knew we’d have a fun set, Rob and I are fun guys.
Lynn: That’s true.
Richard: And we were getting the opportunity to shoot a show that we’d been dying to shoot for years, so we were kids in a candy store. Also business men, we took it very seriously and worked hard at it. But it was always going to be fun, even when it got tense, we had fun with it. We were making the show we always wanted to make with the people we wanted to make it with. So there was a trickle down effect, we’re the bosses and we’re having fun…
Lynn: Just like Jared and Jensen on the Supernatural set.
Richard: Right, so we’re the Jared and Jensen and the Bob Singer and Eric Kripke of Kings of Con!
Rob: (cracking up)
(In other words, for Kings of Con? Rob and Rich do it all!)
Richard: So we were doing all that stuff, and we’re gonna set the tone the way that we set the tone. But then, when we weren’t around, when we weren’t in the room to make everybody smile – when shit would go wrong, and it did go wrong – every department head still led with the style that we admired. Nobody had a bad experience on our set.
I have a feeling that will translate to a good experience for everyone watching Kings of Con too.
Make sure you catch the premiere on November 15, only on ComicConHQ!
And stay tuned for more of my chat with Rob about playing God on Supernatural, coming up soon!
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