A Chat with the Kings of Con: Rob and Rich
Supernatural fan favorites, Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr have a new show out called Kings of Con.
Earlier this month they were gracious enough to chat with us and several other outlets about Kings of Con, their inspiration for the show, and life on the con circuit. Kings of Con episodes will be available on Comic-Con HQ. Subscriptions for Comic-Con HQ is only $5 a month and features a ton of content in addition to Rob and Rich’s show.
When I had the opportunity to talk to them about Kings of Con I was eager to chat about their general con experiences and the difference between the different type of conventions they attend. I was also happy to bring forward a fan question from a Louden Swain fan. Many of our readers are avid Louden Swain fans and I was happy to represent. [Editor’s note: for easy reading, each interviewer is identified by first name. This interview has been edited for clarity.]
So, you both have been to supernatural conventions and larger conventions like San Diego Comic Con. My question is, for you guys, what’s it feel like, like the different vibes between the two, and will your show focus on both, or more specifically on the smaller convention circuit?
Rich: We had them both. We’ve done a lot more Supernatural conventions than we’ve done monster comic cons. They’re very different animals in terms of our participation. You go to comic con and you are one, tiny spec of sand on this giant beach. Whereas at Supernatural conventions, we are lifeguards. We’re there the whole time, and make sure you don’t drown in this love. So it’s more of a full-time job so to speak when we’re hosting the Supernatural conventions though we know that world better. ‘Cause that’s the world we sort of came up in. In terms of the show’s dealing with conventions, the model is more like the Supernatural world we deal with. That certain format and the style of conventions that we inhabit in the show.
Rob: Right, it’s like a weekend where people come to celebrate one show and they’re all fans, so it’s that sort of small, insular, focused convention than it is big comic con. But you know we were at the LA Comic Con last weekend and you know, we found that a lot of those con goers really seem to get our show and where we are coming from. [W]hether or not you go to Comic Con or go to Supernatural con, or you’ve never been to a convention, we think you’ll still get this show. It’s definitely not an inside joke.
Rich: No, we’re making comedy for comedy lovers.
So Rob, I actually have a fan-submitted question for you. I have a friend that’s a big fan of your band and they want to know how you balance doing your band and now having this upcoming show, like do you sleep, do you eat? Or are you constantly practicing?
Rob: Well, I’m just busy and I love it. I love being busy, it’s what’s great about what we’re doing, is that we’ve figured out a way to incorporate my band into these other creative ventures, you know, at the conventions themselves. Like Rich said, we’ve kind of developed over the years. Rich is the host, I’m the co-host, my band plays all weekend long and it’s the Jimmy Kimmel kind of—
Rich: THE BAND IS LOUDEN SWAIN, by the way. You should name the band.
Rob: Yeah, Louden Swain. In our show, Kings of Con, Louden Swain does the theme song, and it’s peppered with Louden Swain music throughout the episodes. It’s very much a part of what I’m doing and they really don’t feel like two separate things. They used to, you know. Ten years ago I did the band as sort of extra curricular activity, and now I just sort of get to do both. It’s been really great.
Check out the rest of the conversation with the Kings of Con below.
Rob: Rich and I met at the Supernatural con circuit, which has been going strong for eight or nine years. We knew of each other, but hadn’t ever really worked together before. We came to find out that we had a really good comic rapport. We became best friends, and over the years we accumulated a lot of real stories and shenanigans from the road. We now do about eighteen to twenty conventions a year, so you know, there are lots of stories in various cities in north america where stuff goes down. And so we thought, “You know, this would be a great idea for a show.”
We wrote a treatment for a pilot and we went out to the fans with Indiegogo. The fan response was overwhelming, as the Supernatural fandom usually is, so supportive. That attracted the attention of Lionsgate, who is starting this new digital network with Comic-Con, and the rest is history. We did the show with Lionsgate and Comic-Con and we’ve had 10 episodes. It’s loosely based on our actual experiences, but it’s really a scripted comedy where we play caricaturized versions of ourselves.
Richard: That was top shelf Robbie. Rob and I had a really fun experience doing this comedy back and forth on stage at conventions and realized that the craziest people at conventions are the actors who are paid to be there. That’s where the story is.
Debbie: I have been to cons and I’ve seen some of the clips that you’ve put out for the campaign. Very funny. I think it’ll go over really well. I agree that you don’t have to be a con-goer to find humor in it. It’s just humor on its own. So well done. Now if I have time to ask one more quick question? How much of the script do you base on the stories that you take from the road, and how much is things that you say could have happened or something sparks it, somebody said to me “Oh my god that would be so funny if that went that way”?
Rob: There is a nugget of reality in every episode, whether it’s one tiny little story, a tiny little detail, or an actual story. Usually what we do is we’ll start with the nugget of something that really happened and then we’ll take it into the extreme comedy format, into the world of nonsense that didn’t actually happen. There’s a story we like to tell where we went into New Jersey and we both were on the 9th floor. I dialed Rich’s room number which is 911, but I did it without putting in the 7 first, and I ended up calling 9-1-1. I hung up and then cops ended up coming to the hotel. That really happened. It was funny, lots of laughs, but of course in our show when the cops show up, things go really wrong from there and we take it into the fictional realm.
Robin: I am an avid con goer, so I’m really looking forward to this show. You said earlier that actors are the craziest things at cons. Can you maybe go a little more into detail on that one or share a story?
Rich: Well. No. Because I don’t wanna tell you the plot of the show. I think Robbie and I always have encountered this on the road in doing interviews on TV. There’s a disconnect between people who understand what conventions are and people who don’t. And I find that interesting. And I think Robbie and I sort of been hit with that to our surprise. We are now so used to this world that we don’t think much about it, but there’s still a little bit of a stereotype to those who are not in the know that convention goers are on the quirkier side of things. I don’t know, how do you even describe it?
Rob: A great example is, I got these meets and greets. We have these private meet and greets. Rich and I sit on a table with ten fans and we usually go around the table and go, “Say your name, what you do, and where you’re from”. These people are usually doctors, lawyers, people who work with the homeless, just amazing people with these amazing jobs, and it comes back to us and we’re like “I’m an actor?”
Rich: We’re sitting there in clown makeup and assless chaps, like “Well…” It’s a new world order. You have a place at the table, and I do not.
Rob: Yeah. I think you get this because you’re a convention goer, but the old-school way of thinking is that conventions are for nerds or whatever. We found that that’s not at all the case. Conventions are actually for very bright people who are like-minded people. They all like this certain thing. In the same way that sports fans go to a baseball game, these people come here and we love that.
Rich: Your sports analogy is spot-on. The same person who’d say “Huh, convention goers are kind of odd?” cheers on the, let’s say, UCLA fantasy football team. That makes no sense. Mark Sheppard said something at his panel that I think is spot-on. He says, “I don’t trust people who’re not a fan of something.” We’re all fans of something. The fact that we go to a concert to see that musician, or go to the stadium to see that sports team, or go to a convention because we all see that show, doesn’t mean anything other than you’re a big fan of that thing.
Rob: Your question about anecdotes and stuff- [w]e’re the ones going on stage in front of an audience but we’re actors and actors are inevitably a little bit crazy. Like Rich said we’re the ones jumping around in wigs and making like the court jester, performing for the king itself. Inevitably, we’re the ones that have, you know, the “issues”.
Robin: The show is scripted, but there is improv. Can you talk a bit about the balance between scripted and improv elements on the show?
Rich: It’s very scripted in the way that Rob and I look. We wrote very specifically on the scripts. The improv elements more came from Rob and myself. You get on set, you get in the space, and you start to find the spoken joke that might be better than the written one. So he and I would sort of whip back and forth, and eventually find a groove that would be the scene. It would stay in that space, but always operating off a very specific framework for a scene or a dialogue.
Rob: We spent a lot of time with the scripts, tweaking them, writing them, re-writing them and had to get a feel for these characters. By the time we got to the set, we pretty much stuck to the script. We had some great actors, many of whom we were writing specifically for, who inevitably would put their own flair on it. I would say it was a little more that than it was improv. It was more actors putting their personal flair onto the words that were written.
Chloe: So could each of you two tease a favorite moment or favorite episode from the show or would that be too spoiler-y?
Rich: I think I can do one. An actor from outside the world comes to visit the convention the boys are attending. Rob and me end up sharing a special moment, including gift swapping in a man’s hotel room. I’m gonna leave it at that.
Rob: Another one is the one I said earlier, where Rob calls Richard’s room which is 911 and ends up calling 9-1-1 and getting in trouble with the police. With the po-po.
Chloe: How has your guys’ impression of cons changed from when you first started attending them to now when you’re doing so many?
Rob: Well, I think, at the beginning of mine, I think the first I did was 2009-7-10. Rich was a year before me. I was terrified. I didn’t know, I didn’t understand what it was. The first thing I did was go out on stage and do a Q&A. Now I totally get this. Now Rich and I are hosting the conventions for Supernatural, so now we really understand that world. Rather than be afraid of it, we feel we’re right in it. It’s really a machine that works because of the audience. The Supernatural audience in general is just so supportive and loving, and we feel that. We don’t take any of this for granted. We embrace it and are so happy to be a part of it. Now it’s something that we really love doing. We love the actors that we get to work with at these things, and we really love this audience so, yeah, for me it’s a familiarity. And as we’re saying before, it’s just the realization that we’re really the least talented people in the room.
Rich: I think I heard in the beginning of Rob’s answer where he said he was petrified. I was actually full of fear when I started the convention circuit because I didn’t understand it. [I] was really nervous about how the audience would receive me, a man who’s only done a few episodes of the show. It was very nerve-wrecking, the entire experience. Now I show up and the fans know how I take my coffee. I am there so much and see so many of the same faces that it’s almost like doing a Broadway show you’ve been touring with for years and years and years. That’s part of the fun. You get the benefit now of familiarity, of knowing what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, [and] with whom you’re doing it. Right now, we’re in a great spot. It’s the balance of “enough to keep it fresh and interesting” and “enough familiarity to keep it from being scary”.
Debbie: You just Kickstarted and the campaign went over really well. How much did that surprise you or not surprise you, as the fans’ reaction?
Richard: Just for clarification it was Indiegogo, but much the same.
The Supernatural fandom is very supportive. They’re a very supportive bunch. They have proven that time and time again by supporting the charities that we support and the events that we as a collective throw. [C]hoosing that resource to fund a show we want to make was not a decision that Rob and I made lightly, ‘cause we’re not curing cancer, we’re making comedy. And there is a difference. We also love having that fandom, we wouldn’t want to violate the relationship we have with them. So we were hesitant to dive into that world, not because we thought the reception would be cold but because we wanted to properly honor that relationship we have with them.
At the end of the day, Rob and I knew that we had a great show idea that was tailor-made for the audience we were going to approach with it. We knew that the industry itself would never understand it, would never get it, would never go for it. If they did go for it, [they] would never let us do it they way it needed to be done. It was really out of the need to tell the right story for the right people. We went to the people who would benefit from us doing the story right. Their response was phenomenal.
Was I surprised? Yes, I was. I knew there’d be energy behind their response and I knew they were an energetic bunch… but the speed with which they funded the campaign and the energy with which they contributed or helped us spread the word was really stunning and really, really awesome.
Debbie: It is a pretty special fandom.
Rich: There’s nothing like it. It’s stunning. We’re always amazed, we’re always amazed. How much they do for Misha Collins’ charity and how much money they raise when Jared and Jensen [are] raising money for a cause. They are so incredibly loyal.
Rob: Or even, you know, personal issues. Over the years various cast members had various personal things happen. Jared went through a tough time and then the whole AKF charity was created around that. They just have been amazing and we call ourselves family and it truly is like a family.
Debbie: I watched the Indiegogo campaign and I knew that it would get money but I too was surprised by how fast it went.
Rich: And we were very flattered by that. [I]n many ways that just renewed our enthusiasm to do that story the best way we knew how. We were thrilled and are very fortunate to have Comic Con and Lionsgate come on board. Had they not, Robbie and I would be hell-bent on doing this anyway with whatever resources we had.
So it’s been great to not only be able to take that money that we were gifted by the fans to tell the story, but because they gave so quickly, because they gave so generously, new stories were written about it. Those new stories, as Rob said earlier, caught the eye of the people who did come in and put in more funding, and [they] became the distribution arm for the show. Not only did the fans give us their support by spreading word and contributing, but they became the fuel and the engine that helps us cross the finish line way further down the track we ever imagined. It has been a gift that has continued to give.
Thank you so much to Rob and Richard for their time. We appreciated hearing about Kings of Con and your time on the convention circuit.
Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and has essays published in Fandom Frontlines.