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LAist Interview: Paul Zaloom

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Most people are familiar with the work of LA performance artist Paul Zaloom through his role as the host of the popular children’s science show “Beakman’s World” in the '90s, but he’s also a widely admired puppeteer/artist and imaginative satirist. His work incorporates techniques such as overhead projection, government document exposé, “picture performance”, and hand, rod, shadow, found object, and dummy puppets. On Wednesday, January 18, 2005, Paul’s latest project, “The Mother of All Enemies,” opens at the REDCAT. The show runs until January 22nd. “The Mother of All Enemies” uses traditional Middle Eastern “Karagoz” shadow play to mock current events involving US military initiatives in the Middle East.

LAist was eager to discuss Los Angeles with Paul since he once co created “In Smog and Thunder; the Great War of the Californias,” a comic mockumentary about a fictional war between Los Angeles and San Francisco, based on paintings and drawings by L.A. artist Sandow Birk.

Age and Occupation:
54 puppeteer, filmmaker, troublemaker, homemaker, homomaker

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How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?:

13 years; West Hollywood. Whee!

Why do you live in Los Angeles?
The ants. The fact that I can swim outside year round. The beauty of the city, the hummingbirds, the mix of ethnicities: the dream of LA, unfullfilled but worth dreaming about and fighting for.


What surprised you about doing Beakman's World?

How much fun it was.

What's the craziest question you've been asked on Beakman's World?
What are farts? We answered this one, after much haggling with the network.

What inspired you to create the mockumentary "In Smog and Thunder; the Great War of the Californias"? Will it be broadcast in Southern California?
The inspirations: Sandow Birk's amazing paintings and drawings and the sheer hilarity of the idea of a war between SF and LA. Theyhate us up there and constantly express the sentiment; that's what inspired Sandow in the first place to make the huge amount of art works we used in the film. We Angelinos, on the other hand, like the little burg up north and have no such resentments or hatred, it seems. Nice place to visit! Sadly, we do not anticipate any showings on SoCal tv of the mockumentary; the PBS station up north has run the crap out of it...and our film features Huell Howser in
a cameo!!!.

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Will there ever be a rematch between the regions?
No. LA will nuke SF in 2018.

What is your take on political satire right now? Cause for rejoicing or cause for alarm?

Both. Rejoice because some of us are still alive; alarm because the lunatics are in control of just about everything. So I do crazy, funny puppet shows to fend off depression and fear. I'm kinda like the USO tour for the left. Get 'em to yuck it up before we all get killed!

Was there anything in current events that you left out of your newproject "The Mother of All Enemies"?
Yes, lotsa stuff. But whatever I left out, I put into the current Sandow Birk collaboration: a high def, digital video feature film of a toy theater version of _Dante's Inferno_. See www.dantefilm.com for details. It features me as God and the Devil (type casting) and the voices of Dermot Mulroney as Dante and James Cromwell as Virgil. The whole tour of hell is set in southern CA and is performed with paper puppets and sets and lots of cheesy special effects.

How does Los Angeles inspire your creativity and activism?
I love my studio, which is my garage. Not as aesthetically nice as my huge loft in NYC, but when you are working on a puppet show, and it's funny and it's swinging like hell, the garage is the best place in the world. Plus I can have pals come and see shows in there.

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What are the differences in creating for kids TV and adult-oriented projects?
Kids laugh at different stuff. It's fun trying to figure out what they find funny; it's not always so obvious. In the live version of Beakman's World that I perform, I get the kids all riled up and jumping up and down and screaming at me. It's great to encourage them to be nuts. They like the part where I get a picture of me to puke all over the stage.

What's your preferred mode of transportation?

My fairy wings.

How often do you ride the MTA subway or light rail?
Embarrassed to say: never. I do not live anywhere near a subway.

Share your best celebrity sighting experience.
Doing a gig with Soupy Sales. He said he like my puppet show! I can die now!

In your opinion, what's the best alternate route to the 405?

South: La Cienega all the way down to just past the airport. That way ya miss LAX bottleneck. Only problem: having to look at the hideous landscape on LaCienega (except the lovely oil fields, which I reallylove).
North: forgeddaboutit

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What's the best place to walk in LA?
Boys' Town, I suppose.

It's 9:30 pm on Thursday. Where are you coming from and where are you going?
Rehearsal. The current show involves shadow puppets, and they like a lot of rehearsal. You gotta pattern yer hands to do the right thing, and they are pretty busy...not to mention the mouth, which does voices for dozens of characters and accents.

What's your beach of choice?
Seal. Why? The tower on the pier is excellent for spotting while doing long distance swims way past the break. I always ask the lifeguards to keep an eye on me. Once someone told me that dolphins were swimming with me! I missed it. Probably would have had a coronary anyway.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
My navel.

If you were forced to live in a neighboring county, which would you choose? Ventura County is a wussy answer.
I have no idea. Marin? I'm still woefully ignorant about the environs. Yeah, I know, Marin is up there.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
Anywhere on the east side because it's so beautiful over there. West Hollywood is pretty square. I wanna live in a more queer nabe in any house where I can have my studio.

Los Angeles is often stereotyped as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?

Not really, no. It does take more effort to keep friendships. They need to be maintained and nourished. You don't bump into people here on the street like you do in NYC, where I lived for many years. But I've learned not to bash L.A.; it's an assinine [sic] practice and is tiresome and stupid. Besides, I love it here.

What is the city's greatest secret?
How great it is. All my pals back east make boo-hoo eyes when I tell them I live here. They think it's like Camden, NJ. BTW, Philly is a great town, too.

Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorablylinked. How do you handle this conflict?
Simple: I don't drink.

What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?
Shut up already or go home. Someone once said it to me, and it helped a lot.

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?
I would take plagues of locusts, bed bugs, and flesh eating possums over all that crap.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
Worm food.