Moral Hazard, a new "two person one man show" from Walt Delaney (Pizza Party, The TomKat Project) and Chandler Goodman (Squall, Shinbone Alley) premieres at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy Saturday night at 8pm. Directed by Mark Logsdon, the show interweaves true stories from Walt's experiences working at a finance company in 2007, just as the global financial collapse was hitting, with Chandler, a fan of all things economic theory, providing a breakdown of the ins and outs of the collapse on a macro level. It's also a comedy, drawing influence from Walt's experiences in The TomKat Project, as well as infotaitional shows that seek to educate, as well as inform, like Good Eats and Bill Nye, The Science Guy.
In advance of Saturday night's premiere, I talked over email to Walt, Chandler, and Mark about the show's creation and development. Moral Hazard runs Saturdays at 8 through March 1st, tickets are $10 and can be purchased here.
The Steamroller: What was the inspiration behind the show? How did things initially come together?
Walt Delaney: I worked for an auto finance company my first year out of college right around the economic crisis of 2007, I knew nothing about finance. As I was learning how to do my job, I was finding a lot of parallels between what I was doing and what helped bankrupt the country on a very small level. I was just trying to pay for improv classes.
After leaving the company, a lot of my experiences while I was there stuck with me, and I thought that I could put them into a story worth telling but knew that in order to do so I would need to also need to describe the crash itself. I didn’t really know how to do that because again, I know nothing about finance.
Chandler Goodman: Walt and I have improvised together in the past, and in the course of conversations here and there, have talked about the economy at some length. I think he saw that it was a topic I’m interested in and have a point of view on.
So he told me what he was thinking of doing and asked me to help him think through what the content of the broader macro-economic part of the show would be. As we discussed and traded ideas, it became clearer and clearer that what we were shaping was something of a “two-man, one-man” show where we interwove the big and little pictures together.
TS: The show's described as a blend of "fiction and biography," telling a complicated story in the format of something like a "two person one man show," did things start out this conceptual or did it evolve from something more straightforward?
Walt: Originally, Chandler and I were going to tell each of our stories in a one man show/solo show format and not show up in each others pieces, probably because it sounded cooler that way.
As we started putting the show together, Mark wisely found ways to put each of us in each others stories and the show is much better for it. You can only talk to an assumed audience for so long.
Chandler: We knew we needed scenes that presented Walt's experiences. And we knew those experiences wouldn’t have the weight they deserved if we couldn’t connect them to what had been brewing at a U.S. economic level for more than thirty years.
Given that this wasn’t your typical comedic fare or source material (and since broad parts of the show make no attempt to be funny), we felt it was important that we do something conceptual in order to keep the material engaging. So, I’d say we always knew the piece would be conceptual vs. straightforward, but had no firm concept for what that would be.
Mark Logsdon: When we met, we would read or perform the pieces, talk about the ideas behind them and what they wanted to say. The biography part came first, which is the true telling of Walt's life and also explaining the economic collapse. The fiction part came second, which was interpreting the events of Walt's life in a hyperreal way and then using comical presentations to demonstrate aspects of the recession.
Through many writing sessions and rehearsals, the pieces evolved to complement each other in ways that none of us expected. I recall a rehearsal when we finally started performing the pieces together in a prescribed running order and then it suddenly all clicked and we saw the arc of the show. At that point, they began to adjust their pieces and do their re-writes to service this arc.
TS: When did Mark come on board to direct? What have his contributions to the show's development been?
Chandler: Mark came on board very early on in the process, after Walt and I had our initial conversations about what we wanted the show to be but before we started writing anything. Mark’s contributions to this show have been enormous. They truly can’t be overstated.
Walt: He really should be credited as a writer on it as well because he helped so much in writing and crafting the pieces as well as finding interesting ways to present them.
There are so many touches to the show that Chandler and I would have never thought of and now I cannot picture the show without them. There is a certain scene with a baby doll that you will know when you see it. Does that sound creepy?
Mark: I've loved working with Walt and Chandler, they're both great writers and they were always up to the task of writing a new scene or revising an old one based on our discussions and feedback.
I feel a little guilty that at the end of most writing sessions, I would give notes and ask for constant re-writes, but luckily these two were always putting in the time to re-work their scenes. My main contribution, though, is asking them to re-write stuff all the time.
Chandler: On a conceptual level, he has guided us through the many options we have explored for how to structure and narrate the show. He has run our writing sessions and provided notes on every draft of every piece in the show.
There would be no show (or at least a much, much lesser show) without Mark, and it is in every way as much his show as it is mine or Walt’s. It’s been a total three person collaboration.
Walt: I love watching Mark perform because he never takes the obvious or safe choice and no matter how deep of comedic waters he might throw himself into, he will either find his way back to the ship or revel in drowning. He really brought that ethic to the show.
TS: What sort of other works would you cite as influences when crafting such a unique performance piece?
Mark: We've all talked about how this piece feels like a documentary, with Chandler acting like the narrator and Walt as one of the documentary subjects. In that regard, I would say some of the influences include some great documentaries about the recession (Inside Job, The Flaw), but also other documentaries that cover events or eras both on the macro level and through subject interviews, like Ken Burns' Jazz series.
Walt: Once Mark pointed out that the show is structured like a documentary, we continued to use that as a shorthand in putting together the show. Seeing the show in those terms made it much clearer in my own head.
Chandler: With Walt’s connection to The TomKat Project, it’s obviously easy to point to TomKat, but, at least for me, that’s certainly been the biggest influence. While this show is ultimately very different, I think it draws a lot from how TomKat a) had a strong cultural point of view, b) worked on a linear timeline, and c) used facts but allowed them to be filtered through imaginations. Aside from TomKat, we were also heavily influenced by the documentaries that have been made about the collapse in recent years, and by children’s educational programming as a genre (like Bill Nye, the Science Guy).
Mark: The way I directed Chandler's parts was influenced by the old Food Network show Good Eats, where the host, Alton Brown, mixes sketch humor with culinary knowledge to both explain the science of cooking and to teach people how to cook (according to Alton Brown, a mix of Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, and Monty Python).
We wanted the audience to learn about the U.S. economy, but in a way that was entertaining and easy to understand. With Walt, I looked toward pieces of art with hyperreality, where the lines of fantasy and reality are blurred, like the movie Black Swan or the short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I wanted Walt to tell the story of what his experiences felt like rather than just recalling conversations word for word.
TS: Was it a challenge to maintain some sort of levity when addressing such a weighty, imposing (and often confusing) topic as the financial crisis?
Chandler: This has been the biggest challenge we’ve confronted, in my opinion. We want this show to balance heart, humor and substance. When those three can’t exist simultaneously, which at times they can’t, we have erred on the side of heart and substance. There is a lot to laugh at in Walt’s experience at that auto finance firm and in America’s slow, stupid, and self-inflicted stumble into this recession.
Mark: Since Chandler is pretty much a whiz about all things economic, the scenes had the potential to become really dense with information. I pushed him to break down his ideas into more palatable concepts and, on top of that, I asked him to find ways to present his ideas that were not a lecture.
Walt: It took a ton of revisions but I think we found the right recipe for it.
Mark: God Bless Chandler Goodman, I know I made him rewrite so many times, there's one scene he probably rewrote over a dozen times.
Chandler: We want to make sure that those humorous elements are presented humorously. That being said, we would never want to seem insensitive to the pain anyone experienced. I think that remaining very focused on who the comedic characters/elements are (the culture of finance, America’s belligerence in willfully creating and then ignoring a looming crisis) and who the sympathetic characters are has helped us navigate, but we’ll see on Saturday.
TS: What do you hope people take away from the show? Is there some sort of lesson to be learned from the crisis other than "don't buy stuff you can't afford?"
Chandler: For me, I hope people take away that it’s easy, overly simple, and unproductive to try to point to villains in this fiasco, as if knowing who the “bad guys” are will help prevent this from happening again. I hope people take away that this crisis, in our view, was not about criminal greed on Wall St. or reckless greed on “Main St” (though there were elements of both, of course).
Mark: The people who took on loans they couldn't afford and the people who provided those loans are all human beings who are just trying to do their jobs and live well. We shouldn't be so quick to judge anyone who, like Walt, got their first real job in an industry that can be considered to be unethical or predatory.
Chandler: I hope what people take away is that this crisis stemmed from radical economic changes the country has undergone over 30 years (beginning with the loss of our manufacturing backbone), and that we have just delayed and delayed and delayed dealing with the consequences of those changes until a bubble burst.
Mark: I hope that people take an active interest in teaching themselves more about the recession and U.S. economy, especially before they make any kind of big financial decision. I also hope that people who work in careers that they find morally questionable can separate themselves from their work and remember that they can still be good and honest. And I hope people don't buy stuff they can't afford.
Walt: At the very least I hope people leave this show with an opinion of it. If people agree or disagree with our take, at least they're thinking about it. And that’s what’s up.