“From San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California, America, Earth,” began moderator Adam Rogers, putting a twist on the podcast and stage show’s intro, “comes a new-time panel on a new-time podcast of a new-time show that is in the style of an old-time radio!” As the crowd cheered, the writers and voices of “Thrilling Adventure Hour” took to the stage.
Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, co-creators of the TAH, were joined by many of the actors involved with the popular new-time stage show and podcast done in an old-style radio show format. On hand were Marc Evan Jackson, Autumn Reeser, Paul F. Tompkins, Marc Gagliardi, Craig Cackowski, Annie Savage, Hal Lublin and Jason Ritter. The “Thrilling Adventure Hour” team performed shows in San Diego throughout SDCC, and were also celebrating the release of their hardcover anthology from Archaia.
Blacker began by recounting the origin of the show, saying it began after he and Acker had written a screenplay, then invited Acker’s friends and friends-of-friends from improv to a reading. “We used the radio conceit because it meant it was easy for these guys to come do, they could hold a script in their hand,” said Blacker, who admitted they didn’t really know a lot about old time radio.
“You guys are weirdly proud of things you don’t know,” said Tompkins.
“We know enough to make fun of it,” Blacker clarified, adding, “We haven’t seen ‘Star Trek,’ but we’ve seen ‘Galaxy Quest,'” and that recognizing the tropes and playing with them is a lot of the fun of the pulpy stories spun in TAH.
The voice of Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars, Jackson said he didn’t know what to expect when he was approached for the project, being told, “I want you to play a future space old-time cowboy, and I was like, alright,” he said dryly, getting laughs from the crowd. “From a pitch like that, you don’t really know what you’re getting into.” After the first rehearsal, however, he was sold. “I got there, and I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do this for the rest of my life.'”
Jackson described the backstage pre-show vibe as pretty laid back, although the guests stars can get a little wound up, not knowing what to expect. “The scripts are in our hands, so there’s not a lot of pressure.”
Asked if they’ve ever cracked each other up on stage, Jackson responded with an affirmative “all the time.” He told of a recent memorable episode where Tompkins played a shape-shifting Jupiter spy that kept cracking him up while he was attempting to sing the Sparks Nevada’s intro song.
“To be fair, we were rehearsing,” explained Tompkins. “I was standing next to Marc… and just because it was rehearsal, I was throwing these little asides after every line, and he was laughing, and after it was over, he said, ‘Please do that tonight.'”
“We’re fairly professional about breaking on stage. But when it happens, it really happens,” said Jackson.
“And it’s always a surprise,” Tompkins added. “It’s a thing that didn’t happen before, and it’s not someone trying to break someone up — it’s, ‘I did not expect you to say that word that way.’ It’s always something weird like that.”
The topic shifted to the different narrator voices Lublin provides for all the different segments. “The narrator voices that I do the bulk of come ten minutes before a show,” Lublin said. He was struck by the idea to give them each a personality, and went up to Blacker right before the start of the show, pitching him his idea. “He said, ‘I don’t care, do whatever you want.'”
“Don’t ask me things 10 minutes before the show,” Blacker exlaimed.
Blacker complimented Music Director Andy Paley’s contributions to the show, saying he “can’t help but write songs that will get stuck in the back of your head for the rest of your life.”
“What I love about the theme songs for all the segments is that they are all the length of a full song,” Tompkins said with a laugh. “A theme song is, like, 30 seconds, tops.”
A preview for the graphic novel anthology was shown, with pages featuring Frank and Sadie Doyle, Sparks Nevada, Captain Laserbeam, Colonel Tick Tock and more. A quick preview for the new behind-the-scenes documentary was also shared with the audience, and Blacker announced they’ll be shooting a “Thrilling Adventure Hour” concert film on October 6 in Los Angeles to give the experience of the live show to all those who can’t make it out to the Largo.
Asked about guests they’d love to have on the show, the cast responded with some interesting choices, including Eric Idle, Gene Wilder, Matt Frewer, Bill Murray, Peter O’Toole, and Stephen Colbert.
The next questions asked if there were any minor characters that could get their own segments. “The Sparks Universe is so rich that we want to spinoff all the characters,” said Blacker, who teased that they have lots of ideas, but have nothing they can announce.
“Do any of these ideas take place on Jupiter?” Tompkins asked, channeling a certain shape-shifting spy.
The next question asked the players if there was anything they’d like to see their character do. Lublin talked about wanting to channel Christian Bale’s Batman voice: “It’s when he’s interrogating someone and all of his ‘s’s’ become ‘s-h’s’… he’s like ‘where’sshhh the trigggerrsshh, where issshhhsh it’… I would like to do that on stage,” said Lublin, getting the audience’s approval. “Well, I just did. Nevermind.”
Gagliardi said he’d like to meet Mrs. Croach — the wife of Sparks’ faithful companion.
“I would love to see Frank and Sadie get the DTs,” said Tompkins, getting a big reaction of the audience, who imagined the married mediums without a drink in their hand. “I would like for them to be away from alcohol just long enough for them to dry out.”
After working together for so long, the cast is noticeably tight, and with that familiarity comes a bit of enjoyment in sometimes having a bit of fun at each other’s expense.
“My favorite thing is when someone here doesn’t show up for rehearsal,” Reeser said. “Almost everyone here has a spot on impersonation of Marc Evan Jackson,” which was demonstrated by Tompkins. It was also revealed that everybody also has a James Urbaniak impression, with the panelists all echoing out in a chorus of Urbaniaks.
Someone asked if there were ever character reboots, or characters that were flipped because they didn’t initially hit as hard as the writers hoped. Lublin said he had initially played Cactiod Jim, Mayor or Mars and “King of the Martian Frontier,” a role played by Nathan Fillion. A few people in the audience laughed at that, and Lublin said he was being serious. Tompkins wound him up, asking, “You?!?” — getting one of the panel’s biggest laughs.
The last question for the panel asked what their favorite Sadie Doyle — Paget Brewster’s martini-drinking, fast-talking high class medium — pronunciation was. The panel agreed it was great whenever she read any sort of list — and also the words giraffe and sasquatch. “I like just the letter O. She uses it all the time as if she has surprised herself by having a thought. Oooh!,” said Gagliardi. “I love that.”
Tompkins, who plays Sadie’s equally hard-drinking husband Frank, offered one last suggestion: “My favorite thing she says is Frankie.”