Ted Travelstead has almost 30,000 Twitter followers. That’s like taking all of the living people who attended Altamont and bringing them together for a laugh a few times a day. He co-wrote a book called Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk with several writers from The Onion, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and The Daily Show. His latest book is called The Petraeus Files: All the Photos, Chats, Poems, and Other Super-Secret Emails They Don’t Want You To See, and even if you know nothing of the political scandal, the book is the right the amount of funny and weird that will have you laughing on public transportation like someone with a shopping cart full of medication.
Ted is an incredible storyteller, the curator of a glorious beard, and one of the most naturally hilarious people I know. Now, you can know him, too.
The Rumpus: How did you make the leap from co-writing Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk to writing about political scandal?
Ted Travelstead: It’s not a leap I ever thought I would make, although both books are extremely sexy. Political scandal, current events, most topical humor is not something I consider a strong point, but St. Martin’s came to me with this idea and gave me the opportunity to show them what I could do with it. The fact that they liked what I came up with and then gave me the opportunity to create what I did with virtually no interference on their part was amazing. The cover may scream political humor because it’s based on true events, but the inside of the book is a world of my own creation. It was nice to work on something outside of my comfort zone, and still be able to stay true to my own weirdo roots.
Rumpus: If the CIA were to get upset about this book, do you think you could fight them off? If so, how?
Travelstead: While a freshman in college, I earned a yellow belt in Karate. That being said, I do not think I could fight them off. So, if I happen to get hit by a drone strike while eating at Blimpie, you know where to look.
Rumpus: In The Petraeus Files, there is a lot of fan-fiction traded between John Allen and Jill Kelley. Can you maybe give us a sample of some Ted Travelstead fan-fiction using your favorite television show?
Travelstead: Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli sat down heavily on his deathbed. It looked like any other bed, but places like this housed only one kind. The kind you died on. He eyed the room. Sparse. Clinical. A framed picture of Richie, Lori Beth, and the kids, that Chachi had hung earlier in the day, blinked weakly at him. It was about as effective as a dying distress beacon in an empty ocean cove. He sighed and rubbed his hand over the bedspread. Rough with starch, slightly frayed. Who knew how many hands had made this same path across it in unison with a sigh?
In a box near the bed, Arthur spied the jacket. Worn soft as milk by time, it lay perfectly folded on top of some other useless mementos that would be flung into a dumpster as soon as he was gone. It hadn’t fit him in years, he hadn’t even thought of it, but suddenly he yearned to touch it, to hold it against his cheek like a talisman. He bent at the waist and reached to pull the box toward him, but gravity got the best of him and he tumbled forward, striking his head on the corner of the nightstand. He was unconscious before his head hit the ground with a resounding smack. He lay prone on the floor, with one hand resting on top of the leather jacket, when Chachi walked in carrying two small cups of vanilla pudding.
“Hey, Fonz, I thought we could eat some pudding together before I took off. They got all the pudding you could want down there, you’re gonna lov—.”
Chachi stared down at his cousin on the floor.
“Fonzie?” he asked, placing the pudding cups on the dresser beside the door.
Fonzie didn’t answer. He was gone.
Rumpus: In the intro for The Petraeus Files, you explain that you stumbled upon all of this top-secret material while downloading a Black Sabbath bootleg. If you had to run a three-legged race with any member of Sabbath, who would you choose and why?
Travelstead: As much as I love Ozzy, and would be honored to spend fifty yards strapped to his side, if I really wanted to win I’d have to pick drummer Bill Ward. A lot of heavy metal drummers play the double bass drum now days (two bass drums, two pedals, two feet), but Bill Ward always blew the doors off the coliseums with just one bass drum, using one foot. I would harness the speed of this fantastic bass drum-playing foot of his to win the three-legged race. Hopefully they would blast “Children of the Grave” while we ran, to give us that extra boost to the finish line!
Rumpus: Since David Petraeus is probably knocked out of the ring for the presidency in 2016, what would it take for you to run in his stead? And what is your party platform?
Travelstead: Oh, I’m definitely running. My platform is going to be kind of a “NO MORE STRAY ANIMALS/PLEASE NO SANDALS ON THE SUBWAY/FREE CINNAMON ROLLS EVERY OTHER FRIDAY 2016” type of thing. I might clean up the wording just a titch, but that’s basically it. My running mate will be ex-Poison front man, Bret Michaels (also the star of Rock of Love). We will absolutely win in a landslide decision, and Bret Michaels and Jewel will perform a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” at the Inaugural Ball. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. (Bret is not aware of my plans yet, so if you could refrain from telling him that would be great. I have a whole PowerPoint presentation I plan to deliver to him very soon. Thanks.)
Rumpus: What’s the first example of satire or parody you remember really getting into in your life?
Travelstead: The Jerk and Airplane! were defining moments in my life. The Jerk might not be considered parody, per se, but I have to mention it because Steve Martin’s comedic sensibility really shaped the absurdist place a lot of my comedy comes from today. Also, The Pee-Wee Herman Show that appeared on HBO in 1981. I have a K-Mart brand cassette tape of that somewhere. I taped it off of the television, and you can hear twelve-year-old me cackling in the background.
Rumpus: What’s the funniest thing you have ever seen firsthand?
Travelstead: Wowee. I’m not sure there is a clear-cut winner here. Here’s one though: my wife Julie and I used to do a comedy show together called, appropriately enough, The Ted & Julie Show. Julie would play this character named Lil’ Stefan, a mute, orphan boy who had been adopted by a former pilot named Gary. Gary had been struck by lightning and rendered brain-damaged. He adopted Lil’ Stefan because the government denied him a service animal.
I realize the comedy of this might not translate very well to paper, but watching my wife play this character is one of the funniest moments I can remember. Without using a single word, she brought the house down every night. It was a joy to behold.
Oh! Just thought of another one. One time a teen elephant slapped my sister across the face with its trunk. [Neither party was injured in this altercation.]
Rumpus: Medical science has discovered a new affliction called Ted Travelstead Syndrome. What are the symptoms?
Travelstead: Extreme OCD, offset by overwhelming silliness and periods of cookie-eating mania.
Rumpus: Do you have any advice for young people who want to be just like you?
Travelstead: Start by having a lot of trouble focusing on just one thing. Learn to pursue whatever you’re passionate about in the moment, even if it takes you away from a project you’re desperately trying to complete. Work many soul-sucking jobs while doing all this, until you land one that is bearable. Never stop creating, and never be afraid to try something that interests you.
Rumpus: What’s next for you?
Travelstead: I just finished shooting six new episodes of a web series called “Ted’s Talks.” It’s a parody of the very popular TED Talks. We’re editing them now. Other than that I’m writing and performing whenever and wherever I can.
Thanks very much, this was a whole lot of fun!
Ted Travelstead can be found on Twitter @trumpetcake.