Part way through June, The Great Debate premiered on SYFY. The show is a lot of fun to watch as geeks go back and forth discussing various topics and Baron Vaughn is a great host. Well, I was lucky enough to be able to ask Vaughn some questions about the show and here’s what we learned. We got to hear how different guests affected the show, how points are awarded, and even a little about Vaughn’s role on Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.
Tommy: Baron, it’s an honor to be able to ask you some questions. I got to see the first episode of The Great Debate and I loved it. Who were some of your favorite guests on the show?
Baron: First of all, let me say I loved every single guest that came on to the show. But people who jump to mind: Orlando Jones, Colton Dunn, Jonah Ray, Amber Nash, Aisha Tyler, Open Mike Eagle, Yassir Lester, Brian Posehn, Dani Fernandez, Janet Varney, Brea Grant – the list goes on. I knew a lot these people before we filmed but being able to meet people that I didn’t know, like Brea Grant and Amber Nash, and become friends with them was a pleasure. I got to kind of be like “Hey, I walked out of this experience with new friends.”
Tommy: Do the guests affect the topics for the episode in any way?
Baron: Yes, they do. It’s an embarrassment of riches in a lot of ways because not only did the producers provide us with fantastic already cage-free, organic, grade-A material, but every single person that we had on, of course, has very strong opinions about the things we were talking about. So, several were like “Hey, can I do my thing on this? Can I rewrite this? Can I just kind of wing it and actually speak from the heart because I know a lot about this particular show or game or character?” We want that because we want people to bring their authentic selves and that’s what people did. In that way, it’s kind of collaborative. But of course, during the show, there’s ridiculous amounts of improv, in which we were having a genuine conversation, a genuine debate – and might I add – a genuinely great time.
Tommy: Do you have any set criteria for who you award the points such as the funniest answer or a checklist of things you’re looking for?
Baron: It really just depends on the moment, you know? Sometimes an answer that made me particularly giggly might be the winning answer. Sometimes an answer that made me rethink what I thought about whatever they’re talking about might actually be the person who wins that thing. Sometimes, it’s just who moves me, ya know, like what kind of through line did they use to make their argument? Was it emotional, was it intellectual, was it a great combination of the two? Of course, there’s also a producer in my ear weighing in too. All of these are really the things that I consider when picking the winners.
Tommy: Are all the episodes so heavy on 80s references?
Baron: Well, there was one episode that was specifically about the 80s. But I think the 80s come up a lot because several people who are on the show lived through the 80s. And I would say the 80s is almost the beginning of pop culture as we know it. It all kind of started in the 80s, so yeah, they’ll always be a lot of references to then because these are the things that inform us, or the things that informed the people who made other things that we love. So, it’s not that we have to specifically always bring up the 80s, it’s just that we were there, you know? And we want talk about every decade in which some great nerd thing was happening!
Tommy: What was it like voicing Tom Servo in MST3K: The Return?
Baron: First of all, it was a huge honor. I portrayed a beloved character that has had others before more, with Kevin Murphy being the one people think most about. Of course then, MSTies, who are fantastic and really act like a family because they love the show… they were suspicious. For lack of a better example, it was almost like, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” It was kind of like, “Who’s this black guy in my home? Oh, it’s Sidney Poitier, okay it’s cool.” But they were unsure whether I was somebody who actually enjoyed and treasured the material, and loved these characters. I mean, this has happened over and over again when people reboot things that they don’t actually care about it and then they do things to it that’s just offensive in some way to our inner-child.
So, there was a lot of suspicion, but with Joel Hodgson at the helm, and being with Jonah Ray, Hampton Yount and all the other great people that came together to make the show – Rebecca Hanson, Felicia Day, Patton Oswalt – it was great. And we had a lot of the extended family come in and participate – Kevin Murphy, J. Elvis Weinstein and others. Once the fans saw that, they were like “Oh, okay! This is great” and luckily people really liked my interpretation of Servo. And you know, it’s an honor to be counted as a cast member on something that I think is as important as “Saturday Night Live.”
Tommy: Outside of The Great Debate, are there any other upcoming projects that fans should be excited for?
Baron: Besides “The Great Debate,” yes, there are a lot of projects that Baron E. Vaughn has coming out. Actually, on the same exact night that “The Great Debate” premiered, I had the honor of writing and directing a short horror film that was part of an anthology called “Scare Package” that aired on Shudder. It’s an anthology in which they asked a bunch of directors to pick a convention or a common trope in the horror genre and make a short comedy film. So, that’s out there on Shudder and people who have Shudder should be able to watch that!
Then also, my friend and “Great Debate panelist” Open Mike Eagle and I have a new show called “Call & Response,” which is a reaction to what’s going on in the world right now. You know, I don’t know if you’ve seen what I look like but I am a black man so I very much care about the state of Black people in this country. On the web-series, Mike and I hold almost like community center meetings, in which we have different intellectuals, academics, comedians, writers, painters and more join and just talk about what’s going on and how they’re dealing with it. Sort of just as a way to process what’s happening because there’s a lot happening and it’s very upsetting. But we know that we can do it with humor and love because we want to learn and we want to participate.