Today I get the pleasure of asking Garon Cockrell 20 Questions. Garon is the oft-maligned and under appreciated (for comedic effect) intern for the Never Not Funny podcast (one of my favorite podcasts ever), a position he took way back in 2012. Garon is also the founder, editor and a writer for his pop culture website aptly titled Pop Culture Beast. He is a published horror author and an award winning screenplay writer. Other than the exploits and tales told while being the intern at Never Not Funny, I really do not know that much about Garon, so let's change that and get to the questions.
My previous job of just over 15 years was as a cartographer. I have always loved how place can often tell a story that might not be captured in other formats. So I have always been interested in people's personal geographic stories. For example, I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma then moved to Montgomery, Alabama only to move up to Birmingham a few years later. I basically grew up in the Birmingham area and got the Hell out of there when I went off to school in Kent, Ohio. From Kent I followed my college sweetheart down to Columbus, Ohio and have lived in the Columbus area for since moving down here in 1997.
Question 1: What is your geographic story?
I wish I could say I’ve lived in a million different places, amongst a multitude of cultures. Unfortunately, I can’t say that. I grew up in Michigan, various parts of (suburbs) Detroit but mostly Livonia/Walled Lake. My family has roots in Canada and in the south so I have visited both of these places amongst some other states in the country but as far as living, it was Michigan until I got to the soonest possible moment I could flee and from there it was to California. First to Panorama City, which I would not recommend, and then to Sherman Oaks, where I’ve been for a few years now. I’d love for my geographic story to take me to the UK one day or even to places like Portland or Seattle. Maybe when I’m rich with writer money.
That is a pretty simple story. Michigan to LA. There are worse stories. I know a few stories of people who have not moved out of their childhood town ever. They are some of the reasons I left that town, but that is a story for a different time. So... Question 2: Do you get the opportunity to travel much? If so, where have you been?
I don't travel near as much as I'd like. When I was younger we went to places like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in Tennessee. We went to Ohio a lot for Cedar Point, sometimes Sea World and this theme park called Geauga Lake, which apparently is abandoned now. I traveled from Michigan to the West with my dad as a kid. We went through Yellowstone, Montana, Wyoming, etc. I ended up flying home alone from Denver while my dad continued on. We also went to this awesome hotel a lot called Wheels Inn somewhere in Canada. Chatham I think? I remember it having a water slide indoors which was basically the coolest thing ever at the time. I've been to Niagra Falls and New York City where I spent the 1999-2000 NYE inside MTV studios. I visited New Mexico where my mom and brother lived briefly.
As an adult though my travels have been far less than in the past. Aside from the road trip moving to California which was basically just a long drive with no pit-stops, I've visited Vegas, Tijuana, San Diego, San Louis Obispo, all just short trips away. I'd really love to see more of not only America but the world too. I wanna visit the Pacific NW, I wanna visit Japan, Ireland, the UK. One of those road trips visiting all the tourist traps in the country sounds amazing to be honest. A dream trip would be traveling the country visiting haunted locales.
A haunted tour might be an interesting thing to see.
Now it is time for my patented Question 3. I think we might circle back to some of these concepts... but Question 3 is almost always Question 3. So, as stolen blatantly from the seminal Paul F. Tompkins bit, Question 3: Cake or pie? Which kind specifically and why?
I'm not a sweets guy to be honest. I do love a good cherry or apple pie but I also love a good yellow cake with strawberries and bananas in the middle from this little hole in the wall in Van Nuys. How do I choose which is a favorite?! Plus cheesecake! This is monstrous.
I guess a nice cinnamonny apple pie would be a favorite.
I love me some apple pie. My mom made and decorated cakes as a side business when I was a kid, so I had more than enough cake as a kid. Cheesecake is amazing, and oft forgotten about. You are now quite possibly my favorite person ever, mainly because of the cheesecake!
I am currently subscribed to over 40 podcasts. Question 4: Since you are an integral piece of a super successful podcasts, do you listen to any podcasts?
I don’t listen to near as many shows as I used to, although now that I have a job where I can listen to shows again I have started to dive into to more of them.
Right now I listen to Tyler Oakley and Korey Kuhl’s podcast Psycho Babble, I was featured on a couple episodes of The No Sleep Podcast which is horror based so I listen to that as often as I can. I also just started listening to some old time radio shows on Old Time Radio. What else…I check out My Favorite Murder, Spontaneanation, Jackie and Laurie. I listened to Serial, S-Town, Missing Richard Simmons (Bleh). Plus I can listen to Rachel Maddow and Real Time with Bill Maher episodes via podcast too which is pretty cool. I think podcasting is a remarkably exciting environment right now. So many voices, so much great content, You’ll likely never run out of something to listen to that you can enjoy or hell even learn from. Did you know that Bernie Sanders has a podcast? It’s crazy, everyone and anyone can have a show and there are folks out there that will listen.
I changed jobs from a state job that was not intellectually stimulating to a much more difficult and extremely more interesting job about a year and a half ago. At that time I was listening to about 60 podcasts a week and consistently miserable. Aside from friends and family, podcasts were about the only thing that kept me relatively sane.
So you are the owner and editor of "Pop Culture Beast." Question 5: Is there a particular part of pop culture that you cannot help yourself around? What corner of pop culture do you simply have to consume regardless of how good or bad each particular piece make actually be?
I mean it’s probably scary movies. I don’t see everything, I wish that I could, but I have such a love for that genre that I love watching it and collecting stuff around it. I love the 80s horror franchises and I will buy pretty much anything that has to do with them so I have toys and posters and books and multiple copies of these movies all over my house. There are movies that I absolutely adore that someone might watch and think I was bonkers. Film in general is a big part of my life. It was really formative for me growing up and represented some important times. It’s why I created the blog and it’s why I write scripts now. I love the business and I want to honor it and be a part of it.
I thought it might be the horror genre in general. I love that you seem to focus on the 80's franchises because they are so iconic. They got so big that you one can easily imagine a saturday morning cartoon with Freddy, Jason, and Mike Meyers on it with the occasional Pinhead interstitial short. I cannot think of an equivalent for the iconic quality for the 2000's or 2010's. The ring did a little of that iconic-ness, but nowhere near as culturally impacting.
Question 6: Why do you think that level of cultural penetration is missing for more current horror franchises and stand-alones?
I mean that's tough. I think innocence has a lot to do with it. Look at the places those films made unsafe. "Halloween" made your typical suburbs a nightmare. "Nightmare on Elm Street" made sleep unsafe. "Friday the 13th" made camping unsafe. What's left? As a society these things don't scare us anymore because they've more or less become reality. Not in a literal way obviously, but if you think about it, what is safe anymore? I think these new breed horror franchises are going to be extremely difficult to launch. I don't think we'll ever have another Freddy or Jason. Jigsaw was the last one of that type. They've tried, look at "Brainscan" from the late 90s. That was supposed to launch a new horror icon. "Jeepers Creepers" also. Horror now is sort of in this interesting Alt-horror phase with stuff like "It Comes At Night" and "It Follows". Both great films but vastly different from the horror I grew up with but I love them just as much. It's a new breed and it's exciting. I can't wait to see what comes next, hopefully with my being a part of it!
I think it also has to do with the proliferation of indy horror making it to some level of distribution. The barrier to entry for horror movies seems to have lifted which has created more indy one-shots instead of studio franchises. I can think of a handful of micro budget horror movies that were really critically acclaimed that I am not sure could have been made prior to this recent explosion of indy creators. But that really is just my completely uninformed guess.
For me, it is super hero movies. I might not go see it in the theater, but I will eventually watch every one of them... even the most terrible of them. It is a curse to be sure... I watched "Steel" with Shaq... ugh (dedication to a genre or compulsion... you be the judge)
Question 7: What is the most unexpectedly hardest aspect for you concerning screenwriting? Clearly getting someone to buy, produce, shoot, edit, and distribute a script is the most difficult, but what is the aspect of the day-to-day screenwriting process that you find surprisingly difficult?
To keep going. That's the truth of the matter. This is such a difficult career to get into and there is virtually no positive reinforcement from anyone so you have to have that inner drive to go on in yourself and I'll be honest, sometimes I feel like it's fading. All I've ever wanted to do was tell stories and bring people emotional reactions to what they are seeing. What happens when no one wants to give you that chance? It's difficult to be sure. So you keep going, you hang in, you write your stories you dream about them because that's all you can do. I think everyone thinks that writing is the easiest thing in the world to do, that you just sit down and start typing, it isn't like that. Often times it's an agonizing internal war just to put "Once upon a time..." on the page. Sometimes you feel like you are on the verge of something happening and sometimes it feels like you are standing at the edge of an abyss with nowhere to go but straight down into the dark where the monsters are waiting. I didn't choose to be a writer because it was an easy path, hell it wasn't even a choice. It's pretty much the only thing I am good at so that's my path. I'll follow it for as long as I am able to.
This is way more informed and personal than I was expecting. I was kind of expecting "Dialog, because writing people talking is the hard," and am really happy to see such a wonderful and thoughtful response. It has to be one of the most unrelenting of processes to write and submit and get no to not good feedback on that finished product.
So let's change topics to something lighter. Question 8: What part of pop-culture do you try to avoid even though it is so incredibly popular?
Kardashians. or I guess Sports if you consider that pop culture, which i guess it is. I just don't really enjoy it much. As for the Kardashians, that might seem like an easy answer, but they're truly vapid and if they aren't really like that, then they are doing a huge disservice to themselves by portraying themselves that way. I even gave Caitlyn Jenner the benefit of the doubt. I enjoyed her show because I thought she was learning something and might come to see her way to being a true value to the community. unfortunately, it doesn't look like she's learned anything.
I can definitely understand stepping away from the Kards... because they are the worst. I think the problem that Caitlyn Jenner has is that her history is so wrapped up in being privileged that she has not had the struggle that many of the LGBTQ have had to endure. It really is amazing how much gods of fame and money can be a soothing balm.I think sports has more of an affinity to pop-culture, but can understand their exclusion as well. That being said, I am not a sports guy as well. I mean... I watch soccer, but that doesn't even really count as a sport in the US.
Question 9: Have you ever written or thought about writing a different genre than horror?
I have! I always come back to horror because that's the genre that really had the most impact on me growing up. When I first started writing as a kid i started with a big "friday the 13th" type franchise called "Death Chime" about a killer named Arnie. Right after that I wrote a story called Runaway which was about, if memory serves, an autistic kid who ran away from home. I don't even know how I knew that word or what that was at the time and I am sure it's all completely wrong. I was like 12 and it was 1992 so that wasn't a disease that was really in the national news at the time, at least in any way I would have seen. I've dabbled in crime and wrote a short comedy that Kelly Marie Tran was one of the stars of. Just casually name-dropping someone starring in "The Last Jedi", no big. One of the best things I've written is a western, well, a post-apocalyptic western called The Devil's Hand. Even in Demonic and Other Tales there are a couple stories that aren't exactly horror. One being Prelude which is a sort of dystopian tale and the other being Looking Glass which is a girl dealing with her self-hatred. So yeah, I've touched on other things but horror will always be home to me.
We've all had brushes with greatness. I get that you "know" Kelly Marie Tran, but I have had a prolonged EMAIL CONVERSATION with an amazing stand-up and podcaster named Jimmy Pardo. So.. you know I can namedrop as well. I know people. I met him in Dayton once and Cincinnati a different time. We're tight like that. (editor's note: remember, Garon is the "intern" for Jimmy Padro's podcast, "Never Not Funny".)
Question 10: Fill in the blanks: I find that I am mostly _____. Others find that I am mostly _____.
This is the hardest question yet. I’ve had to turn to Facebook for help.
Out of the responses I got, this one struck me the most:
I find that I am mostly lost,. Others find that I am mostly on the right path.
It’s an interesting thing to see someone say. I do feel lost some times and it is really touching to know that someone, maybe even someones, think I am on the right path. Still, after a rough couple of years it’s a real new life. I’m sort of rediscovering who I am and it’s an interesting process. Wow I feel like this went way deeper than you might have been after.
You would be surprised how deep some of these questions end up going, especially with how relatively (deceptively) "simple" some of them are. This one is always interesting because so many people's self perception does not match how others perceive them. Yours is a perfect example.
Question 11: What is one small thing that you would like to add into your life? (Nothing earth-shattering, I'm not asking for sweeping lifestyle changes here)
An automatic cat litter box. I love my cats but i've been cleaning litter boxes for 16 years. I'm a little sick of it.
I completely understand that one. I hated cleaning out the cat litter when we had cats. It seems so tiresome because you are never really done. The second after cleaning out the boxes (we had three cats once upon a time) there was a line of cats waiting to poop in the fresh litter. Sometimes they stared at my while doing it.
I know that we touched on this a little with Question 10, but this question is just too good not to ask (even though I think we touched upon it a little already). It is a deceptively simple question, that pedants might parse very peculiarly So, Question 12: Are you happy?
I'm getting there. I have some work to do to get there but I think I am on the way. There are aspects of my life I am happy with but to say that Yeah I am happy would be disingenuous. I'm not. I don't fully have the career I want, I have a lot of debt, I have challenges directly in my path that I am hoping to avoid. But, there are times, when I am sitting in my apartment, playing a game or just listening to a record where I feel happy knowing that this is mine and I am doing okay. It's those brief moments that I know I am going the right way and that sooner rather than later I'll be able to answer that question with a yes.
I think that it is always important to remember that Happiness is a process and not necessarily a destination. You seem like you are happier in the NNF interactions I have heard lately, and it seems like you are talking the steps necessary to get into a better frame of mind. I am happy for you.
Question 13: Do you have any superstitions or rituals?
I had to really think about that one. I don't think I do. My dad always warned me to put my right shoe on first and never to walk across a handicapped sign. A friend of mine wont "split" poles. In terms of my writing, I almost always start with a title does that count as a ritual? Maybe I should develop some maybe that would help push me into a more creative frame of mind. There are times i settle in to write, grab some chips and soda and then end up looking a youtube cover songs for hours so that might be a ritual. Probably not a good one.
I would define a ritual as a specific methodology to put yourself into a correct level of readiness. For example, a recent comic book writer that I interviewed had to complete a crossword puzzle prior to doing any writing. For me as a kid, I would get dressed for soccer in a very specific sequence to get myself in the correct headspace for playing the game. The examples you give about the right show first and the handicapped sign avoidance seem more like superstitions.
I find that people who do not have a meditative practice or are no longer religious do not have many rituals in their lives. Religion and self reflection tend to come with ritual.
Question 14: Do you have any (what you would consider) guilty pleasure pop culture vices?
I've come around to the position that there are no such things as guilty pleasures. I feel like that might be unfair to whatever it is you like. If you enjoy it, dammit enjoy it. Who cares what other people think? I love Taylor Swift, I love Hanson, I love pop music, I don't need to let some idiot judge me for it. There was a time when I was afraid of the stuff I liked because of what it might reveal about myself. Like, "I can't let people know I like the Indigo Girls or Bette Midler they'll know I'm gay." Guess what, who cares? They made amazing music. I hate that we still sort of have this stigma about things that we love. It's mass snobbery. Let people enjoy what they enjoy. You enjoy what you enjoy. I'll bump mmmbop and be happy doing it!