Giant Korean Head’s Chris Yun: Designer, Podcaster, Big Dome

Chris Yun is a “working creative”–one of those people we rely on to sprinkle taste on the things we buy, look at, and listen to. He’s also the type of person who categorically understates his talent. Recently, a designer friend of mine Peter Smith, recommended I take a listen. Then he recommended I talk with Yun. So, here you go:

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He’s a Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduate who describes himself as a 40-plus, 1.75 generation Korean-American, living and working in NYC. For the past 20 years, he’s borough hopped his way into some unique professional and personal relationships–friendships he showcases on his podcast. He’s a husband, father, freelancer, and increasingly popular podcaster.

Giant Korean Head is unscripted, purportedly alcohol-fueled, and undeniably amusing. Industry chatter is off-limits on this one, meaning the conversation is more likely to veer toward pop culture and Gerard Butler sightings–who looks like shit apparently–than it is logo design.

Yun answered some questions for me this week.

Why podcasting?

I’m too ugly for videocasting.

You’ve described yourself as “aimless” before. One might describe the podcast the same way. Do you think the best art comes from absence of structure?

That description was actually regarding my career, but it definitely fits the podcast, and I aim to keep it that way. It’s just me chatting and drinking with friends (who just happen to all be working creatives), so tackling specific predetermined industry topics would be awkward or seem forced. Besides, I started this podcast really as a sort of time-capsule-leave-behind-lost-recordings thing for my young daughter to someday find and listen to, so the less shoptalk the better. I wouldn’t want to bore her. Especially true if I’m still alive.

I’m not sure how much or how little of a part structure plays in the creativity equation. Some people may like getting started bright and early, their day meticulously planned, with everything on their desks at right angles. Others may do their best stuff at 4am stinking of booze and covered in their own excrement. But what I am sure of, is that good work always comes from hard work.

I’m visual, and I try to picture the conversations hosts are having with the their guests as I’m listening. With you, I conjure up a loft in Brooklyn or a studio in the Bronx. What’s your set up like?

Visualize the exact opposite of that, and add the “stinking of booze and covered in excrement” from the previous answer.

I usually travel to my guests, so all of my gear is portable and can be thrown into a backpack. If it’s at home, iMac.

Has the show helped you creatively?

Not in any measurable way, but getting together with my friends is always inspiring.

What does your mother really think of “Giant Korean Head?”

Not sure. I know she thinks childbirth is excruciating.

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You can follow Chris on Twitter @giantkoreanhead

“The Arkham Sessions” A Chat with Hosts, Dr. Andrea Letamendi and Brian Ward

I discovered the The Arkham Sessions midway through a bout of podcast Wanderlust. I was looking for something unique, original in both design and execution.

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Dr. Andrea Letamendi and Brian Ward provided that uniqueness with their weekly psychological analysis of Batman: The Animated Series. The show is funny, accessible, and more universally applicable than the title would imply.

Letamendi (Drea) has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and speaks about psychology and its role in the comic/sci-fi narrative at all the big conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con. She’s been interviewed by  just about every big media outlet you can think of, and she was Barbara Gordon’s psychologist in DC Comics’ Batgirl no. 16 and no. 20. That’s right; she’s an actual comic book character.

Ward is an award-winning DVD/Blu-Ray producer. In addition to his work in animation and The Arkham Sessions, he writes and directs. “The History of MST3K,” a documentary about Mystery Science Theater 3000 with Joel Hodgson and company, was one of his more notable ventures.

They took a few minutes to chat with me last week about their podcast and the power of comics as a psychological learning tool.

Q & A with The Arkham Session’s Drea and Brian

Drea, tell me a little about your blog Under the Mask and your mission.

A: Under the Mask started as a way for me to discuss psychology by applying it to fictional characters. Over the years, I’ve treated a lot of real-life heroes; veterans mostly. And there’s a lot that people need to know about what these people go through. I found it fascinating that there are many parallels between superheroes in comics and real life soldiers. I find that using these fictional characters helps people get interested and the goal with the site has always been to relieve a lot of the stigma that surrounds mental health discussions.

When and how did “the Arkham Sessions” come about?

B: I’ve always known Drea was a huge Batman fan, much like myself. And we’d often get into lengthy conversations about the mental states of several of the villains in the Rogues Gallery and even Batman and Robin themselves. But when I saw her in the documentary Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics, I knew that she’d be perfect for a weekly podcast literally going from one episode to the next, analyzing each character just as she would a patient. Luckily, she said, “yes!” And now, here we are.

A: The show may have been created to simply give youths a half hour’s worth of adventure every afternoon. But Batman: The Animated Series actually dealt with darker and psychologically deeper themes such as child abduction, childhood trauma, disfigurement, identity amnesia, bullying, eyewitness testimony, terrorism, and torture. As Batman encounters more moral distress, internal conflict and social struggles, it’s clear he’s a little different than in previous versions, in that, he is self-doubting and fallible, i.e. human. These are some of the things I’m really enjoying digging into throughout this process.

Drea, I noticed you recently lectured on comics teaching psychological resilience. What’s the fundamental message you try to convey in those kind of engagements?

As an educator and manager at a children’s mental health agency, I often work with other psychologists and mental health practitioners. In these lectures, I use fictional narratives like comics to discuss topics like trauma, recovery and resiliency. In this particular talk, the main message was how to work with children and convey important things about their mental health treatment, such as: “Bad things sometimes happen to good people, and it isn’t their fault. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control what we think and how we feel after things happen. It’s the meaning of the trauma that we have control over. Finally, it takes the help of others to get better.”

In general, do you see a correlation between the personalities of Gothamites and those who fan out over The Caped Crusader?

B: I would say, “yes,” only in that they/we all need Batman in some capacity. I’d hate to think about what my life would be like without a regular dose of the Bat. And I’d really hate to think about what Gotham would be like without him.

Which Batman characters to do you think you share the most psychological traits with?

B: I’m clearly Sherman, the ginger kid in “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement.” Especially if Drea’s take on the story is true. If you’ve not heard that episode of the podcast, you should check it out. Drea will blow your mind with her hypothesis.

A: I relate a lot to officer Renee Montoya. She wasn’t in a lot of episodes, but she stood out for me. Although her ethnicity wasn’t initially made clear or talked about on the show, I immediately recognized her as a strong, Latina woman (she was initially voiced by a Latina actress and later in comics confirmed as having Latina heritage). There is even an early episode of Batman: The Animated Series where she goes against the police force and rescues Batman. She wasn’t a damsel in distress. And it was during a time that she wasn’t there for political correctness, either!

What can we look forward to with “The Arkham Sessions” this year?

B: I think the podcast is getting stronger and stronger with every episode. And now that we’re starting to cover a lot of the villains for their second and third time, we’re starting to look at how much they grow psychologically.

A: And Bruce, too, for that matter. Everyone is being looked at equally. They’re all human characters. They all have flaws. And we’re finding that, whether the writers were conscious of it or not, their characters are, in fact, evolving. Some worse than others.

Mark Malkoff on “The Carson Podcast”

Writer/comedian Mark Malkoff made news when he set out to live in an IKEA in Paramus, New York while his apartment was being fumigated. But his adventures in the Swedish furniture Goliath have become a footnote in this former Colbert Report staffer’s challenge-centric life:

He visited 171 Starbucks franchises in Manhattan in one day. He lived on an airplane for a month to conquer his fear of flying. He launched 101 Other Things to Do in Holland, besides smoking weed. And he watched 252 movies on Netflix in a single month. There were Skype challenges, Huffington Post articles, and pleas to Bill Murray along the way. Well, he recently launched another high-concept stunt in the service of comedy.

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He’s helping to preserve the legacy of an industry giant and taste maker with a new show called The Carson Podcast.

And he’s culled some some big names to talk, rather candidly, about the OG of late night, including Steven Wright (pictured), Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Kevin Nealon.

Mark answered a few questions for me last week about his show.

You’re a challenge guy. Tell me about your history with tackling the seemingly insurmountable.

I often follow my curiosity and set out to see if I can pull off things that, on paper, often seem very challenging. In some cases even impossible. For me to go forward with the challenges, the possibility of strong video content must be there. Also it has to make my laugh. It’s led me to some very interesting experiences.

Ninety-nine percent of the time there’s a point to what I’m trying to achieve. Can I get over my fear of flying by forcing myself to fly? Can I prove that a child’s big wheel is faster than a New York City bus? Can I illustrate that New Yorkers are nice by having them physically carry me around the city?

Tell me about your personal history with Carson and the Tonight Show.

I got into Carson and the Tonight Show when my Dad would let me stay up late. I’d be able to catch it more in the summer. When VCR’s became popular, I’d often tape the show and watch it in the morning before school. I especially loved the anniversary clips shows which were my introduction to comedians such as Don Rickles.

Carson not only made the show funny but also elegant and glamorous. I remember watching him say goodbye in May 1992 and, even as a kid, understanding the impact of him leaving TV. A year of so later for Christmas all I asked my parents for was the Johnny Carson box set on VHS. In my office today, I have a Johnny Carson mug. I love watching Carson clips on YouTube.

How does podcasting fall in line with a challenge-centric life?

I’ve always been one to follow my curiosity. That’s where the vast majority of my challenge videos came from. For the Carson Podcast I have lots of questions to ask guests that appeared with Carson that stem from being curious. Doing a podcast is definitely a departure from the challenge videos. I guess the only challenge initially was getting guests to come on the show. Fortunately individuals have being very generous.

Brands take center stage in your stunts–IKEA, Starbucks, the Ford Fusion Hybrid–but never seem to overshadow the thrust of the bit. With the show launching on the heels of a new era in Tonight Shows, how much has sponsorship played a role in the Carson Podcast?

Not at all. I undertook the Carson Podcast as a passion project. I’m not looking to make money on it. If it happened to pay my expenses that would be wonderful. But I’m not actively looking or expecting a sponsor.

Are you starting to see a theme with  how the guests look back on their experiences with Carson?

Guests want to talk about Carson. Going on the show was an extremely exciting time in their lives. When I talk to them, they get to relive it. I see it on their faces. Several guests have cried when telling their stories.

The guests were all in awe of Carson as a performer and host. They are always appreciative to Carson for what it did for their careers. The day before making his stand-up debut on Carson, Tom Dreesen was on unemployment with a wife and three kids. The day after going on the Tonight Show, Dreesen had a deal with CBS and hasn’t stopped working since. Steven Wright has a similar story about his life changing by going on the show. That doesn’t exist today.

A lot of what we’ve seen from Mark Malkoff has been finite–a week in IKEA, the Starbucks endeavor, 101 things to do in Holland besides smoking pot–there’s a number, an end point. Is that the plan with the podcast, or do you want it to endure?

I have no time table on how long the podcast will go. Doing the podcast has been some of the most satisfying work I’ve done in years. I simply love sitting down with guess that appeared on Carson or worked on the Tonight Show and hearing their stories. Never in a million years did I ever think I’d get to sit down with Carl Reiner and talk about Carson. It’s been a thrill. I’m hoping the podcast goes for a long time.

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Mark Malkoff currently makes videos for the comedy website My Damn Channel. You can check out his website here. Or follow him on Twitter @mmalkoff