Talking to David Wain & Joe Lo Truglio About Theater, Constructing A Well-Made Play, and Achieving Cult Comedy Status
Since their time with the sprawling 90’s MTV sketch group The State, David Wain and Joe Lo Truglio have gone on to, respectively, direct and act in several successful films including Wanderlust, Role Models, and the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer. Yet, prior to gaining recognition on the big screen, the duo made a brief foray into the theater with their 1998 play, SEX (a.k.a Weiners and Boobs). Written along with fellow State member and Wain’s oft co-writer Michael Showalter, the play is an irreverent comedic romp, which in its original production starred the writers, and most notably, featured a scene from David Mamet’s GlenGarry Glen Ross that comes smack in the middle of the play.
For the first time in fourteen years Wain and Lo Truglio are reuniting with the original cast (minus Showalter) and special guests, including SNL’s Taran Killam, for a one night only performance on October 29th in New York City. Wain and Lo Truglio talked to us about their legacy in the theater, trodding the boards, and the emotional highs and lows of being cult comedy icons.
When you wrote the play in 1998, you were primarily known for writing for television. How did you end up writing for the theater? What is the story behind this play?
David Wain: We knew of the theater company, Clubbed Thumb and I think that they had just lost a play in their season. They knew that we were doing clubs and alternative comedy around town and they asked us if we wanted to come in and do a comedy routine. So we agreed and this was literally a week before it was supposed to go up. Instead of doing comedy we said fuck it, if this is a play festival let’s write a play so we wrote it in a week. I just remember it being really fun. I remember just sitting in the apartment and laughing. Anything that was going to go in the trash we were like, good put that in.
Joe Lo Truglio: And just to add to that, we actually put an ad in the paper before we wrote it, so we wanted a title that would put people in seats, which is why we came up with SEX (a.k.a. Weiners and Boobs). So we actually had a title before we wrote the play. And we also put in that there was going to be a scene from GlenGarry Glen Ross.
Speaking of GlenGarry Glen Ross, that scene comes in without any warning and is just inserted into the middle of the play. Why did you decide to do that?
Wain: Well, I think David Mamet, I don’t know if you agree, is just a terrific playwright. He just has a wonderful way with dialogue and characterization and I don’t see why anyone would have an issue with seeing something from one of his best plays.
Lo Truglio: And also every actor loves to do Mamet, and since we primarily are comedy and we never have an opportunity, ever, to do GlenGarry Glen Ross, we thought this was the perfect time to try it.
Wain: The actual real reason we did it is because we put it in the ad so we had to make good on the advertisement.
The play follows a sheriff trying to clean up a corrupt town that has the feel of the Old West to it. Where did your story idea come from?
Lo Truglio: We used High Noon. Its very simple and a formula that’s been used time and time again. We had a bunch of different sketches and improv scenes and really didn’t have anything to glue it all to so we tried to pick a very simple backbone and thought that High Noon just sounded great.
Do either of you have any serious background in theater?
Wain: Joe won a bunch of acting awards down in Florida when he was growing up.
Lo Truglo: Well, I did, that’s very true, thank you David for reminding me. I think it was a state championship. I was in a thespian troupe that won a couple of ribbons at the State Festival.
Wain: See, told ya.
What kind of roles did you have on the stage?
Lo Truglio: Well I was tearing it up. I was doing scenes from Say Goodnight Gracie. I was doing monologues from Children of A Lesser God. So that was the type of material I liked to jump into when I was 17.
In addition to having written the play, both of you star in it. How does acting for the theater compare to doing live sketch comedy or stand up?
Wain: It’s definitely on a stage. It involves reading lines, so that’s A.
Lo Truglio: (Laughs) The play is very episodic in that there are a lot of sketches in it, so it’s not terribly different from what David and I used to do on the MTV show.
Wain: Yeah, it’s probably closer to sketch than anything else, than actual real plays.
I know that David and Michael Showalter have worked together since this, but have the two of you written anything together aside from this play?
Wain: I can think of at least one thing, which is the pilot we wrote for one network, remember, about the football player?
Lo Truglio: Oh that’s right that was an NBC pilot. I guess that’s it and then I worked on a Wainy Days with [David].
Wain: I think basically all of [the members of The State] in different combos have been continuing to work and write stuff together. We all worked on a whole new set of State material a few years ago. We did the full hour of brand new material live at San Francisco Sketch Fest and we also did it at UCB Theatre LA.
Lo Truglio: We try to get together in pockets and work together as much as we can.
Have either of you thought of writing another play?
Lo Truglio: Gosh, I don’t know. I mean personally its not anything that I thought of doing again recently, but –
Wain: I’ll say that I’d like to write another play I’m just waiting for this one to peter out, I mean get all the revenue and all the buzz out of this one and –
Lo Truglio: Right, then you can move on. This has really been going for what is it now, 15 years, 12 years?
Lo Truglio: I’d love to write a play, but I had such a good experience writing with David and Showalter and I’m a better collaborator especially in a medium like theater that I’m not comfortable in. I’d love to do it if I had someone to write it with.
Wain: We’ll see, getting back together –
Lo Truglio: Get the band back together, yo.
Wain: We’ll see how many people show up on Monday night.
Lo Truglio: We can take it from there.
Are you surprised by the reaction the play has received and the long life it’s had since the original production in 1998?
Wain: Considering that we put maybe a combined six hours of work into it, yes.
Lo Truglio: I am absolutely baffled with the following that its gotten and every time that I receive an email saying that its been done by so and so college in Kalamazoo, Michigan I couldn’t be prouder and more amazed.
Wain: I have to admit I’ve gone to see seen a couple of productions of it over the years and I thought it was pretty funny. This will be the first time that the original cast has done it since way back then.
So why now? What made you decide that the time was right to reunite the original cast and do the play again?
Lo Truglio: We had a request from Clubbed Thumb, they were putting together a benefit and we thought it would be fun to help them and also get the original cast back together, and it seemed right since they were the first theater company that we produced the play with. They initiated it. It all made sense; it all came together.
This play like many other things you’ve done, most notably Wet Hot American Summer, has taken on a kind of cult status. Why do you think it is that your comedy always seems to gain a very specific following?
Wain: I guess it’s just got a certain specific voice. It’s coming from a lot of the same people that we all grew up together doing it, so its has a certain point of view, and people who like it like more of it I guess.
Lo Truglio: I don’t have much to add to that other than I think our sense of humor does have a very specific point of view and people respond to it. I think the more specific you are then the more fans you’ll get.
Wain: Most of what all of us have done in The State, together at the time and then with each other since then and individually has a certain something that ties it all together and I think that generally its been more culty than the extreme in terms of its subject, and its been … its been …
Lo Truglio: (Laughs) Its hard to talk about, its hard to pinpoint but we’re certainly happy people like it.
Wain: It’s hard to talk about without crying.
Lo Truglio: I’m covering myself with a blanket because I’m so cold talking about it.
Oh, well I’m sorry that I’ve caused such distress to you both.
Lo Truglio: No we’re gonna go get through it.
Wain: We’re just very very sensitive about it, talking about it. [This] was really cathartic.
Laurie Kamens is a freelance writer who lives in Long Island. She understands if you judge her accordingly.