Channeling the weird
Wallpaper’s Arjun Singh moves out from behind his drum kit and in front of the camera on The Public Access Show
When 29-year-old Arjun Singh chose the name The Public Access Show for his absurdist sketch program, it wasn’t to make fun of the format. Sure, the fact that his show was on public access made for a few good laughs. But the main intent behind the name was to urge people to rethink the entire concept.
“If you were to turn on your public-access station, you’d find something religious or a cooking show where the audio sounds horrible,” Singh says. “Everybody writes off [those shows] because there has been such crappy content over the years. But it can be an outlet for genuine content that’s entertaining and interesting.”
This is precisely what Singh hopes his show will demonstrate. The Public Access Show isn’t anything like what most people probably expect from such programming. It’s edgy and weird, and Singh’s sense of humor leans toward the ridiculous—he rarely goes for the overt yuk-yuk laughs. Instead, his sensibilities are strange and his humor dry—the kind of understated comedy you’d find on shows such as Flight of the Conchords, Portlandia and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
“I like stuff that isn’t clearly funny off the bat,” Singh says.
With just two episodes under his belt, Singh, who also plays drums in the indie dance band Wallpaper, has already secured The Public Access Show spots on four community stations (not to mention the Internet). The show first aired on a Roseville TV cable station in August. In September, the show debuted on Davis Community Television, and in October he added Access Sacramento and the Community Center of Marin to his list of carriers.
Singh says he’s surprised by the reaction.
“A lot of people have been liking it. A lot more than I thought,” Singh says. “You can always get your friends to listen to a track or watch a video, but to get your friends to watch something and want to share it with their friends, that’s a huge success for me.”
Singh knew that friends were sharing it because the first episode got more than 800 views on YouTube, and the second one nearly doubled that number.
Before starting The Public Access Show, Singh says he had virtually no prior video experience. He’d made a few short videos in college and some vlogs here and there, but that was it. What he did have is a lot of experience playing drums—his work with Wallpaper is the most notable entry on his musical résumé. Wallpaper appeared recently on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, played a gig at the South by Southwest music festival in March and is currently scheduled as part of this month’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival lineup.
While he loves playing drums, Singh says it means he’s always had to play the supporting role to someone else’s creative vision. So, when he got the idea for a cable-access show, Singh jumped in with both feet.
“It’s the ultimate creative outlet, because it has me doing musical things, it has me drumming, it has me acting, it has me writing sketches—all these things that I really enjoy on a creative level, and [putting] them all in one place in one cohesive entity,” Singh says.
Plus, by doing the show, Singh adds, he’s learning what elements from his personal experiences makes for good comedic fodder.
One obvious idea that came to mind was to incorporate his drumming skills. So Singh created a reoccurring bit, “Advanced Drum Techniques”—a parody of those drum instructional videos that are prevalent in every musical instrument store in America.
“I take all the things that rub me the wrong way about drummers in the world and teach them as if that is the right way to do it,” Singh says.
In one episode, for instance, Singh spends the entire lesson teaching people how to properly twirl drumsticks.
The idea stemmed from his experiences touring with Wallpaper and seeing and meeting tons of terrible, pretentious drummers.
Turning such experiences into sketches proved cathartic.
“Everyone has these ideas, whether you have a fucked-up situation and you try to make the best out of it, or something that’s so weird that it’s funny,” Singh says.
The overall idea for the show was set in motion after Singh learned that his local Roseville public-access station offered a course in television production. At first the musician was too busy with Wallpaper to take the class, but last year, during some down time, he enrolled.
“[T]he class was the spark and everything came together,” Singh says.
In addition to the drumming skits, music plays a distinct role in Singh’s show. It makes sense, of course, considering he’s played his whole life. For years in fact, Singh says he’d been writing weird little comedy songs but didn’t have an outlet for them.
Now he has a place to showcase them, whether it’s the piano ballad about how difficult it is to be 24’s Jack Bauer or the sad song, “Pandas Are People Too.” The latter plays over a video in which a panda slowly walks to his car after getting fired from his big corporate-office job for not wearing clothes.
In fact, music is all over Singh’s show.
Still, for some reason, Singh says it was hard for him to write a theme song. So, instead, he wrote perhaps his weirdest sketch yet, a surreal scene in which three different versions of himself and a puppet sitting around a writer’s table trying to write the show’s theme song. One of the versions of Singh suggests they make a dubstep song. So the four of them all test out this idea by performing an a capella dubstep song—only to have a different Singh suggest that maybe a theme song wasn’t needed after all.
For his second episode, Singh announced for weeks before the show aired that he would be having Cake on the show. And indeed he did, but it was an actual cake—the kind you eat, not the band. For the record, the baked good did perform a song.
“Everyone assumed that through my magical musical connections, Cake was actually performing on my show. I do know people that know people that are in Cake. It’s not so far out,” Singh says.
For the show’s upcoming third episode, loosely scheduled to air in mid-May, Singh is raising his personal bar for creativity—or any other public-access show for that matter—by filming the entire episode in 3-D.
And, he’s doing it the hard way.
“None of this George Lucas bullshit where you add it later. I am actually filming it with two cameras and editing with two cameras at the same time,” Singh says.
Singh says he has no plans to try to turn The Public Access Show into something more than it already is—a fun creative outlet. Currently, Singh works as a temp doing Web administrative and multimedia production. The biggest gift his local public-access-TV station has given him, he says, is an outlet and the ability to explore his new-found love for TV production.
“Video is a whole new world for me,” Singh says.
“It’s comforting to know that you can find something late in the game that you really are passionate about.”