Kelly Kapowski provided quite a lot of masturbatory material for my adolescent fantasies.
Saved by the Bell was always on TV. So when my friend, writer/director/producer Tobly McSmith, launched a musical parody of the classic show, I knew I had to see it.
Chatting over a dozen oysters this summer, Tobly told me about her plan to plunk her life savings into the mounting of Bayside! The Musical! Tobly is the sort of person who doesn't sleep. Like me, she has a "get shit done" personality. She's funny and weird and incredibly interesting.
She and her writing partner, Bob McSmith, infuse raunchy sexuality into all their productions. It turns out that magic mushrooms, swapping sex partners and gross-out performance art are what inspired Tobly and Bob to create hits like Bayside and Showgirls! The Musical!
I sat down with Tobly to find out more about what it's like to be a queer hustler churning out hilarious off-Broadway shows.
Jincey Lumpkin: Your relationship with Bob seems really weird, dare I say somewhat incestuous. Can you explain to me how you collaborate?
Tobly McSmith: Bob and Tobly are very incesty. Thank you for noticing! He is my cousin/uncle/stepdaughter/spirit animal. Bob is my life partner, but we don't procreate. We create. The writing involves 100-percent trust and 1,000-percent screaming fights that usually end with Bob crying. We have one rule when writing: It's got to make us both laugh. We don't stop until we've reached that point.
Lumpkin: Does sex inspire you in your writing?
McSmith: Oh, God, yes. We go above and beyond inspiration and directly borrow things that actually happen to us and to our friends during the writing process. For example, I once dated a girl who liked getting her panties stuffed in her mouth to shut her up during sex, and now one of the characters in Bayside sings, "I'll make you eat my dirty panties."
Bob and I developed a very childlike and playful relationship. We used to go on "Fri-dates" every Friday night, where we would take the same girl out together. We'd actually walk down the street, each of us holding one of her hands. We played "7 Minutes in Heaven" and took turns in the bedroom.
Sex sells. We love blue comedy; we're a product of the desensitized society we live in. Nothing is off-limits, and we have crossed the line so many times with our performance art that we know where it is; we know how to walk it now. Years ago we would perform at open mic nights, standing onstage, drinking boxes of douche and puking. I've always been drawn to dark humor.
Lumpkin: Did you obsess over Saved by the Bell? How did you come up with the idea to do a parody?
McSmith: Bob and I thought of the idea on mushrooms. We were standing outside a grocery store in Brooklyn, staring at a tree, and I said, "We should do a musical about Saved by the Bell!" Keep in mind, this was before we had ever written a song or performed onstage together. It was a gift from the tree. And the mushrooms.
We both grew up watching the show and knew it very well. Bob and I were rejects in high school. We would have never hung out with the Zack Morrises and Kelly Kapowskis. We would have been hiding in the lockers with Screech. There's something magical about that show. It works better than a Full House or a Blossom musical. People hear about it and their eyes light up. We're celebrating the show and taking it down. It's a love letter to our childhood, really.
Lumpkin: What was your hottest sexual experience?
McSmith: I'm attracted to creative people, and the sex can be explosive. I've been dating actresses lately, but a few years ago I met a dancer who was in town for a month, and we had the hottest sex. It was completely casual, because she was leaving when her show ended. I knew very little about her. We would meet up, talk for a few minutes, have sex, and part ways. When she left town, we never spoke again. No exchange of emails or Facebook friending. It was what it was, and it was really fucking hot. Everyone should bed a dancer at least once.
What's really the hottest for me, what I'm most interested in, sexually, is what they call "breaking" in the S&M world. That's what gets me off, the breaking of my sexual partner. To me, it's that moment when she hands over complete control. It's the breaking down of what she thinks she has to be and what she thinks she has to do. It's about trust, and it's about control. We hold such a tight grip on control over our life, who we think we need to be; it can be tough to let those ideas go and just be in the moment.
Each person breaks differently. Some like to be spanked, slapped in the face or verbally insulted. I once tied a girl up naked by an open window during the winter and went to the bar for an hour. Whatever it takes. That's what gets my engine going.
Lumpkin: Has being a gay person affected your career?
McSmith: I went to college in Lubbock, a small, west Texas town that is the gawdy, rhinestone-encrusted buckle of the Bible belt. Lubbock is a terrible place to figure out you're gay. I think one of the biggest motivators that got me to New York City was the ladies. It's a scientifically proven fact that gay people are drawn to trendy metropolitan areas like NYC, where it seems like everyone is creating something. It's inspiring to be around so many creative people working toward their dreams (and also so many ladies). Not to be too dramatic, but I honestly don't know if I would have moved here if I wasn't gay. None of this would have happened.
Lumpkin: What advice would you give to other aspiring writers and directors?
McSmith: Find a "Bob." Surround yourself with people that are as crazy as you, and don't let go. Don't do it for the money. Take chances. Be humble. Accept change. Work your ass off. And no matter what, don't stop.
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