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Audacious with Chion Wolf: Transcript for 'The art of the prank with the directors of 'Jury Duty' and 'Bad Trip''

Audacious with Chion Wolf
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Chion Wolf  00:02

From Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford, this is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf, and I do not like pranks. The idea of setting up a whole scenario just to scare or embarrass somebody. Absolutely not. It goes against every fiber of my being. The closest I ever got to doing a prank was April Fool's Day 2010. I snuck into the radio station the night before armed with one thick spool of masking tape. After an hour and a half of taping, it was finished. Three brand new totally unauthorized Connecticut Public hop scotch courts winding through the newsroom. Today, you'll hear from two people whose pranks hopscotch to a whole nother level. They're the creators of the best prank shows of our generation, Bad Trip and Jury Duty. Like old school shows, Candid Camera and Punkd, Bad Trip and Jury Duty put people in incredibly awkward situations. But these two shows use pranking to expose not the dark side of people, but their goodness. Kitao Sakurai is the Director of Bad Trip starring Eric Andre, Tiffany Haddish, and Lil Rel Howery. It's a comedy film about two friends on a cross-country road trip featuring pranks on real people. We talk about the work that goes into a prank, and how to design pranks that showcase people's humanity. But first, the 2023 series Jury Duty. This comedy series follows a jury deliberating on a fictional court case, but the twist is everyone on screen is an actor except for one juror. He has no idea he's on a comedy show or that the case is fake. Very much like a real life Truman Show. In late 2021, the creators of Jury Duty put out a Craigslist ad looking for people to participate in a documentary about being on jury duty. As they interviewed candidates, they made plans to rent a real courthouse and fill it with actors who are really good at improv, among other things. More than 4000 people replied to the Craigslist ad and they chose Ronald Gladden, a San Diego based solar contractor, as their real juror.

Ronald Gladden  02:20

When they say jury of your peers. I think that's accurate. From the people that I've seen in the waiting room. You have everybody from all classes of people, age groups, everything, races, ethnicities, you name it, everybody's in that waiting room, I feel like.

Chion Wolf  02:33

Over 17 days of filming in a real courthouse, Ronald's moral compass was challenged repeatedly, as he was put in absurdly designed situations during that fake trial. And the dozens of people around him, they were all exceptional improv actors. But for this special project, they had to be more than that. So I asked Jake Szymanski, Director of Jury Duty, to talk about the tricky and critical challenge of casting.

Jake Szymanski  03:02

We were trying to thread a very fine needle, which was, we had to have some of the best actors out there who could be trusted to never break in three weeks, never break character in front of this guy. And to also be fantastic improvisers to be able to roll with it when they're presented with a situation we didn't plan for, and to be hilarious and know when to get a joke in there. And also be really good people, also at the core of it, because they're the ones interacting with our hero, Ronald, and on top of all that, they had to be that good. And also not really have already been a regular on a TV show, or in a national commercial campaign in the last year or two, something where Ronald might recognize them. So it was a very long, intense process, led by Susie Farris, our casting director, who just found great people, and I'm so proud of the cast we assembled and the work they did in the show. And you know, especially also, let's not forget to mention James Marsden who plays an egotistical Hollywood version of himself. He's the only person who kind of, you know, plays himself, even though a different version of himself. And just the fact James is so perfect for this and so good and so talented. And the fact that we were able to get him and he said, Yes, to be a part of this crazy idea. We're just so so lucky to have him on board.

Chion Wolf  04:28

So please tell me about how you found Ronald Gladden. You were looking for someone with really strong morals and ethical principles. And also, you know, was was into this idea of something he didn't know he was getting himself into. And now we could probably talk the entire episode about finding Ronald but what can you tell me about that process?

Jake Szymanski  04:48

Well, it was a long process led by another one of our producers, Alexis Sampietro, who has experience in trying to find people. She also had done some previous work with like Sacha Baron Cohen projects. But yes, we were trying to find, you know, a good decent person who had a very strong moral compass, who was also up for an adventure and someone who was at a point in their life where they could take this time to try a new experience, someone who would ideally look back and say, 'Wow, that was amazing, you know, I got to be a part of something special.' That's what we were trying to create for them. And also someone who didn't watch a ton of TV, you know, what I mean? Didn't, you know, wasn't the most up to date on, on, on who our actors might be, or that we're filming a TV show or something like that. And we're so happy we went with Ronald, he was perfect.

Chion Wolf  05:42

Now, where were you as the director and the other crew physically located during filming? We

Jake Szymanski  05:48

We were, so we were in a courthouse whose main floor had three courthouses, courthouse, you know, one, two, and three. And we used courtroom three as our trial room where our judge and jury and case happened. We used courtroom one as our jury holding room where they all hung out on breaks. And then courtroom two right in the middle, right between them both, is where we had our production offices, which, you know, we were kicking ourselves for in the middle because we were constantly like, 'Oh my gosh, if we laugh, can they hear us? Alright, be quiet, be quiet!', and trying to make sure we had soundproofing. But it all worked out. So we were literally right next to them on the other side of a wall at all times.

Chion Wolf  06:29

What were those moments where you thought he might unravel this all, we are up against it, like the moment has come and holding your breath? Did that moment even happen?

Jake Szymanski  06:38

Oh, it happened every day. I'd say multiple times a day, every day. It was like, 'Oh boy, what are we trying to do today? This is going to break him.' I mean, day one, just when James Marsden walks into jury holding and sits down next to him. That was a huge moment right away. We'd barely warmed Ronald up to say, well, is he immediately gonna go, 'Wait a minute, come on. What, what is this? What, why is this celebrity here sitting next to me?'

Clip from Jury Duty  07:03

I didn't ask your name. Forgive me. Ronald. Pleasure. Yeah, I was trying to pinpoint it. I was like, 'I've seen you somewhere.' But I've been in so much stuff. It's like X-Men, Hairspray and Enchanted and Westworld, stuff like that. Notebook. You were in Westworld? Yeah, yeah.

Jake Szymanski  07:22

Yeah, you know, the reality is even though all of our actors are very talented improvisers. 80 to 90% of what you see on the show was scripted beats or lines that we knew we had to get to it was really it's a lot of the show is about how you get to those beats and the stuff we don't show you, you know, the 90% of filming that gets cut out in order to make a show because we were you know, they were just in a real all day courtroom situation, a lot of waiting to go back into the courtroom while the lawyers were supposedly having legal proceedings, all that stuff. So it's really about planning the whole day you have to write to something the audience is never going to see. In order to get the beats and jokes that you want that the audience will see, and you cut out everything else.

Chion Wolf  08:09

Now there was a moment where Bailiff Nikki refers to the actress who plays Vanessa by her real name, Cassandra Blair. Were you holding your breath at that point? Did you think that might expose what's going on? You That actually makes me wonder why people in the cast didn't use their real names.

Jake Szymanski  08:23

You know, it's funny, there's so many people talking at once. I jokingly refer to working on our show is like, like a Robert Altman movie on speed because you're just listening to everyone in real time. Overlapping conversations. I didn't hear she'd say Cassandra in real-time, so I only heard her, she came up and told us, she was like, 'I screwed up, I said Cassandra,' and because I didn't hear it I was like, 'Oh, maybe it wasn't too bad, I didn't hear, I didn't notice you did that. I was listening to someone else.' And she was like, 'No, no, no, he heard, he commented on it/' And so she immediately, but it was, you know, she, to her credit, immediately was like, 'But I'm gonna fix it, I picked out an extra, I'm gonna give her her bag back and call her Cassandra, and, you know, that, that was part of having such a great cast. It wasn't just, you know, getting through the beats we needed to. It was thinking on their feet and protecting the show. Everyone really needed to be 100% all in on creating this reality around Ronald because a little crack like that could really make him question everything. Oh yeah, me too. Halfway through I was like, 'What have we done?' Because I did give a couple people their own names and they were actually people who, who we cast later in the process because the characters changed, and, but you know, we had a long writers room scripting and planning for this, so we were creating characters. Our incredible WGA team led by our showrunner, Cody Heller, they were crafting characters before we had met our actors. So we, they had to come up with names so the characters kind of had an identity of their own before we brought in our cast. And maybe we should have just changed more of their names to the character names, but, but we didn't.

Chion Wolf  10:07

Next time! Yeah. How in the world did you take care of yourself during these three weeks?

Jake Szymanski  10:15

I don't know if a lot of us did. My, you know, I've had some pretty intense shoots before. But my, my wife said, I, you know, she said, 'I've never seen the look on your face when you would get home from from these days.' And, you know, there would be good days. But again, you just could never take your eye off the ball, you had to be thinking about, 'Well, today went well,' which makes it even more important that we get tomorrow, because it can't fall apart now! It's already going really well. It's actually the only project I've been on, where you got more stressed, as you were getting to the end of it as it was going well, because there was more weight on keeping it from falling apart and ruining the show.

Chion Wolf  10:54

And you also had to rely on technology a lot and making sure that technology was perfect. And you also had a ton of hidden cameras. Can you talk about maybe some of the more creative places where you had these hidden cameras?

Jake Szymanski  11:08

In episode five, which is almost completely hidden camera, it's the episode that takes place in the hotel room where James Marsden's character asked Ronald for help in self-taping a scene. And a lot of that takes place in Ronald's hotel room, which we did not have hidden cameras installed in for privacy, obviously, and in other areas of the hotel. So James had to come in and we did a lot of rehearsing and prepping on this. And he you know, had to set up a camera for his self-tape to film the audition. And here we strategically rehearsed where he should place the cameras to record his self-tape. But then also we had small what they call like button cameras, pinhole cameras, placed on his camera bag that he brought the equipment in on, and then we were also shooting on like a very long like almost a golf lens, a telephoto lens from across the, from a different tower of the hotel. And we had James go into Ronald's room and say, 'Can we open up the shades for light, you know, so we had better light for my self-tape?' So we were also shooting from across the hotel over the pool into his room from the outside. So that was pretty intense because, you know, that's we're just trusting that all the cameras were on, and, and hit record correctly so that we had a scene and there were, there were no cameras that Ronald knew about.

Chion Wolf  12:33

That was Jake Szymanski, Director of Jury Duty. When we get back after the big reveal happened, and the cameras stopped rolling, how did Ronald really react?

Jake Szymanski  12:44

A lot of it just became, you know, wait, this part was real? Wait, Margaritaville. How did you fake that?

Chion Wolf  12:51

Plus, how does Kitao Sakurai, the Director of Bad Trip, describe what it feels like to execute some of the most extreme pranks of all time?

Kitao Sakurai  13:00

There's a kind of like, joyous sadism.

Chion Wolf  13:04

Okay, I'm Chion Wolf. This is Audacious. Stay with me. This is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. Prank shows like Candid Camera have been around since the 1940s. But the people we're meeting today are using pranks to show the good in people. In a little bit you'll meet Kitao Sakurai. He's the Director of the Netflix hit comedy film Bad Trip. The movie is surreal, terrifying, hilarious, and unexpectedly heartwarming. But let's get back to my conversation with Jake Szymanski. He's the Director of Jury Duty. That's a 2023 TV series about a fake jury trial. Everyone on the show is an actor except one, Juror number six, Ronald Gladden. All right, I gotta ask about the big reveal. Here's what I imagine. Let me know if I'm wrong. The day has come. The apex, the climax. And you mentioned about how like every day that went by, you got more and more stressed. It was more and more at stake. And so the day comes, where Ronald will find out the truth of what's happening. What did that feel like for you in those moments before it was revealed?

Jake Szymanski  14:33

It felt more stressful than any stunt we were trying to pull off in front of him. Because by that point, we all cared for him and the cast cared for him so deeply and we all kind of had really fallen in love with him. That suddenly the scariest thing to try to get away with was to make sure we did this reveal in the right way that was respectful to Ronald's feelings and the process he went through. We're trying to tell him that the last three weeks of his life were actually carefully constructed and part of a TV show, while also making really clear that the cast especially, and everyone else involved really cared for him, and a lot of the relationships he had built, were real 90% You know what I mean? The day before we filmed the reveal, we came to realize, 'Hey, we're gonna get through! We're gonna get there, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief.' And then no one breathed a sigh of relief, because we went, 'Oh my gosh, like, how are we going to pull this off? Are we doing it the right way?' I think we sat Cody Heller, Andrew Weinberg, Nick Hatton, and myself, every night for the three days before that reveal, we were rewriting that judge's speech to him trying to go, 'Are we doing this in the best way? What's the best thing for Ronald here?' Trying to make sure we got it right. We were, we all had tears in our eyes. And we're just really hopeful that we, that we wouldn't upset him.

Movie clip  15:55

As I said, weeks ago, when you first entered this courtroom, that this is the last trial of my career. What I didn't tell you is it's also the first because I'm not a real judge. And you're not a real foreperson. This is not a real case. What?

Chion Wolf  16:17

And in the moments and hours and days, following the reveal, I mean, Ron, Ronald himself may not have understood what effects this may have on him. And it's been, it's been over a year now, right? I'd like to hear about, you know, you do everything you can and you're pretty confident you've done the right thing. What were those days following the reveal, like in terms of making sure you were in touch with him and that he had all the resources he needed?

Jake Szymanski  16:46

Well, it's what you said, we were all in touch with him. We did make sure he had all the resources he needed both asking us anything he wanted to, anything that popped in his mind, had access to, you know, a psychologist who we had prepared for him. And I think, you know, we told him our reveal was in the morning on the day we did it. And then we were with him all day after that, talking to him, showing him around answering his questions asking him questions. So.

Chion Wolf  17:15

Wait, what were some of his questions?

Jake Szymanski  17:17

Well, a lot of it just became, you know, 'Wait, this part was real. Wait, Margaritaville. How did you fake that?' Like, 'Wait, those were all actors. Everyone at those tables were extras? Well, wait, does Tom really need crutches to sit on this chair? But no, he doesn't, right?' Because the great thing about Ronald and the reason this worked is because he's a really nice, normal guy. He is not a psychopath or a narcissist. And so naturally, it took Ronald a long time to process as it would take any of us to think back on every day of the last couple of weeks, and really go through it. So that's a lot of what we did, was just talking through the days and showing him how our production worked and where our cameras were, and just helping him understand it.

Chion Wolf  18:01

Jury Duty, since it came out, got such tremendous reception. I think part of it has to do with it's an awesome idea. It's just such a cool idea. Part of it has to do with Ronald because he's just so freaking amazing. Other parts of it, of course, are the actors who were there for this amazing adventure, who really showed up and rose to the occasion of the idea, the concept of Jury Duty. It's also mentioned sometimes in the same sentence as The Rehearsal, which, for those who haven't seen it, is an HBO series by Nathan Fielder, where he has everyday people rehearse these difficult conversations or life events, by recreating sets, meticulously recreating sets and using actors to rehearse these situations for them. His show gets, shall we say, ethically complex in a certain way when a child becomes part of his production. So in that way, your Venn diagrams don't really overlap with his but they are similar in terms of the shows being an incredible investment of time and resources on people who truly have no idea what is going on behind the scenes, or that there is something going on behind the scenes. And so that all being said, when you look at work like The Rehearsal and Jury Duty, how do you feel about them being connected in that way?

Jake Szymanski  19:18

Wow, wait, this is a very intricate question. Um, well, look, I think, you know, inherently, anytime you're doing a show that has any hidden camera element, there is some moral ambiguity. I don't think anyone can walk in saying we're 100% gonna be ethically okay. I think you can walk in saying, we are 100% trying to be the most ethically and morally appropriate we can, and and thinking of the experience less as 'What product are we creating as a show? And what experience are we giving the real humans in it?' And I think we were always, we were thinking about that every day. And I will say it has been so refreshing and reassuring to see our show spread by word of mouth and see the audience responde because we were worried, maybe no one's gonna care about this show where we're trying to be really nice to this guy, or we're trying to really show a good person being heroic. Maybe that's not what people want. There are lots of other shows out there that people enjoy and get written up and really nice things get said about. And we said, 'Well, maybe our show's not going to do well, because we're not really focusing on those things. We're focusing on a very high positive note.' And it's been really, really nice to see the audience say, 'No, we do like that. And we love seeing Ronald, and we like to see the positivity.' And I think people responded to Ronald, because he shows so much decency and gives people the benefit of the doubt. And I think we are in a day and age where there's so much divisiveness that we've seen shown back to us in the news and in life. And that to show someone who was put with a very crazy, random diverse group of people and, and treated everyone, with a lot of humanity, I think there's a reason people responded to that. And I hope that means we can see more of that in shows, in media projects that are out there. And just more of that in the people we interact with every day.

Chion Wolf  21:32

I couldn't help but imagine after seeing it, and I watched it all, in a day, I couldn't stop. It was awesome. And when I finished watching it, I remember thinking, 'Hmm, is the effect on me going to be that I'm even more well-behaved when I'm out and about, you know, what I mean?' Like, is that is that what's gonna happen to me now? And I'd like to think I'm a pretty decent, kind, loving, compassionate, demonstrative person. But I kind of did feel like, *bleep*, like this could, this could all be a setup for me.

Jake Szymanski  22:01

Who could be watching, I know. I think since the show come out, so many people have made the comment, both online or to me, like, 'I'll tell you what, man, if I were in that situation, I couldn't have done that I would have been, you know, I would have been mean to people. I wouldn't have been like, I don't know how he did it.' And Ronald really is a great person and a special person. But I also think it's worth remembering, like, he is also just a bit of a regular guy. And he's not Mother Teresa. And he's, you know, we all have ups and downs. And I think that's a good thing to remember about Ronald both because one, you don't want to put the weight of him being like Mother Teresa or a perfect person on him in real life, right? Everyone has many facets to themselves. And two, by just treating people with respect, showing just decency, giving the benefit of the doubt is a lot of what he did. And I think that is very, a very attainable goal for most people in their lives. And if that is something they can take away, I think, I think not as many people should think, 'Wow, I could never do that.' I think, I think it's, I think it's more attainable than people realize.

Chion Wolf  23:08

Yeah. Well, Jake Szymanski. Thank you so much for talking with me.

Jake Szymanski  23:15

Well, thank you. And I'll tell you what, it is also very true on our end, I don't mind talking about it. I still love talking about it. Because our expectations were so low for how many for who would see this show, we thought we were putting together such a strange mix of like, you know, people might think it's a reality show, but it feels like a sitcom. That's a mockumentary, but it also has some real documentary elements, and it has actors, but it has a real person. And also, it's on this new streaming network that most people have never heard of. So we thought nobody was going to see this. It would maybe become a cult cool thing that people saw. And so the idea that it's kind of gotten out there and people are talking about it, I'm still, my initial reaction whenever anyone wants to talk about it is, 'Oh, thank you for watching.' I'm still in that mode. So it's fun to talk about it. And thank you for watching.

Chion Wolf  24:09

We'll have a link to Jury Duty on Freevee by Amazon at ctpublic.org/audacious. Just a quick note, parts of this next conversation may not be appropriate for children. You cannot talk about pranking and comedy today without mentioning the Eric Andre Show, created by comedian Eric Andre and director Kitao Sakurai. Each episode features an interview with a celebrity and the goal is to make them as uncomfortable as possible. Like there was one when Eric threw up on his desk while interviewing former reality star Lauren Conrad, and then he proceeded to slurp up the fake vomit. And there was another one when he had cockroaches come out of actress Tichina Arnold's coffee mug. And those are just a couple that we can safely mention on Public Radio. Now, after a few seasons of the Eric Andre Show, Kitao and Eric took on something ambitious, a prank movie to showcase the kindness of strangers rather than humiliating them. When Kitao agreed to direct what became their 2021 film Bad Trip, he thought he knew what he was getting into. The idea was simple: Two friends go on a cross-country road trip and prank real people. But how can you really know what's going to happen when you're working with a master pranker like Eric, and human beings who have no idea what they're in for? You'll hear us talk about a particularly irreverent scene, where Eric Andre's character in an effort to impress a woman he has a crush on, sneaks into a gorilla enclosure to get a picture with one of the apes. And then Eric gets sexually violated by the gorilla who was played by actor and mime, Adam Meir. And the tour group made up of unsuspecting people are watching in horror. So I asked Kitao if they'd ever had someone who freaked out and didn't take it well.

Kitao Sakurai  26:18

Sure. I mean, you always get like, the person who, you know, doesn't want to be like sign a release form. But in general, the kinds of pranks that we do are pretty, at the end of the day, like pretty benevolence. You know, we, we try not to do pranks that feel like mean spirited. And generally, like, nobody knows that they're on camera when we're pranking them. But we do make sure that, like, you know, there are people in the vicinity that we, when we pull a prank, like we're not just like, hoping, you know, randomly that people will show up to where we want to prank them. So we kind of like, we get people there. We sort of like discern between different types of people for different types of pranks as to like, how we feel they will react to a given situation, depending on like, just the kind of prank it is, like, a lot of things about who you are kind of factor into how you will generally react to a prank. Age, gender, you know, like your, your racial background, like all these things kind of like, have an influence on how you react. And then also, like, after we do a prank, we have a big like, we call it like the reveal, where we come out and we like kind of celebrate the people that are being pranked. And we're like, 'Hey, you did a great job. You know, like, the joke's on Eric, it's, you know, like, you were very heroic in in doing this, like you made all the right choices. You were great.' And we kind of like, assure them that we're not making like fools out of them. And so we give them a good sort of pep talk at the end. And that generally like swings things around usually.

Chion Wolf  27:20

Have you ever had the experience where somebody has been, like, traumatized for life? And I ask because of the scene within the zoo with the gorilla. And I see in the credits when when people are showing like, 'Ah, it was just a guy in a suit.' But like the experience of what they thought they were seeing, do you ever get people who say, 'Actually, this really f*bleep* me up forever?'

Kitao Sakurai  28:18

I'm sure people have but nobody's like said that.

Chion Wolf  28:23

Have you ever been pranked?

Kitao Sakurai  28:26

Not on camera.

Chion Wolf  28:29

Lucky you. Do you think that, do you think that it takes, so I was saying how like, the only prank I ever did in my whole life was I went into the radio station at midnight, when it turned into April Fool's Day. And I made a hopscotch court in the hallway with masking tape. Like that. That was as far as I could take any prank I didn't want anyone, I wanted it to be whimsical. I didn't want anyone to get scared or feel silly or stupid. So I just don't think I have the personality to do any sort of pranking, let alone direct, you know, movies and TV shows about pranking What do you think it is about you specifically that loves doing this?

Kitao Sakurai  29:08

Well, there's a kind of like, I would call it like, like, kind of like, joy, a sadism. It's not so much that it's mean. It's like, it's almost like, like bringing like a psychedelic situation into the real world. And then people react to that. And there's something like, sort of joyous about that. And special and it's not like, you know, some of the pranks are hardcore. But in general, we're not trying to be mean we're not trying to, like really offend people just for the sake of offending people, like we're trying to like, get genuine reactions from people. At the end of the day, that's the name of the game, is to find the comedy in how somebody reacts to a given situation and how they choose to get involved and the choices that they make. The best pranks aren't the pranks where you do something crazy and offensive and a bunch of people are disgusted and walk away. Like, that's not very funny. For us, it's like creating a situation where, because of who they are, the person that you're pranking can't help but get involved. And the way they get involved is really funny. For us, like an A+ prank is when somebody makes a choice or makes a decision. And that's what drives Bad Trip as a movie is that, like, we went through great pains to try and have the plot points feel like they were really driven by the choices that the people that we were pranking made. So, you know, what we did was, you know, we shot a bunch of pranks over the course of, like, a year and a half. And then, then we went back and in order to kind of like, string them together, we developed other pranks that kind of like linked them together, narratively, so that it really felt like one incident in the movie was leading to the next as far as like the consequences of, you know, one thing leading the other. But that, you know, and that was very hard to do. And, you know, very, you know, it took a lot of effort, but like that, I think that's why the movie is, is compelling, because it feels like, it's a prank, and somebody makes a choice in the prank that affects the narrative of the film. It's not just like going around blindly pranking people, it's like, we're really involving the people that were pranking in the narrative of what's happening. And so that's why it's so, it's not born out of like a spirit of like meanness or making fun of people. It's like really kind of celebrating the real people and how funny people are. And like the fact that, like, people try and make the right choice. And you know, and like, people help, people are good, even when they're confronted with, like, things that are like insane, you know, like you're getting, you know, sodomized by a gorilla, you know?

Chion Wolf  31:51

Yeah, yeah. And it's funny, because this movie really did show off how kind people could be and how compassionate and empathetic they could be. Like, even the very first scene, Andre, he's, he works at a car detailing place, and the vacuum sucks his clothes off and, and there's, there's something at stake because there's a beautiful woman, this woman he used to love, and then this, this poor guy is just, just trying to help him, and you see this sweet stranger showing his beautiful true colors in this situation, and the whole time I'm sure he's thinking, 'No one's gonna believe this, which is another thread that goes through. Oh, no,

Clip from Bad Trip  31:51

Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I'm gonna get fired again. Oh, give me your jacket. Jacket. Jacket. Jacket, jacket. Thanks for holding. Why? Why why? Oh, no, that's Maria. That's Maria. Hey, excuse me, sir. You know how long an interior detail takes? I'm like a little bit in a rush. Oh, I'm not sure. Don't let her leave, don't let her leave. I'm just gonna go to another carwash. Okay, thank you. Okay. Get her number, get her number! My number? No, thank you though. I'm good. Thanks.

Chion Wolf  33:09

Certainly, throughout the movie, for the most part, people show wonderful and funny reactions to these things. And there's also, of course, people who do not react positively at all, the scene with, at the barber shop when our two heroes are conjoined at the penis, and they are they need help cutting the Chinese finger trap that their penises are in. Will you talk briefly about what happened for those who didn't see that one?

Clip from Bad Trip  33:41

Please, sir, can you get... (shouting and chaos)

Kitao Sakurai  33:58

That was one of the first pranks we ever shot. In the movie, you know, deep into the road trip, Eric and Rel accidentally do a bunch of drugs and then they wake up and their penises are both stuck in the same Chinese finger trap. And they're, you know, panicking and freaking out and kind of trying to solicit help from people to get them out of this predicament. And they happen to like go into this barber shop.

Chion Wolf  34:22

By the way, these are prosthetic penises. Yeah, prosthetic stretchable.

Kitao Sakurai  34:27

Yeah, hyper realistic stretchable, prosthetic penises.

Chion Wolf  34:29

Props to the prop department by the way!

Kitao Sakurai  34:31

Yeah, that took a lot of development. And we, we had to shoot it so many times and, like, it was always falling apart and stuff. So they stumble into this barbershop and the barber is, like, livid, you know, and chases them out and like has a knife but what, what happened was they went into the wrong barber shop. We had, you know, generally we vet who we're pranking and like we kind of lined up this barber shop. We were like, 'Okay, we're we're gonna prank this barber,' like, we think will react well, you know, it's like a guy who has a sense of humor. He'll probably, like, have a funny reaction to them. But they happen to go into the barber shop next door where we didn't have any cameras set up. We hadn't vetted anybody. And, you know, after we revealed to this guy, he was like, 'Man, you guys are so lucky, like, today just happened to be the day that I didn't bring my gun to work. And I was like, I was looking for my gun. I couldn't find my gun. And so I just took my razor and started chasing them. Who knows what would have happened if I just brought my gun to work that day?' And that was like day one of shooting. And that night, Rel, you know, was like, distraught. And he was like, 'Man, this movie is like, insane. Like, I didn't sign up for this, I want to do a comedy.' And so he was sort of venting to Tiffany Haddish, who was not in the movie yet. And he was like, 'Hey, Tiffany, like, I want to quit this movie. This is crazy. They're gonna get me killed.' And, and Tiffany is just like, 'This sounds amazing. Like, what is this?' So Tiffany, she called Eric and she was like, 'What is this movie? Like, you need to let me be in this movie.' And so that's, you know, we were, we were, you know, trying to cast for the role of Trina. And it just so happens that her schedule lined up. And so, you know, and then she like stole the movie.

Chion Wolf  36:17

So for security, do you have people who were there to at least, like, tackle people who may threaten your cast and you? What's your security like?

Kitao Sakurai  36:27

We have our longtime stunt coordinator, Charlie Grisham, with us who, who is sort of like Eric's sort of personal security, but also sort of like a prank facilitator. What will happen sometimes is that in a prank, there will be a couple people that are on the hook and like really buying it. But then there'll be like one person who's like, 'Wait, I know that guy. That's Eric Andre, like, oh, this is a prank.' And what will happen is that like, will be in Charlie's ear on radio. And like, if Eric spots somebody who recognizes him, he'll be like, there's a code word, he'll say, 'Hey, you're Phyllis. Right? You're, are you Phyllis?' And Phyllis is the code word for somebody that's like onto Eric. And so Charlie will very deftly kind of step in and be like, like, 'Hey, buddy, can I talk to you outside for a second?', and kind of like, extricate that person, you know, from the situation. But then there's like, much more dangerous situations, like, when they go line dancing at the cowboy bar. We thought that was going to be really dangerous. And so we had, like, you know, many people that were like, kind of undercover security. And we also like, kind of controlled the situation. So that like, we had metal detectors, so we were making sure that people weren't entering with weapons, and you know, knives or anything like that. It turned out that, like, out of any situation, people were just loving it. And like, there ended up not being much danger to Eric. It's always the situation where you least expect it that somebody will try and take a swing at him or, you know, it's, it's very hard to predict. But yeah, so depending on the situation, we'll have, you know, on Bad Trip we had with us like two full time security guys who were like ex-FBI agents who just kind of helped with everything. If somebody was really kind of like, coming up to Eric, and it was seeming like really, like, they're gonna be really violent. You know, they've always like, crazy FBI ways of like, doing these like weird holds, you know, and like, dragging them out of the situation without anybody else noticing. That was definitely an operation.

Chion Wolf  38:32

You had mentioned vetting. Can you talk about a time when you had to vet and you said, 'Ah, this is not going to be the place? Or this is not going to be the person we're gonna do this on?'

Kitao Sakurai  38:43

Yeah, I mean, and generally, we try not to prank them. You know, but most of the pranks we do several times, with like, several different people. Because you can't just rely on it happening perfectly once.

Chion Wolf  39:01

Although how did you do - towards the end of the movie, there's a scene where unsuspecting people hear the sound of a car crashing and flipping over and, yeah, it looks to the people like it just happened. How'd you do that?

Kitao Sakurai  39:17

So a little bit of movie magic, where we flipped it without anybody there because it would have been way too dangerous to do with anybody there. So we flipped it. Then we had like a, we organized like an arts walk tour group. So we had Eric and Rel lying in wait. And like a big speaker, and we're tracking this tour group. And as you're coming around the corner, they hear like boom, screech. They come around the corner and see this flipped car. And we had a plant, we had like a mole inside the tour group, saying things like, 'Oh my god, that car just flipped over. Holy. Oh my god, there's people like stepping out of the car. Oh my God.' And so Eric and Rel were like, you know, staggering getting out of the car. And like, as a person on a tour group, if you see a car that's just flipped, you just heard the sound of car flipping. And the person next to you is saying, 'Oh my God, that car just flipped, like, there's people in danger, they're getting out of the car,' then you can't but help be convinced that like, that is the reality. You know, like, if you're surrounded by that reality, then, then you buy into it. So then, you know, they interact with, you know, Eric and Rel, and and, you know, once they were at a safe distance away from the car, we had this explosive, you know, propane thing that like blew, and that, you know, just further reinforces the reality of the situation and like, give such danger and stakes. And, yeah, that like of all the pranks, I mean, that was, I don't say like easy, because, you know, it wasn't easy, but it was just so believable.

Chion Wolf  40:47

That was Kitao Sakurai, Director of Bad Trip with Eric Andre. After the break, what was the one prank they worried they couldn't pull off?

Kitao Sakurai  40:56

We're also like, 'Nobody's gonna believe this. Like, who would believe that?'

Chion Wolf  41:02

Oh, but they did. I'm Chion Wolf. This is Audacious. Stay tuned. This is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. Today we're talking about prank shows. Some totally embarrassed or scare people. But prank movies like Bad Trip can also point out the goodness in people. Let's get back to my conversation with the director of that film, Kitao Sakurai. It's really impressive the details that you have to attend to before doing all this. Which prank was the hardest and most complex? Like what are the most variables?

Kitao Sakurai  41:50

Probably the gorilla sodomy scene. That was really, really complex, because we were also like, 'Nobody's gonna believe this. Like, who would believe that?' Like, it's so crazy. So, you know, what we did was we had to, you know, find a zoo that would work with us. You know, we had to, like create this gorilla enclosure, landscape it and, you know, build in our cameras, and basically organize this whole zoo tour to wind up at this gorilla enclosure. You know, make all this signage and make it like believable that like, yes, this zoo would have gorillas. And then also like the gorilla costume itself was like a, you know, pretty sophisticated thing where it's like an animatronic face. And there was like a puppeteer doing the animatronics for the gorillas, as well as the gorilla operator in the zoo. And then like and also, at the end of day, it's like so low brow and like crazy that you would spend all this time and energy and money doing something where it's like, the joke is Eric getting sodomized by a gorilla. It's like crazy.

Chion Wolf  43:02

Did he get any like post-taping therapy or any sort of any? I mean, it's just hard. It's, it's so difficult to watch. I hope he's okay, is what I'm saying.

Kitao Sakurai  43:15

Yes, Eric's fine. Eric's fine.

Chion Wolf  43:20

When you are filming, is there anybody who is off limits?

Kitao Sakurai  43:27

Absolutely. We would never knowingly prank somebody who had like a learning disability or, or was in a very like an already very marginalized kind of person. Like, it's not funny. It just feels wrong and gross to involve somebody in a prank that can't kind of like stick up for themselves. So certainly, and also like, depending on the prank, you know, like, Eric getting his clothes sucked off. Like we only pranked men for that, like, it would have felt for us a little weird to like, pull that prank on a woman to like, just inflict Eric's nudity on a woman that's alone, like that would feel weird. And not that I'm like, so ethically opposed to that very idea. But it's just like, it would feel weird on screen to see that, you know, it's like just funnier and better for Eric to be naked with a guy.

Chion Wolf  44:25

You make me think about how in order to do this stuff, you have to be really in touch with your feelings.

Kitao Sakurai  44:31


Chion Wolf  44:32

And you have to know what's funny, and what's bizarre and what's never had been done before and all this stuff. And I guess I wonder how you watch somebody as a compassionate person, how you watch somebody who's twisting in the wind a little bit. But you know that it's temporary. And they don't. I'd like to hear just about those moments for you, that tension in you that you have when you're watching them go through it, but you know what's going to happen next

Kitao Sakurai  44:59

Well, there's two parts of pranking that take the most sort of like discipline. And that's one part where it's like somebody's in the thick of it. And every fiber of your being is like, I want to rush in and deflate the tension. So there's like a huge impulse to do that, that you have to like, learn how to fight. And then the other thing that's really stressful about pranks is when you're ready to go, and you're kind of like locked down, and everybody is in their camera positions. And the mark has been called, and you're just waiting. And it's like, the longest five minutes of your life where you're just sitting there, lying in wait. That's the most tension and stress inducing feeling, I think of the entire pranking process. And if you don't have a handle on like, your stress levels, and how to like control your stress that will take years off your life.

Chion Wolf  45:53

How do you control it?

Kitao Sakurai  45:57

Like Eric and I both like meditate and like exercise, and, you know, do therapy. And otherwise, I think you're just overtaken with the stress of it.

Chion Wolf  46:08

Is there any part of it addictive?

Kitao Sakurai  46:10

Oh, for sure! It's like dancing on a tightrope, you know, like you're capturing something that you can only have gotten by way of abandoning control, and just sort of leaving it to the universe to determine like what happens and like your own instinct in the moment as to what happens, and there's a lot of producing that goes into it, obviously. But at the end of the day, what makes pranks so special is that there's this element of unpredictability and an element of, of not being able to, like control what the final outcome is, and, and just being surprised and, and you'll get things that because you sort of like put your trust into the process and your trust into the universe, you're rewarded with results that you could never have gotten if you had had complete control over a situation. And that's the, I think, inherent beauty of what a prank is.

Chion Wolf  47:05

So what's your net judgment on humanity? After all these pranks people reacting to unpredictable scary, hilarious, absurd situations? Overall? Where does humanity land in all you've seen?

Kitao Sakurai  47:19

I think that that it nets up more positively than not. Like I think somebody's faced with a situation, like face to face. Generally people do the right thing and are funny. So yeah, so I think the problem with humanity is,is not in people's individual reactions, but it's like, you know, when people are in groups and anonymous and, you know, that's, that's when sort of like, the demons come out. But you know, really when you have somebody face to face with the craziest situation, like, there are very few people who will make an inhumane choice.

Chion Wolf  47:57

Well, Kitao Sakurai, thank you so much for talking with me.

Kitao Sakurai  48:01

Thank you.

Chion Wolf  48:03

Audacious is always lovingly produced by Khaleel Rahman, Jessica Severin de Martinez, Meg Fitzgerald, Meg Dalton and Catie Talarski at Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford with help from our intern, Sajina Shrestha. Oh, and speaking of jury duty, we did a whole episode about it, including stories from a Jury Clerk, a foreperson, a personal injury lawyer, and an unnamed juror who found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. We'll have a link to it at ctpublic.org/audacious, and you can find it wherever you get your podcasts. Stay in touch with me on the socials at Chion Wolf, send me an email to audacious@ctpublic.org. Thanks for listening.