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April 19, 2010

"My Custom Van" Is Now A Play: Elle Talks To Its Creator (Not Me)

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


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Wow, that has to be odd yet cool to see your book turned into a show!
Will you be attending or will you sneak out on stage one night and surprise the actor playing you?
I demand answers.


I think that is really neat! Wish it were closer so I could see it!


How weird is it to hear someone else talk about their show based on your work? Do you get little twinges of gollum "my precious" when they talk about it? Protective of your baby? I probably would. But you're probably way more mature than me. Highlighter dick.

Is it weird to hear someone say, "a lot of what you see in the show is my own neurosis about how I grew up" ...but it's about your book? Is it his neurosis coupled with your neurosis? Is it a mega-neurosis hoagie sandwich? Is it? Then I want a bite of that hoagie. With some chocolate soda.

Congrats Michael! Your taco parties are now _dramatized_! yayyyy :)


I call the play rights to Chicken Cheeks!


I'm happy for you that your funny book is a funny play. Yet...I'm harboring feelings of resentment towards this glory grabbing robed stranger. A sort of misguided "How DARE he!?" It will pass and everything will go on, (just as Celine sings about in "Titanic", aka your favorite movie) just wanted to share with the class.

Hope you are enjoying a lovely spring break.


Renee -- haha, me too! That's a little what I was talking about. Like, "Wait a minute buster! That's Mr. Black's neurosis!"

But imitation and flattery, you know? If it gets it out there I suppose. Still, I think it's funny we're all sniffy for Mikey about it, haha. We're weird.


Dude, they said 'subculture' in the interview...that's automatically super cool status.


Jaime, it's probably because we're mothers.

So I looked at this:


That's what I call rolling up ones sleeves and getting the job done. Why are you always the funniest one in the group? Scene-stealer.

Great advice on not abusing the attention of twitter followers. I've unfollowed a lot of celebs (that I initially thought would be interesting) due to over-promotion and/or boring, unfunny tweets. There is also such a thing as tweeting too much. You, however, are not in danger of that. In the least. EH-hem!


I actually saw this show's preview performance and it was friggin hysterical. And Michael was there! He waited for the whole cast to emerge from the dressing room before giving them some very positive feedback and he even took a few photos with them. The director's neuroses may have been visible in the set, but Michael's brilliance shone through the words. Twasome. Michael, you're a class act for trusting them with your words. And, as you said, they did the words justice. Can't wait to see it again.


In lieu of of witty/borderline-stalkerish comment, I'll just say Congrats, Michael!!


Apropos of nothing, I just watched this great interview with MIB and Showalter...rare to see them be serious for a bit, then fun to watch them start improving. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je6swFvFSGs You guys have probably already seen it, but I just thought I'd share.

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I'm happy for you that your funny book is a funny play. Yet...I'm harboring feelings of resentment towards this glory grabbing robed stranger. A sort of misguided "How DARE he!?" It will pass and everything will go on, (just as Celine sings about in "Titanic", aka your favorite movie) just wanted to share with the class.

Finx & Lairs

Since we couldn't figure out how to email you (who doesn't have a contact section on their website?) we're letting you know that we finally got around to reviewing your book that your publisher didn't send to us (we had to buy one, wtf?) and it's available on our website. Go read it Michael.

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I'm harboring feelings of resentment towards this glory grabbing robed stranger

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I really, liked you From The State, to Johnny Bluejeans on Viva Variety, to playing Stuckybowl's Phil (on Ed)to watching those awful VHI shows primarily to see his commentary - That's what made this book of "essays" so disappointing to me.

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