Q&A with Andy Jiang
Stand-up comedian and writer Andy Jiang’s story, “The Forbidden Fools’ Stools,” is riotous farce about three brothers who survive a dangerous encounter with the Rilk’gar by the skin of their teeth. Co-creator and co-editor Robert Frankel spoke with Jiang about his approach to writing fantasy comedy and his dangerous curiosity about the taste of a soft-boiled Salavaster egg.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Robert Frankel: There’s a wonderful sense of playfulness and lightheartedness to your story. What led you to a tale about a terrifying — albeit insecure — monster?
Andy Jiang: I’m still trying to figure that out myself. My first draft was more sad than funny. I think I was trying to fit the energy of the previous stories with my first draft. One of [creator/co-editor Benjamin Reeves’s] notes was, “Have fun with it.” And I was like, “Yeah, what am I doing?” I came to the idea, what if this Rilk was just an insecure teenage girl? Working with Ben was very helpful, not just with understanding and clarifying the world and lore, but also with leaning into the funny things I liked but didn’t know would fly.
You’re a standup comic, so you’re familiar with crafting and telling jokes. But writing comedy is so much different than performing comedy. How did you work comedy into the written piece?
Comedy really comes from the characters and the misalignment between what they want to achieve and what happens when they try. I tried to find ways to highlight that and make that as contrasting as possible. For this piece, a lot of it was setting up who the characters were and then finding and highlighting those moments.
What are some touchstones for you?
George Carlin and Steve Martin are two of my favorite comics. I like their irreverence. Anything can be made silly or absurd. I admire comics who aren’t afraid to go after the big, bad, scary thing. There’s also this podcast called Dungeons & Daddies about four dads who get stuck in the Forgotten Realms. It’s hilarious and entertaining and silly, and that’s the kind of energy I like when I’m writing comedy and fantasy. There’s a lot of sameness to the fantasy genre. What would be really interesting is the story of the one troll who gets overlooked every time he tries to get a college degree.
I was watching Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and wondered if the orcs felt insulted by their monolithic representation on-screen.
Are you thinking we should do an orc Seinfeld?
Definitely. Or at least a Klingon Will & Grace.
Fantasy as a genre can be a broad reflection of humanity. I think what’s often missing are stories about an every-person in a fantasy world. The moisturizing of the Rilk’gar spines, for example, really hits home for me because right now I’m thinking a lot about skin preservation and moisturizing and you know, trying to stay youthful in my 30s. And this is such a big theme I wanted to bring into the story; it’s something we all care about.
For our readers under the age of 30, we should note that life truly does end in your 30s.
Exactly. All the warranties expire.
Any parting words?
I would love to know what a Salavaster egg tastes like.
A soft-boiled Salavaster egg, or poached, or…?
I would love to have it soft-boiled. In one of those egg cups, and then you just hit the top of the shell with a spoon and eat it. Maybe some toasts on the side. I don’t care how angry they’d be. If I were the first to taste it, I think it’d be worth it.