Smile Politely

Getting the giggles with Mark Roberts

Photograph of Mark Roberts seen through a camera. A camera is centered in the image, and shows Roberts wearing a hat with his head down, his face obscured. The background wall behind the camera is red.
Al Fleener

Mark Roberts may not be a household name, but his creative output is. The comedian and television writer / producer has been attached to Mike & Molly and Two and a Half Men — you’ve definitely heard of those sitcoms. The Urbana / Tolono native’s latest project, Bad Mule Inc., is a multimedia project aimed at kids, but fun for adults. It includes print and audio books, a newspaper, and short videos. 

Roberts will be back in the area this weekend to perform Bad Mule Rag at SURFACE 51 during the Boneyard Arts Festival. He performed here last  fall to much delight. This weekend promises to be no different. You can follow his adventures and projects on the Bad Mule Inc. website, and save the date for at least one of his performances this weekend. 

I recently corresponded with him about his work and his upcoming performances. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Smile Politely: Tell me a little about Bad Mule, Inc. What made you want to write and develop content for kids?

Mark Roberts: I’m not sure if I’m talking to kids in an adult fashion or to adults in a kid-like fashion. I just wanted to comment on the stuff I was seeing around me, but quietly, humorously and respectfully. Plus rhyming is fun. You’re sad when you’re done.

SP: What projects do you have in the works?

Roberts: I just finished the second issue of The Bad Mule Rag which will be given out at our Boneyard event. And SURFACE 51 and Bad Mule are collaborating on some videos to support the poems in the paper, different types of animation and puppetry, a few live action. It’s a creatively driven venture so no real heavy agenda, just having fun, trying to show other people that it’s still a possibility.

SP: What is the most random or unexpected thing that’s influenced your work?

Roberts: The state of the world has been my major influence lately. Trying to maintain a sense of humor and perspective over the last few years has naturally seeped into my life and my work. 

SP: How did you find your way to comedy, and then into writing and producing?

Roberts: Growing up, our family dinner table was blanketed under heavy storm clouds, so my role in the Roberts household was that of the jokester. If I made my father laugh, we could all enjoy our food a little more. And then I applied that skill set to comedy clubs and later television. If you work hard, you can turn your garbage into gold.

SP: Which of your character(s) (ones you’ve developed or created) is/are your favorite?

Roberts: I don’t really have a favorite character that I’ve created. I wrote a pilot for Harvey Keitel that I really liked a lot and his character was very rich and interesting. I did a reading of it at a theater in Chicago and the reaction was huge. Alas, it never saw the light of day, but I’m still proud of it.

SP: Is there a television or movie character or plot line that you wish you had created? Or one you wish you could write for?

Roberts: I was a huge Deadwood fan, even though the premise was ripped off from a wonderful novelist named Pete Dexter. It was still fun to watch. I love dialogue that’s so twisted and unexpected it makes you giggle.

SP: Can you tell me a little about your writing process? Where do you start? What criteria do you use to determine whether or not you’re done or what you’ve written is successful / complete?

Roberts: I write every day for at least four hours, hoping to land on something that has meat on the bone. If it does, I follow it to where it wants to go, if it doesn’t I start over and look for something else. That’s how all this rhyming nonsense started. I just landed on it and then that’s what I was doing. 

SP: What’s your least favorite part of the creative process? 

Roberts: Insomnia. 

SP: What should audience members prepare for with regard to your Boneyard performances?

Roberts: Come prepared to have fun and not take yourself too seriously. Everyone is pretty dour these days or apologizing for something they said when they were four. Not me, I’m going down giggling. And I hope before the sidewalks become too hot to walk on. 

SP: You’re originally from here, and regularly return to the area. Which places or activities do you prioritize when you’re visiting?

Roberts: I enjoy my sister Natalie and her family. They have a four year old who laughs at everything I say. I explained a “dutch oven” to her the other day and she fell over laughing. You can’t beat that kind of adoration. I like to show up with a two pound box of Fannie May candies and watch her personality shift from giggly little girl to raving lunatic. Good fun.

Mark Roberts
106 S Neil St
F Apr 14th, 7 p.m.
Sa Apr 15th, 2 p.m. + 7 p.m.


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