TOM LENK ON THE EDINBURGH FRINGE, TEEN WITCH AND BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Tom Lenk tells us how you can do a two-for-one Buffy-fest at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe…
You may know Tom Lenk as Andrew, one of the trio in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or you may know him from his social media skits – some with celebrity guests in them (we speak to him about his Teen Witch sketch later on). Perhaps you know him from his comedy plays like Tilda Switon Answers An Ad On Craigslist, the hilarious story of a modern day Mary Poppins who finds a depressed gay man on Craigslist and insists on dissecting his life as part of a character study for her next big movie role.
Wherever you know him from. there’s no denying Tom Lenk is infectiously funny. Whether it’s injecting some light-hearted anecdotes into dramas like Buffy, giving you quick laughs vis his Instagram and Tik Tok reels or entertaining you with his impressions. Now, following his successful running at the Edinburgh Fringe festival with ‘Tilda Swinton’, Lenk is returning to the festival with Lottie Patchett Took a Hatchett a high camp, high energy, comedy whodunnit, based on the infamous true murder case of Lizzie Borden.
We spoke to him (while he was walking in a graveyard no less!) about comedy, Instagram and why Sarah Michelle Gellar should have won an Emmy.
Hi! I’ve walked across the street from my apartment I just got into yesterday so I could talk to you from a gorgeous, abandoned cemetery. It’s so creepy and weird but beautiful.
We like that you’re on-brand here Tom! How did you first get involved with Lottie Patchett Took a Hatchet?
I’m discovering that people are sort of half and half over here [in the UK] on whether or not they’ve heard of The Legend of Lizzie Borden. The real life Lizzie Borden was tried and found not guilty of the murder of her father and her stepmother who were notoriously abusive, conservative people. They were killed by an axe. And it’s not a children’s nursery rhyme, but a think goes Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her parents 40 whacks. So it’s kind of in the American popular consciousness in a way that it’s not over here.
But true crime people will know about it because she went on trial and she was vilified in the press, the way women were at the time and now. It’s shocking because she lived out the rest of her days as a spinster and she was rumoured to have a relationship with a woman etc.
Anyway, it’s just this crazy, fun story that we’re all familiar with as Americans. So we wanted to bring it over here in the form of a comedic parody called Lottie Platchett Took a Hatchet.
I’m a big fan of our author, Justin Elizabeth Sayre and I’ve worked with Tom Detrinis who produced it before, and they’re both in the show. I’ve also been a big fan of [director] Jessica Hanna for a while – it was just a perfect storm of wanting to work with everybody!
During the pandemic, we’d done a bunch of play readings and I think this one came out of that process. It’s creepy, it’s weird, it’s campy, it’s bawdy, it’s raucous and it’s inappropriate. It’s about feminism and queer people and it’s a cast and crew of queer people. It’s just the perfect thing to go see at the Fringe Festival!
What do you think it is about this story of Lizzie Borden that’s made people so interested in it after all these years?
I don’t know. Why are we obsessed with murder? Why are we obsessed with Jack The Ripper? All I do is watch British murder shows before I go to bed every night. I like the scripted kind, like murder mystery.
The analogy I was making the other day was it’s like how kids like to go on roller coasters. Because you’re kind of ‘oh my God am I gonna die?’ but does it bring you close enough to death to make you feel alive in some way? I don’t know.
I can’t really watch horror movies. I know, shocker. I have an aversion to gore. Even when I worked on stuff that had fake blood guts and wounds, I have a hard time separating it from reality. But I think it’s the same reason people love true crimes that they love horror. It’s a way to get your heart racing.
You’ve been at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before…
Yes, I’ve been here before last year with Tilda Swinton Answers An Ad On Craigslist which I’d love to bring back again, maybe next year…
I’m curious to see if our audience is going to turn out the way they did in years prior. I think last year they did an in-person and partial Zoom-type festival.
Post pandemic I have kind of a two-hour time limit to socialising. I don’t know if anyone else has, but after two hours my brain shuts off. So I was theorising – you got to see a full length play that’s two hours long with an intermission. Maybe you have drinks after, maybe you have dinner before, that turns into a several hours long process!
Are we going to see for the next couple of years, maybe it’s more of a Fringe approach to go into the shows where it’s like an hour long? You can have a drink with your mates after and then off you go.
A lot of people at the Fringe are going show show show, every hour but maybe some of us like a more sensible evening! I just feel like it might be the right way for people to dip their toes back into the theatrical waters again.
That’s what I love about Fringe. Because the show is an hour long – if you loved it, ‘oh my god it was an hour long and I want more’, and if you hated it ‘it was only an hour long moving on with my life.’
The Fringe is a fun vacation. You can even go during the middle of the week. If you’re working remotely you could work during the day and then at night shows are going off every hour from like noon to 2am. So there’s just something for everyone to have a fun trip.
And there is another Buffy show [at the Fringe]. People can do a two-for-one! If anyone is coming to see me, they might as well go see this other show as well. It’s called Buffy Revamped, and it’s all seven seasons in one seventy-minute sitting by one actor [Brendan Murphy]. So there’s other stuff for fans of that if they want!
So are you thinking of bringing back Tilda Swinton Answers An Ad On Craigslist?
Yeah, we just did Tilda back in Los Angeles a couple of weekends ago and I had the best time doing it. It was a large amount of work to shovel the lines back in my head and remember it [but] I did it to myself. I insert a lot of props and things into a show when I can have my way and I may have done that with Tilda [haha] So learning the choreography of the show was so much work for just one weekend. Half of me was dreading it, but after we did it, we all texted each other and we were just so depressed the days after we finished doing it. I was like, ‘I don’t want that feeling. Can we do it again?’
It’s so fun to get to do Tilda because I literally get to do everything. It’s a drug. I get to make myself cry. I get to be funny. I get to do physical comedy. I get to do dramatic. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you’ll get a bonus song at the end of the show. So anyway, it’s just so fun to get to do and we’ve been self-producing it. It started in a friend’s venue in Los Angeles and I can’t believe the reach that the show has had. We’ve played it at houses of like 1500 seats. At festivals. Gwendolene Christie showed up one night and was just amazing! Wearing couture Miu Miu, new off the runway and taking photos with us… Mind blown.
I’m just really enjoying doing it again. Hopefully, we’ll keep doing that show.
Have you always been interested in doing comedy?
I’ve always loved comedy. I was in a sketch group for a long time. I do a lot of improve, guesting at improv shows in LA.
I love all the different sort of versions of acting on stage and so on but also. I really enjoy having Instagram at my fingertips, and now Tik Tok as well.
Decades ago I put all my effort with my friends into putting up a show at a 50-seat theatre and you’re like ‘wow 50 people’ and we did it three times. Or, we did it once and 60 people saw me do that thing. And as amazing as that is, my god the amount of people you can reach through stupid comedy videos is astounding and I love that as well. It’s been so fun to do.
I have enjoyed really being able to put out a steady stream of videos especially during the pandemic. What I was thinking hopefully other people were thinking too and it made them laugh.
Speaking of your Instagram sketches, can you tell us how your Teen Witch sketch with Robin Lively came about?
Haha you’re going back into the archives. Oh, I love that you liked that!
I did a web series with Robin Lively and prior to that I had been doing a production of Teen Witch The Musical at the Groundlings with a group of my friends I think she had gone to see different versions of that and she’s super cool.
I didn’t have cable or HBO growing up so I’d never seen Teen Witch before I got on board with doing the live show. I was actually a fan of hers because I had been watching 30 Rock and she had a guest part on an episode.
Her resume is insane. The number of shows and moves that she’d been in! I just love her and I think she was the one who was like ‘when are we going to do a Teen Witch video?’ and I was like ‘Yes please’! She’s super cool and I just love her so much.
What else have you got coming out soon?
I just did pickup shoots on an Indie movie I did over here last summer called The Unreason and my gosh, it’s the weirdest, it’s the funniest.
Its about two women who have a vintage shop in Muswell Hill, London, and they find a time machine and then they go back in time to steal things from the past to sell at their vintage store. The kicker is that the two women who go back in time and own the vintage shop are playing themselves and they actually own a vintage shop in Muswell Hill!
I did not know them prior to the filming but now they’re my dear friends. I forced them to go on an Acorn TV British murder mystery tour documentary I did last December (watch below).
The movie is so weird and so funny. I think we’ll start doing festival circuits in 2023 but it has Sophie Thompson, Guy Henry, Jane Horrocks and Johnny Vegas in it. I had no idea how Huge [Johnny Vegas] is here. Everywhere when you’re filming, men would be shouting from their vans like “Oi Johnny! Love your work mate!”. It’s crazy. I had no idea and he was wild and a delight.
Anyway, it’s a fun movie filled with the best character actors around and I’m obsessed with it. It’ll be my new favourite movie I’m sure of it!
We can’t let you leave without talking about Buffy. It’s a show that people still talk about today and there’s rumours of a remake. What do you think it is about that show that really hooked audiences?
I don’t know. Isn’t it weird that if you think about contemporary shows at the time… I mean, are people still talking bout about Felicity? That was on the same network at the same time.
I think it was the first show of its kind. So many of us feel essentially in high school that we’re different, we’re loners or outsiders or have been ‘othered’. It really taps into that and I think that’s why people keep coming back to it.
I mean, SMG should have won an Emmy for her acting on that show. She’s just so good – ‘The Body’, the first time I watched that I was just sitting on the sofa for days!
It’s also like, who do people keep coming back to Star Trek? There’s something about that kind of storytelling where you’re using otherworldly things to address issues that are happening today. Especially with television. Television back in the Sixties with Star Trek – they were addressing discrimination and civil rights through the storytelling aspect of exploring alien worlds. Buffy did the same thing. They really explored things using the metaphor of magic and demons.
I don’t know why people keep coming back to it. But I’m happy that they do. Also, I guess because the show was both serious and funny, the tone of it is very unique. Isn’t that what life is? Both series and funny. Maybe people like that, too…
Lottie Patchett Took a Hatchet is playing now at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Book your tickets here.
Original article at SciFi Now.
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