TIP 042 | Ready Player One

TIP 042 | Ready Player One

Welcome to Influencers!

Zak Penn is the mind behind some of the most popular screen plays of the past decade and a half, from creating the story of Marvel’s Avengers to shaping the X-Men cinematic universe. Now he tackles one of the most ambitious films of our time, Ready Player One.


 

Listen To The Podcast Here:

Ready Player One’s Screen Writer: Zak Penn

Welcome back, listeners. We have with us the amazing Zak Penn. Zak, thanks so much for joining us.

It’s my pleasure. I’m excited to be here.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you work? What do you do?

I’m mostly a screenwriter. I have also directed some movies. I’ve done some acting. I’ve done some producing over the years. I’ve been working in the movie business for 26 years now. I started pretty young. I’m 49. I started when I was 23 or 22, somewhere around there. I’m best known for a lot of the Marvel movies I’ve worked on. A bunch of the X-Men movies, The Avengers, The Hulk. I’m currently working on Ready Player One which I wrote the script for, which is coming out in March.

I am so excited for this movie. The commercial makes it look completely insane.

Wait until you see the next one. That was really early in the process, but it’s an insane movie. It’s been an amazing experience.

I have to ask about this and I’m sorry, I’m just so excited. Is it based on a book or is this an original?

TIP 042 | Ready Player One

Ready Player One: A Novel

It’s actually based on this book Ready Player One by Ernie Cline, which is a big best-seller that I was submitted. It was a very tough adaptation because it’s this giant sprawling novel that has all of these licensed pop culture figures in it. It seemed almost unmakeable. I was hired to write a draft of it and then Steven Spielberg signed on to direct it. Suddenly, this crazy dream that really Ernie had first, but also that I had, happened and we’ve been spending three years making it and we’re just about done.

The amount of post-production on it is insanity.

The book takes place in the future where everybody logs into this basically equivalent of the internet called the OASIS, which is a fully 3D, fully interactive virtual reality world. It’s almost the more benign commercial version of the Matrix and that’s where everyone goes and spends all their time. All of the world of the OASIS in the movie is motion capture and then CG. Yes, there is a big post-production process on that, although fairly standard for something like this. An animated movie could take four years. Since this is half live action and half CG, it’s really been an odyssey. It’s also Steven Spielberg, so it’s been a completely different experience just because of that. It’s one of those things I almost feel like I should shut up about it because I don’t have anything negative to say. That quote from Broadcast News, “What do you do when everything works out better than you expected?” and Albert Brooks says, “You keep it to yourself.”

When people discover the immensity of everything you’ve worked on, everything from Lego Movie to now you’re working on the DC Universe with Suicide Squad 2, The Avengers that defined the Marvel Universe and really unified all these incredible storylines into phenomenal single universe, what’s the most common question? What’s the Hulk like? What do people ask you?

By the way, I should clarify that I never worked on the Lego Movie, but I like the Lego Movie.

On your IMDb, it says Lego, Marvels, Avengers.

I didn’t work on that either. By the way, IMDb for years, it said that I wrote things that I didn’t write and didn’t put credits to what I did. That’s the problem. I wrote a draft of The Hulk when I was 26 or something way before there was Marvel Studios; a draft that got thrown out by Universal. Then literally twelve years later, Marvel called me up and said, “By the way, we’ve just re-read your draft of The Hulk. Will you come back and write a new Hulk movie based on your old draft?” I go way back with them. Particularly, I started working with all those guys when we were making movies at Fox, when there was no Marvel Studios. When the people who ran Marvel were talking about, “What if we built the Marvel Universe on screen? What if we actually carried through what was so great about the comics to create this universe on screen?” I was there for the beginnings of those discussions. At the time, people thought it was insane. They thought, “Marvel is never going to survive. No studios have really done this.”

For me personally, it was pretty exciting to be there at the inception. I had my choice of projects to write, so I said, “I’ll do Avengers since that’s going to be the big one.”Then they ended up asking me to rewrite The Hulk. Most of the time, the questions I get from people are about the broader Marvel Universe questions like, “How did you decide this? Who decided that would be the villain or what comic book did you base it on? What characters do you like the most?” Sometimes you get a lot of questions which are fair about how much did you do of this and how involved were you with that? That’s the life of the screenwriter that you often get rewritten. On Avengers, I have a story credit because the director rewrote me and directed the movie. I get a lot of questions about, “What does that actually mean? Did I just write the story?” which is, “No, I wrote drafts of the screenplay and then I got rewritten.” That’s the way it works.

I figure there are probably 30 people who touch these things at different points, ranging from the producers to the directors to even the executives.

They’re not really allowed to actually. It’s usually writers but in this case, and believe me, I’ve worked on movies that have had 25 different writers on them, so that’s just part of the job. In general, the Marvel fans, people who want to talk to me about that, it’s weird because from my point of view, I’m also a fan of the movies. Ready Player One is the exception where I’ve seen every shot and been there for every day of shooting. Initially for me, I write a draft and then hope it’ll turn out well and I go see the movie and I’m like them like, “It’s good or damn, it’s bad.” To be honest with you, particularly with the X-Men, there are a lot of people who want to quiz you about, “Why did you do this? Why didn’t you do that? How come you didn’t include my favorite character?” The downside of it is trying to explain to fans that you didn’t make every decision and we couldn’t put in every character.

There are a couple of times where people will say, “Why didn’t you do this totally absurd character?”There are people who wanted Mojo, this character from X-Men that is ridiculous. I don’t even remember exactly what his deal is, but it would not fit into the Marvel Universe in any way. One of the problems on the Phoenix story was that people wanted a giant bird of flame flying around in the movie and the universe that was established didn’t fit that. It comes up a lot. Also, it’s as though a writer doesn’t just sit there in their office and say, “Here’s what we’re doing, studio. Here are the characters. I’m the one writing it so you have to listen to me.” A lot of people have input into what those movies look like. Probably what inspired me to go try to do my own stuff in between those movies is the frustration of being reapart of this giant machine where you don’t really have control over the final product. You have to qualify a lot of it to the people you talk to. Whereas when you write and direct, you don’t.

After years in the industry, are there certain pitfalls that up and comers should look out for, things that you wish you knew going in?

TIP 042 | Ready Player One

Ready Player One: You can teach them to recognize good writing or bad writing, but it’s very hard to teach them how to write well.

There are so many. Breaking in is its own issue and it always has been. It’s hard to teach someone to be a good writer. You can teach them to recognize good writing or bad writing, but it’s very hard to teach them how to write well because it’s a skill that they build up. I would say that breaking in is something that’s like that, that you have to find a way to break in. There are suggestions people can give you, but that always is like the individual figuring out how to do it for themselves. The part that you don’t realize is how much of Hollywood and the arts in general is a war of attrition. That really it’s not so much about writing one thing, it’s about how do you keep your career going? How do you keep getting jobs or writing things that people want to make? That’s the really hard part. It’s not like once you break in and even if you have a hit movie that suddenly everything gets handed to you. You really have to always be thinking about what you’re going to do next. If you become an actor, if you become a movie star, people will offer you things and you will choose between them. If you’re a writer, it’s just not the way it works. You always have to be hustling, you have to be thinking, what are you going to do next? There is a certain amount of packaging yourself and marketing yourself that goes into it. I think a lot of people have the expectation if they get in, the rest of it will be taken care of for them. In fact, the hardest thing is lasting five years. I can’t tell you how many people I know who they sell a couple of things and then their career tanked. They had one good idea or they faked their way in and then you’re screwed.

Does that mean you’re going to work on a movie called like Ready Player Two?

Actually, that is something I would do. I wouldn’t necessarily work on any sequel. This is a movie where I would. I think it would lend itself to one, but it’s also about the old one for them, one for me. I made a choice about halfway through my career that I couldn’t just keep going from one writing job to another. That’s what made me branch out and say, “I’m going to go direct my own independent films in between. I’ll use the money I make from this to go make that.” I also think that one of the really important things that you don’t think about is you almost have to treat writing the way an athlete treats a sport in that you have to practice. You have to get better. You have to examine your own work and look at, “I wrote the script and it got made,” but that doesn’t mean that’s a validation but, “How can I get better as a writer? What do I have to keep doing?”

It’s just daily habits. If you want to talk about regrets, I would say it’s that I really always was someone who wanted to have a job where I could wake up whenever I wanted and go do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to and go out and party and play tennis in the middle of the day and play basketball and whatever. Screenwriting was perfect for that. As you get older and as you have kids or as your life takes on more structure, if you’re me, you have to relearn how to, “I don’t have the whole day to screw around and figure out how to write these five pages. I have to get them done and I have these three hours to do it in.” Developing really good habits, not that this is a shock, but in the same way that you could be a great basketball player but if you don’t keep yourself in good shape, you’re going to get injured. I think the same is true as a writer. You really have to learn how to make yourself work. That’s true, I’m sure in a lot of fields. Figuring out what works for you that makes you get the job done, because getting it done is the hard part.

TIP 042 | Ready Player One

Ready Player One: Figuring out what works for you that makes you get the job done, because getting it done is the hard part.

I cannot emphasize how consistently I hear that. It is the habits that make us who we are. I remember reading a study on the cast of Saturday Night Live and if you look at the people from Saturday Night Live, they’ve become disproportionately successful. A disproportionate number of them get their own shows or get specials or whatever it is. One of the things is that they have this time pressure that they can’t screw around. They’re going live on Saturday and every week they have to write, produce and act in these skits. Either it’s going to be great or it’s not, but they just have to get it done. When you’re that trained to be that effective, then you can do anything after.

That’s exactly it. It’s a great analogy. I’ve worked with a lot of people from SNL. I worked with Chris Parnell. He was in this movie, The Grand, that I directed. His level of preparation and commitment, particularly for someone who people think of as a comedian, blew away actors who’ve been acting their whole life, who’ve been more serious actors because that’s what he was used to doing. He was used to pulling an all-nighter every week, so to just actually come in prepared was no big deal. I think that’s one of the places I’ve been fortunate is that I got a lot of opportunities to work. I did a lot of production rewrites when I was in my twenties. I was thrown in situations where it was like, “We need this script.”Behind Enemy Lines was one where I remember they needed a page one rewrite in a completely new script in two and a half weeks.

A page one rewrite means that they want the entire thing written starting from page one?

Yeah. Basically they said, “We want to keep these sequences but otherwise, re-conceive who the main characters were.” It was a single star of the movie and I pitched that it had to be Gene Hackman and somebody else. The point is, the time pressure and going through that a lot in my 20s and early 30s, I got used to working under high pressure situations. Of course that helped me. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and I would say what’s been very gratifying for me. Normally, like every other writer, all I do is complain, so don’t get the wrong idea about me that I’m normally this positive. One of the reasons why Ready Player One has worked out so well is if I had come to work with Spielberg when I was 26, I don’t think I would’ve been ready for what was demanded of me. The fact that we ended up working together as director and writer when I had already been through so much and really had learned the lessons I needed to learn, meant that I didn’t screw up. I kept the ship going or the train going or whatever you want. It is essential. It’s great to get the structure of Saturday Night Live, for example, as an actor. That’s why TV is so good and often produces better writers is that you’re thrown into a situation where you’re forced to conform to what the show and what the room needs, and so you learn. Whether you want to or not, you learn. If someone hires you to write a screenplay and you dick around about it for the time you’re supposed to be writing and then write it quickly at the end, there’s no mechanism to stop you from doing that except yourself. You have to self-regulate.

One of the things that I really love are great constraints when you’re limited. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of this architect by the name of Bjarke Ingels. He is the hottest architect in the world. He is I think 42 years old now. He’s doing the Tower Two of the World Trade Center, Redskins Stadium, all these major projects are his. He says that he loves clients that have very strict constraints because it’s in the limitations that he’s able to create something extraordinary that has never existed before. I actually like it when it’s difficult. I think that that’s the most interesting time to do something. Maybe you’re limited in number of minutes that you have to accomplish a certain emotional reaction. Maybe it’s that the characters have to accomplish something. I don’t even know what, but it’s in the constraints that the creativity is inspired.

Filmmaking certainly works with regards to screenwriting that when someone says, “Do anything you want,” is a lot harder than, “We need you to do these three things. Can you figure out how to make them all work?” Then you have some architecture to build from. The main reason why it’s important is movies inherently, as a process, are filled with constraints and compromise. You could write a scene, but then you end up on the set and realize we can’t do it this way, or the actors can’t perform it this way, or it’s not going to work that way because of the light or whatever. The point is that so much of filmmaking is about adapting to the flow of constraints that come at you. Sports analogies work, too, because a lot of people can do things in sports when there’s nobody facing up against them. The question is can you do it when the circumstances are changing constantly?

In film, what’s really important is the ability to think on your feet. After awhile, you start to realize that that is where your best ideas come from. When you realize, “We only have one room for this. We have to figure out a way to shoot this scene in one room,” and then you start to realize, “We only need one moment in this scene. I’ve written all this dialogue but we don’t need it. This moment is about the guy, his chair breaks and that’s all we need to see.” I do think when people say there’s nothing more frightening than the blank page, what is true of that is the idea of when you have no constraints at all, it’s pretty overwhelming. I totally agree. The hardest scripts for me to write are my own original screenplays. I end up taking a year and a half writing them because they never seem perfect to me. Whereas when I have an assignment, it’s like, “Here’s what we want,” and it’s me trying to say, “I can even do better than that. I see what you want. I’ll do all that and more,” because I have a place to start with. It’s got to be better than this.

TIP 042 | Ready Player One

Ready Player One: When you have no constraints at all, it’s pretty overwhelming.

As a person who has brought so many heroes to life, who is your favorite?

Werner Herzog might be my favorite hero. He is a real-life superman, an incredible filmmaker who rescues people from car wrecks and travels all over the world.

Tell us about this. What do you mean? I don’t know anything about this car wreck.

Werner has made 50-something movies over the past 50 years. He’s probably best known for Grizzly Man or Fitzcarraldo or a number of other movies that have been nominated for awards. He is this incredible larger than life character who travels all over the world making movies on volcanoes about to explode. He made a movie in North Korea last year. He’s just a crazy adventurer and he is unstoppable. He’s in his 70s now and he just doesn’t stop making movies. Spielberg is the same way.

He only had three movies in 2016.

By the way, same as Spielberg. They’re very similar in their work ethic. Fictional characters, obviously I have a fondness for The Hulk because I’ve worked on that character a lot. Magneto is probably my favorite because I like a villain that you agree with. I like to write a bad guy who’s actually right and that’s what I like about Magneto is he’s almost always right. When you get to the end of the movie, you realize, “If they had listened to him, they would have been better off.”That’s something I always look for.

What’s something we don’t know about The Hulk?

Which Hulk? The movie Hulk, that’s harder to say. I don’t know if it got included in The Incredible Hulk, the scene where he tries to kill himself. It might be on the DVD. The movie opened with him putting a gun in his mouth and Bruce Banner and trying to shoot himself and The Hulk standing up and spitting out the bullet which had impacted against the back of his throat. The kind of hatred that The Hulk has towards Banner for wanting to destroy him, actually there’s a little bit of it in Thor: Ragnarok, which is nice. That’s something I always try to keep in mind when I was writing that character is that The Hulk isn’t just this crazy, weird creature. He feels threatened by Banner. He feels threatened by the other half of his personality because he knows he wants to destroy him. As a writer, that’s really good stuff. Maybe everyone does know that, I don’t know.

It’s absolutely incredible how the evolution of these comic book heroes that when they turned from the supermen who were just out there with no character, no personality and were just doing the American thing, to these very associable human beings that are struggling with something and then still trying to do the right thing in the face of all that.

I actually always get in trouble for this statement, but I don’t really like superhero movies. What I mean by that is I don’t love the idea of someone who has special powers putting on a costume and fighting crime because I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that that’s what you would do if you had those powers. One of the reasons why I like X-Men, for example, or The Hulk is they’re not superhero stories. The X-Men is a science fiction story about a group of persecuted people who use their powers to try to help other people like them, but mostly to save themselves from forces that are coming up against them. The Hulk is similar and other movies I’ve worked on like Electra is not a hero at all. She’s an assassin. When I grew up reading comic books in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, that’s what was changing. The whole notion of, “Of course, I’m going to do the right thing because that’s what being a hero is about,” instead became, “No, we’re just people with all their flaws who happen to have these abilities.”They became science fiction.

TIP 042 | Ready Player One

Ready Player One: We’re just people with all their flaws who happen to have these abilities.

I think a lot of that had to do with Spielberg’s work that heavily influenced comic books and Cameron’s work, too. That’s what I grew up on. That’s what I wanted to see out of comic book movies. My parents used to call them cartoons. I was like, “They’re not. A cartoon is a really different thing than a comic book.” I usually try to avoid talking about superhero movies and more talking about movies that are adapted from comic material or from sequential art, if you will. The Walking Dead is not a superhero story. It’s comic book, but it’s not a superhero story. I think that that’s partly why there’s been this burst in popularity is that for many years, people didn’t take these stories seriously in Hollywood. They felt like, “We get it. Batman is a guy who puts on a cool costume and fights crime,” and that’s what people want to see. The notion that people would want to see a darker or more real version of these characters, people thought that was nuts. When I got to Hollywood that was the case. I was lucky to be here when people started to change their minds about that. I do think it comes back to science fiction. I like science fiction and so as a result, I love comic books. I don’t think I love comic books and therefore got into science fiction.

You even created a TV show, right? Who’s in it? Malik Yoba?

Malik Yoba, David Strathairn were in it. We had a great cast and actually that was my attempt to write the most realistic version of a “superhero” story that you could make. It’s called Alphas. I was very proud of it. Again, that was somewhat of my reaction to even the X-Men where we just tried to come up with characters whose abilities were completely believable. A lot of it came from reading a lot of Oliver Sacks. Reading a lot of stuff about interesting neurological conditions and the spectrum of incredible differences between people just based on their brains, not based on their bodies necessarily. That was really my Oliver Sacks as superhero or whatever, as lead character. That was the original idea.

I want to switch gears just a little as we wind down here. The heroes that you write are incredibly flawed human beings. That’s one of the things that I think really makes them interesting. What’s something that you’d feel comfortable sharing about your own flaws that makes you very human?

I’m my own worst enemy. I definitely think, and this is true of a lot of writers, is that it feels like my mind is constantly at war with myself. I’m getting better as I get older, but for whatever reasons, the way my personality is formed, I’m constantly coming up with really good ideas and then being incredibly critical of myself internally and then reminding myself not to be incredibly critical. As a result, I waste a huge amount of time. At least in my own personal space, I feel there’s so much more I could be doing for myself and for other people if I didn’t waste so much time obsessing over stuff. The truth is, at some point you have to just stop beating yourself up about it and just accept that that’s part of you. I probably wouldn’t be able to come up with these ideas if my brain didn’t over-fire all the time. Willpower, bad habits, I have all the same issues that anybody else does. I feel pretty proud of my family and my relationships with people have been very stable. I have three kids who are fantastic. I could have answered that question a lot easier at age 27. I would have had a lot of flaws, but now I feel they’re mostly internalized. Otherwise, I’m perfect.

With all of the heroes that you’ve worked on, if you could have a superpower, what would it be?

It’s funny, I’m so often asked this question. I often jokingly say invulnerability because that’s certainly the best one. If we want to put a limitation on it, to bring this back around, omnipotence for example, is a good answer. Then there’s no limitations, it’s a silly question. Sometimes I say the ability to be invisible would be pretty amazing. That’s one that I often say. Most of the ones I think of have a real downside. I’d say, “The ability to hear people’s thoughts.”

“I really don’t know what’s going on in people’s heads.”

They all have their downsides.

Not only because I’d be so incredibly hurt by hearing what people thought about me, but frankly most of what goes on in my head is mundane and completely uninteresting.

Exactly, and also, where’s the mystery in life? That’s why invulnerability would probably make life really dull. By the way, this is what Alphas is all about. All of their abilities come with these tremendous downsides. There’s a character we created on Alphas who has a great power that I would love to have, which is she can make people do what she wants with her voice, just a suggestion. The thing is, it’s made her miserable because she never knows if anyone actually likes her or if anyone actually loves her because she doesn’t even know herself if she subtly influenced them. I guess I would have to settle on rocket fists. That would be the power I most want to have.

If people want to follow you and find out more about what you’re up to, where can they do it?

They could follow me on Twitter. Honestly, half the time, the things people ask me, I’m under an NDA to not answer and I always feel bad about saying, “I can’t tell you that.”I am on Twitter and I’m there occasionally. Otherwise, they could just go see Ready Player One or I’m working on a new Matrix script. That will be my next project.

Is this public knowledge?

Yeah. I think it is. It is to me. I don’t know if it’s been formally announced, but it’s leaked so I don’t mind saying it.

Zak, thank you for bringing to life some of my favorite characters. Thank you for your contributions to the cinematic universe and for Marvel. It was a real pleasure hosting you.

Thank you for the really interesting questions.

Listeners, stay tuned. We have another anonymous interview coming up now.

About Zak Penn

TIP 042 | Ready Player OneZak Penn is a screenwriter whose credits include X-Men 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand, The Incredible Hulk, and The Avengers. He wrote and directed Incident at Loch Ness, The Grand, and the documentary Atari: Game Over. He recently adapted the best-selling novel Ready Player One for Steven Spielberg, and is currently working on a script for Warner Bros set in The Matrix universe.

Anonymous Guest Interview

Listeners, as you know, this is my favorite part: the anonymous interview. I’m incredibly lucky to have Ronny with me. Ronny, thanks so much for coming on.

Thank you for having me. I don’t know how anonymous this will be. I feel like my voice is very distinctive but we’ll try to make this as anonymous as possibleI would actually say you almost sound like a George Takei impersonator right now.

I’m battling this weeks-long flu. It just won’t go away. I think we’re all doomed. I think this is a superbug. Everyone has it.

I think your immune system isn’t used to this Western life, which brings me to the first question, which is where did you grow up?

I was born in Malaysia and then when I was three years old, my parents decided to go to college for the first time. They went to college very late in life, in their late 30s with two kids. We moved to Manchester, New Hampshire. They spent about ten years there, but for me I spent about four years and then we moved back to Singapore. I spent ten years in Singapore. That was my formative years until I was eighteen and then I moved to Australia for law school. In Australia, law school is undergraduate. I essentially went to Australia for college. I ended up staying there for a little bit. I lived in Australia for ten years, then I moved to America two years ago.

This is amazing because now they’re thinking like, “Lawyer, probably businessman.” Going into what you do from being a professional lawyer is like saying, “I’m a professional video game player and then becoming a neurosurgeon.” The connection just isn’t there. Was there an incident or an experience that had you switch careers and inspired you into going into what you do now?

No incident. Nothing traumatized me. I just thought it was something I could do and I wanted to confirm that kind of feeling. I went to go try it out. My final year of university, I went to go try stand-up comedy.

That seems terrifying to me, getting up there and trying out material in front of a drunk and potentially angry audience.

We can talk about stand-up comedy forever. That’s how I know I’m in the right job, but it is scary. I think everything is scary though. You’ve lived many lifetimes and I’m sure you’ve done much more scarier things with much more serious consequences.

TIP 042 | Ready Player One

You’ve lived many lifetimes and I’m sure you’ve done much more scarier things with much more serious consequences.

There’s a difference between, “I prepped for a few months, do cardio, and all that, go run with the bulls.” It ends there.

It could very well end there.

You get on stage night after night. I know you perform at some of the most respected spots at the very least New York, I know about. You’re at the Comedy Cellar quite often. Let’s give the listeners a few more hints about who you are. Was there a moment in your career or an accomplishment that you’re most proud of?

I’ve been pretty lucky. Of my short time doing stand-up, I’ve had a couple of really cool moments. I started comedy in Australia and I remember doing my first one-hour show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. It was a small, 30-seat room and I remember I was selling out all the seats. This was maybe three years into stand-up. I was selling out all those seats in the theater. I kept moving up to bigger and bigger theaters. I ended the run in a 150-seater. Then the next year, I came back. I started in a 150-seater and then by the end of it, it was like 1,500-seater. That’s not one landmark. That’s also my impression of success especially in show business is that there’s no one break. Everything is a little step forward. We watch American Idol or The Voice and we assume it’s just one thing that breaks you. I think in show business, everything’s hopefully just a positive step. You keep moving forward.

After that, I remember, while my comedy idol is Bill Burr, and for some reason, he contacted me on Facebook out of the blue. I’m in Australia so I’ve never met him. One day, I get this message from Bill Burr saying, “I really love your set. Hopefully, I’ll see you around someday,” really complimentary things about some clip he watched. I thought it was a prank because there’s no way Bill Burr would message me on Facebook. I was like, “Whatever.” I was very dismissive, “Thanks, Bill Burr. I really appreciate it.” In my head I was like, “If I’m being pranked by a friend, I can live with that but I can’t really live with Bill Burr saying something nice about me and then me blowing him off,” so I just assumed it was him. I messaged as though it was him even though I didn’t believe it was him because I couldn’t risk it. I just said, “Thank you so much for your message. I’m a big fan of yours. Hopefully I will see you around one day. I’m based in Australia so I don’t know how likely that is, but thanks again for the message.” Then he messages back saying, “I’m coming to Australia next year. I would love for you to be on that show.” I’m like, “Of course, anytime.”

No contact for months. I’m trying to confirm whether it’s him but I can’t really do it because we don’t have any mutual friends. I just treat it as whatever. A couple months later, he comes to Australia and then he messages me. He’s like, “I’m on the show on these dates.” I’m like, “I’m free,” and until I walked into the theater, I still can’t believe that it was him messaging me. I still thought it was a prank. It was him the whole time. He watched me on a plane one time. I did a Just for Laughs set that was on a plane and he happened to watch it. He happened to like it and he reached out to message me. It was crazy, the probability of those things happening.

I want to give everyone a sense of what you look like. Who do you think would play you in a movie?

We gave it away with the George Takei thing. There are not a lot of Asian actors who can play me. I would say John Cho, but John Cho is older than me.

That actually is a huge problem considering the number of available Asian actors and the number that actually gets screen time. It’s incredible.

I genuinely can’t think of anyone in my age group to play me. I love John Cho. We’re just going to have to go with John Cho.

What hint or riddle would you give listeners to figure out who you are?

I would say Google ‘mom on her computer’ bit. I haven’t actually done it myself, but I assume that that would be the bit that comes up on YouTube.

Listeners, you have a ton to go on. My hunch is that if you Google it, you’ll end up on a clickhole of watching amazing comedy hour after hour of Ronny’s shows and then you’ll be thanking us for laughing so much you pee yourself. Ronny, thanks so much for doing this. Listeners, good luck guessing.