Although he may still best be known for his iconic performance as lovable nerd Andrew Wells on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer
," Tom Lenk
has been keeping quite busy since the beloved series wrapped in 2003. Lenk, a self-described "jack of all trades," has passed the time acting, writing and directing as well as creating and performing in his signature live comedy shows. While Tom has carved out a niche for himself in the world of comedy (and a reputation for regularly donning wigs and fake mustaches) he aspires to do more with his career than simply make people laugh.
That's not to say that he's planning on giving up comedy anytime soon. If anything, the frequency of Lenk's one-man variety shows (which he writes and composes music for in addition to performing in) has increased. He has also found the time to create short comedy sketches and parody videos that can be found online, all the while continuing to work steadily in television and film.
Starpulse caught up with Tom recently and was able to find out more about life after "Buffy," his current foray into the world of comedy, his secret past life as a nerd, and the reason why he hated his high school reunion.
Let's start off by discussing your online work. If someone were to google Tom Lenk, what would they come up with?
A myriad of weird things that make you slightly uncomfortable. I enjoy doing these silly little videos, and a lot of stuff online is stuff I actually created for my live comedy shows. I have fun doing them, and it is more enjoyable for me than delivering medical jargon on ER
. It allows me in the spare time to make weird videos with my friends.
It's interesting that you say that, because it really does seem like a lot of your comedy has the feel of a group of friends just getting together and messing around with hysterical results.
Well, I'm an old fashioned theater major at heart. I love to do a show, do something with friends; I'm kind of a nerd in that way. I like to put on a wig or a fake mustache and do something silly with friends, do a little dance.
Tell us a little more about your recent wig-donning experience, your Leave Diablo Alone parody video.
Yeah, well I actually can't take too much credit for that, because my friend Mark came up with it and wrote it, but I thought great, people are thinking about me for a part where I have to wear a woman's wig and a leopard print halter top [laughs]. It certainly was fun. It's funny because I go through the trouble of doing these live shows, which maybe a few hundred people will see, but you go ahead and make this silly TouTube video, and thousands of people will see it. It's so interesting to me how things are changing now as far as little side projects go, and the difference that one video can make in terms of reaching your audience and having people see your work. It's kind of cool.
One of the online videos, "Border Patrol," is that a series?
Yes, the pilot is up on YouTube. It got picked up by Comedy Central and we actually filmed a web series of it, and it is supposed to be premiering any week now. It's about these three guys who are self-proclaimed minute men at the US/Mexico border who are there to prevent illegals from crossing, except illegals never cross. These guys are idiots and hilarity ensues. And of course I have to get naked in it a few times, which is mortifying, but it is really fun. And the guys that are in it with me are really cool guys; my friends Josh and Ben are just amazing to work with. The desert, however, is not a pleasure to work with.
You mentioned before about how you felt mortified because of the nudity involved in the series. It's funny you should say that, because it seems like you are often naked or semi-nude in your online content.
[laughs] Yeah, I don't know why I keep ending up with these parts. It's funny, because a couple of years ago I had a trainer and was in good shape, but then I got into a snowboarding accident and hurt my neck and shoulders. So I had to stop going to the gym for a year and a half and of course, that is when I have to take my clothes off. And I would like to apologize to America for not presenting a better product to them, although I guess it is probably funnier this way, you know I'm rolling around with my muffin tops hanging out. I am in physical therapy and have gone back to the gym though, so I am back on the road to wellness.
So can you tell us a little more about your upcoming shows?
The next show I am working on is called "Tom Lenk's Petting Zoo," and it is about all of the pets I had growing up. Hilarious pet stories and funny/bad pet deaths. I'm working on that, which is daunting because I always have to air all of my demons for personal projects.
I'm also directing a show at The Groundlings, a big comedy theater where a lot of SNL
people have come from. The show is called "Dead Moms Don't Hug;" it's a one woman show starring my friend Ariane Price. I love the experience of getting to direct because I can have all of the fun of helping shape the show, but I don't have to actually do it, so I don't have to deal with the nerves. And we are doing that in May at The Groundlings Theater. Definitely something different for me.
So when you were preparing the pet show, you had to dig through your past a lot. Is a lot of your humor based on your past life?
Well, my first big one person show was basically a combination of my family, me during puberty, embarrassing newspaper articles that were written about me in high school, my first modeling photos, and terrible things that people said about me on the internet. So those shows are kind of family and adolescent based, so it was really fun. I was going to do it again, but I was like "Oh God, I can't take another round of that." It was kind of like the "Vagina Monologues" I suppose, I was reclaiming these things and turning them into something positive [laughs].
I also did a sketch show that wasn't really based on my life, although now that I think about it, there were a few sketches based on some traumatic hair experiences I had. It was mortifying. I've been hair raped a couple of times.
Now most of your live comedy is obviously based out in LA. Do you ever plan on expanding your domain, bringing your shows on the road to other cities?
You know what, I keep promising that I will go to New York, but I never do. I get paranoid because I'm lazy and don't feel like doing publicity to get people to come to the show, so I never know when I am in a foreign land, like New York, how I would spread the word. I'd hate to put together a show and then have the audience be empty, so I guess if enough people were like "we'll come and see the show" then I'll do it.
Well you do seem to have a rabid fan base online, so maybe they would follow you around.
Well, those people are more concerned with getting a picture with me then they are about actually enjoying the performance. In my experiences in L.A., I thought maybe more "Buffy" fans would show up, but I don't know if they are in to coming to see a comedy show that doesn't have anything to do with "Buffy" or the genre. I think they are more into seeing a band play or James Marsters
signing a song, so I haven't really been able to figure it out. But I'm going to work on it and get back to you.
Can you tell us a little about your sketch comedy troupe, Strangely Attractive?
Yeah, we haven't done a show in a while, but my friends Patty, Ariane and I have the group Strangely Attractive, and we are just that: we're strangely attractive in real life. You can't put your finger on it, but you know you want a piece [laughs]. We do oddly arousing sketch comedy, weird and gross characters. It's a fun little group that we have and are always able to come back and do some shows. It's fun to go from something like "Buffy" and take a break and work with that. You know, put on a silly mustache and just make an ass of yourself.
So speaking of "Buffy," what was that experience like? Did you enjoy that as much as all the fans enjoyed your portrayal of Andrew?
You know, I wish I would have enjoyed it more. I was panicked on an everyday basis that my character could die at any moment, so I didn't really let myself enjoy the fact that I was there. I was just hoping I wasn't going to get killed. Note to self, glass half full not empty, or however that goes. They could have killed me whenever, but my goal was to make it to the very end and I did, which was great. But I wish I had stopped to enjoy it more.
So when you got your script every week, did you just rush to make sure that you made it through the end?
Yeah, I would flip to all of the pages with my characters name on them and read to make sure I got through to the end. And then I would go back to read the whole thing of course.
Did you draw on any personal experiences for the role? How much Tom Lenk was in the performance?
I don't know, I'm not a big comic book guy or a Star Wars
guy, although I did go to a Star Wars convention this year for kicks, so that was not something that I was able to draw from. I would actually have to call my friend Theresa to explain lots of the references to me. In my head when I auditioned for the role, I was just doing my rendition of Rose from "The Golden Girls
," I'm not sure if anyone actually caught on to that. My speaking pattern was inspired a lot by her. But I don't know how much I drew from my own life. I had experiences, like feeling like an outcast. I was a nerd in different ways in high school - I'm very cool now of course, I only play nerds on TV, but back in high school I was a head band nerd. Not only did I play trumpet, but I was also a drum major so I was that sad fellow who marches with a giant baton in front of the band. I was a huge performing arts geek, and I was always mortified that people were judging my work, so I had my own issues that I was going through.
I was actually more of a popular nerd; my friend and I were able to finagle our way into winning not king and queen, but prom prince and princess. Those were the runner-ups to king and queen, so it was pretty cool. We had all of our nerdy friends vote for us and let the voice of the people be heard. Mobilize the nerd force that's what you have to do! I was very angry at the High School reunion though because we were told we would be honored at the reunion but we weren't. That wasn't cool. I wanted my crown, damnit!
Back to "Buffy" for a moment, did you develop any close relationships with the cast during your time on the show?
I actually am quite close with both Adam Busch and Danny Strong, and we actually are all practically neighbors now. If people knew the right spot they would see us in the same neighborhood. I'm friends with Alyson [Hannigan]
and Alexis [Denisof]
, and I'm friends with Emma [Caulfield]
. I talk to Eliza Dushku
every once in a while. I see some of the writers every once in a while as well, and Joss [Whedon]
. Joss is very supportive of me. I even finagled him into shooting some videos for my live shows, which I promised that I would not put on the internet, so sadly America can not see those.
Could we be seeing you popping up on "Dollhouse," Joss Whedon's new series?
I would do it for free to work with Joss again. I think they have all of the regulars cast already, but maybe I'll be on there for a guest appearance or something.
One more thing about Buffy - do you have any stories about weird or uncomfortable fan interactions at conventions?
I was doing an appearance at a convention, and me and Danny and Adam were taking pictures with fans. This woman comes in and we put our arms around her, and she starts making these really weird noises, like o-ah-ah-ahahahah, she is smiling strangely and looks like she is scared for her life, and we jokingly said "oh don't worry, it's just us, we're not all bad." And she is just doing this crazy giggling/scared for her life thing, and she finished and walked away and one of the people working there was like, "oh you guys were so sweet to her, thank you so much. She is agoraphobic and this is the first time she left the house in years. She doesn't really like being touched by people…" so she was agoraphobic and had a fear of being touched, and we are putting our arms around her and all over her and making her freak out. I felt so horrible, someone could have told us that first. It was amazing, funny and shocking at the same time. I have had such fun and weird experiences with that, I love it.
Changing gears a bit, let's talk about your talents. Obviously, you have your many abilities on display currently, your writing and your comedy and your acting, and singing. Do you have any secret, hidden talents that you have yet to unveil that you would care to share?
I dabble in the visual arts. It's something I always did as a kid, and I actually had to make a decision between performing arts and visual arts. I've taught painting before at a high school out here, and when I was in high school I volunteered to paint the scenery for our productions, so I'm quite handy at building scenery. I do my own artwork that I hang on my walls and I had a little art show a ways back. I also do music composition, and I'm a piano player and trumpet player and of course tuba. I've also had many years of classical voice training as well. I'm a jack of all trades, master of none is what I am trying to tell you.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now in an ideal world?
I'd love to be ending a solid seven-year run on a live audience sitcom, and I'd love to be doing independent movies. I do a lot of writing, and not just silly sketches, but some serious stuff. So I'd love to be working on a sitcom and in the summers filming movies that I've contributed to.
Shameless self promotion time. What should people check out if they are interested in seeing more Tom Lenk online?
The "GILF" series, of which there are four webisodes, and "Border Patrol", as well as my Diablo Cody spoof and my new youtube video, "Heart of the Matter" which is a supposedly found marriage counseling team video from the late 80s. Wigs and mustaches are involved.
Story by Derek Krebs
Starpulse contributing writer