You may have guessed that, by the countless times I’ve posted chapters of The Legend of Neil around here, that I’m kind of a Legend of Neil fan. That would be true. I’m as big a sucker for classic videogame parodies as the next guy — possibly moreso — but there’s just something about Neil’s tale of a guy who autoerotically asphyxiates himself while masturbating to the 8-bit fairy that somehow transports him into the game that makes me giggle every single time I hear the high-pitched song in the beginning.
So for some reason, I thought I’d try my first interview on Topless Robot with LoN‘s creator/director/writer Sandeep Parikh (bottom right in the pic above) and co-writer/Neil himself, Tony Janning (top). They opened up about making the series, their love of Zelda, and getting Felicia Day to scream all those filthy things during the fairy scene — which turns out was surprisingly easy.
Rob Bricken: Hey sirs.
Sandeep Parikh: Sorry about the delay, man. Even after I was late, my computer then crashed as soon as I sat down. It was wonderful.
RB: Dude, I haven’t put on pants all day. There’s absolutely no problem with being a few minutes late.
SP: Oh good. I was worried, ’cause we’re also pantless, so I didn’t know…
Tony Janning: We wanted to make sure that was cool.
RB: Very. Okay, so, you realize of course that Sandeep, you and LoN have a Wikipedia page?
TJ: There’s our legacy.
SP: There you go. We made it, we finally made it!
RB: I saw that LoN was inspired by a roommate. Can you tell me the story?
SP: Yeah, sure. The roommate story goes that he got a care package from his mother containing his old NES and all his games, including Zelda. He claimed he could beat the game in an hour, which I thought was impossible.
When he started playing, we were already kind of tipsy at this point from a night out, and we were drinking a lot more during the game. I began improvising the characters in the game, like, “What’s this old man doing in a cave, like why’s he there, why does he have a wooden sword? Did he make the sword?” And I just started riffing off of that, and we were both laughing, and I thought there’s a sketch in here.
I wrote the sketch drunk that night and called it the Legend of Link, and I was like oh, it’d be funny if Link was a total asshole, and – well not an asshole, but just was a real dude. In the morning, hungover, I reread it and it was still funny, so I then sent it over to the best guy that could play an asshole that I knew, which is Sir Tony Janning. He’s a knight.
TJ: I’m knighted.
SP: That’s not true. But yeah, so I sent it over to Tony.
TJ: I read it and thought it was hilarious, and we went out and shot it out of our own pocket in early March.
RB: How did it turn from Link to Neil?
SP: And then two weeks into it I decided it should be about someone getting sucked into the game, a dude from the real world, and then he really could have this perspective of like, you know, “what the hell am I doing here?” So I rewrote the sketch with Neil being sucked into the game and it became a lot funnier, and I sent it over to Tony and he said “Oh yeah, this is way better,” and then he added his own spin to it, and then that’s when the Legend of Neil was sort of born. And then we couldn’t really change any of the existing production elements, so it was kind of a mad dash to make it happen.
RB: So, do you both deny that either one of you auto-erotically asphyxiated yourself while playing Legend of Zelda? [Both laugh]
SP: Yes, we adamantly deny that ever took place.
TJ: That’s never happened.
SP: And we definitely haven’t tried it since making the show, that’s for sure.
TJ: Never crossed my mind.
RB: Tony, how did you meet Sandeep?
TJ: We met at the Empty Stage Theater, which no longer exists. It was in Westwood. We were both in the same improv group, and it was basically like a theater that just had people from all over the city that did shows, in Acme and Isle West, and Upright Citizen’s Brigade, a lot of people would come to the Empty Stage, that was run by Stan Wells, and just do shows. So we met there, and it wasn’t until I went to a Channel101.com screening, that he was also there premiering a show he did called “Blood Oath of 3 Men and a Baby” and I was there because I knew another guy, Eric Acosta, who plays Wizrobe, and when I saw that he actually wanted to do this sort of thing as well.
RB: LoN has some elaborate sets and effects — who’s paying for that? How is it happening?
SP: Yeah I mean, the show is technically quote-unquote funded through Atom.com and Comedy Central. The reason I say quote-unquote is because the funding is quite low by television standards, but all the folks at atom.com have been unbelievably suppportive and great to work with. They put a lot more than just money into the show, including great marketing efforts, setting up live chats, comicon appearances etc. They work with limited resources very creatively and they give us almost total free reign to keep the project in our voice. So I’m nothing but grateful to them for taking a chance on us and this project. It was a risky endeavor and it took real vision from their executives to make it happen.
But for me personally I feel like the show goes way beyond what the funding provides for, and that has everything to do with the fact that our team, our core team is all very passionate, talented people, that invest so much of their time and energy, unpaid, to make the show as good as it is. So when you see all of these elaborate sets, it’s because Leah Mann, our production designer – it was her first production design gig too – so she really poured her heart and soul into it, and spent so many extra hours you know, designing all this stuff, and really scraping together, you know, just being tremendously resourceful, and creating caves out of paper, and dragons out of Styrofoam, you know, literally.
RB: The difference between the early episodes with the scrawny white boys in masks, versus the more elaborate makeup and sets of season two is pretty massive.
SP: Right, right. Yeah, I mean it just sort of fell into that pattern of, we always wanted to keep one-upping what we had done in the previous episode, or just you know, just sort of one-upping ourselves throughout, and I think that now we’re in trouble, because man, it, you know I feel like season three is gonna have to be off the hook.
RB: Who’s doing the computer effects? Because those are pretty astounding as well.
SP: Yeah, another extremely passionate, like incredibly talented dude, Sevan Najarian, who we met through Channel 101, which Tony mentioned — Channel 101, by the way, is just sort of this monthly festival where people submit these five-minute television pilots that they created, which is what originally we made the first episode of LoN for. So Sevan was just a guy that we had seen a bunch of his shorts, and he’s just a total wizard with aftereffects and what-not. I shot him this like long, elaborate email when we first were doing LoN being like, you know, just basically begging him to help us out with a few effects and he wrote me back one line. He’s a man of very few words. He was just like “I’m all over this project.” That’s all he wrote back. And he has just done an absolutely tremendous job, I don’t even know how we would do it without him.
TJ: He’s a magician.
RB: Neil is pretty accurate to the game. Did you play it for research?
TJ: I think we played it during season one, but not very long… just to check where you find this, and where this is, to make sure that we were accurate.
RB: At least where it’s important.
TJ: Yeah, at least what’s important. But a lot of it is just kind of on memory alone, because that game was just so huge when it came out. I know both of us played it a ton when we were kids, and it just really kind of has this, it’s just stuck in both of our heads, as far as what went down.
SP: Yeah, I think we just didn’t want to get bogged down in the details of everything, so memory is important. It’s like, what do you remember from the game? That’s what our audience is going to remember, for the most part. You know, if we get really, like stuck into the specifics of you know, like making sure the whatever, dungeon map of level five, is absolutely perfect, or whatever, then I feel like we lose what’s really important, which is ultimately the comedy between the characters.
RB: Dd you think about doing kind of all the dungeons, and going through the whole game methodically?
SP: Yeah, but that never appealed to me.
TJ: It’s just boring. We would talk about it, and it would take up, you know we would’ve had two, three, four episodes that would’ve been, you know two, three, four levels, and there were too many things we wanted to kind of you know, lift up and look underneath this world, and see what else we could kind of explore there.
SP: Yeah, like the pub.
TJ: All the stuff that’s not in the game, and the characters that we’ve created, we kind of wanted to have fun with that more so than the levels. And plus in the game, the earliest levels are pretty easy, which we kind of poke fun at in the last episode. If we do a third season, I’m sure we’ll tackle the most important levels as best we can. But I mean, especially level two and three, well two it’s like snakes and little globs, I mean there’s really not much to it.
RB: I first found LoN with episode three, which was the fairy sex episode with Felicia Day. Am I right in thinking that’s the one that put Neil on the map?
SP: Yeah. That probably had a lot to do with Felicia.
TJ: I think it was the easiest one for someone to say, “Dude, have you seen this show by this guy, and Zelda, he had sex with a seven-inch-tall fairy?” I mean there’s a lot of things in that episode that kind of would draw someone’s attention to us.
SP: Yeah you’re right, and that actually brings up a good point – it was sort of a stand-alone episode in the sense that like, anybody who’s played that game would be like, “Oh, yeah I remember getting healed by that fairy,” and this is sort of like the behind the scenes look at actually what happens to get healed by that fairy. So I think it does have that sort of like stand-alone quality that you want to pass off. And then yeah, add Felicia to that and you have a recipe for success.
RB: Can you confirm that Felicia Day is just as filthy as her fairy character in real life?
SP: Yeah, I can. Seriously, she is foul-mouthed, and her improv is dirty. She’s so damn funny. I think that The Guild is great, and all the stuff that she does in Dr. Horrible is great, but the fairy Felicia is the one that I improv’d with for years before any of those projects ever saw the light of day.
RB: So you knew from the beginning that Felicia would be the fairy.
SP: Yeah, it was sort of a no-brainer.
RB: Tony, did you actually have to hump the ground in that episode?
TJ: Yeah, I mean it was like doing a push-up with your crotch, basically. My elbows got pretty sore. That was maybe the most difficult thing to shoot for me in season one with me not laughing. Sandeep was standing like right over me, you know, throwing me these lines, “Now say this, now say this,” and one of them was “How is this even working?” And if you watch the episode, I never said it without laughing. Even when I say it in that episode, you can see me laughing. But yes, I was humping the ground. Luckily – there was a field trip of like a bunch of 12-year-olds like two hours earlier – luckily enough, they weren’t there when I was humping the ground.
SP: But they saw some things they probably shouldn’t have.
TJ: Yeah, they… yeah.
RB: I like to think of you guys racing to get the scene together so you can force the 12-year-olds to see it.
RB: How has the story for LoN changed through its popularity?
SP: You know, when we first started, I don’t know that we necessarily knew exactly where we were going. It was, I think about, when we had written season one, you know probably towards the end, we were like hey you know, I think a trilogy is where we want to go with this thing. Like three seasons, I don’t know just have that sort of epic feel. I grew up on Star Wars, I love trilogies.
TJ: We knew for a fact, as soon as we outlined season two and we knew how it was going to finish, I mean that’s when we knew without a doubt that we wanted to do it in three parts.
RB: The final episode of season 2 had Neil with an actual moral dilemma, and a little poignancy along with the dick jokes. Was that always part of your plan?
SP: Yeah, I just think that you have to at some point, you’ve gotta root for Neil, and the only way you’re gonna root for Neil is if he’s human, in a certain sense, so you have to feel his vulnerabilities, and even if we’re sort of lampooning that concept, it’s just so absurd, obviously, what happens to him, before he gets sucked into the game, that he you know, loses his girlfriend to his brother, who then fires him, you know we just kind of pile on all the reasons for him deciding to masturbate himself into the game.
TJ: Because without that, season one is kind of…
SP: He’s just a dirty man.
TJ: A weird, freaky bastard.
SP: Yeah so we wanted to give some kind of ridiculous back story as to why he got sucked into the game, and I think that, well yeah I think you start to feel for him a little bit more once you’re like, “Oh yeah, this guy’s got a crappy life,” you know. So yeah, it’s always been part of the plan to make sure that we sort of delve into the depths of Neil, and I think you’ll see a lot more of that too in season three.
TJ: Yeah, well people are gonna want to root for him. We’ll find ways.
RB: Does Nintendo know what you’re doing?
SP: I wonder about this myself. I’m sure they know.
TJ: We haven’t heard anything yet, though.
SP: It’s a parody. We stand by the fact that we’re parodying the game, it’s freedom of speech.
TJ: Before we even were able to do season one with Comedy Central and Atom, there was a long issue with them trying to figure out legally, and then someone found, somewhere in the print somewhere, that when you do a parody, it kind of erases all the issues with that.
RB: I figure if they wanted to stop you, they’d have done it by now.
RB: With the whole Nintendo thing, is a LoN DVD out of the question for that reason?
SP: It’s definitely not out of the question. We’re exploring that. I would love to get a DVD going. But yeah, there are ramifications…
RB: It’s tougher than for something like The Guild.
SP: Exactly. Since this is a derivative of an existing project, there’s other considerations. But there’s kind of a laundry list of them, so we won’t go into that now. We’re still hoping. We definitely want to do it.
RB: I saw on the Wikipedia page, actually, that MTV2 aired LoN.
SP: They did. MTV2 aired season one of LoN. It was its own little time block. You could actually Tivo it. You could type in “Legend of Neil” and actually Tivo it. Yeah they did that a week before season, no actually the first week I think that season two premiered.
TJ: It was in July, right?
SP: Yeah, end of July. Yeah, they premiered it at 11 pm, so it was a really good slot for MTV2, and I think it did really well for them. Part of what we’re talking about for season three, and we hope that it happens, you know, there might be some sort of television window in there. It’s still in a very nascent stage of the deal, so I can’t go into specifics, but we’re definitely exploring a lot of angles and television is one of them.
RB: That’s something that rarely happens, even with the biggest web series.
TJ: It was cool, it was almost surreal, because it wasn’t made for tv but the fact that they put it on twice now, they did last year and then this year, it’s pretty cool. It’s like the little guy in the minor leagues that got called up for a couple of big games, you know.
SP: Yeah, that’s definitely true.
RB: Where are you guys at for season three? What’s the plan?
SP: Like I said, it’s pretty nascent, with the deal, because they don’t have an option on this season, so we’re at kind of ground zero in terms of negotiating, but they really want to make it happen, and we really want to make it happen, so I feel confident that season three will happen, but nothing’s set in stone.
TJ: We’re actually getting ready to work on it a little bit, as far as a pitch outline.
SP: Yeah, because like I said we’re sort of taking it, some television opportunities with it, so that’s what we’re going to be working on right after we get off this interview.
RB: Any story hints for the fans?
TJ: There’s a good chance he’ll be back in the game in some way.
RB: As opposed to him just sitting in his apartment for the next six episodes?
SP: We kind of joked about this, but maybe if they don’t pick it up we’ll just do a quick little video where he just hits quit, and that’s it.
RB: Sandeep, I know you do The Guild. What other projects do you two have going on?
SP: Yeah, I write a website called effinfunny.com, I don’t know if you’ve seen that, like a sort of standup comedy community, a place to sort of discover new talent, so that’s something I do, and outside of that Tony and I are writing a feature together. We’re sort of in the beginning stages of that. So yeah, just a lot of, you know, staying creative, acting when we can, and whatnot. I’m gonna be in an episode of Community.
TJ: For me it’s writing, I’ve got another feature with a guy that we’re trying to get some legs under now. And then commercial auditions, and still looking for better representation, and auditioning, and the same old, doing improv with Sandeep and Felicia and a handful of other people once a month.
SP: Yeah, we have a pretty good show going on. It’s a show called “Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” that we do once a month. It’s myself, Tony, Felicia, Jeff Lewis from The Guild, Alex Albrecht, who does DiggNation, so it’s kind of this web-lebrity improv show. Really, all of us did improv together before any of us achieved any success online, so it’s kind of awesome that we’re able to do it now. With the same group, we’d do a show in front of three people, and all of them significant others of people in the group, and now we’re doing shows in front of a hundred people, I mean, it’s so great.
RB: What can the masses do to help Legend of Neil?
SP: Buy some t-shirts.
TJ: Yeah, and another way to help Neil that we keep saying is to spread it, because that’s how the web shows build fan bases. So spread the show and bother Atom.
SP: Whether or not we have a season three is ultimately in our fans’ hands. It’s just all about them watching it, spreading it to their friends.
TJ: Going to Atom.com and creating a quick user account and posting like crazy how much they want a third season. We can give them the CEO’s email address, too.
SP: Yeah, it might come down to that.
RB: Good deal. Well then, this last question is for Sandeep. How the fuck did your friend beat Legend of Zelda in less than an hour? I call bullshit.
SP: I know, man. I’ll tell you how he beat the game in less than an hour. Of course, I guess if you memorize where all the extra heart containers are, if you know exactly where those are before going in – that’s what he did.
TJ: The guy is a mathematical genius.
SP: So the first thing he did, before he even entered a level – I’m totally geeking out –
RB: Well, this is the site to do it on.
SP: Yeah, so what he did was, he got I think something like six heart containers right off the bat, that were all just placed throughout the world. He got all of those first, and then he went to get the white sword, and he went to all the places where you can get extra rupees and bought the blue ring, and so immediately he was super powerful, before even entering a level. And then just blazing through all the levels, and knew where all the secrets were, and yeah, I mean that was it. But if you’re very powerful from the beginning, then you find that you kind of can rip through the first five levels like nothing. I think he spent most of his time, like the last 20 minutes or so, on the last level, getting through that, cause I remember that last level taking a lifetime. ‘Cause there’s like so many different paths, and dead ends, and like so many places that you have to bomb, and I just couldn’t believe how quickly, I mean he just had it memorized. He’s kind of a genius, so it’s crazy.