Comedian Andy Sell on Pablo Neruda, UFOs and meeting Ray Bradbury
Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature celebrating the books that inspire Denver artists.
Andy Sell is a Colorado native who moved to Los Angeles, where he performs standup, writes poetry and hosts the inventive podcast People We Know, which features Sell and his guests lionizing their favorite fictional characters. The prodigal Sell has returned for the holiday season, and has a slew of intriguing performances scheduled: from Too Much Fun tonight and Narrators tomorrow night at Deer Pile to Epilogue Comedy on December 28 at Mutiny! Information Cafe and Propaganda! on December 29 at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret. Westword met up with Sell to discuss poetry, UFOs and meeting Ray Bradbury in an interview that was repeatedly interrupted by hug-seeking Denver comics.
Westword: So, how did you end up meeting Ray Bradbury?
Andy Sell: Through a job. I moved out to L.A. and my first couple months there, I was just doing shitty PA work. Then my friend who directed plays got me a job at a theater company in south Pasadena. She told me that they were putting on a production of Dandelion Wine, and she knew I was a huge Ray Bradbury fan, and that I should go check it out, and I did. I called up the producer, and they asked about my previous theater experience -- which I had -- and then boom! There I was. I had no idea that Ray was actually part of the production. It was his company and he came to every Saturday night performance to introduce the show.
That's awesome. Was that the first time you'd met a legit writer?
Do you know Kevin Randle, who wrote the book UFO Crash at Roswell? I used to trick or treat at his house on Halloween.
Was he a social weirdo? Because it'd be almost disappointing if he weren't.
Yeah, kind of. I don't really remember much about him. He was nice. When my mom told me who he was, I would ride my bike by his house a bunch to see if I could spot him. I always wanted to talk to him, I always wanted to go over there and ask to look over his files. I was heavy into UFO sightings and abductions and shit like that. He wrote a follow-up book called History of UFO Crashes: Documented Proof of UFO Visits to Earth, and those are like the books of authority on that subject. It was weird, because years later, when I was going to college in Santa Fe, I'd go down to Roswell all the time. I went to the UFO Museum there, but it was pretty low-rent and kitchsy. Not a lot of funding going into that place. I remember that across the street there was an anti-UFO museum run by a group of concerned church people: "There's no aliens, there's only God and Jesus." I don't think they're around anymore.
I wanted to ask about poetry because I know you write poetry. Who were your poet heroes?
Langston Hughes, I was really into him. And Claude McKay. He was another Harlem Renaissance guy who I fucking loved. Poetry -- when I started writing it, like when they first have you write it for school in third grade, I remember my first poem was about Halloween. It was a narrative poem about a witch who screwed up a potion. I was also really into Edgar Allen Poe as a kid. Definitely at an inappropriately early age. Like six or seven years old. My mom took me to the Poe house in Philly, and I don't really remember this, but my mom told me that it happened, the tour guide asked me a question because he thought I wasn't paying attention and I knew the answer right away. Then I asked him a question about one of the stories that Poe had supposedly written in that house and stumped him. Poe was probably the first poet I found on my own and got into. Then in high school, I took the same lit courses as everybody, where you're reading Emily Dickinson and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and you're trying to write Petrarchan sonnets. I remember everyone else in my class sort of blew it off, and I got super into it. It was like I had finally found a way to express myself. I had never really written poetry much before, but I really took to it. And it was Hughes and McKay that really got me into it. I liked William Carlos Williams, too.
Do you remember a particular poet who made you want to write poetry of your own?
Yeah, Wilfred Owen, who wrote "Dulce et Decorum est." He was a WWI soldier and most of his poetry was about the horrors of war. Really visceral and fatalistic stuff from a firsthand point of view. In high school, I was also heavily into socialist theory, and a byproduct of that was getting really anti-war. In high school, I was also heavily into socialist theory, and a byproduct of that was getting really anti-war and really into the redistribution of wealth and the collectivization of land ownership.
Keep reading for more from Andy Sell.