COMIC-CON 2010: Rising OLIVIA MUNN has already inherited the geeks. Will she now inherit the Earth?
Has Tina Fey left the building? Because if the "Megamind"-hawking writer/performer/super-producer has indeed exited the San Diego Convention Center, then OLIVIA MUNN -- unofficial "Queen of the Con" -- no longer is merely the second funniest actress in the room.
A room, we note, that houses tens of thousands of people.
It is in the Con's halls swollen with steam-punks and Storm Troopers that the in-her-element Munn can bask in the adulation of her "geek peeps." They of course discovered her some years ago -- and she, them -- back when she became co-host of G4's "Attack of the Show." Her hosting persona quickly became that of the smart, tart-tongued beauty who -- for the knowing amusement of gawk-happy gamers -- forever toys with the prospect that she is game for anything.
It is a sign of Munn's career smarts that she cultivated this joy/shtick persona with dry wit and a wink -- in the face of all manner of elaborate stunt or saucy costume or innuendo-larded foodstuff. The woman who once launched herself into a Jacuzzi-sized pie is nothing if not a good and savvy sport.
Now, as Munn walks this week's 41st San Diego Comic-Con to show sincere appreciation to her fans (Friday alone she has three book-signing appearances), she is poised to launch into a whole other level of visibility and exposure and mainstream stardom. Yet the compelling plot twist is: As she ascends, will her gamers and geeks remain loyal to their Queen?
Well, at this year's Con, Munn is making every effort to stay connected to her core fan-base. "I like to go and talk to the fans during [G4] commercial breaks," Munn tells Comic Riffs, noting that she recently did a four-hour book signing at Manhattan's Midtown Comics because "it really is all about the fans, and showing my appreciation."
Munn has already had a summer that would fill the entire entertainment careers of some. Coming off a spring in which she appeared in both "Date Night" (star Tina Fey always seems a mere degree of separation away) and "Iron Man 2," the actress landed a gig on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," first appearing last month as the Comedy Central show's "Senior Asian Correspondent" (Munn's mom is Chinese; her dad of German-Irish descent.) Her hiring also landed her in the headlines as Jezebel took "The Daily Show" to task, accusing it of being "a boys' club where women's contributions are often ignored and dismissed." (Which prompted Slate in turn to slam Jezebel as one of the "feminist blogs" that, to boost page-views, resort to "exploiting women's worst tendencies." And yesterday, the "men of 'The Daily Show' " responded.)
Through it all, Munn's profile only continued to climb.
Then earlier this month -- just days after her 30th birthday -- Munn released her first book, the autobiographical "Suck It, Wonder Woman! The Misadventures of a Hollywood Geek." (Her collected "misadventures" are funnily frank -- and frankly, very funny.) One week out, the book became a bestseller, perched at No. 26 on the New York Times list.
Amid her season of embarrassing riches, the NBC pilot "Perfect Couples" -- starring Munn -- was picked up as a 2010-11 midseason replacement. A show for which Munn was endorsed by -- who else? -- Tina Fey. (This week, NBC -- to help pave the way for "Perfect Couples" -- wisely announced that Munn will guest-star on the season premiere of its show "Chuck.")
"Tina Fey was the one who recommended me to the [show's] creators. ..." Munn tells Comic Riffs. "That was the best praise I could get from Tina."
Partly because of her gamer-host pedigree and her looks and her lad-mag photo shoots, Munn draws skeptics like vintage gamers to Tetris. And as with Russell Brand or Sarah Silverman or Lewis Black, not everyone "gets" Munn's precisely pitched comedic approach. Munn's ace-in-the-hole is the air that she doesn't care. Born in Oklahoma before moving to such countries as Japan and Vietnam as an Air Force brat, Munn endured playground taunts in her various schools, when not being put down by her first stepfather. As she details in the sometimes poignant "Suck It!" she grew tougher for the experience.
She says she's still taking the career hits. Fortunately, finally, at least a couple of slightly influential people have her back. One is Jon Stewart. Another is from -- yes -- the never-far-away Tina Fey.
"Olivia was recommended to us by the folks at '30 Rock,' " Jon Pollack, the executive producer and co-creator of "Perfect Couples," tells Comic Riffs. "And if Tina Fey and ['30 Rock' exec producer] Robert Carlock think someone's funny, it's a safe bet that they're very, very funny.
"After sitting down with Olivia for five minutes, it was obvious that she was incredibly smart and funny and interesting," Pollack continues, "but we were pleasantly surprised by her ability to completely embody the character of Leigh. There's a little Olivia in there, but she's turned Leigh into this truly unique character -- a controlling, uptight, party girl. ... She has an amazing ability to improvise dialogue in the moment and a number of her lines and ideas are in the pilot."
In performance or on the page, of course, it can be difficult to determine how much inspiration is actually due a writer or co-writer rather than the performer. But here's the thing: When we caught up with Olivia Munn for an interview, she was indeed swift and sharp with her improvised lines. Parts of this conversation quickly became ellipitical and ironical -- occasionally spiraling into a meta-interview of wry asides and funny footnotes and euphemistic invention. Throughout, Olivia was never at a loss for her place -- or for a one-liner.
But don't take our word for it. Or Jon Stewart's. Or Tina Fey's. Olivia Munn can deliver the quick-witted evidence all for herself:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - The Misadventures of Olivia Munn|
MICHAEL CAVNA: So what was your reaction to the Jezebel dust-up?
OLIVIA MUNN: My first reaction was, "Okaaaayy... So you're calling 'The Daily Show' sexist because you don't think there's enough women on the show. But then they bring on a woman and you get even more angry. So you want more women on the show, but you don't want this woman?" Can't win.
I'm just gonna do my best and if that's enough for you, awesome. If not, delete that [expletive] from your TiVo. Better yet, go create your own show. Take all that aggression you're using to bring down Jon Stewart -- a man who is like The Godfather of Comedy -- and make your own show. And don't put me on it. And if you don't have the talent to make your own hit show, maybe take up painting or something.
MC: Did your new "Daily Show" colleagues respond in a supportive way?
OM: Yeah, it's been really wonderful with everyone at "The Daily Show." All the controversy actually helped us close our minds. We realized it was so silly to be a woman who would be on the cover of Maxim and be funny enough to be on an Emmy-Award winning comedy show. So, as a team, we decided to go back in time. Now we only have cars you have to wind up, women aren't allowed to wear pants, and dinner's hot on the table at 5pm or us broads get the hose.
MC: Based on our interviews with Demetri Martin and Lewis Black and ["Daily Show" creator] Lizz Winstead, Jon Stewart seems especially savvy at helping other comedians play to their particular strengths on his show. As a new cast member, are you finding that to be the case?
OM: He's the smartest, quickest, most humble person I've ever known. He raises the bar with a natural ease that makes you instinctively want to be better. It's a casual, easy working environment, but at the same time it's fast-paced and filled with the brightest and funniest people so you're always being challenged to do your best. The overall feeling is that everyone is on the same team, with the same goal: make the best, funniest show we can. No egos. No attitudes. No fear.... okay, I think I just recited an old T-shirt I have.
MC: Has another certain influential TV comedian -- Tina Fey [right, at a San Diego Comic-Con panel Thursday] -- offered you any support or advice?
OM: Tina Fey was the one who recommended me to the creators of my new NBC show "Perfect Couples", and then they wrote the role with me in mind. ... That was the best praise I could get from Tina. And advice? She did give me this old "No Fear" T-shirt...
MC: In your book, you write about the difficulties of moving around as a child and enduring playground haters. Has that upbringing helped you deal with particularly harsh cynics, critics and Hollywood haters?
OM: I grew up with a lot of negativity. Being the new girl in school all the time, you realize early on that some people are going to hate you right out the gate, and there's nothing you can do. You can't make anyone like you, anymore than someone can make you like them.
Also, my first stepfather was always putting me down. I grew up hearing how stupid I was compared to my stepsister or how my freckles made me ugly or how I needed to shut up and not talk back. So, I guess I developed a tougher skin than most.
The thing is, because of all the [expletive] I went through growing up, I've learned to take a hit. But, I'm still taking the hit, you know? I can take more hits than most, but after awhile, it does start to hurt. I like to think that if I do things with only good intentions, at the end of the day, things will work out somehow. I just try to be the best person I can be. And really, if I can keep doing that, then I've already won no matter what happens.
MC: In the book, while being very funny, you're also very frank about the challenges you faced.
OM: I wrote this book to the 13-year-old me who was having a hard time and looking up to people I saw on TV or in magazines as inspiration. But no one seems to really tell it like it is. Or if they do, it's a half-truth with an intent to make themselves seem more relatable, but in the end still the victim, and thus the hero.
I wanted to tell this story because I knew that if I was feeling this, then maybe some other people have, too. And I've actually met a lot of people on my book tour who told me how much they relate to that story and then we share a moment of mutual sadness, regret and shame.
I guess that's the thing. We don't talk about the things were ashamed of enough. And then you go through life with an armor of pretend because no one's made it okay for you to say how your really feel. Without any judgment. Without letting it define your whole person. Because the fact is, we all feel these things. We don't always do things with the best intentions and we can be bratty or superficial. ... But if we recognize those faults in ourselves and want to change it, no matter how many times it takes, that change will happen.
And I think it's powerful to acknowledge the good and the bad feelings. And maybe if I say it, someone else can feel free to say: "Yeah, I did that and I'm not proud of it. And I want to change." And the hope is that one day, because there's no more hiding, there's more of an openness and accountability to do the right thing from the start.
MC: One week out, your book is a top-30 bestseller. Given your newfound publishing success plus your geekdom, might you next come out with an Olivia Munn graphic novel or comic book?
OM: Aaahhh!!! I'm still so excited about that. Yeah. I'd consider it. But, right now, I'm so sick of myself and talking about myself and signing my name, it won't be for a long time.
MC: So, four-hour signings at comics stores. Book readings and radio spots. Behemoth PETA rallies and cancer PSAs. As you hopscotch the country, how -- and why -- are you maintaining such a breakneck schedule? Is it just book tour-itis?
OM: Well, I have to say I am kinda hitting my breaking point. Pretty exhausted right now. But, I keep going because I love it all. I want to spend time with all the fans at my book signings because I wouldn't even have a book deal if it wasn't for them. And I wouldn't be on the New York Times Best Seller's List if it wasn't for every one of them. So, I just want to take the time to spend with as many people as I can to say thank you.
MC: So will you dress up for this year's Con -- be it as Wonder Woman, Emma Frost or whatever Angelina Jolie's wearing?
OM: Last year was the first year I ever dressed up for Comic-Con and I did six outfits in three hours. But this year I won't be doing that. I like to go and talk to the fans during commercial breaks and when I'm spending all my time racing around and changing from Wonder Woman to Emma Frost, there's not much time left for the fans. So, this year, I'm rocking it like a regular citizen.
MC: How many Cons have you been to now -- and what's your best memory so far?
OM: This will be my fourth. They just keep getting better and better every year. My favorite moment was from last year, when I did a meetup for my fan group and the booth we were at got shut down in less than two minutes. So, we all walked almost the whole convention floor to an outside patio area where everyone lined up and I got to say hi and take pictures with every person waiting. Someone called it "The Running of the Munns" because even though I was just walking, they were in a slow jog right behind me. Don't ask why -- I still don't know.
MC: Do you embrace the fanboy moniker "Queen of the Con"?
OM: I've never taken on any of the regal titles that have been bestowed upon me. I prefer "Comic-Con Tour Guide". I'm like the person who carries a flag and points out famous buildings and tells you when it's time to have your sack lunches.
MC: This past year, the rumors of a move to Anaheim or L.A. or Vegas have been especially loud. Do you think Comic-Con has outgrown San Diego?
OM: Damn, how many [expletive] people are there that an entire city can't hold us? I'd prefer it stay in San Diego. But I only have one request: Please, not Vegas. Vegas is a sensory overload for me.
MC: So as Comic-Con Tour Guide, any advice for newbie attendees?
OM: Don't get a bunch of crap you're just going to put in a box that you store away and never see again. Everyone is giving away free stuff. Just because it's free doesn't mean you need to take it. Bring in your own snacks because the lines are so long for food, and it's overpriced and not that great. And wear a backpack and sweat a lot... 'cause you wanna fit in, right?
MORE FROM SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2010:
| July 23, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories: Geek Buzz, San Diego Comic-Con, The Holly Word, This Riffster's Reading List | Tags: Jon Stewart, Olivia Munn, San Diego Comic-Con 2010, Tina Fey
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