You may know him from our feature on the worst (or, in many ways, the best) of public access television, or our second feature on the worst[er] (or, in many ways, best[er] if you don’t care for proper grammar) of public access television. He’s the fellow who attempts to multitask the worst combinations imaginable (shaving on a treadmill? No thanks. We only have one neck.)
Now we meet the man behind the easel / treadmill / whatever else he tries to do while painting, as we speak with Mr. Let’s Paint TV himself, John Kilduff.
Patrick Emmel: Hi, is this Mr. Let’s Paint TV?
John Kilduff: Uh, yeah. [laughs]
Patrick: Thanks a lot for talking with me. I’m a big fan! Hopefully in the right way.
John: It’s fine. Even if it’s in the wrong way, it’s okay.
Patrick: You don’t happen to be painting and running right now as I’m talking to you, are you?
John: Nah, just trying to update my website. It’s a pain in my ass.
Patrick: So tell me, how did you get Let’s Paint TV going?
John: Well, you know it’s cable access, or public access. Anyone can do a show, you just show up and do a show. It’s as simple as that. You just make a few phone calls, gotta go to some sort of meeting, usually, to find out the rules of whatever they want you to do, and the next thing you know, you’re doing a show.
Patrick: So there are actual rules to public access television?
John: Well, yeah! You sign some piece of paper, no alcohol, stuff like that.
Patrick: Are you still doing anything on public access, or is it just YouTube right now?
John: It’s all on YouTube because, in LA, they closed them down, all the cable access. Subsequently, I did do a show in a town called Monrovia. It’s outside of LA. They have public access. I was in Portland a few years ago and did a show up there. It’s a great opportunity. I was doing cable access since ’95 up until ’08 like nonstop, like a gym rat. And with the advent of YouTube, it’s okay. It’s change. I do a certain amount of live performing.
Patrick: Like, out in the street, or onstage?
John: Yeah, onstage or, I guess, on the street, too at times. I’ve been to New York last year, actually, in Brooklyn and SUNY Purchase. I’ve been to Canada and Australia, and a whole bunch of places in the United States: Kansas City, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Portland, blah blah blah. I do a lot of live performing.
Patrick: Do the performances pretty much start with the same theme: you running on the treadmill in a suit, painting?
John: Yeah. Same kind of gig: treadmill, usually a blender, and an easel. Or some kind of cooking thing or whatever.
Patrick: Do you still have the same treadmill after all this time?
John: I do, but I don’t bring it with me. Like, if I’m flying, I don’t bring it.
Patrick: Yeah, I’m sure the luggage fees would be hefty.
John: Yeah. Treadmills are kind of easy to come by.
Patrick: When you were doing public access before Let’s Paint TV, was it more a comedy routine or what?
John: I started doing a show called The Jim Berry Show. That was my first show. It was trying to be funny, I guess. It was skits and monologues. Obscure stuff, though. I know I’m not some sort of full-on comedian, or think I’m terribly funny. I was definitely interested in the obscure. It was just my thing. At times maybe it was funny, or maybe it wasn’t.
Patrick: Well, we have so much stuff out there that has an ironic humor to it. Like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
John: Yeah, exactly! It was, at times, like that. They definitely take that idea and fully develop it. The stuff I was doing, or still do, is at times not technically terribly good or (laughs) performed very well, either. Which is fine, in that kind of genre. In fact, I opened up for Tim Heidecker and Neil Hamburger last year in San Francisco, and I opened up for Hamburger again here in LA.
Patrick: Did they [Tim and Eric] try to get you on the show at all, or did Adult Swim approach you?
John: No, but I know people like David Liebe Hart, [Michael] Q. Schmidt, the fat winter-man guy. I know those guys pretty well, but it just never happened, being on their program. But they’re not doing that show anymore, I think. They’re using less and less of the obscure weirdos. (laughs) Weirdos are sort of harder to work with, in a way, because they’re a little bit off. Whereas professional actors and performers are going to be better at coming to the table with [what they’re supposed to do.] With the whole cable access thing, most of the people who would do those shows were either crazy or they were religious fanatics. They all had agendas, you know?
Patrick: Right. And a lot of it was off the cuff, so some of the shows weren’t as good.
John: Oh yeah. Most of them were terrible. Mine too, believe me. I made a lot of bad ones. But you do a lot, you get better. I’d like to do more, or have a better venue for what I do. Right now I’m just doing stuff out of my little sun-room here with my limited production value. So it’s kind of lame. But it’s okay.
Patrick: Aw, but it’s from the heart, right?
John: Yeah, it’s okay because I love doing it, so I just keep doing it. Like I said, I get those occasional opportunities to perform live. That seems to be really where I’ve been most happy because it’s live. You don’t have to worry about audio and video and editing and how it plays out on the internet.
Patrick: Do you get as many hecklers now?
John: No. Like, zero.
Patrick: Well, is that good or bad? Would you rather have some more hecklers? Want me to call up during my lunch break?
John: (laughs) It’s always okay, but in some ways it’s okay that I don’t. I’m over it. I get a little smile, a little smirk on my face when I know it’s a bulls#*t call. Sometimes it gets annoying, but sometimes a call is better than no call. You know that most TV shows don’t have live call-ins because it’s just impossible to gauge who the caller is and where they’re coming from. More times than not, they’re not that entertaining anyway. They suck the energy out of the program.
Patrick: How do you come up with the themes for Let’s Paint TV? Do you do something day-to-day like cooking and think, “How can I pull this off while running and painting at the same time?”
John: I think, initially, it was that, but once I’ve done it a few times, I know I can pretty much cook anything and paint anything and run at the same time. It’s not that impossible of a feat. When I thought, “Can I bicycle and paint?” I thought that was kind of crazy, but I did it and it wasn’t that hard. I did one where I bicycled and shaved and painted, which was kind of weird.
Patrick: That’s dangerous. You’re a dangerous man! How hard was it just to balance a bike with an easel on it? I think that’s a feat in itself.
John: Well, I crafted a little easel and tried to make it as light as possible, and I put it on the handlebars. I was able to do it. You definitely don’t want to be on a busy street, per se. But I did actually do that. They had this event where I bicycled on 7th St. in downtown LA during a parade of other bicycle people who have taken over the street. So there are thousands of people riding bicycles, and I’m there with my painting. So I can be around other people but I have to be careful with all that crap there.
Patrick: Did you fall off at the beginning, or crash into anything?
John: No, not really, except one of the last times I did it, on the bicycle, I did smash into a fence, like a cyclone fence.
Patrick: You were focusing on your painting, huh?
John: You know, those cyclone fences are nasty, and if you’re trying to balance with no hands on your bicycle when you’re close to one, they have a great tendency to get closer to you and “BOOM,” you’re down. I was fine. I busted the little camera I had, but that was a s#*tty camera.
Patrick: Did you get that up on YouTube as at least part of a blooper reel?
John: No. It’s on the video, but you can’t tell that I fell because I got no footage from the camera [after falling.]
Patrick: So what’s next? Painting and driving?
John: (laughs) That’s a good one. I might try that one day.
Patrick: AND shaving. Maybe add in talking on the phone at the same time, too.
John: (laughs) Yeah, there are a lot of possibilities. I find myself going days and days doing other stuff and I’m not even doing my daily three-ring circus. Other projects. I do a lot of painting just by itself. Right now I’m doing a show [Kilduff Motors, May 8th – June 8th] at a gallery in downtown LA where we make it into a car showroom and we’re going to make life-sized cardboard cars and then we’re going to try to sell them. We’re going to be in suits, invite people in, and try to get them to buy these cardboard cars for $18,000. Since it’s a contemporary art gallery, people don’t blink when they see that price. They sometimes buy art that costs that much, or more.
Patrick: Can you sit in those cars?
John: I don’t know. We haven’t made them yet.
Patrick: I remember another project you did. It had to do with a fast food restaurant.
John: Right, right. Same idea, basically. You know, kind of f#*king with the public. (laughs)
Patrick: Did anyone try to sit on those [restaurant] stools?
John: One lady did. She was drunk. She didn’t sit, but she put her purse on the table, and the table smacked her head.
Patrick: Did it fall over, or just collapse?
John: (laughs) Nah, it’s just cardboard, so nothing happened. But we were worried about people hurting themselves. That was the worst case. Someone got boinked with the cardboard.
Patrick: Considering the theme of multitasking in Let’s Paint TV, what is the most dangerous thing you’ve done while painting and running?
John: I suppose anytime you try to use a knife and are running and being preoccupied. So maybe carving a pumpkin was slightly dangerous, which I’ve done. I’m always kind of careful about not hurting myself, but it’s bound to happen.
Patrick: With Let’s Paint TV, the comical value almost feels like an Andy Kaufman long con. What is the end-game, or punch-line, of Let’s Paint TV? What are you trying to get across?
John: Maybe the ridiculousness of life. But also the funny part of life. I’m looking for a laugh. I want people to laugh. But I also want them to realize [that] they can do lots of stuff that maybe they thought that they couldn’t do. I’m getting kind of motivational speaker-ish here. It’s sort of become that way in my performances. It’s evolved a little bit that way because you get tired of doing so much of the “How To.” But yeah, Andy Kaufman, for sure. That kind of element is something that I don’t mind being connected to. Pretty much any comedian. But also someone like Richard Simmons or Susan Powter, these exercise gurus from the ’80s. They were fun to watch. Not Jane Fonda, but look up Susan Powter. She was kind of nutty, and Richard Simmons, of course.
Patrick: I always thought Richard Simmons was for real. I felt a little uncomfortable watching him.
John: Of course, but the idea of him doing what he does. You’re not really sure if he’s pulling your leg. I like that. And Andy Kaufman too, of course, although now you know.
Patrick: Well, we know now. Unless, of course, he’s still alive, which is possible.
John: Yeah, they talk about that. He might be still alive.
Patrick: The longest con ever.
John: Right. I like that angle. Is it funny? Is it sad? Is it inspirational? Is it, “What the f#*k?”
Patrick: Geez, I feel like I just yanked the curtain out from the entertainer.
John: I don’t mind exposing my inner sanctum. I don’t have a manager telling me what to do, so f#*k it. And at least I’m free, in that sense. Much more freer than other people who have to protect their image. I’m not making any money, which is kind of scary. Well, I say that but I probably am making money. It just hasn’t come to me as of yet. (laughs)
Patrick: Not dealing with a day job just yet?
John: No, no, I haven’t had a day job. Who would hire me? Who’s gonna hire Mr. Let’s Paint? (laughs) That’s the scary part, though. If I couldn’t find a way to sell these paintings or get paid to perform, how would I get a job? I could possibly teach, but teaching art, everyone in the world is fighting for those jobs.
Patrick: Now I heard a rumor that, back in the day, you were connected to The Groundlings? Is that true?
John: No, not true, but I did take a class. I was never one of the guys, but somehow, and I don’t know if it’s still there and maybe after I talk to you they’ll take me off, I was listed on their Wikipedia alumni page. I took a class and it was intense. And I failed the class.
Patrick: Well, you failed the class, but got on public access television!
John: That just shows you, it’s your persistence. It’s not necessarily how clever and funny you are, always. It’s also your own desire to keep doing something. Even myself as a painter, artist, who wanted to get involved with it in high school. I was really bad. I was s#*tty. And in some ways, I still am s#*tty. Some people will still think what I do and how I paint is no better than [former President George W.] Bush’s painting. Those are not that bad, actually.
Patrick: They [Bush’s paintings] are very, ah, odd, I’ll say that. Kind of scary.
John: They’re odd! And it’s kind of scary that the President of the United States is making these kinds of paintings. I would have preferred if he painted a little more uptight. It’s scary that, in some ways, it looks like I painted them. (laughs)
Patrick: So what is coming up for Mr. Let’s Paint TV?
John: Well, I have a gig at this festival in Baltimore in September called the High Zero Festival. It has to do with experimental music and they have me as a multitasker. I’ll be performing with musicians.
Patrick: You’ll be running to the music, ’80s montage-style?
John: Yeah, I’ll be running on a treadmill. I got my car dealership coming up [Kilduff Motors]. Other than that, I’m going to keep painting. Make some more videos. (laughs)
Patrick: Well, I hope you give me the honor of painting me while on a treadmill. Some guy you’ve never seen before. That would be a trip.
John: Oh just, make it up? Yeah, that would be pretty funny. Paint a “New York accent guy.”
Patrick: I’d love to see how that came out. I’d have to send you some money to buy the painting!
John: Yeah! And let people know I’m always available for Bar Mitzvahs and Sweet 16s or whatever. (laughs)
Patrick: A buddy of mine will be having a bachelor party. Maybe I’ll say, “Hey, let’s get rid of the strippers and have Mr. Let’s Paint!”
John: Nah, they’ll be disappointed. Maybe I can paint the strippers.
Patrick Emmel can’t get enough of Mr. Let’s Paint, and all but kidnapped his editor in order to get the chance for this interview. You can see more of his work at www.theineptowl.com or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.
Patrick recently interviewed Eve 6 frontman (and bassist) Max Collins.