SDCC ’14: Celebrity Diary: James Urbaniak Goes to Comic-Con

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[Editor's note: just to finish things up, we know what it's like in the trenches for us regular folks, but what is Comic-Can like for a celebrity? For the second time, actor James Urbaniak was gracious enough to pen a Comic-Con diary for us, cracking the door a bit on the glamour and glitz of life in the green room. Probably best known as the voice of Dr. Venture on the Venture Bros, Urbaniak has appeared in everything from American Splendor to The Boxtrolls. He can currently be heard on his podcast, Getting on with James Urbaniak. These are his con adventures.]

Dream: I am in a room full of food. Mike Tyson talks to Sponge Bob. Nearby, Leonard Maltin eats a sandwich.

Oh wait, it’s not a dream, I’m in the Adult Swim green room at Comic-Con. This is the room at the Hilton Bayfront where anyone on an Adult Swim panel hangs out before or afterward. Mike Tyson (who stars in an upcoming Adult Swim animated series) is talking to Sponge Bob (well, Tom Kenny) and Leonard Maltin is floating about. It’s not a dream, but it does feel deeply symbolic. Of what, I have no idea.I ask Leonard Maltin if he knew Pauline Kael. He explains that he never met her but talked to her once over the phone.

Maltin is moderating a panel with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Also on the Maltin panel is Jack McBrayer, whom my girlfriend Sara Pocock had noticed peripherally in an elevator earlier that morning when we’d checked into the hotel. She was adjusting a wedgie at the time (she tweeted about this so I’m okay to bring it up). Later in the green room she officially met him and mentioned that the three of us had earlier shared an elevator while she shimmied to adjust herself and he replied with the same artless Southern enthusiasm as 30 Rock’s Kenneth “Oh yeah, I remember! You were dancin’ in your blue jeans! This is my first time here. It’s craaazy!”

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We took the train from LA early that Friday morning. At the platform there was guy in a Flash t-shirt, a guy in Superman t-shirt, guy in a Star Wars t-shirt and a boy in a Magneto helmet. While boarding I heard a guy say “Should I change into my Sailor Moon suit on the train?” I think he was joking. Near the food car, three middle-aged people dressed as Power Rangers asked me to take their picture.

Back in the green room, Maltin is telling a story about his Bullwinkle watch. I say hello to Dan Harmon. My colleague from the Thrilling Adventure Hour, ubiquitous voice actor John DiMaggio is now conferring with Tom Kenny about Mike Tyson. (BTW DiMaggio’s mother and my father both taught special ed in the same school in the 70s but that’s another story.) I meet Robert Smigel. Rob Corddry is there. Travis from “Clueless” walks by. “Oh my God,” says my girlfriend. “It’s Travis from Clueless.”

I am there for the Venture Bros panel. Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick enter the room, dandified as usual. Jackson in seersucker, Doc in one of the personally tailored suits that fit his narrow frame like a second striped skin.

“Hello boys!” I exclaim. I ask Doc how his train ride was. He takes the train from New York to San Diego (he doesn’t fly; ear issues.)

It’s a classic Venture Brothers panel. The boys go off on peripheral tangents and lightly chastise anyone who wants details about the upcoming season. (Jackson does allow himself to reveal some of the season’s upcoming guest stars. Google it.) 

They show a video of Jarvis Cocker referencing the Venture Brothers in a Pulp concert. After the clip I tell a story about how a drunk guy in a bar once mistook me for Jarvis Cocker. For some reason the context of a Venture Brothers panel this highly amusing anecdote doesn’t land so I bring it up about three more times during the course of the hour. Pointless tangents are a hallmark of our panels.

After the panel Sara and I make our way to the Convention Center past the zlpline and the giant half a Homer Simpson head that protrudes from the lawn between the hotel and the center (promoting FXX’s “Every Simpsons Ever.”) And here it is, the Center, “the floor,” the belly of the beast. We pass beneath the banner reading “Welcome to Comic-Con International” in not-quite-Comic-Sans. The last time I was here, two years ago, I saw a group of Venture Bros cosplayers as soon as I walked in. History repeats itself.  There, as if waiting for me, are the Monarch, Dr. the Mrs. Monarch, Dr. Venture, Pete White and Dr. Henry Killinger. Someone gently admonishes me to get out of the way of their photographer. This dark irony is not lost on one of the players who says “He’s on the show!” I take my own photo of them.

Sara and I begin the gritty work of walking the floor. We stop by the tables of various artist friends. Mike Mitchell, Drew Friedman, Shannon Wheeler (illustrator of Mark Russell’s “God is Disappointed in You,” for which I recorded the audiobook SDCC 14: Celebrity Diary: James Urbaniak Goes to Comic Con) and the legendarily eccentric Tony Millionaire, who is wearing someone else’s nametag. “Using a pseudonym?” I ask him. He removes the tag as if he hadn’t noticed, crosses out the incorrect name and then, in a very slow and careful hand, writes “TONY MILLIONAIRE.” Good thing I said something.

Cosplayers abound. Of particular note are a very convincing Drogo and Daenerys. They are uncanny physical matches. “That Drogo could really pull off Brock Sampson,” I think to myself.

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Sara runs into an old friend named Zoe from the CalArts animation program who tags along. After a couple of hours on the floor, we are ready to recharge at the bar at the Hilton (the Odysea). Sitting on the deck looking overlooking the bay, we observe a helicopter land on a yacht. This over-the-top metaphor for the corporatization of Comic-Con is a bit on the nose but we’ll take it. More rounds are bought. Our LA friends David and Augusta Avallone show up. Jackson Publick makes his way over.The aforementioned Mark Russell joins us and I meet the author of my audiobook for the first time.

I have a panel for the Thrilling Adventure Hour that evening (the LA-based old time radio-style comedy show/podcast has a crossover performance with Welcome to Night Vale the next night). This panel is a bit less randomly freewheeling than the Venture Bros panel and I keep irrelevant anecdotes to a minimum. 

Panel done, it’s back to the Odysea where a Disney party and a fan-organized Venture Bros costume party are happening simultaneously. I spy a group photo about to be taken of a couple dozen Venture Bros cosplayers and I jog over and slide into a crouching position in the foreground right before the click. It’s about 10 pm and Sara and I are both hungry and tired. We tell friends at the bar that we are going to our room to order some dinner from room service and will be back. In the room, we both fall asleep while waiting for the food. While eating dinner, Sara sleepily says “You know…we don’t have to go to a party tonight.” We conk out and are asleep by 11:30 pm. Day One is over. I dream of Leonard Maltin.

Up the next morning for a Venture Bros signing. Jackson and Doc are always in great form at these one-on-one interactions with fans. Of the three of us, Doc has the most impressive signature.

After the signing, Sara and I wander Artists Alley.  We meet the delightful Paul Guinan, creator of the fictional Victorian robot Boilerplate. We chat with my old friend Todd Stashwick, actor and co-creator of the online comic “Devil Inside.” (We played a pair of pervy bad guy friends on an episode of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” many years ago.) Making our way outside, we go to the nearby Disney Infinity Pop Up Shop where Sara’s old CalArts classmate, “Gravity Falls” creator Alex Hirsch is signing posters. I get two for my 8-year-old boy/girl twins; it’s their favorite show.

We ping-pong back to the Odysea where Rob Corddry and his wife Sandra are at the bar. Corddry and I get into a deep discussion about novelty records (Weird Al had the #1 song that week).  

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That evening I play a Western robot space outlaw in the Thrilling Adventure / Night Vale show. Mingling afterwards in the lobby, I spot David Rees and Ken Plume (for whom I will be participating in various DragonCon events next month). Afterwards, Sara and I go to a carnival-like Adult Swim party in the PetCo parking lot across from the Convention Center. There’s a fun house (one room features a large reclining man dressed like a baby) and a “Meatwad Dome,” a large domed tent-like structure where you lie on the floor and a psychedelic planetarium show hosted by Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s Meatwad is projected on the ceiling. The word is overused but one can only call it trippy. This party in a parking lot also features free t-shirts, free ice cream and free warm beer (they ran out of ice). We run into a ton of people. This is the parking lot to be in tonight.

We stagger across the street to the Hilton (holding a “Black Jesus” candle that a hipster Santa offered me in the funhouse). The aforementioned Todd Stashwick, artist Denis Calero and our friend the writer Deric Hughes have a floating party every year they call Slam Con and, since all roads lead to the Hilton this year, that’s where they’re at. But the Odysea is closing and the guests are dispersing. The road of excess leads to the palace of sleep.

I have another Venture Brothers signing on Day Three at the Entertainment Earth booth (manufacturer of Venture Bros action figures and shot glasses). A small curtain has been set up in front of our booth table and Jackson, Doc and I are formally revealed when the signing begins. When the signing is finished, the curtain closes. Jackson laughs at the absurdity. I, an old theatre actor, feel warmly at home.

The rest of the day is spent browsing the floor. We make a couple of purchases at the Fantagraphics table and head back to pack for the train back to LA. Our driver to the train station says she’s been shuttling people back and forth between the Center and the train station all weekend but she’s never been to the Con herself. Had Jackson Publick not offered me the role of Dr. Venture in the Venture Brothers one evening in a New York bar over ten years ago, it’s likely I may never have made it here either. As the train brings us back home, I bid goodbye to the weird, waking dream. Somewhere Leonard Maltin smiles.

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[Follow James Urbaniak on Tumblr and Twitter.]

Comments

  1. I love reading this, James is a great talent, and his role on the shockingly underrated Review was amazing this year. I hope people come up to Jarvis Cocker and call him James Urbaniak constantly.

  2. Tom Mason says:

    Great con report. If you’re taking votes, I vote for some more of this kind of stuff when available!

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