Behind Shunt McGuppin with Superego’s Jeremy Carter
Shunt McGuppin, the foul-mouthed, backwards country western singer from the popular podcast Superego finally has his own album and it’s everything you want it to be. Created by the character-driven maniac Jeremy Carter, Shunt and his gloriously filthy songs on this five track EP Bad Honky will make you laugh and maybe touch your heart… if not, then probably your bottom. Carter, a Kansas City native, is a friend of mine. He came up in the KC improv scene and it’s no surprise to those that know him that it’s his strange and committed characters that have gotten him attention. Superego has gained a cult following that’s slowly becoming more mainstream, and Jeremy along with comedians Matt Gourley and Mark McConville frequently feature some of the biggest names in comedy like John Hodgeman, Patton Oswalt, Kristen Schaal and some, like Erinn Hayes and the recently added Superego cast member Paul F. Tompkins, even appear on the new EP. Though Shunt himself wasn’t available for an interview, I was able to catch up with his alter ego, Jeremy Carter.
For those that don’t know, tell us a little about Superego.
Superego is an improvised sketch comedy podcast. We improvise the whole show and then Matt Gourley edits it. He’s my co-creator. Then we edit it down to two or three-minute sketches and each episode is about a half an hour long. Shunt McGuppin is one of the characters that’s been on Superego since we started doing the show in 2006.
Is he your personal favorite?
He is. Yes.
Why is that?
Because he’s really easy to play. He’s an amalgamation of my uncles, and guys I worked construction with when I was in high school, and Waylon Jennings, and maybe just a pinch of every rock star ever.
Is that why he’s so dirty, because he’s part construction worker?
Yeah. Just real blue. And then he’s oblivious, because of all the drugs, alcohol and relationships he’s had through life. My personal experiment and something I’m discovering more and more comedically is my whole life I kind of felt like, “No one’s paying attention,” so you’ll hear that kind of theme coming though. Particularly the Shunt sketches, but I think through most Superego sketches.
You didn’t mention Shunt McGuppin having a little of you in him.
He’s equally the better parts of me, and the worse parts of me. He doesn’t get riled by much, which is not the case for me. I strive to just let things roll off of me more. On the other hand, he‘s not paying attention, which is probably part of the reason that nothing bothers him. For me it’s like I’m paying too much attention, maybe. Maybe that’s it. Are we going to do part therapy on this?
It usually ends up being that way. Having known you and hearing stories about you for years from people you used to perform with, you doing all these crazy characters is nothing new.
I’ve always kind of done it, yeah. As a kid I liked being in my room with my Star Wars action figures and playing by myself. I particularly enjoyed playing the British officers from the Empire, because I like that dialect. I think I just developed characters from that, maybe. Or maybe I’m just crazy.
I really could see either one of those being accurate.
Yeah, me too. So yeah, Superego released an album called The Journeymen: Mount Us More in 2013. I wrote half the songs as Shunt McGuppin and Matt wrote half as Mutt Taylor, his country music persona. I loved it so much that I hadn’t really played guitar in over twenty years, but I knew basic open chords, so I picked up the guitar again. I really, really loved doing it and was like, “Let’s do another one!” It took us three years to do that first album, so they were like, “Ehh.” And I don’t blame them at all. I get it. So, I contacted my friend Dan Franklin who has produced albums and has been a musician his whole life and is fantastic and said, “Dan, I’m broke. Let’s make an album.” So we started working on it about a year and a half ago.
You improvise through Superego. What’s your process for writing a song?
Usually as I’m going to sleep a tune gets lodged in my head.
That’s when I come up with ideas! Right before falling asleep. That must be a thing.
Right before you fall asleep, yeah. It’s really inconvenient for any type of time management schedule, but that’s when the best stuff happens. Usually I’ll giggle, because it’ll be the hook of a song and then it’ll be something (laughing) insane in the hook. Then I’ve got to figure out what the songs about. It’s kind of like a Superego sketch. When we do Shunt and I sing songs as him, it’s just a hook and something dirty or weird and then I flesh it out from there. Then I take it to Dan and he puts music to it. Sometimes I’ll sing a song to a click track and then he’ll fill in the chords like James Bladon who produced Mount Us More. Like “Grover Cleveland” is a song on the EP and that is from an old Superego sketch. So I fleshed that one out, but the others, like “Yesterday’s Porn…” Dan lives in Corona, California, which is 45 minutes from where I live, so in order to beat traffic I would drive out there three hours early and wait at the Starbucks by his house. I would get a bunch of stuff done; write, take care of things. I opened my laptop and the porn that I had been looking at the day before was on still there. And I went, “Oh shit I’m that guy.” So I closed it up and was like, “Yesterday’s porn… Oh, well there!” So, I quickly worked up a song.
You never know where it’s going to come from.
You never know. Usually it’s something emotional and embarrassing.
I wanted to talk to you about Grover Cleveland as soon as I heard the song, because you’re a huge history buff. I know anytime we go back to Kansas City, you’re like, “Off to the museum!”
That song, I just kind of did that hook improvised in a sketch and it made it. Andy Daly kind of inspired it a bit, in so far as I didn’t want to just keep doing blue song after blue song. You know just one dirty thing after another, because that’s going to get old. So I thought, “What if it’s just this ridiculous song that’s historical fact about the late President Grover Cleveland.”
Did you have to do research or did you already know facts about him?
I knew virtually nothing about Grover Cleveland. So, we researched it and found all kinds of stuff. Like, he really did have part of his face removed, because he had cancer, and they replaced it with rubber, so that he could talk. All that stuff is true. He kind of bought his way out of being in the Civil War by paying someone a hundred and fifty dollars, a Polish immigrant, to take his place. The guy survived and lived out his life, but yeah, he paid his way out of Civil War.
What’s your favorite historical fact or history subject?
My favorite is World War I.
Because you can really see a technological leap from the Civil War, which was forty years before, where there’s still the cavalry and there’s still swords in World War I. There’s these old empires that have been around for almost a thousand years in some cases, and now there’s horses alongside tanks. You can really see the technology coming in. And the fact that biplanes were just canvasses and wood with an engine in it. Just blows my mind.
Were you more the class clown kid or the geeky kid?
Class clown. I’m kind of quiet. At home I like to be by myself, reserved. I remember being in kindergarten and thinking, “Okay if I don’t come up with someone, no ones going to leave me alone.” So I started to, I guess, develop extrovert tendencies.
What do you mean leave you alone?
Well, if you’re quiet, then you’re subjecting yourself to being picked on. At least from my vantage point, and left out and all kinds of unknowns. I felt like if you make yourself known a little bit then you have a little more control over how people perceive you, maybe.
Sure. I don’t think you’re the first guy in comedy to have been an introvert or been picked on.
No. (laughing) That was another thing, when I would watch Johnny Carson with my mom, I just loved listening to comedians talk about their past or Johnny Carson talk about you know how you get these highs and then you have these lows. These were validating points to me. I felt all of that and I went, “Oh! These must be my people.”
So early on you know this is what you wanted to do.
Yeah. I mean, yeah, prepubescent realization.
That’s both wonderful and terrible at the same time.
Oh yeah, I remember we were studying some painter or a sculptor or artist from the 19th century and my teacher said, “Their paintings are worth millions of dollars now, but they died broke and alone.” (laughing) This is the fatalist in me. As a child, I went, “Well, that’s me.” I’m fighting against that so hard for that not to be the case.
You have a son. You call him “The dude.” Obviously it changed your life, but has having a kid changed the way you approach comedy or the way you look at your overall career and that fatalist way of thinking?
You know, I just talked to Joe Randazzo who used to be the editor for The Onion and now he’s the head writer for @midnight. I saw him this weekend at MaxFunCon. He and I have kids who are about the same age; I have one son, he has two kids. We talked about how mortality became really prominent once our sons were born, because in essence it’s biology saying, “Hey, your replacement’s here, and now you get to train them.” So, now the clock is ticking. That idea has lessened a lot, but for many years I was thinking, “Is this gonna be your last memory of me? This horrible guy? You could be wiped off the planet by something stupid.” “Yeah, last thing my dad said to me was, ‘Stop wiping shit on that.’” or whatever. I feel like with my son, watching him, especially when my mom is in town it validates a lot of things that I thought when I was a kid. When I see my mom interact with him now, I kind of go, “Oh yeah. I was right about that.”
It really is, and at the same time allowing me to do things that in that vein, kind of saying, “You know, certain things just aren’t that important.” The important thing is to connect with my son, have a good time with him. Support him and love him. I don’t have to do tough love. Society will do that. I have to teach lessons, but I don’t have to be real hard on him, because I don’t want him to grow up with crippling emotional problems like, well frankly, like most men have. “I’m your dad. I’m your buddy. Let’s do this.”
Does he think you’re funny?
He does! I don’t know how much longer that is going to last. He’s really funny. He has very good timing, very good sensibilities. He cracks me up all the time.
Your new album Bad Honky just came out and you’ve got some things coming up. You’re doing a show at NerdMelt this weekend.
Yep, this Friday night (6/19) at 7pm, and we had our one rehearsal last night and I met half the band. It was awesome.
Is it going to be live music?
Wait, was the album recorded with live instruments?
Oh yeah! The album was live instruments. I think there’s one track with a drum machine, but the rest of it is real people doing stuff. Marc Mcconville played kettle steel and Dan Franklin, my producer, played guitar and bass, Patrick Copeland played piano and my friend Billy Brimblecom was on the drums.
I want to do Shunt as a two-pronged thing. That rehearsal last night just really made me feel awesome. We did ten songs: all five from the new EP and then five songs from the Journeymen album. I want to do more Shunt McGuppin shows and then I also want to expand the Superego brand. I in no way want to move away from that. I want to make it, kind of, deeper cut. My feeling is, if people can discover Superego later, as the audience grows and more people discover it. If they like Shunt McGuppin, they can go, “Oh shit! This guy also has albums.”