Depressing Fridge Tunnels: Writer/Actor Cirocco Dunlap
Earlier this month, I spoke with Cirocco Dunlap, the creator of the weird and wonderful series everything is okay. Dunlap, who plays the main character in the show, also wrote for the FXX series Man Seeking Woman. You can see a lot of those same darkly absurd flavors in everything is okay, which is available to stream right now on Topic. If you enjoy shows like Black Mirror, Rick and Morty, or You’re the Worst, you should check this show out immediately.
Episodes 2 – 4 of everything is okay have a flavor that’s adjacent to some of my favorite episodes of Man Seeking Woman. How do you know when an idea you’re developing is right for the writers’ room you’re staffed in vs. being right for something you produce yourself?
It's going to be similar because it's all pulled from my own life but the ones I prefer to write for myself are the ones that were particularly painful or frustrating, things that I found myself obsessing over for far too long. Man Seeking Woman was more of a straight comedy and generally ended with a redemptive, upbeat tone or a lesson learned - apparently, in my personal work, I like a desolate ending with only the tiniest indication that hope might return.
Other than the clear comedic value of VampWolves, what observations about Alice (and, by extension, people like me) are you spotlighting with that recurring joke?
I could go deep into the metaphor and what it might signify for our society, but mostly I've just spent a lot of time eating tacos and watching terrible shows with poorly written love triangles. I wanted other people to know that it's okay, and that they're not alone.
I think there are usually these click moments in most types of art where you realize there’s just a little extra magic in something. Like, oh, this is definitely for me. And I had that moment in Episode 1 after Alice asked Robot Alice to go to work for her, Robot Alice leaves the frame and the contents of Alice’s closet fall all over the place. It’s great because this is obviously the kind of series that doesn’t need physical comedy to butter its bread, but it’s there anyway. It’s that ice cream on top. Can you talk about how you find your ice cream to put on top of scenes or episodes of things you write? And if this mixed food metaphor makes sense, do you have an example of when you saw the ice cream on top of another TV show or movie that let you know you were watching something special?
I feel like those moments are often accidents or last-minute connections. That one I think happened because the bar was very haphazardly hung and we just thought it would be fun to try. Rick and Morty is an excellent example of a show that has a million of these moments. I don't know if you've seen it but there are so many brilliant throwaway jokes. One in particular is a video game called "Roy: A Life Well Lived" (which conceptually is amazing purely on a sci fi level). And then later, very quickly, there's a flash of the next game in the series "Roy 2: Dave" and it's just such a great joke that doesn't ask for applause and I think about it all the time.
Are there any bits, either for everything is okay or another project, that didn’t make it on to the screen that you think might have killed?
It's not a joke, and I wouldn't call the series "joke-heavy" or "funny" but I had an image of a physical tunnel for the portal in the fridge. I was bummed when I realized the production reality and cost of building a fridge tunnel, and I am perfectly happy with the glowing portal we ended up using, but something about the slow and uncomfortable journey crawling through a tunnel full of half-rotten food - that this poor woman was so unhappy that she'd consciously continue to take steps in any direction that might lead out of her life. I still love that image but I'm sure I'll put a depressing tunnel in something at some point. There's always so many ideas you love that you lose. I think there was a time that I used to get much sadder about losing things but they always come back in different ways or you think of new ones or you use them for something else. Or you forget them and they're gone forever.
You published a children’s book earlier this year and there’s another in the works. Can you give us a preview of Crunch, the Shy Dinosaur? How is your process for telling stories for children and their parents different from something like a Shouts and Murmurs story, which doesn’t usually require collaborating with an illustrator?
Crunch is a shy dinosaur and the illustrator added a thing I really love which is that there's a rock there the whole time that is never mentioned and you slowly realize it's a turtle. It's a small thing but I was so happy to see it. I would by no means call myself well-versed in writing for children, but I try to go into it respecting the readers, especially because they're children. For example, I had a long discussion where I asked to keep the word "ergonomic" in one of my books. Which should reinforce for you my statement that I am not well-versed in writing for children.
everything is okay does something kind of radical in its medium: Alice doesn’t have a best friend, or really, any close friends. Was this solely a practical decision in terms of telling the story or do you think it implies things about the character, too?
I think she's lonely, and I think these are mostly moments that can only be experienced totally alone. She doesn't know how to connect most of the time, she's trying to do her best but she doesn't know how. Not like me, I'm a great friend, and I have friends all the time!