::Literate Blather::
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
5 Questions About: The Captain Humphrey's Project

(DaRK PaRTY has always wanted to circumnavigate the globe in a dingy – but decided our collection of Billy Collins poetry would get wet. But we did find four middle-age slackers who decided they needed a daring adventure to attract beautiful women. Their goal – put a portly bartender in an 11-foot sailboat and have him voyage across the world. It hasn’t happened – yet. But the massive preparation has spawned a fascinating Web-only video series and, God help us all, has managed to attract several beautiful women as hosts. The Captain Humphrey’s Project (http://www.captainhumphreys.com/) has become a Web cult sensation with more than 125 episodes. The shows are offbeat, eccentric, and damn funny in a cerebral “Seinfeld” meets “The Office” kind of way. DaRK PaRTY reached out to David O’Connor, producer, writer, and co-star of New York City-based Captain Humphrey’s Project to get to the bottom of this quirky, little adventure series.)

DaRK PaRTY: The Captain Humphrey's Project is one of those guilty Internet pleasures. It's funny, surreal, sarcastic, goofy, and yet oddly cerebral. For those DaRK PaRTY readers unfamiliar with it, can you give us a brief overview of the project and its origin?

David O’Connor: The germ of the project was an attempt to impress a woman. Eric, "the Captain", said he could get into the Guinness Book of Records by circumnavigating in the smallest boat. I overheard his pitch to the woman, which turned out luckless, but the idea of wacky heroism stuck with me. A year later when he was out of work I suggested that the adventure could be more profitable than bartending – his usual means of making a living. We were in our local pub at the time so any practical skepticism we might otherwise have exercised was drowned with hope and cheer and good tidings.

The initial intention of the project was to make a serial documentary about a small group of individuals mounting a quixotic adventure. We made a 15-minute mini documentary (available on our website in the video archives) in order to pitch the idea to the networks and major cable channels. Because video of a man sloshing around in a tiny boat would quickly become tragically boring, we conceived the show as a team project. The back-story, the personalities involved, team dynamics, the nuts-and-bolts of managing this type of project, getting the team to exotic ports-of-call to meet up with the Captain as he made harbor: all these things were planned elements of the documentary that would round out and support the trip.

We market tested the idea by telling it to anyone within earshot. The response was universally positive. "You guys are nuts," people would say. "He’s going to die. I’d watch it." So we went to major media feeling armed with a truly compelling, fresh, unique, fun, funny, whimsical, dramatic, engaging concept that they couldn’t turn down.

They turned it down.

The reason was liability. Not corporate liability, but personal. The buyer would lose his highly compensated job if we failed to fulfill our obligation to provide the programming content. While that may look like an obviously foolish concern now that we have over 6 hours of video, it struck us as foolish right away. Someone suggested we mount the project as a hoax, but we rejected that idea, reasoning that you don’t break faith with your audience and fans. We decided to put the show on the internet. And the irony is that some of our fans think it’s a hoax. It’s not. We just don’t have the audience numbers yet to be able to afford to build or buy a boat and begin the sea-leg of the journey at this juncture. We’ve ended up with this Frankenstein’s monster: a show about a journey that hasn’t started. We love our little monster.

DP: The Captain Humphrey's Project is an enormous undertaking -- not only preparing for a treacherous and potentially deadly navigation across the world, but in writing and producing the numerous episodes. What is the process for putting together each episode?

David: Typically the workday begins around noon. We answer emails, check the site, and correspond with viewers who write into our forum, schedule actors and begin the daily agony of trying to come up with a topic for the next day’s show. In the afternoon, usually 2:00, one of our actors arrives and we shoot those segments. After that we shoot me, Dr. Bob and Eric. Glenn shoots his parts from his tiny little box – it’s a running joke on the show. Some people have theorized that Glenn is an automaton or a CGI program. He’s not. He’s just very like a vampire. By the time we’re done shooting, it’s early evening. We break for dinner. After that we upload the footage to the computer and edit and upload the new show to the servers. It’s now around midnight and we still don’t have a show idea or script for the next day. That’s the sticky part. The earlier part of the day is work. Coming up with the next day’s story feels like what I imagine a lobotomy without anesthetics might feel like.

DP: Can you give us an insight into the characters in the drama? What is Dr. Bob really like? Can the Captain even swim? Is Glen a serial killer? And how did you convince all of those beautiful women to act as show hostesses?

David: In person, Dr. Bob, Glenn and Eric are all exactly as they are on the show. What you see is what you get with them. I am less pedantic, however. Or I think I am. But since I’ve been called that and known what it means since I was four years old, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I have a predilection to pedantry. Or maybe it’s just a penchant. Those two things are different after all.

We didn’t have to convince the ladies to host the show. We just gave them an opportunity to be themselves: beautiful, talented and charismatic. We love them to pieces and are very pleased that some of them have gotten other work as a result of hosting our project.

DP: There have been 125 episodes of the Captain Humphrey's Project as of this interview, yet the Captain has yet to get his feet wet. When in God's name is Eric going to set sail?

David: In all seriousness we’re chagrined that we haven’t gotten Eric on a boat. We have plans in the works to make it happen sooner rather than later. With that said, "the best laid plans of mice and men …" might apply or maybe even, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." It’s been a strange and winding journey so far. A project that started as a real effort to mount an improbably heroic adventure has turned into a long running comedy about tangential stories that hook into the original concept as best as we can hook them in. We hope we can make the documentary adventure happen soon. Of course we will continue to be our odd irreverent selves even after the reality sets in.

DP: There have been vicious rumors circulating that the Captain Humphrey's Project is a hoax -- that the "project" is nothing more than a group of middle-age slackers producing videos in order to avoid real employment and to work with beautiful women. What is your response to rumors like this?

David: We ARE a bunch of middle-aged slackers producing videos to avoid real employment and to work with beautiful women and have fun. With that said, the project was never and still isn’t a hoax. If we can’t make the circumnavigation happen then we’ll become a failed project that was never a hoax that some people thought was one. At that point, anyone who wants to believe it was never real will be able to go on thinking that until the end of days. If you have any readers with spare boats around or with some money to fund a strange adventure, I would very much appreciate it if they would help us out of this conundrum. In the meantime, we’re going to keep going for awhile and see if we can’t pull a circumnavigation out of a hat.

(Check out episode #127 of the series for a DaRK PaRTY tie-in. We’re now considered the official fan of… umm… David. DaRK PaRTY feels like it needs a shower.)

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