The Food: The tea-soaked snacks simmering in the pots at the cashier of Family Mart. We came up with an assortment of delights, including "piss" meat balls, kombu (seaweed), fish roe in a "lucky bag", and konjac (jelly noodle). Plus baijiu. Always the baijiu.
Workin' blue: Randy Wooten (L) and Jeff Tortora (R)
The People: Our dining partners this edition were Jeff Tortora and Randy Wooten -- two musicians here in Shanghai performing with the Blue Man Group. The guys only had an hour to do this before heading off to soundcheck and then to perform with the Blue Men. Pressed for time, we headed to where one goes for food when one is pressed for time: Family Mart.
Already finished their runs in Beijing and Guangzhou, the Blue Man Group is performing in Shanghai from now until December 4. You can get your tickets right here. Jeff and Randy are also performing in Shanghai with their side project, a hard rock / metal cover band called Tinnitus. That whole band featured members of the Blue Man group; they're kicking out the jams at Yuyintang on November 23 and Inferno December 1. You should check that out too for the more hard rocking side of the Blue Man army.
So yeah! Let's dig in.
SmSh: Have you eaten before this?
Jeff Tortora: I had a bagel. Hey, I can’t get sick and play a show though.
SmSh: [Laughs]. So how long have you guys been Blue Men? The interview has commenced. The journey has begun.
JT: 17 years.
Randy Wooten: 6, almost 7 years…
SmSh: There’s what… 7 or 8 Blue Man troupes around the world, huh? There's a whole bunch of different concurring productions, like a theatrical play. Which one are you guys from?
JT: Yeah, New York, Vegas…. He does Boston and I do Vegas. There’s Chicago, Orlando, New York. There used to be a show in London, and one of the guys involved with that talked to the management in New York about doing a world tour — it’s still managed out of New York by the three guys who started it. And they’ve got a bunch of different guys — Germans, people from the UK, Europeans, Americans — from a bunch of different shows involved in this world tour.
RW: The show is cast out of New York, and they put it all together with the different cast members. The show itself is kind of a cross between the Vegas one and a few others. It’s a mix of the classic show with revamped pieces.
SmSh: So the show comes out of New York…
JT: The show is created in New York. There’s a creative department in New York with directors, choreographers, and musicians, and they put it together. There’s a bit of give and take where we have input, but for the most part it’s coming from the team in New York.
SmSh: Whats the process of becoming a Blue Man? How does one become a Blue Man?
JT: People come into it in different ways. Some are actors learning how to drum, some are drummers learning how to act. And then there is this training process as well…
SmSh: What’s the training process to becoming a Blue Man. Is there Boot Camp? Blu-oot Camp? Do they drop you in a forest naked with a pair of drum sticks?
JT: [Laughs] I remember when I auditioned a long time ago and the director was working with me like *whispers* ‘Okay, you see something in the distance and you’re afraid! There’s something in the distance that scares you, but you’re okay, because it’s far away — but WAIT — it’s getting closer. It’s getting closer! It’s getting closer!”
And I'm trying to react to that with my face and body language. The thing is learning to communicate with these characters through your facial expressions and communicating a story without using words.
SmSh: What made you want to join? So, it’s like an audition process, huh? Like getting cast in a theater production?
JT: Yeah, I’m from upstate New York. Blue Man was on Letterman or Leno one week, and the CD came out. A casting agent had come to one of the shows to see the band I was in — I was in this funk band — and gave me the CD. So I auditioned in New York and then went out to Vegas. Now, in Vegas, we do around 300 shows a year.
SmSh: So we’ve got a big of veg, a bit of meat, some egg, and some noodles.
RW: And it’s all soaked in tea?
SmSh: Yeah, I guess so. Every convenience store in China has this stuff but I’ve never actually tried it. I guess it’s snack food for people on-the-go. People pressed for time. People pressed for cash. This is the Japanese version I guess? Family Mart is like a Japanese thing. This could be anywhere from not that bad to pretty vile. I don’t know. So how long does it take to get into the Blue Man costume?
RW: Takes about 30 minutes. It’s pretty quick. But there’s a whole process. You have to get the bald caps on, the grease paint…
SmSh: So these are called “piss balls”. As made popular by a Steven Chow movie. They’re supposed to explode with liquid goodness, like it’s taking a piss. Hence: “piss balls”.
RW: It’s alright. It’s like a ball of…. something.
SmSh: Fish maybe? Something else? I think it's beef but everything tastes like fish. What’s this mushy green thing all about do you think?
RW: It’s like mushy seaweed. It just tastes like mushy seaweed. I’m already getting a little queasy.
SmSh: Look at this one. Mystery sack.
RW: What’s inside?
SmSh: No idea. So, yeah I wanted to ask. Do you guys get any groupies? Any Blue Man groupies? …Blu-pies?
JT: We’ve got people who go to all the different shows in the different states, seeing it like six or seven times. In Vegas, we’ve had people that have seen the show 30, 40, 50 times. But that’s more like fandom, superfans,
But as far as rock ’n’ roll groupies — [laughs] yeah, it’s not that kind of scene.
RW: Plus the Blue Men, when they’re in public you’re in character, so there is no talking.
SmSh: Oh, right! Would be tough to communicate that with facial expressions I guess.
RW: But the fans are great. It’s a cool show. It’s a great show to watch. Even though I’ve seen it hundreds of times I still like watching the show. It’s a little different every time you watch it. It’s like what’s going to happen next, kind of thing. Every show is a little different because there is so much audience interaction and it becomes this real connection between the performers and the audience.
SmSh: I guess it’s a show that anyone can enjoy…
JT: Yeah, it’s a universal kind of show. There’s no language barriers in it. So it’s about human connectedness. [Laughs.] It’s hard to talk about — you really have to go see it.
RW: The character of the Blue Man has this great appeal, I think. It’s very striking. It’s about child-like wonder and discovery. And that’s communicated through the art, visuals and music. It started a long time ago in New York in the ‘90s or something and it’s still going.
SmSh: Let’s eat this mystery sack.
RW: I feel like it’s just going to explode.
JT: I like just watching this happen.
RW: I can’t eat that. I can’t. I’m getting a little queazy.
SmSh: It’s delicious, I recommend it.
RW: I’ve already tried two things…
SmSh: You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. I don’t want to make you sick. I don’t want to be the guy responsible for ruining the Blue Men’s experience of Shanghai. How are you finding Shanghai? You’re on a world tour?
JT: Shanghai is great. We went to the Bund and walked around. That’s what you do there, right?
SmSh: Yeah, exactly. Well, there’s a bunch of bars and restaurants there as well. Fancy bars and restaurants. That’s the Shanghai experience sort of thing.
JT: Yeah, we’re actually touring with extra members in case someone gets sick. But we’re used to touring. This run, we’ve already been to Guangzhou, Beijing, Manila — New Zealand really stands out. It’s beautiful.
SmSh: Lord of the Rings.
RW: Yeah! We went to Hobbiton.
SmSh: Oh shit! Really?
RW: Yeah, I guess they built it for the Lord of the Rings and then tore it down, and rebuilt it even bigger and better for The Hobbit, and you can visit it. But it’s in the side of a hill and really beautiful and impressive.
Smsh: I bet. What’s your favorite Lord of the Rings movie?
RW: Um…. the first one. Yeah, I would have to say the first one.
SmSh: But they’re all good. What did you think of The Hobbit?
RW: I only saw the first one of that.
SmSh: They’re all amazing as well. Have you guys ever tried baijiu?
RW: Oh I’ve heard of that. It’s like super high in alcohol right?
SmSh: Yeah, it’s firewater. You should do at least a full shots worth to get the full effect.
RW: Hey, it’s alright. It’s alright! It’s like vodka but it’s got a weird… aftertaste. What were we talking about? Something about Blue Man…
SmSh: Yeah, it stays with you for a while. We should have got the version with the deer penis. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a deer penis. But they’re pretty large. And therefore believed to greatly help with any virility issues you might have.
JT: I’ve had the snake. The one with the snake in it.
SmSh: So I wanted to ask, has the Blue Man Group ever had a rumble with the dudes from Stomp?
RW: [laughs] I haven’t even ever seen the show.
SmSh: You’ve never seen Stomp? It’s like a percussive thing. Stage show percussion. I always just imagine that the Blue Men and Stomp must get into it from time to time. Over territory or whatever.
RW: Nah, that’s never happened… hey, do you want this baijiu?
SmSh: Nah man, that's yours to keep.
The Blue Man Group is in Shanghai until December 4. Tickets and details here. Jeff and Randy's other band Tinnitus at Yuyintang on November 23 and Inferno December 1.