Joe Jung on My Custom Van
Joe Jung, artistic director of New York’s Project: Theater, says bluntly, “Women are fascinated by men” by way of offering a reason for us to come see his adaptation of My Custom Van and 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays That Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face, the 2008 book of dude-centric essays by comic actor Michael Ian Black (Stella, The State, Wet Hot American Summer). The show, currently running through April 24 at the Upper West Side’s Drilling Company Theatre, digs down deep into the thirtysomething-guy mind, where ’80s nostalgia mixes with latent fantasies about building robots and throwing the ultimate taco party. “Women see men acting like boys every day,” Jung says. “I think [the play] is a very honest look at the strange world of modern men.” Jung talked to ELLE.com about adapting Black’s book for the stage and the modern-day-cool factor of Dungeons and Dragons.—Rachel Rosenblit
ELLE: Why did you decide to adapt My Custom Van?
Joe Jung: A friend came to my house to hang out and brought a copy of the book. We read it out loud and were just hysterically laughing. Afterward, we just looked at each other and were like, “Why don’t we do this for a show?” I just turned 32. I got married last year. I work at Citigroup doing International Franchise Management. But at night, I get to dress up in a silk robe and hang out with my friends and do this show.
ELLE: How would you describe the 30-year-old man of today?
JJ: We’re done with school and there are pressures—you’re expected to buckle down and grow up. There are a lot of people who do that and are miserable and don’t have an outlet. Look at the video game industry! Guys in their 30s are advancing to this weird level of sophistication in their video games and demanding that [the games] grow with them. It’s still this idea that it’s fun to shoot things and play football online and pretend that you’re in a rock band. Some guys go back to the frat reunion and get stuck hanging out with a bunch of 18-year-olds, telling stories about how awesome the frat was. You still want to dwell on how awesome things were.
ELLE: There’s a lot of rehashing the glory days in this show, and a ton of early ’90s nostalgia. Did it feel personal for you, having been a teenager then?
JJ: Well, I was a big nerd and not very popular, and a lot of what you see in the show is my own neurosis about how I grew up. Our cast has a lot of talks about that—none of us were really that cool. I spent a lot of time in my basement, playing with Legos and Transformers and creating weird fantasy worlds. I’m in that weird stage of looking at everything through the filter of the early ’90s. I’ll listen to music and subconsciously—or partly consciously—think, Man, Pearl Jam’s Ten is such a better album! We tried to find some of that childish nostalgia that all of us 30-year-old guys in the show have. In the ’80s I was definitely not cool. I liked building robots out of Legos and reading Dungeons and Dragons books.
ELLE: But don’t you think that stuff has become sort of subversively cool? Like part of a hipster subculture?
JJ: Yeah—it’s very hip to do that now. There are coffee houses that have Dungeons and Dragons nights. People my age are like, Let’s do this out in the open! Let’s do this in the coffee shop! We’re old enough and successful enough in our jobs to have the confidence to do that.
ELLE: You also have the confidence to rock a pretty ridiculous-looking fake mustache in the play. What did your wife say?
JJ: Oh, she’s been laughing from the start. She asked me to put it on at home a couple times to remind her what I would look like if she’d let me grow a mustache.
ELLE: She won’t?
JJ: Absolutely not. But I’ll always have the fake.
For more information on My Custom Van, visit http://www.projecttheater.org/calendar.html