As The Toxic Avenger returns to London’s Arts Theatre, My Theatre Mates’ Jonathan Baz spoke with composer and Bon Jovi keyboards ace, David Bryan
JB: David , what attracted you to write The Toxic Avenger?
DB: Joe DiPietro and I, my writing collaborator, we were working on Memphis – a big epic story about the birth of racism, and the birth of rock and roll. We had done some productions of it, and then we were waiting for it to come onto Broadway when Lloyd Kaufman, the man behind Troma Films, he came in and pitched the idea about doing a musical.
So Joe wrote a treatment for it and asked : “can we make it the way we want? Not, the story from the movie,” and Lloyd agreed. So we set to work and it was a chance for Joe and I really to write comedy.
It’s funny as hell, there’s an underlying love story, and the moral of it, still, is about global warming.
But, it’s all set in comedy, and it was a blast. We did it really quickly, and it was great fun.
JB: The Toxic Avenger is all about satire. What satire and humour appeals to you and who were your comic influences?
DB: It’s funny, Joe and I, we’re the same age, we’re from New Jersey, and grew up on the same comedians. When I grew up I had more comedy records than rock records!
Growing up it was Eddie Murphy. And then the Saturday Night Live crew was just funny as hell. But, I always loved the side of comedy that was just an intelligent way of looking at things from a different viewpoint. It’s great, and it’s a great thing to watch people laugh. Laughing is a great therapy.
JB: The Toxic Avenger is very politically incorrect. How important is political incorrectness in modern comedy ?
DB: What I think what we did with our piece, was that we mocked everybody. We took the piss out of everybody and everything that we could.
We mocked everything, so no one could accuse of us of bullying on any one angle. If you mock everything, then it’s funny.
JB: Do you sense any trend in how comedy today is shifting? Do you feel that there is a greater sense of what can and cannot be laughed at in today’s era?
DB: The comedians are the ones that are supposed to push the envelope. All my favourite top comedians were the ones who did push that envelope, and say stuff that everybody thinks, but doesn’t want to say. I don’t have a problem with that as long as it’s done in an intelligent way.
JB: You’re famous for being the keyboards player in Bon Jovi. Tell me the difference between writing songs for a show and albums for a rock band.
DB: Same thing. It’s just writing a song. I don’t do any research. Joe and I sit down and go, “Okay, here’s the character, here’s the dilemma, or the journey, or what’s the purpose of why this character needs to go from point A to point B, and what’s driving him?” I think it’s really a human story, if you will. I just put myself in the shoes of that character, and just write it, and let it all come out.
JB: A good musical has a very clear book that the songs work around. How does the creative arc compare of writing songs for a show compare with the arc of writing songs for a Bon Jovi album?
DB: Yeah, anytime we approach an album, it’s always a beginning, middle, and end and there is a narrative.
In a musical, you have different characters and it’s a little more challenging writing for men, for women, for monsters (!) – it’s a whole different world.
But the songs and the story keep evolving together. It’s not like one’s written in stone, and then the other isn’t. We are the kind of writers that don’t just go, here’s the story, and now we’re going to step out of the side of the story, and here’s a song. Our songs always push the characters ahead.
JB: Within Bon Jovi do you contribute much to the composing?
DB: Yes! I classically trained for 15 years, so I understand music. It’s really helped in that that is what really separates us from a guitar band, and then you add keyboards. All the big songs that we’ve had in records, with keyboards you can colour the emotion, really paint a picture. Even in the beginning … A standout example would be, Wanted Dead or Alive. At the beginning you hear wind, and strings, and all of a sudden you’re in a Western. That’s what I bring to the table and I love it.
JB: David, thank you and I wish The Toxic Avenger every success at the Arts Theatre.
The Toxic Avenger plays at The Arts Theatre until 3rd December Read my review of The Toxic Avenger here
Photo credit: Irina Chira