Friday, March 4, 2011

Interview with Brian Keith Dalton, creator of Mr. Deity

by Adam C. LaMonica

Path of Reason: What inspired Mr.Deity (other than divinity)?

Brian Keith Dalton: The Indonesian tsunami of December 2004 inspired the first episode of Mr. Deity. I wrote a little skit which was essentially the first Mr. Deity episode (Mr. Deity and the Evil). I sent it around and everyone loved it. Almost two years later, Jimbo and I were driving home from a job and he convinced me to shoot the first episode with myself in the lead role (we had put it out to every actor we knew, and no one was interested). We shot the first episode three times because I had a really hard time directing and acting. In fact, it was the first time I'd acted in anything.

Philosophically, my love of science, philosophy, and critical thinking are the inspirations. I do believe that the great evils of this world are ideology and dogmatism. They make people unreasonable. And the most frightening words in any language (I'll do it here in English) are, "It cannot be reasoned with."

POR: It's clear from watching a few webisodes of Mr. Deity that you have a solid understanding of religion and it's dogma. Do you have any religious background or have you always taken the side of the skeptic?

BKD: I have a pretty extensive religious background. I was raised Mormon, and really got into it in my late teens and early twenties. I also became pretty obsessed with Christianity (some of my Mormon friends were worried) and Christian history. In my early twenties I studied informally with a Jewish theologian for nearly two years and have a really good grasp of Judaism (he used to say that I knew more about Judaism than 99% of Jews).

I became a Formon (my term for a former Mormon) in 1993 when, after a lot of investigating, I came to the conclusion that the empirical claims of Mormonism were untrue and could be proved false to a near certainty. After that, I wandered a bit. I tried to become Catholic but they wouldn't let me. At that point, I wasn't sure if I believed in God, and I was looking mostly for my young daughter (still under the illusion that religion was necessary to raise good children). I tried Judaism for a short time but couldn't get past the ethnic factor ---- I felt like I'd never be a true Jew. I also just hated anything that smacked of nationalism or group-think ---- the American ideal of the melting pot really speaks to me.

I finally realized that there were other people like me and that they called themselves skeptics. At the time, Dr. Laura was one of these people (crazy, huh?). She was on the board of The Skeptic Society and her article in Skeptic magazine on "False Memory Syndrome" lead me to Michael Shermer and The Skeptic Society. I love Michael and his organization. He and I have very similar stories (he was a born-again Christian), and we both "get" the whole religion "thing." Neither of us are bitter about our experiences, and we generally respect people of faith who can discuss religion rationally.

POR: The sardonic commentary of Mr.Deity undoubtedly offends some religious people out there despite it's honesty regarding particular doctrines. What kind of responses have you received from viewers?

BKD: I began doing Mr. Deity believing that Christians (and other religious folks) in America had not been given a fair shake in the media and that they were nowhere near as close-minded and unable to laugh at themselves as people thought. I am happy to report that I have been able to maintain that opinion. Perhaps that will change as the Mr. Deity audience grows. I hope not.

I have a lot of religious people write to me who love the show ---- and not because they're too dense to get it (as some have suggested). I hope that trend continues, and I hope I can continue to walk that very narrow line where (apparently) I'm not being horribly offensive to those who are religiously minded.

I think anyone with a deep and abiding faith knows that there are problems with theology, the Bible, religion in general, and with how religion is practiced by some. I think it shows a profound intellectual honesty to be able to laugh at yourself when someone is really poking at you ---- and we hit pretty hard sometimes. Kudos to them!

POR: Is there any particular reason why Mr. Deity tends to satirize Christianity? Why not other religions as well?

BKD: Well, I live in a "Christian Nation." Of course, I say that tongue-in-cheek, but Christianity is the dominant religion. It's also the religion that I and most people in this country know best. I just don't think the show would have a broad audience if we were poking fun at Jainism.

POR: What does it take to produce a webisode? Do you really do everything yourself? Writing, directing, filming, etc?

BKD: Right now, it's taking every waking moment of my life to do Mr. Deity every other week, Larry/Deity once a week, and Words ever other week. I do way too much. I write all the shows, produce them, direct them, act in them, shoot them (as cinematographer), edit them, sound mix them, and do the music. I even compress the shows and get them ready for YouTube. Thankfully, Jimbo does the podcast feed. And all the cast members are extremely supportive. Most supportive is my lovely wife who plays Lucy on the show. I can't begin to tell you what this woman endures ---- particularly having her home torn apart most of the time now. She is my best friend and I could not be a luckier guy.

POR: What are your plans for the future of Mr. Deity? TV? Movie? Action figure?

BKD: An action figure is our top priority right now. But we'd love to do this as a half-hour, one-camera, sitcom on some really, really gutsy network. We have a pilot and several episodes written, but companies are afraid of the content. We're looking into hitting up the BBC ---- Europe is a much better venue for this show, I think. We also have a feature film idea, and it looks like (at this point) Mr. Deity will be showing in a film sometime in the next year --- though not a Mr. Deity film. I'll have more details when that deal gets inked.

POR: The "behind the scenes" webisode, "Words" is a more recent creation that "follows the lives of the Deity crew."  It has great comedic "reality" in the vain of  shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm. Who are some influences on your style?

BKD: I have been one of the biggest Woody Allen fans in the world since I was 14. I'm also a huge fan of Bob Newhart. You can see a lot of these two guys in my delivery, timing, and writing. The other influence is Bob Hope (directly and vicariously ---- as he was a big influence on Woody). I can say it more succinctly ---- a Woody and two Bobs. Other than that, I just love good writing ---- particularly conversational writing. When we're rehearsing, the stuff that sounds "written" gets cut very quickly. I think the hardest thing for an actor is to play a scene that doesn't feel real. Acting is hard enough, so having good, conversational writing is a must. I hope that doesn't sound like I'm patting myself on the back, but I am.

POR: Is anyone in the "Deity crew" involved in other projects or have previous things they've done in tv, film, or on the web?

BKD: Amy was on a Star Trek episode, and is one of the few people on the planet to have appeared in a live-action segment of South Park. She's done a lot of stuff over the years. She's also my full-time wife which is really time-consuming.

Sean has been in all kinds of stuff --- you can look him up on imdb.com. He's the real actor among us ---- great training, great instincts ---- he's been in everything I've done, and he just knocks me out. We're going to be shooting a pilot for another show I've been writing called "Estranged." We did some preliminary shooting a while back and we've just been looking at it. Sean is so good, it's frightening.

Jimbo has a theater and film background (I think a degree?). He made a feature years ago (I think he's still paying down that loan), and has great comic timing/instincts. He's my best friend --- which is pretty much a full-time job. So, he can't be in anything else.

POR: What's your take on the advent of "webisodes" and do you plan on continuing making them for different projects?

BKD: I love the web, and I love YouTube. We couldn't have done this five or six years ago. I think it's a great venue to get seen. It's so great to be able to put something up, have people watch it and get their feedback. More than anything else, we love the YouTube comments. They really do motivate us to keep coming up with great stuff.

POR: On July 29th, you'll be visiting the Center For Inquiry in Amherst, NY. Do you think it's appropriate that Mr. Deity will be going to address a group of atheists, agnostics, and other skeptics? Do you plan on converting them?

BKD: Mr. Deity doesn't have a problem with Atheists --- they're his loyal opposition. He is sadly aware of what his people do (did) when they get (had) power. So, he has great respect for those on the other side. He too, hates the ideologues!


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