With the new docu-series Fangasm, Syfy celebrates superfan culture by following seven very different people – Andrew Duvall, Sal Fringo, Kristin Hackett, Molly McIsaac, Paul Perkins, Mike Reed and Dani Snow – whose obsessions run the gamut from comic books and collectibles to science fiction and fantasy to cosplay and live-action role playing. Living together and working for Stan Lee’s Comikaze convention, the cast must navigate each other’s oversized personalities and conflicting passions, as they vie for opportunities within Lee’s organization.
During a recent exclusive interview with Collider, Andrew Duvall, Molly McIsaac and Dani Snow talked about how they came to be a part of this show that celebrates geek culture, what they’re big fans of, the stereotypes that people have of fanboys/fangirls, how their first impressions of their roommates changed by the end of their time together, their biggest fan debates, how cool it was to meet Star Trek’s George Takei, their most memorable experience, representing the Stan Lee name, and where they hope to go next in life. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
DANI SNOW: I have a lot of friends online that I have met at conventions, so when they put out applications for this show, a friend of mine emailed me the link and said, “You should definitely apply for this.” So, I sent in my application and my picture because I thought it sounded fun. I was living in my parents’ basement at the time, and I wasn’t doing anything or going anywhere, so I applied. They called me back within the week and they were like, “We like you and we want to know more about you,” so they had me send them a video of me talking about the things that I like. And that was over a year and a half ago, that they first called me. I wasn’t sure if they were still interested, but I moved out to L.A. and I got a call from one of the producers that they were still casting. So, that’s what happened.
ANDREW DUVALL: I do stand-up comedy, and I did a stand-up show about two years ago. One of the casting people was there. When I auditioned for it, I don’t think it had anything to do with Stan Lee’s Comikaze yet. It was pretty much just a documentary series about seven geeks or nerds living in a house. Through time, it evolved into training for Stan Lee’s Comikaze.
MOLLY McISAAC: I’m a person with a very big personality, and I’ve always made myself the center of attention. I was experiencing a lot of success in the geek world already, just with all of the things that I do. I speak on panels about feminism and social justice, and I have written for a bunch of websites, over the years. I do YouTube videos with a lot of social commentary about geek things. So, it was really apparent to me that, if there was ever a reality TV show about geeks, it would be perfect for me. I actually had a Google alert set up that had the words “reality TV show” and “geeks” on it. So, when the casting call got sent out about two years ago, I was immediately on that, like white on rice. I filled out the essays very thoroughly, and then, within 24 hours, got a call back saying, “Oh, my god, we want your video!” So, I made a video that, looking back on it, was actually not that interesting. My and my roommates shared our videos with each other, just to watch them and see what got us on the show, and everybody else did really funny editing and stuff, but mine was just me sitting there and talking. But, I’m really good with words, so I must have charmed their socks off somehow. And then, after filming a pilot and not hearing things forever, and having this always on the backburner, wondering if it was ever going to happen, all of a sudden, I was flying to L.A. The day I got the call saying that I was going to be on the show, it felt like Christmas had come early and I was three years old. I was running around my apartment, screaming and dancing with my dog. It was pretty awesome!
Had you ever thought about doing a TV show, prior to this opportunity?
SNOW: I’ve always wanted to be work in entertainment. I’ve done a lot of theater and I’ve done a few short films, out here in L.A. It was never a dream to be on a reality show, but it was not something that I wouldn’t consider. It was one of those things where, before I agreed to do it, I was a little weary. I’ve seen some reality shows and they can get crazy, so I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do it.” But, I was in really close contact with one of the producers and she reassured me. I think she knew I was really hesitant, so she said, “It’s not an elimination. We’re not trying to pit you guys against each other. We’re not trying to make fun of geeks. We’re just celebrating being the biggest fans of the things that you love.” And I’m a big fan of the things that I love. I was really glad that it turned out to be a really good experience.
DUVALL: I really like Star Trek, and I really, really like Magic: The Gathering.
SNOW: I am a huge The Lord of the Rings fan. That was probably the first thing that I became obsessed with. When the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, came out, I lost my mind. It was just the best thing I’d ever seen, in a movie. That was my first obsession. Star Wars is also pretty important because I grew up watching that. We had the movies on VHS, so we would always watch them. And every Christmas, I would get a new Star Wars toy. But, I didn’t come to that by choice. That was just always there in my life. And then, throughout college and now, I’ve been really into the James Bond franchise. I’ve seen all the movies, I have some of the soundtracks on vinyl, and I’ve got all of these collector’s items. It’s just really easy for me to get really lost in a world that I like.
McISAAC: I like to describe myself as a geek of all trades. If it’s geeky, I’m into it. But, the stuff that I really like is anime and cosplay and LARP-ing. I like cute video games like RPGs, Animal Crossing, Pokemon, and things like that. And comic books are just a given for me. It was funny ‘cause me and Kristin [Hackett] were really the only ones in the house who like anime, so I didn’t actually get to talk about it that much. All the other roommates shut us down, as soon as we started talking about it. So, she and I were reading manga, all the time. And cosplay is a really big part of my life. I always do these really elaborate cosplays with groups of really well known cosplayers. We take over the internet for a couple of weeks.
How did you get into cosplay?
McISAAC: I’ve always been a geek, forever. I just made a video blog about how cosplay saved my life, that goes through the emotions of how I got into it. The short story of it is that I went to my first convention and I had a vague understanding of cosplay from the internet. I saw all these people cosplaying and was so amazed. I’m a fashion whore. I love clothes, and I run a fashion blog. It was just an extension of fashion for me, with these beautiful costumes. You get to be all made up and look incredible. As a chameleon, in general, it was just really appealing to me to be somebody I wasn’t, so I started cosplaying. I actually used to have crippling insecurities and body issues, and really bad body dysmorphia, and found self-confidence and happiness through cosplay, which is really awesome. When I first starting cosplaying, I would wear these long robes to completely cover my body. Now, I wear tight spandex and feel empowered and bad-ass. So, cosplay is super important to me, in that aspect.
A lot of times, people think that geeks and fanboys/fangirls are anti-social, but you guys all have pretty big personalities. Is one of the things you’re hopeful people will get from watching this show the fact that you’re not the stereotypes that people think you are?
McISAAC: Absolutely! That’s really important to me. I do a lot of social justice stuff within the geek world, and one of the things I’m all about is love and acceptance. Don’t be a mean kids’ club. Don’t be the bullies that bullied us. Be awesome. I despise any stereotypical geek portrayal because we’re not like that. We’re a socially functioning and awesome people. Anybody can be a geek. There’s this pop culture media stereotype of the comic book guy from The Simpsons, and that’s a very small percentage of the geek community. I would never have agreed to be on this show, if I felt like they were going to exploit the culture because that would be completely against my values and everything I’ve cultivated a fandom for. I’ve taken it upon myself to be the Fangasm vigilante. I peruse Twitter and Facebook and whenever somebody says, “I’m not gonna watch this show ‘cause it’s just making fun of geeks!,” I’m like, “No, you should give it a chance because it’s a celebration. The geek community is really scared that they’re gonna get it wrong, and that their little secret club is gonna get invaded, but I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised.
DUVALL: I’m hoping that people see that geeks and nerds aren’t people who don’t do anything and just stay home. To me, geeks and nerds is just a phrase. Everybody is a certain type of geek or nerd. It doesn’t matter what you like. If you like something, you’re a geek or nerd. So, the stereotypical idea of not having a girlfriend or not doing anything doesn’t make any sense to me. Hopefully, people will see that.
SNOW: There’s a lot of physical stereotyping. When people think of nerds, they have certain images in mind, and that’s just not true. I know geeks that are 7-year-old little kids who love comics, or girls who work in the fashion industry that love Star Trek. I think that a lot of people also think that, if you geek out and are a huge fan of something, you probably don’t have social skills, and that’s not true either. The thing that makes you a geek is just really, really, really getting into something that you like and enjoy, and finding out everything you can about it.
Molly, why is the way women are perceived in the world of fandom so important to you?
McISAAC: When I was younger, I fell victim to a lot of internalized misogyny, just with the nature of society and the way it portrays women. As I started involving myself in the geek world, especially at a professional level, I was really shocked with the way that women are treated and perceived, and the rampant sexism and the sexual justification of cosplayers. I would go to conventions and get accused by men of only being there to look for a date and that I was a fake geek girl. It was just absolutely absurd shit that was so ridiculous and should be a non-issue. There’s such an identity around the world geek, and there are these really angry, misogynistic men who think that it should just be for them and that girls are just all attention whores and don’t actually like the things they like. So, it’s very much my goal to make the geek world a safe place for young women, and for them to feel okay saying, “I’m a geek. I’m proud. I’m going to wear whatever costume I want and feel safe in it.” There should not be an attitude towards women like that, in the geek world. I think it’s just a reflection of society, in general, but because geek subculture is so small and so contained, it’s easier to make a difference within it, first.
DUVALL: The reason I connected so much to Star Trek is that my dad was a fan. I would watch it with him when I was a kid, and I would also watch it with my great grandma. It became more of a memory to me. Instead of just watching the show, Star Trek became memories. When I watch it now, I remember good stuff that happened to me, as a kid. So, I fell in love with it.
What was it like to get to meet George Takei? Were you worried that the dream wouldn’t live up to the reality?
DUVALL: When I met George Takei, it was more than I was hoping for. It’s so hard to think about what it’s going to be like when I meet someone from Star Trek because they’re not going to be the character. When I met George Takei, I thought, “Oh, I’m gonna meet Sulu.” It was a really nice surprise meeting George Takei because he was so nice and so humble about everything. I’m very scared about meeting people like William Shatner and Patrick Stewart because they’re even bigger in the Star Trek universe. If I reacted that way with George Takei, I don’t know how I’ll react, if I ever meet William Shatner or Patrick Stewart.
When you guys all met each other, on the first day, what was your first impression of everybody, and how much did that impression change, by the end of the time you spent with them?
DUVALL: My first impression of most people ended up being the same. The one that was really different was Kristin. It was my own fault. I had the same problems that everybody does. I saw her and I thought she was going to be a dumb blonde. And then, throughout the show, she turned out to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. She’s great! I felt really bad about having that first impression, but I guess that’s what happens sometimes.
SNOW: I thought Andrew [Duvall] was gonna be really quiet. This is just stereotyping, but I thought Andrew was going to be really socially awkward because he seemed like it. But, it was on the second or third day that I started to realize that he was just so funny and so nice. He wasn’t socially awkward. He’s weird and he knows it. So, that surprised me. I think we ended up bonding the most in the house, and he became my favorite. For the most part, all of the other first impressions were pretty spot-on. I do remember being a little intimidated by Kristin, just because she was a really pretty girl. Sometimes really well-dressed, attractive women can be bitchy, and that stereotype played out in my head. But after getting to know her, within the first few hours, I found out that she was just so sweet.
McISAAC: Well, Kristin and I were already best friends, and it was so amazing that I got to have this experience with one of my best friends in the entire world. It was actually really funny, but I already vaguely knew of Dani [Snow] already, just because the geek world is so small. And I vaguely knew of Sal [Fringo] already, but I didn’t know them. My first impression of Dani was that she was really cute and adorable. I knew immediately that she was going to be friends with us ‘cause she was funny. My first impression of Mike [Reed] was probably the one that changed the most, throughout the show. My first impression of Mike was that we were gonna get along because he was very loud and outspoken, and I’m very loud and outspoken. But as the summer progressed, I learned that he was loud and outspoken in all the wrong ways. We butted heads quite frequently. There was a lot of tension between the two of us. He’s not the sort of person that I would necessarily be friends with, in the real world, but we do have a bond and a friendship that’s bought together by this shared experience. With Andrew, I expected him to be the typical Revenge of the Nerds guy, and he totally surprised all of us. He’s geeky, but he’s very specifically geeky. He was the only person in the house with a significant other. The one person who, on first judgement, you would think, “Oh, that guy could never get a girlfriend,” was the only one who had someone.
Andrew, who were you the closest with in the house, and who did you feel like you just didn’t understand or have anything in common with?
DUVALL: The person I was closest with was probably Sal. He and I clicked really fast. We both have the same kind of personality and we found the same things funny. It was really nice that I had someone to talk to during the show. And I didn’t understand anything with Molly [McIsaac], to tell you the truth. She’s really nice, but sometimes I just didn’t know what she was doing.
What were the biggest fan debates that you guys got into with each other?
DUVALL: The biggest debate was Marvel vs. DC. And then, there was the debate between me and Paul [Perkins] about Star Trek and Star Wars. With Marvel and DC, everybody in the house pretty much took the conversation over and I didn’t really have much to say. When it comes to Star Trek and Star Wars, I’m very much for Star Trek. I don’t know if I would say that it got heated, but it got very interesting.
McISAAC: We beat the Marvel vs. DC debate to death. There got to be a point, three or four weeks in, where if that came up, I would just leave the room. I was so done with talking about that. Obviously, we weren’t going to come to common ground. I think the most aggressive debate was when Mike and I got into a debate over dinner about cosplay being consent. He basically said, “If girls don’t want to be sexually harassed in cosplay, they shouldn’t wear revealing outfits,” and I called him “a misogynistic prick.” That was a giant blow-up. I wasn’t happy.
SNOW: On the show, and even off the show with friends, the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate comes up a lot. I honestly love both. I’ve seen Star Wars so many times. I’ve seen a lot of Star Trek, but not all of it. They’re both good, but a television show vs. a movie are such different mediums that I don’t think one can really trump the other. They were both done really well, in their separate mediums.
As fans, how do you feel about the remakes, reimaginings and further movies that are being done for both Star Trek and Star Wars now?
DUVALL: I get very excited for the remakes and reimaginings, I just get a little scared that they’re not going to hold true to the original idea. I loved the 2009 Star Trek movie. I thought it was great! But, I didn’t think the newest one did Gene Roddenberry’s idea justice. I thought they lacked on his vision a little bit.
SNOW: I am excited [about the new Star Wars movie]. The original movies are so amazing, but I’m not letting it worry me until anything happens. I think there’s a chance that they could good, and there’s a chance that they could be terrible, so I’m just not worrying myself about it until I actually see it.
Dani, what made you want to get into special effects make-up?
SNOW: I’ve always been really creative, and I like to work with my hands and build things. I like to pain and sculpt. So, when I started looking at what I want to do, I knew that I wanted to work in the entertainment industry or just do something creative. Once I was drawn to special effects make-up, it made so much sense because I really like creating characters and making something that you spend an hour on, and then you can stand back and look at it and be like, “I made that and it looks awesome!” It’s also one of those instant gratification arts. When you make a film, it takes a long time because you have to edit it and do all these things. You just put together make-up in an hour, and then look at it and see if you’re happy with it. So, I’m a fan of it.
You guys were making a show, but you’re also essentially representing the Stan Lee name. Was that always present on your mind, and did that affect how you behaved or carried yourself, at all?
SNOW: Definitely! And for the most part, we were just able to let loose and have fun. There were a few instances, though, when we were in public and I remember carrying myself slightly differently because I was like, “I don’t want to make Stan look bad.” He’s done so much. He’s an icon. I remember that there was a night that we were at a club and people were drinking and dancing, and I was sitting off to the side thinking, “I can’t do anything.” I was just so focused on the job that we had.
DUVALL: It was always on my mind that we were representing Stan Lee, but I figured that, since there were six other people, if I messed up bad enough, the six other people could cover for me. I didn’t really let it affect my personality or how I acted, at all.
McISAAC: I’m a workaholic who’s a very intensely motivated person. I feel like, because there was so much potential to succeed and potentially get the internship, I missed out on a lot of fun that I would have had, otherwise. Whenever there was the option to go do X or go to the office, I would always choose to go to the office, even though I knew that if you went to do X, you would probably have something cool happen to you, like meeting Elvira or having dinner with George Takei. I missed out on hanging out with Elvira because I was at the office, and that sucks because Elvira is a hero of mine, but I was so intense about making sure we did a good job.
What was it like to actually get to meet and talk to Stan Lee?
SNOW: Stan was just amazing! We got to interact with him, but it was when we were pitching our comic book ideas and we had to look and act very professional. We didn’t get to really freak out and talk one-on-one with him, but he was incredible. He was just so polite and so sweet. I think it’s what we all expected. We all had our minds blown when we met Stan.
DUVALL: It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Stan Lee is adorable. When you meet him, all you want to do is hug him. It was really, really cool. He was probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. I didn’t think he was going to be so chipper, nice and energetic when I met him, but he really was.
What was the best or most memorable experience you had during this whole process?
DUVALL: The most memorable experience for me was meeting George Takei. It was above and beyond anything I could have hoped for, out of any moment in my life. It was great! And to top it off, he was just the coolest guy who sat there and talked to me. He answered any questions I had. Even though I was very numb when I met him and it was hard for me to say anything, he was super kind. He left and I was like, “Aw man, I wanted to ask him this and this and this.”
SNOW: That is a difficult question because there were so many good parts. Throughout the show, we were doing all of our tasks with Regina, and we were completing all of these assignments and really trying to impress her, and I really, really surprised myself, as far as my dedication, my organization. I’m normally not that organized. I was really pulling together everything I’ve ever learned in any work experience and every life experience, and really trying to do a good job. And I was taking charge, in a few of the situations, which I normally don’t do. I really surprised myself, as far as what I can get done when I put my mind to it. Even though we met Stan Lee and George Takei, and got to do all of these amazing things, I just learned so much about myself, and that’s probably my favorite part of the experience.
McISAAC: That’s really hard because the entire thing was just so amazing. All of my roommates were so incredible, and I feel like we have a life-long bond. On the last day, we were talking about how we’re going to be at each other’s weddings someday. We’re never gonna lose touch. So, just meeting them and sharing the experience was really profound. If I was forced to pick a certain moment, it was probably when George Takei walked in our door. It was just so intense and crazy. The awesome thing about it was that it really brought us together, as roommates and friends. Up until that point, we’d had a shaky comradery, but after sharing that moment, it solidified our bond. It was either that moment, or pitching a comic book idea to Stan Lee, which has been a life-long dream of it. I honestly don’t have any recollection of doing that because I blacked out when I went in to pitch my comic.
Did having this experience affect or change what you want to do for a living, or are you focused on the same goals that you had before this experience?
SNOW: I think so, yeah. I’m still really interested in doing special effects make-up, but doing this proved to myself that I could work and do something in an office, which is something that I’ve not been interested in, if it was related to something that I like, like working for a convention or working for a comic book company, or something like that. As long as it’s something I believe in and I’m passionate about, I can do any kind of work and do a good job. Meeting Cassandra Peterson and just seeing how funny she is and how elegant but snarky she could be, it was just so amazing. I was like, “I would love to do something like her!” I don’t want to really act, but she was a host for a long time and she was so funny. I would love to do something like that. So, it’s shown me what’s out there and it’s shown me what I can do. It’s exciting!
DUVALL: I’m still focused on the same goals that I had before, but doing this internship and doing this show has opened my eyes to what else there is out there. I don’t have to just do what I’m doing now. There are other things that I can do. It was really interesting to meet Regina, who’s someone who worked and clawed her way up to having this huge Comikaze convention every year.
McISAAC: I just want to take over the world. That’s my life goal. I want to be like Regina. I don’t necessarily want to run my own con, but I want to be a bad-ass, powerful woman who has life by the balls. I want to write and run my blog and speak about feminism, and just be a geek ambassador and icon who young women can look up to.
Fangasm airs on Tuesday nights on Syfy.