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Famous Fanboys

Famous Fanboys: Elliott Kalan

The Daily Show writer talks comics and compares his own meeting with Barack Obama to Spider-Man's

By Dan Brooks

With his work as an Emmy-award winning "Daily Show" writer, 92YTribeca film series host, "Metro" columnist, and cast member of the Flop House podcast, Elliott Kalan has emerged as one of comedy's rising stars. Yet while Kalan's humor usually features smart dissections of politics and pop culture, he may be more of an expert on topics like "Which Was Better: 'X-Cutioner's Song' or 'Messiah Complex'?"

We recently spoke with the Brooklyn-based comedian and longtime comics reader about why he became a Marvel fan, his original belief that the X-Men were robots, and how Spider-Man's encounter with Barack Obama greatly differed from his own.


Marvel.com: How did you get into comics?

Elliott Kalan: I've been reading comics in general as long as I can remember, but not super hero comics. Here's where it gets slightly less uninteresting: until I was about 9 or 10, I had this idea in my head that super hero comics were really bloody and gruesome, and that I was not ready for that kind of thing. As a kid, I was putting my own parental restrictions on myself. There was one issue of WEB OF SPIDER-MAN where it's him and a werewolf on the cover, and I really wanted to read it.  But I

Elliott Kalan
was like, "No, this is not for me." So I was reading Archie comics and things like that.

Marvel.com: Wow. You were like, a Comics Code Authority-abiding kid.

Elliott Kalan: Exactly. Which is terrible! It's such a bad thing for a kid to do. But what did I know? I was a kid. I didn't know. But then I remember very clearly in summer camp getting really into the [Marvel Universe Series II] cards. A bunch of kids were really into them, and I kinda got sucked into it, and just figuring out who the characters were was really exciting to me. Until then I always thought that the X-Men were a team of robots, and finding out that that was not it at all, my eyes were opened suddenly. It was like, "Oh my god, no! This is much more interesting than just a group of robots."

Marvel.com: I remember a friend having a Weapon X poster, and we didn't know that Weapon X was just Wolverine. My friend said, "Who's Weapon X?" And I was like, "Oh, he's like Wolverine, except he's from another planet."

Elliott Kalan: [Laughs] When you're a kid and you don't know what something is, it's so easy to figure out what you think it is, and just be like, "Oh, that's what it is." So I think I saw a cover that had Colossus and Havok on it, and I was like, "Okay, they're robots. One guy's metal and the other guy's kind of metal-y, so they're a bunch of robots." [But] I got really into those cards, and from there I started reading the comics. Anything that Marvel put out, I was buying.

Marvel.com: And what is grown-up Elliott Kalan reading now?

X-FACTOR by Peter David
Elliott Kalan: "Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis. Or you mean comics? I'm a big fan of INCREDIBLE HERCULES, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, X-FACTOR, and the cosmic books, especially. I'm a big fan of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.  Almost anything that Peter David does, I'll read. Dan Slott, I really like a lot. Greg Pak, Jason Aaron I really like a lot. Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, they're great too. Their IMMORTAL IRON FIST run was fantastic.

Marvel.com: You once said, "Now, I'm a comic book fan, and as such I'm ready to hate whatever is put in front of me." That was obviously a joke, but like all comedy, it had some sad truth to it, right?

Elliott Kalan: [Laughs] Yes, very sad. We just had George Lucas on the show, and one of the things me and the other writers were talking about, is that by creating "Star Wars," he created something that so touched the people that loved it, that they now hate him for changing it or doing anything new with it. "Oh, you made something that I love so much, I hate you!" There's something about being a very big fan of a creative work that belongs to someone else, where you have your ideal vision of it, and a lot of times it's the way you originally came to it, and being so in love with it that any deviation of it becomes almost an insult to you. And it's this very weird thing that comic book fans have, especially. I mean, I've been a fan of Spider-Man for almost 20 years now, and he's a very big part of my thinking. But there's been so much that's been done to him, and I have no say over this character. Like, I don't control him, so anything can happen to him, but there's still that connection. So it's almost like, "Ugh, how can they do that to my Spider-Man!"

Spider-Man meets Barack Obama
Marvel.com: The best-selling comic of 2009 was AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #583, aka the issue where Spidey met Barack Obama.  What do you make of that, as someone who writes about politics?

Elliott Kalan: I think it helps that Barack Obama was captured [on everything] to the point where they were doing merchandise of the type that they would do in the late 19th, early 20th century for a president. Where you'd find his face on everything: spoons, plates, flags, and things. But it also helps that it's a Spider-Man book, and Spider-Man's the top of the heap, and the biggest movie star in the world. Spider-Man is so much of an everyman, that it went from, "Oh, wow, I wish I could meet Spider-Man," to, "Oh, man, Spider-Man's so cool, [and] he met Barack Obama!" Spider-Man became us for that issue. [The election] was such an exciting moment, and Marvel did a great job of capturing it creatively.

Spider-Man's meeting with Barack Obama is so much more dignified than when I met with him, when I had Dorito dust all over my hands. I couldn't shake his hand; I'd just been eating Doritos. That should establish my comic book geek cred, right there.

Marvel.com: Now for the big scoop. Comic book fans may be reading a top secret Marvel story written by you in the future. Is there anything you'd like to say about it?

Elliott Kalan: I would only like to say that I am so excited about doing it. 2009 was the year that I got engaged, and won an Emmy, and got to pitch this story. And pitching the story was the number two most exciting thing that happened that year. After the engagement, but before the Emmy.

Elliott Kalan
I'm very excited about it. It's a story about a kind of corner of Marvel continuity that has not been explored very much, and I'm exploring it a little bit in a way that I hope is entertaining and poignant.

Marvel.com: I guess you're known as the comic book dude in the "Daily Show" writers room. Is that a positive or negative?

Elliott Kalan: I think it's a positive. I don't know how they think of it! There was one time that I appeared on the show explaining to Jon [Stewart] what metal Wolverine has bonded to his skeleton.  They wanted to write a joke about Wolverine having a steel skeleton and called me and asked me, "What metal does Wolverine have on his skeleton? Steel?" And I said, "Actually, it's adamantium, but that's a common mistake." And they wrote that into the show pretty much verbatim as to how it happened [behind the scenes]. So that was very fun, and it came out of me being a comic book fan.

Marvel.com: Finally, let's say the "Daily Show" existed in the Marvel Universe. How would a Norman Osborn, Director of H.A.M.M.E.R. interview go?

Elliott Kalan: Oh, we wouldn't get him on the show. That would be like a Dick Cheney-type interview. I imagine we would get maybe Ms. Hand, his right-hand woman. I think we would probably get her, and she would pretend to smile the whole time, but not really be enjoying it. The dream for awhile was to get the vice president on the show, but in the back of our minds, we knew that it was not too likely.

The Iron Patriot
Marvel.com: So Elliott Kalan is saying that Dick Cheney is the Norman Osborn of politics?

Elliott Kalan: Yeah, pretty much. Listen, come on, I don't want to take sides here! I don't want to start any controversy, but it makes the most sense. We all know that Dick Cheney has a set of Iron Patriot armor that he wears.

Marvel.com: I think you just blew the lid off something!

Elliott Kalan: Well, this is going to be a ground-breaking interview. This is a scoop. Take it to Front Line!


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