Splitsider

Friday, February 17th, 2012

David Wain and the Comedy Summer Camp Fantasy Behind Wanderlust

There's a lot of interesting stuff in this piece on David Wain — his movement between the mainstream and the esoteric, for one — but one especially interesting thread is the description of how his real-life stress gave him the idea for Wanderlust:

“You always fantasize about: Could I just pick up and completely do something else?” Mr. Wain said. “Who says you have to go to a job, and who says you have to earn money? Who says you have to have a bathroom with a door? All these things are societal assumptions, and how far can you go with that?”

The movie takes place on a commune where people share the work of milking goats, making campfires, and interrupting each other on the toilet. In short, the setting is a perpetual summer camp (not coincidentally, another location Wain paid tribute to in Wet Hot American Summer). The fantasy of escape from the daily grind is universal to anyone who's ever worked a job, paid rent, or guiltily ordered delivery instead of cooking. But does it resonate even more deeply with comedians?

Comedians are observant, neurotic, hyperaware. It's in their nature to take the small aggravations of the world and make mountains out of molehills. They can't "not sweat the small stuff" because the sweat that comes from sweating the small stuff is the very fluid that powers the hydraulic machinery of their livelihood. They're practically required to feel the "am I doing the right thing with my life?" angst that Wain speaks to above.

Beyond dissatisfaction with their current routines, I'd argue that the summer camp fantasy is uniquely appealing to comedians too. One of the biggest draws of a comedy writing career is the casually collaborative atmosphere. Whether in a formal writer's room or just a bar where you're drinking beer and building on bits, comedians largely thrive on each other's presence. Maybe it's because most of them were real unpopular in middle school, and the idea of being an insider in a gang of buddies is especially attractive. The comedian's perfect environment? Someplace like summer camp, where everyone's always goofing off together.

What do you think – am I reading too much into this, and crediting comedians with a fantasy life that, let's be honest, is probably shared by everyone in the world, even dentists and accountants? (Who wouldn't want a foursome with Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, and a goat?) Or does the psychology of the comedian lend itself to this particular fantasy in a deeper way?

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