Scifipulse recently had the privilege of interviewing Travis Richey who Community fans will know as the 11th Inspector from Inspector Spacetime. Additionally, Travis is the author of Decimus: The Vampires’ Curse (which he discusses in this interview). As well as creating the web series Robot, Ninja & Gay Guy, 2 Hot Guys In The Shower and Smiley Town. Travis also plays Harold Crane on Pretty Little Liars. During this interview he discusses how the film and TV industry has changed and his advice for aspiring actors.
SFP: What made you want to be an actor?
Travis Richey: The answer to this is possibly a little dark. Though I think many creatives might come from less than happy childhoods… I was born with Bells Palsy, which is a permanent semi-paralysis on one side of my face. As I grew up, I was teased a lot by the other kids, and found that performing was a good way to get them to laugh with me instead of at me. I also found the community of “theater kids” was more accepting, since we were all a bunch of nerds before being a nerd was cool. The hardship was compounded when my mom, herself one of the most amazing people in the world, married a guy who was very much not. My step father was abusive and controlling, and by the time I was in my early teens and adding a confusing sexuality to the top of everything else, I found that my skill at comedy, and my ability to become another person through sheer force of imagination was an important emotional refuge for me.
Then I realized that the joy I felt by watching a good TV show or going to the movies was something I could give to other people. I could help them escape their lives for even a little bit. It felt like a calling. I was 14 when I decided it was what I was put on the Earth to do!
SFP: Do you think that the film and TV industry has changed since you first started out?
Travis Richey: I think the industry is constantly changing. The internet wasn’t even around when I was 14, and the technology was so rudimentary that if I wanted to make a movie, I had to use a giant VHS camcorder. I wish I still had some of those old tapes from when I was able to get my hands on one.
But even the idea of an actor also being a creator is a relatively new concept. When I was looking for managers back in the late 2000’s, after making “Robot Ninja & Gay Guy” and a couple of shorts, none of them thought it was an advantage that I also wrote and produced. I could point to “Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but that was yet to be the success it became.
Things have changed in other ways, too. Back in the day (say, the 70s or 80s), if you were on a network show, you had auditions the week after it aired because there were only three channels and casting directors watched a larger percentage of what was out there. Now there are dozens of channels producing original content, with cable and streaming, etc, even appearing on a broadcast network show is no guarantee of being seen by anyone or getting a bump in audition frequency. You really gotta hustle to get seen.
SFP: Where did the idea for Robot, Ninja & Gay Guy come from?
Travis Richey: Back in 2008, YouTube was young and web series were just becoming a thing as the barrier for entry for production was falling fast. I was doing sketch and improv at ACME Comedy Theater in Hollywood, and was already producing a podcast called Boy Cow Radio with a fellow improv performer named Curtiss Frisle. I had also created the world’s first group vlogging project on YouTube (The Musecast, it’s still there somewhere), where 5 entertainers made one video each per week and documented their attempts to make careers for themselves in the entertainment industry. So when Microsoft, who had brought and produced “The Guild” from another ACME alum Felicia Day announced they were taking pitches for web series, I invited Curtiss and some other folks over to my house for a pitch session.
Curtiss pitched a roommate sitcom called “Ninja, Robot & Gay Guy”, and abut all he had was a title, and the little bit we talked about it, it was a very different show than what it ultimately became. Curtiss’s concept was very sketch-like. Ninja was always accidentally killing guests who would come over, etc.
I don’t remember how Curtiss came to not be interested in doing the series, but eventually we diverged on what we thought it should be and I went in search of a writing partner. The second season of the Musecast had moved to five new entertainers for a year, and I saw that one of them, Eric Loya, was very creative with his vlogs week after week. In the spring of 2009 I approached him about being the head writer for “Robot, Ninja, & Gay Guy”. I don’t remember how the name changed from Curtiss’s original pitch, if it was an accident or a conscious decision.
I then focused on finding a new apartment with my then-boyfriend and kinda didn’t think about RNGG for a few months, until Eric sent me three scripts out of the blue. He told me that he just wanted to get some ideas out and was so not married to anything that he didn’t even name the characters because he didn’t want to get attached in case I didn’t like the scripts. Well I laughed out loud when I was reading them, I loved them so much, and I told him we were going to go into production on them ASAP. I bought what equipment I could afford, borrowed some more, and within a month and a half of moving into my new apartment, we’d had production meetings, polished the scripts and were in production!
SFP: Please can you tell us about your novel Decimus: The Vampires’ Curse?
Travis Richey: Decimus is from an idea I had very shortly after that, all the way back in 2009. Originally it was going to be a movie, and I really wanted to see a vampire love story between two men. I find vampires and zombies and those sorts of things very interesting because they’re another way we explore metaphors about humanity. For Decimus, though, the thing that caught in my brain and wouldn’t let go was the idea that when a vampire turns a human, most of the time it doesn’t work. Like, they drain the human’s blood, give them some vampire blood, and 9 out of 10 times the human just dies. What does that do to the decision to turn someone??
That idea stuck in my head for years, but I never went further than writing one tiny part of a scene of dialogue. Then back in 2014 I had just an awful year. My Agent killed herself, my dog died, and my new boyfriend left to go on a 9 month cruise gig. Among other things I wanted to do to distract myself and keep busy, I decided to just write Decimus as a novel instead of a movie. At that time, the movie industry had already been shifting to this model where they only wanted to make movies based on existing Intellectual Properties, so I thought If I just whipped it out, no matter how bad the book was, maybe it would be more likely to become a movie. I had the tremendous fortune of having had Melinda Snodgrass become a friend, and she offered to help me outline the story.
But I didn’t end up doing any of the things I meant to do that Fall and Winter. I just went through a bit of a depression. Fast forward a few years, and I booked an acting job in Japan at the end of 2019. The boyfriend and I had already broken up by then, and the acting career hadn’t yet recovered the loss of my agent, so I gave up everything I had and planned on being out of LA for at least 5 years as I traveled the world. I moved to Osaka in February of 2020, and the world immediately imploded haha. I had 9 months there before my contract was cut short and I was sent back to America. Since I didn’t have anything in LA to go back to, a friend in Nashville offered to let me stay in his spare room until vaccinations were ready and I could figure out next steps. Just before I had left Japan, I had started to write on the book in earnest, and so in the Fall of 2020, desperately not wanting to feel like I was wasting my time, I finished the first draft in 6 weeks. Melinda referred me to her publisher, and they liked it and put it out in the spring of 2022. I’m really happy with it, and now the plan is to make it a series. I’m working on Book 2 now, tentatively titled “Decimus: Anguish of Blood”
SFP: Earlier in 2022 news dropped that a Community film is happening. Would you reprise the 11th Inspector’s role in it if you were asked?
Travis Richey: Well of course I would! I want to say that I have no idea if I’ll be involved in the movie at all. In fact, I kind of doubt it. But, I do have an idea I came up with for a “Community” story that would be pretty epic as a movie idea, if anyone in that Dan Harmon world wanted to hear it.
SFP: Following on from that question, what was your experience of working on Community like?
Travis Richey: Working on “Community” was amazing. It was one of my favorite shows on TV in those days. I had just worked with Danny Pudi at ACME when he came in to guest host, and so booking a role on the show just felt right. Everyone was so incredibly friendly and welcoming, with the possible exception of Chevy Chase, but even my interaction with him makes a wonderful story that I can tell to friends.
The really cool thing was when I came back to do the Christmas episode of Season 3. I showed up on set, and because the characters had become so obsessed with Inspector Spacetime, when the actors saw me in costume, they all freaked out a little bit, while I was still freaking out about being able to work with them! Interestingly, in that Christmas episode, you can hear my voice sounds really low, because I was fighting laryngitis from something. The week before the shoot I couldn’t talk at all. I was scheduled to shoot on a Monday or Tuesday or something, and I literally didn’t say a word for the entire weekend before, not even whispering!
Looking back, it’s also really cool that I got to be directed by the Russo Brothers, who have now gone on to make some of the biggest Marvel movies of all time, and I was acting from a script written by Chris McKenna, who has written huge amazing things like the latest Spider-Man movies and the new Jumanji movies. So, whatever else I do with my life, I’ll always have done that!
SFP: Have you any advice for aspiring actors?
Travis Richey: I mean, yeah, but anyone who says they know what it takes to become a successful actor is selling something. Acting isn’t like being a doctor or a lawyer, where there’s pretty much a path you take. There are as many ways to become a successful actor as there are successful actors. So, a thousand different paths.
First, and this is true of life, don’t be a dick. You can be the best actor in the world, but if people don’t want to work with you again, you won’t keep working.
Second, never stop working your acting muscles and learning. That means classes. That means making your own movies. I know a lot of actors who pooh-pooh the idea of classes, especially when they’ve already trained in a conservatory or gotten a BFA. But classes in LA or New York will keep you fresh and help you make connections. Casting directors will often teach workshops and classes, which help you learn about how they work, what their offices are like, and help reduce the intimidation factor of auditions. Take improv! Improv is SO SO helpful, in every aspect of your life.
Third, I think every actor should also be a producer. Make content. Don’t wait for other people to cast you in things. If you can write, write your own stuff. If you can’t write, shoot your favorite scenes from TV, movies and plays, or partner with a writer who also wants to see their work produced. Seeing yourself on camera and editing that footage will be invaluable in showing you what your acting quirks are. And even if you only have an iPhone camera to start with, bit by bit you’ll improve your production value with better microphones, better lights, more actors, better sets, etc, etc, etc. My life motto where this is concerned: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” This means, don’t wait to make something until you can do it exactly they way you want. Because then you’ll never do it. Do a good thing now, however you can, and then do another good thing, and another, and you’ll get better and better over time. If you look at my first episode of “Robot, Ninja & Gay Guy” versus the Inspector Chronicles proof of concept short, you’ll see this principle in action.
SFP: And finally, what two companions real or fictional would you want traveling with you as the Inspector?
Travis Richey: I feel like I answered this somewhere recently, maybe in the Drinking with Authors podcast? I answered Luke Skywalker, and I stand by that as my first choice. It’s always nice to have a wizard with a laser sword with you, and Luke was the very first character I played as on the playground in grade school.
Second? Probably Eric Loya, who played Boyish/Good Boyish, because he would really understand the assignment of being a good associate.
Scifipulse would like to extend our most heartfelt thanks and warmest best wishes to Travis Richey for so graciously taking the time to answer our questions.
Travis’s Instagram: Travis Richey (@thetravisrichey) • Instagram photos and videos