Ever gaze out your window and wonder what you're missing out on? Perhaps feel an overwhelming sense of dread thinking about your mortality? Not Dead Yet is a column dedicated to finding the most exciting, experimental, funny, and out-of-this-world work, so that you won’t have to worry about missing out. With interviews and features like these, you’ll totally forget that death is at your door.
Ok, so you don’t feel like getting off of that ledge? That’s ok, because we’ve got the trick. Here’s Tynan DeLong, a master of storytelling both heartfelt and completely absurd. DeLong is Brooklyn-based comedian, filmmaker, and musician hailing from Portland, Oregon. He is currently the writer and director of the webseries Jana and Shasta, featuring actors and comedians Ana Fabrega and Ryan Bennett as well as videographer and artist Max Rosen, winner of the Channel 101 awards at Upright Citizens Brigade. Prior to delving into directing a series that mixes humor and heartfelt storytelling, DeLong appeared in Mortified Nation on Netflix, The Special without Brett Davis, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Comedy Central, IFC and more. Did I mention he makes beautiful music? Great, look at that, one foot down from the ledge, I promise you this interview is worthwhile.
The Creators Project: Tynan, tell us a bit about how you got to creating and directing Jana and Shasta.
Tynan DeLong: Jana & Shasta was a spinoff from a video I did entitled MoMA PS1 Emerging Artist Series: Damon Dawes. It was a very serious “portrait of an artist”-style doc about a guy who only made memes. In it, I had written two characters named Jana and Shasta, who were major fans of Damon’s work. They were played by Ryan Bennett and Ana Fabrega and they only had a couple lines initially, but when we started shooting, we really got on a roll. There was a bunch of funny stuff and they really fleshed out these characters in ways I couldn’t imagine, so I wound up cutting together a little video out of all their outtakes. It was clear there was something there, so I proposed the idea of a mockumentary about the couple and we’ve been working on it since. Ryan and Ana are super brilliant and Max Rosen is a wonderful cinematographer with great input, so it’s a very easy-going and fun collaboration. I had never really directed anything before this, so it’s been an invaluable learning process.
You're also a stand-up comedian, actor, musician, and an engaging storyteller as shown in the documentary Mortified. How have you slipped into all of these facets of creativity so easily?
I think it kind of comes from a place of creative restlessness. There’s this documentary about Joni Mitchell where she talks about making an album, then taking a break and going off to paint for a while, then coming back to music and I really liked that. When I get bored with one thing, I like to switch it up to stay excited and engaged. If things are feeling kinda stagnant in one area, I can take a break, go do this other thing for a minute, then I’ll come back feeling more refreshed. It’s a good way to keep recharging my creative batteries and still be productive.
Your aesthetic is very particular, a mix of absurdity and heartfelt storytelling, tell us a bit about your process.
I think my process over the past year or so has been to let in a bit more sincerity and heart into my work. I’ve done a lot of vulnerable things lately and as someone who’s been knee-deep in irony for the past few years, that’s been a little scary! My default mode exists on the axis of sad and silly, so I’ve been trying to work on stuff that takes from both and elicits genuine feeling. It’s been a lot of trial and error. I think it’s one thing to make something that’s funny, but it’s bit more of a challenge to make something both funny and heartfelt, so I’ve been experimenting with finding the right balance.
What would you say has inspired you, personally?
As "stock response" as it sounds, I gotta say, all of my friends and fellow artists, especially here in Brooklyn, really inspire me on so many levels. Lots of folks making some really out-there, cool stuff that has really pushed me to do a lot of my own projects. And Nils Frahm. His use of minimalism and negative space is very inspiring.
Are there any projects you are working on that you’re excited about?
I just finished up an album of solo piano compositions titled no subject (vol 1). I also shot a bunch of videos with Keaton Monger and Nick Naney that I’m very excited about. I’m currently working on an adaptation of 700 Sundays with 700 Billy Crystal impersonators.
What creative projects or collaborations do you dream about doing one day?
I would love to make a comedy album produced by Madlib.
Ok, my favorite part, let’s talk about death. You die in a few hours (maybe a fatal car crash or silly injury gone fatal) all that's left behind is all of the work you've ever done. What would you hope it leaves behind?
I hope I can leave behind something that makes you cry, something that cheers you up, something that’s warm, something that’s timeless… and I hope that something is my adaptation of 700 Sundays with 700 Billy Crystal impersonators.
Click here to visit Tynan DeLong on Twitter.