Feature: Matt Besser
He might not be the best-known Upright Citizens Brigader, but Matt Besser is a wickedly funny man with a lot to say, and lately, he’s been pretty pissed off in his current one-man show, Woo Pig Sooie!–which arrives in San Francisco on Saturday via the San Francisco Improv Cooperative, not to be confused with the San Francisco Improv Festival–he’s got religion in his crosshairs. Besser–who helps run UCB’s theater in Los Angeles–will man a two-day workshop that’s part of SFIC’s Master Class series. The A.V. Club caught up with Besser last month in New Mexico, where he was filming Wanted: Undead Or Alive, a “zombie western comedy” starring Chris Kattan and James Denton.
The A.V. Club: Why did you name your show after the University of Arkansas “Hog Call”?
Matt Besser: My show is not about the Arkansas Razorbacks, but I do reference thema couple of times in the show. I kind of live in the Razorback Diaspora right now, which is Los Angeles. It takes a lot of faith to listen to college basketball and college football over Internet radio, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years. And I say that’s my religion. But the difference is that I’ve never knocked on someone’s door and told them the good news about the Razorbacks’ starting five, and if they told me they didn’t like the Razorbacks, I wouldn’t tell them they were going to hell.
AVC: In a nutshell, what’s the show about?
MB: In essence, I think it’s about separation of church and state. I got inspired after the last election. I was just amazed how it was won and lost with Christian values, in particular gay marriage. And the fact that people would vote for president based on that one subject I just found amazing. The fact that “In God We Trust” is on our currency probably doesn’t bother people, the fact that you say “under God” in The Pledge Of Allegiance, or the fact every time someone sneezes, somebody says, “God bless you.” And that’s the kind of thing that people don’t really think about unless you’re an atheist. Growing up in Arkansas–and my dad is Jewish and my mother was Presbyterian–I noticed that kind of stuff a little bit more. I went to a born-again sports camp where you didn’t climb the rope to get bigger muscles, you climbed the rope for Jesus. And if you didn’t climb the rope, you’re letting Jesus down. And I had skinny little arms and I never got to the top of the rope, so I just felt like I was letting Jesus down all the time, or that He wasn’t going to make me a good athlete because I was half-Jewish. Intelligent design is a pretty hilarious topic right now–that they would use “intelligent” in that concept is pretty amazing. Everyone, including the president,is like, “Well, it’s just a theory. And the schools should be teaching other theories as well.” Fine, then we need to teach a course about Santa Claus, because that’s how I think man was created. Santa Claus made man as a toy for dinosaurs. The whole concept behind intelligent design is that there are some things that are too complicated to explain with evolution. If that’s going to be part of science, then just make the entire thing about God. “Why do plants grow?” They grow with God’s love. You know, photosynthesis is kind of hard to understand. “Why is the sun warm?” Because God’s happy. “Why does it rain?” Well, God’s crying. That would just make science so much easier.
AVC: Woo Pig Sooie! is obviously meant to be funny, but it seems like it would be easy to get pretty angry talking about these things.
MB: I definitely get angry in the show. Certain topics more than others, show to show. Obviously gay marriage will be a huge issue in San Francisco, more than other places. You don’t want the government in your business, and I get worked up. You cannot read the paper without seeing something about preists molesting children, and we’re desensitized to it now, just because it’s happening all the time. If there was an article every day about truck drivers molesting children, there wouldn’t be trucks anymore. We would find another way to move stuff. But for some reason, the Catholic Church just gets away with it. it can be something serious like that, or even something silly like, “Why do they get away with wearing those big hats?” I can’t wear a big Pope hat. If I walked down the street in a big Pope hat, people would call me an asshole.
AVC: So you do consider yourself an atheist.
MB: Oh yeah.
AVC: You don’t ride the agnostic fence.
I don’t really udnerstand what that even means. There’s also humanist, secularist–there’s all different ways of saying it. Atheist is probably the most angry version. Most humanists would probably think I’m too extreme, and I do talk in extremes to make a point and to try to be funny. But a lot of the stuff I truly blieve. I think the Catholic Church is a cult. When I was a kid, I used to study cults like Moonies or Scientology or whatever, but I don’t think they do anything that’s any craizer than what the Catholic Church does. There’s these cults in Arkansas–we have these really crazy small ones. We had this one called The Covenant, Sword, And Arm Of The Lord. They once hijacked a Greyhound bus and they got everyone off the bus, and once the news crews were there, these guys pointed handguns at each other and said, “In three weeks we will be resurrected.” And then they shot each other in the head and they both died. Three weeks later, they were not resurrected. I give this choice to my audience: You can have these two Jesus wannabe biker guys shoot each other in the head or you can have yoru priest fondle your child’s balls for a minute. What do you choose? What’s crazier? Which do you prefer? People usually go for A.