David Wong is Cracked.com’s Senior Editor. He’s the author of the horrifying and hysterically funny novel John Dies At The End, which is being adapted for the screen by horror legend Don Coscarelli. To anyone that graduated from the Cracked.com School of Internet Comedy — like two of Holy Taco’s writers, Ian Fortey and Luis Prada — David Wong is both the Dean of students and the cool professor that raises you from a nobody to a professional writer of dick jokes.
David probably has plenty of great, constructive things to do with his free time, like write a sequel to John Dies At The End. That’s why we wasted his time with an interview — just so we can say we prevented a great author from working for a little bit.
HT: You’re famous for taking Cracked.com and helping make it into what is arguably the best comedy site on the internet that doesn’t have Taco in the name. Did you have any idea when you started at Cracked that it would get so big?
David Wong: No, but mainly because I assume from experience that everything I touch is going to fail. Four years ago I was doing data entry at an insurance company and failing at that. My life had been kind of an unbroken chain of failure, so I think this has been kind of like the pitcher who gets his first hit and it winds up going over the fence. You see it all the time, and it’s like he gets so sick of striking out that he starts swinging so hard that when he finally runs into a pitch, it leaves the park.
But I will say this: everybody on the team years ago had this really specific idea of what kind of site we wanted to create, because there was a specific kind of site that we all wanted to read but that didn’t seem to exist. So when we started building it, suddenly we found out that millions of other people wanted the same thing. It makes sense now, but I’d have never predicted it.
HT: Your book, John Dies at the End, is being made into a film by Don Coscarelli – are you involved in that process at all? When did you first get word that someone was interested in adapting it to film?
David Wong: In 2007 the book had been posted on the internet for a few years, and then published through a small independent print-on-demand horror publisher. It had only sold a few thousand copies and I assumed that would be the last anyone heard of it. But somehow Don Coscarelli (a long-time cult horror master who is something of a legend in the genre) got hold of a copy and he emailed me and asked about film rights.
I didn’t respond because I thought it was a hoax (I used to get messages from crazy people all the time) but he was persistent and soon we were on the phone and soon after the lawyers were drawing up the paperwork. Again, I was still working at the insurance company when all of this was going on, and wondering how I was ever going to pay down my credit cards.
HT: Follow up! Do you fear the “book is better than the movie” syndrome or that what you wrote will be lost in translation?
David Wong: There are two things to remember:
One, the world is full of thousands of writers who have desperately worked their whole lives to get something adapted to the screen (or even published in the first place) and I’m just a dumbass from the midwest who doesn’t even have an English degree. I had never had a job that involved writing, I had never, ever had anything published in print outside of this book. So now this thing that I wrote is going to be acted out on screen by Paul Giamatti and other equally famous people, at a cost of millions of dollars of other people’s money. I can’t imagine how big of a dick I would have to be to criticize whatever they come up with.
Two, it’s a mistake to think of a movie being a “translation” of a book, like an audio book or a Spanish language edition. A movie is a completely different art form; the story structure is different, and most of the feeling will be conveyed, not by the language of the author, but by the actors, and the editing, and the score, etc. It’s more like if somebody made a JDatE song, or musical. The goal is for this very different thing to convey the same tone, the same sense of humor, the same outrageous “did that just happen?” plot twists. But it will be its own thing.
And I’m confident it will be awesome. It will be different, because it has to be different. But that’s what has me so excited about it. I don’t need somebody to make a scene-by-scene replay of the book. We’ve all seen that movie, that’s what plays in your head when you read the novel. I want to see a Don Coscarelli movie.
HT: Your Cracked articles, while funny, also often address serious issues and themes with a greater degree of depth than many comedy articles would devote to the same issue – do you believe comedy is better able to tackle and make people think about a serious issue than a similarly themed by “straight” article?
David Wong: I think I came around at the exact same time the people in charge of the Daily Show did, realizing that it actually benefits the writing in both directions. Serious subjects go down easier when they’re phrased in a funny way, and humor hits harder when there is a serious point at the heart of it. Humor has always been about how we as people deal with fear and anxiety, and the deeper the fear and anxiety, the better it feels to laugh at it.
But don’t let me bullshit you – I’m not capable of writing a “straight” article. Humor is the only way I know to communicate with strangers.
HT: What do you think is the key to Cracked’s success?
David Wong: One thing and one thing only: we decided that the world was full of great, undiscovered writers, and tried to create the most welcoming and open environment possible for them to come and contribute. There are no cold rejection letters, no one is turned away, everyone has direct access to an editor if they have questions or want feedback. The result has been people like you and Adam Brown (now over at the Smoking Jacket) and Cyriaque Lamar (now an editor at iO9) and countless others who started at Cracked and now seem to run half of the entertainment sites on the internet.
The Cracked editorial team was made up of people who had kind of banged their heads against the wall in terms of trying to get writing careers going, and the first thing we decided was that we weren’t going to put other people through that. If you can write, you can write for us. There are no dues to pay. We don’t ask to see a resume, and in fact don’t allow you to show us one even if you have it. Submissions are treated the same whether they come from a Pulitzer Prize-winner or an 18 year old kid writing from the computer lab at his high school. You can back me up on this – we just sort through the ideas as they come in, we don’t even know people’s real names until we are processing their payment.
HT: Who do you think are the best comedy writers working on the internet today? Best comedians in any medium?
David Wong: I wrote down like 50 names for that first one and then realize I was stressing myself out for fear I was going to omit someone who was likely to read this, so I’m going to pussy out and skip that one. As for comedians, it’s hard to top Patton Oswalt. Louis CK. Those are really standard answers I suppose. I did a bad job of answering that question. I apologize.
HT: You do your writing under a pseudonym, what made you decide on using one?
David Wong: I didn’t want the people at my day job finding out. My fear was that I’d write some article tearing into some personality type or behavior, or complaining about some situation, and it would appear to be some thinly-veiled swipe at my boss or someone else who I worked with. “He joked about how he hates people who wear Axe body spray! I wear Axe body spray! He was talking about me!”
HT: Comedy as a genre has been debated for its worthiness since Aristotle’s time, what do you think is the point of comedy? Do we need it?
David Wong: I think I accidentally answered this one earlier. God I’m bad at interviews. Basically all entertainment is about bridging the gap between the world as it is and the world as we instinctively think it should be. Comedy points out the absurdity of the gap between the real and the ideal better than any other medium.
HT: Best meme ever?
David Wong: The one where the dog has his face in the sprinkle and it says WHARRGARBL over and over again.
HT: Louis CK recently explained why farts are funny and frankly, I agree – is there anything you think is funny no matter what?
David Wong: Sudden, and completely unwarranted, cursing. Tell a newborn baby to fuck off, you’ll make me laugh every time.
HT: Most unintentionally funny thing you’ve ever experienced?
David Wong: Seeing that picture of the dog with its head in the sprinkler.
HT: Any idea why the internet seems to love both zombies and cats?
David Wong: They’re both cool to look at but not challenging at all in real life.
HT: Speaking of, Zombies Have Taken Over The Land, You Have To Arm Yourself. What Zombie-killing Weapons Do Carry With You as You Roam the Post-Apocalyptic Wastelands.
David Wong: Can I have a tank? Seems like that’d be easiest. Just kind of squish them.
HT: Any thoughts on the future of comedy on the internet?
David Wong: Hopefully the barrier between creator and audience will continue to vanish and blur, until we finally realize that somewhere in the world is a janitor who can make you laugh just as hard as Zach Galifianakis. Society in general needs to do a better job of utilizing people’s hidden talents. The world of comedy and entertainment can sort of be a microcosm of that.