Q&A: Amber Tamblyn & Derrick Brown Tease LAZERS OF SEXCELLENCE 5.0 – A Party of Words, Comedy and Music


amber_tamblyn_derrick_brownPreston Barta // Features Editor

Award-winning poet Derrick Brown is joining forces with his longtime collaborator, fellow poet and actress Amber Tamblyn to present one of Texas’ most exciting literary events– LAZERS OF SEXCELLENCE 5.0. Brown will read from his collection including last year’s OUR POISON HORSE, while Tamblyn will read from her new book, DARK SPARKLER.

The duo are stopping in Austin tonight (9/16), Dallas tomorrow (9/17) and Denton on Friday (9/18). Don’t miss out on this party with words, comedy and music. All information on these shows can be found below, along with our interview with Tamblyn and Brown.

When: Tonight, September 16 | 7 p.m.
Where: Spider House Cafe and Ballroom | 2908 & 2906 Fruth St, Austin, TX 78705
Cost: Free
Website: Facebook event

When: Thursday, September 17 | 7 p.m.
Where: The Wild Detectives | 314 W 8th St, Dallas, TX 75208
Cost: Free
Website: Facebook event

When: Friday, September 18 | 9 p.m.
Where: Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios | 411 E Sycamore St, Denton, TX 76205
Cost: $5 for 18+
Website: Facebook event (event including local artist lineup)

Our Q&A with Amber Tamblyn and Derrick Brown:

Amber Tamblyn and Derrick C. Brown. Photo courtesy of Shark Party Media.

Amber Tamblyn and Derrick C. Brown. Photo courtesy of Shark Party Media.

Are the Texas roads and heat keeping you guys all right? Well, Derrick, I guess you’re from Texas.

Derrick Brown: “Yes, but my buns still get sweaty.”

[Laughs] Well, we’re pretty excited to have you guys in our neck of the woods. I live in Dallas, so I’ll be at your show in Dallas tomorrow. However, I actually grew up in Denton, TX, so many of my friends are seeing you out there and some are actually opening up for you guys.

Brown: “Oh cool.”

Amber Tamblyn: “That’s wonderful, great.”

Brown: “Yeah, I played Rubber Gloves back in 2001, I think– long time ago when I was in the band John Wilkes Kissing Booth.”

Such a great band name. But yeah, Rubber Gloves does a lot of poetry reads and literary events out there, so I think you’ll enjoy the crowd.

Brown: “Sweet. The owner’s really cool. The audience is super pumped. I asked Courtney Marie, who runs some literary events in Denton, ‘what are some good spots?’ She said, ‘the basement at this pizza place.’ I said, ‘have you ever done a show at Rubber Gloves? I’d love to do it there.’ And then Amber helped book that up.”

Very cool. Yeah, that was at J&J’s Pizza.

Tamblyn: “Yeah, that’s right.”

First, before we dive into your material I wanted to ask you guys about your introduction to literature and poetry. Obviously we’ve all been read to since we were born and have read a lot of material in school, but was there a certain work that kind of edged your career down this path, or maybe it was a person or a teacher?

Tamblyn: “Yeah, I mean I know for me I grew up in a household surrounded by a lot of poets and poetry in Los Angeles from the Venice Beach area. So heavily influenced by a lot of the, you know, sort of remaining beat poets from San Francisco and around that time. Jack Hirschman, who’s the poet laureate in San Francisco, is sort of like another father figure to me. Best friends with my dad, so I grew up watching him read poetry around the campfire– writing odes and homages to his work and for his work. So it was kind of always in my blood, and then I just started writing little poems when I was 11 or so on. And I have just been in love with it, the craft of it, ever since.”

Brown: “I found poetry when I was in a foxhole. I was parachuting in the army in a training exercise in Fort Bragg, and they gave you a little camouflage bible with only two books in it: Psalms and Proverbs. So I would take the Psalms and I’d rewrite the confusing parts for myself. Soon I was writing curt, little poetic pieces of imagery. And that’s when I first found it, with a red flashlight and some heavy lead metal.”

Amber Tamblyn reads DARK SPARKLER.

Amber Tamblyn reads from her poetry collection, DARK SPARKLER.

I know you guys have been doing this together for over the past decade or so, and that you realized you wanted to tour together within minutes. What do you think creates the trust and bond between you guys?

Tamblyn: “He’s humping the table right now. You can’t see it but that’s what’s happening.”

Brown: “That’s actually not true. We’re standing up out in a field.”

Tamblyn: “I think there’s a sense for when we’re performing. Derrick officiated my wedding and is one of my closest friends. A lot of that comes from so many of the shows that we’ve done together that have been where we’ve had to bond and survive by each other’s wit and guts, and sense of getting out of trouble or really crappy shows or, you know, the many, many experiences we’ve had together. The many ups and downs. And I think that’s one of them.”

Brown: “Yeah, especially if you’re at a boring show you kind of want – and there’s a lot of boring shows – you kind of want to connect with someone and sit in the back and laugh. You’re not making fun of the writers but you are trying to have a little bit of fun. And then when you realize someone has the same sense of humor as you, you realize, ‘oh, OK, they care about the audience also. So maybe we should do something together.”

Right. You both have your own voices and themes, obviously, and I’ve read that each show that you play is a bit different because you kind of play off the audience and each other. Is there some sort of rhythm or rhyme for the way that you structure a show for each different venue?

Brown: “We start with a basic template about who goes when, so that we don’t go over time. Our goal is to have people leave a show with a positive experience that they tell others about so that the depth of poetry slows down a little because so often people go to a poetry show and say, ‘ugh, that’s the last one.’ I don’t want to be yelled at like that [Laughs]. So we want the opposite to happen, where people are going, ‘hey, not so bad,’ and, ‘it wasn’t so long.’ I don’t feel ground down emotionally.

Our goal is to keep it tight, but we will switch out pieces. For example, last night in San Antonio, or the night before, the audience, you could feel they were really ready to listen, so we deleted a couple copy pieces and we tried to match the mood of the audience.”

Interesting. So do you guys kind of like signal each other or give a certain look to say, “yeah, let’s open up that can of worms?”

Tamblyn: “No. When we get there we have a little pow wow right beforehand as we’re setting up some of the stuff – the iPod, things like that. You can tell pretty quickly what kind of energy the group is going to be. And also you can predict whether it’s going to be an indoor rock club venue, all standing, or a sweet little patio where everyone’s sitting around outdoors drinking wine. You know, just depending on the mood of something like that, it just tends that– that’ll really dictate how much improving and comedy and sort of like experimental weird stuff we put into the show.”

How do you guys balance the different themes that you cover, whether it’s material in OUR POISON HORSE or DARK SPARKLER– the kind of material that’s entertaining to the kind the audience needs to digest a little.

Brown: “We both have a good sense of having a roller coaster kind of set, where we each will purposefully do a few engaging, a few short, a few funny, a little bit of storytelling, some set-up, some heavy, and some beauty, so that they get the full range of emotion so that the next poet who comes up after them – whether Amber goes last or I go last – isn’t left in kind of a dead air. So we both purposefully already do that and it helps the momentum of the show.”

Tamblyn: “Yeah and it sometimes really depends, too, on what– again it always goes back to the audience. We’re really audience poets. We’re not poets who are like, ‘we don’t care about you guys. We want to just read our work.’ We want to read what we want to read, rather. I think for us so much is dependent on how the audience is feeling, and you know, there’ll be times where if I’ve read some dark pieces, especially from DARK SPARKLER, a particularly darker work– so it’s so great to go out with Derrick because if I’ve gone too far in one direction we’ll go back and forth to the stuff that we chunked out. So he’ll go up and read something that sort of elevates people a little bit. We have a good rapport in that sense of knowing if we’ve lost the audience or if we need to just get them riled up a little bit. And then sometimes if we’re both feeling like in a particularly dark mood and we’re like f*ck it, it’s dark poetry o’clock. Then we’ll also mix that up by putting on some Lil Wayne and making everybody get up and do thirty second dance party. Just shake it all out.”

Brown: “We have poems, we have bits, we have stories, so its more like a different kind of reader’s theater sort of then.”

Tamblyn and Brown.

Tamblyn and Brown.

Awesome. Well, that sounds really cool. I’m really looking forward to it tomorrow. When you perform at so many different places and you’re all done and have time to relax and think about all of the stops that you made, what makes a show stand out to you?

Brown: “Bad things can stand out and good things can stand out.”

Tamblyn: The other night I yelled something out at a someone and he was not cool with that because he knew that it was me. He basically told me to shut the f*ck up and let Derrick read his poem. And it was one of the best– it gave me the biggest smile.”

Brown: “I’ll never forget it. It was really cool. They’re all good memories. If a show does not pay you for your books, you’ll never forget it. And if an audience is demanding more where they are feeling fed, you can sense that from the stage and you might do one extra one or– so the thing that makes them stand out the most all depends on how on-tune we can get with the audience.”

Tamblyn: “Yup, exactly.”

So Derrick, I know that you’ve been working on a musical. And Amber, you have a book you’re working on. What can you tell us about that?

Brown: “I’m going on tour with Eugene Mirman. He’s been really great at taking me to comedy festivals and introducing unknown crowds to poetry and surprising them saying hey it wasn’t so bad. We’re doing Fun, Fun, Fun Fest this year and then a bunch of other tours. You can find them at EugeneMirman.com. And then I’m working on a musical with Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs.”

Tamblyn: “Well I’ll say– I can’t really say anything about the books right now. One is a novel and I have another poetry book that should be done, I think, within the next half year. But I directed my first film in December last year. It took me about seven years to finish up and I’m really excited about it– it’s finally finished. And we’re going to go around the festival circuit and I hope by next year everyone will be able to see it.”

Very cool. So does all that writing and thinking creatively ever intrude on projects where you’re working strictly as an actor or whatever it is?

Tamblyn: “That’s a good question. Yeah, I mean stuff happens all the time and you don’t really have control over it. I think Derrick and I always get this question from people where they go, ‘is there specific time and place that you like to write, that you need to write?’ I know a lot of poets that do that and are diligent about it. For me, it can happen anywhere. I was just out in Derrick’s backyard under a tree laying on a swing and I went, ‘oh, man. I’m thinking of a poem now. I’ve got to walk all the way back inside. And a poem I got to walk all the way back inside and get my damn book.’ So it just happens anywhere, you know. It’s on sets. So much of DARK SPARKLER was written all over the world – in Scotland, in Japan, in Paris – I mean those pieces were written all over the place.”

Brown: “It’s fascinating then, once you kind of tell your body and mind that, ‘hey, I am ready to capture some of these moments and it may have been a poem, it may have been a short story, all I know is that I want to capture this. It starts happening more and more and more, then you notice it hitting you more. Amber and I don’t necessarily have to sit down every morning and crank out in order to work the muscle. I kind of enjoy the feeling of it hitting you and just knowing that you’re open to the universe to smack you upside the head.”

And as a last question, I used to write for the University of North Texas in Denton, and I always concluded with this question. Even though I graduated I still don’t want to retire it yet. So, if you guys could teach a college course of your creation, what do you think you would teach?

Tamblyn: “Good Lord, that’s a great question. I’m thinking…”

Brown: “I don’t know if it already exists cause I know UNT is kind of a free spirited classroom, but I’ve always wanted to teach Booty Unraveling 101, an introductory course.”

Tamblyn: “[Laughs] That one is pretty good. I feel like I would want to teach some sort of like life coach situation, but maybe I really wouldn’t want to teach that.”

Brown: “Didn’t you tell me you wanted to teach AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR classes for women?”

Tamblyn: “I did. That’s actually exactly what I want to teach– AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR for Women: Feminism 101 with nun chucks.”


About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.