Mike Watt & The Second Men (Pic: Tiffiny Harshaw); Jenny Lewis, The Voyager (2014)
I’ve known Josh Mills for years now, through his work with the band and our mutual friends Dengue Fever, his music and comedy PR company, and our shared love of L.A. Kings hockey. But nowadays whenever his name comes up, the first thing that pops into my mind is his Gun Lovers Unite project. Making use of their shared love of music and comedy and fueled by tragic friendships, Josh and his pal Mac Montandon have spearheaded a fundraising concert and awareness campaign benefiting gun sense. The inaugural event takes place next Tuesday at The Echoplex, with a stellar lineup of bands (Mike Watt & the Second Men, Jenny Lewis, The Everyday Visuals) and comedians (Neil Hamburger, Tim Heidecker, Sarah Silverman) to raise money for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety.
I had so many questions about the event–the whys and the hows–and Josh was kind enough to provide answers.
I think it’s cool that you’re applying your experience and wide net of friends for the cause of gun control. Can you tell me how it happened?
Wow. Okay, well, to go back to the beginning I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting to be called into my appointment almost two years ago and I got the CNN breaking news on my phone about Sandy Hook. Because doctors do keep you waiting for a long time, I kept looking at my phone and seeing more info and more terrible and tragic news about how many children lost their lives in this tragedy. It made me physically ill. I really did think I was going to throw up. And then I just got incredibly sad. As a father, I simply had no comprehension of what those parents were experiencing or what lay in store for them over the next few days or weeks or months or even years. I made a promise to myself to do something at that point and had an Eldridge Cleaver moment of ‘If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
About every six months after, I would have “you are still part of the problem” moments because I wasn’t doing anything. I felt guilty, frankly. So, finally, about four months ago, I really had enough and made something happen. I didn’t know what form it would take or even if it would be successful or not, but it was more troublesome and fearful to me that I would do nothing at all–and that made me take action.
Do something people!
Clockwise from top left: Neil Hamburger (Pic: Simone Turkington); Sarah Silverman, Jesus Is Magic (2005); Ali MacLean, aliontheair.wordpress.com
Tell me about the partnership and division of labor between you and Mac. Different areas of expertise? Good cop, bad cop? Geography?
Maccabee is someone I have known since I graduated college. Along with his cousin Aaron Ruby and his childhood friend Jeremy Kasten (whom I went to college with) we had a sort-of lost summer in 1992, post college. They had this apartment in the Fairfax district that was ground zero for all things fun: girls, endless conversations about the excitement of the upcoming Ben Stiller Show, seeing Nirvana at the Roxy two weeks before Nevermind came out because we loved the single “Bleach,” insane trips to Mexico where we spent a night on the beach over the 4th of July when there were so many fireworks going off it felt like North Vietnam (to paraphrase Broadway Danny Rose). It was just endless fun.
Toward the end of summer, Mac’s brother Asher came to live with them and we were now having even more fun with another partner in hijinks! One night, I went for coffee with Aaron and Asher but went home early because I was depressed about some girl I was dating and went to bed. I got a frantic call around midnight that Asher had been shot and was in the hospital. It was an attempted robbery and the shooter literally took Asher’s life for no reason at all. He shot and ran; there was no robbery. He took nothing and everything with one shot. Asher died before he got to the hospital. Within a short time, I went to two funerals–one in L.A. and one in Northern California. Asher was so popular and so well liked, they had to have a second memorial service for his friends who could not make it to Los Angeles. I only knew Asher for a short while but the guy was funny and smart and liked the same things I did, so we got along really well. Seeing his parents at the funeral crushed me. I just could not imagine the depth of their pain.
Needless to say, our chapter of fun and laughter ended that night. We never recovered after hearing from the emergency room doctor that Asher was dead and there was nothing he could have done to save him. Frankly, it changed all our lives. Mac and Aaron moved away. I think even being around Los Angeles was difficult for them and I rarely saw them after that. We sort of lost touch, and everyone knew why. There were no hard feelings; we all understood it but it was unspoken. It was just so tragic for them–less so for me, of course, but no less horrific. It made me mad, too, because I really felt like I lost some great friends who were still here. Mac wrote about this period for Gawker.
I finally reached out to Mac earlier this year–a full two decades after he left Los Angeles about trying to find Asher’s killer–and that led us to founding the event Fun Lovers Unite.
In terms of our working relationship, Mac and I do have different areas of work–he’s based in Brooklyn and I am in Los Angeles–and we sort of blindly decided to do this. Thankfully, ignorance is bliss. We teamed up with Dad’s Demand Action, which is a chapter of Mom’s Demand Action via Mac, and we pooled our resources and, literally, just asked people to help.
And they did! I blindly emailed Mike Watt who I had met two or three times in my life and he said, “I’m on a 50 date tour right now but, yeah, I’m in. What do you need?” I was shocked and humbled reading that email. He’s a huge hero of mine and he just went for it. I’ll never forget that.
Mac has some great friends who helped us get to some people who wanted to participate and I have some great friends who helped get me to people, too. Lo and behold, we have an amazing show with Jenny Lewis, Mike Watt & The Secondmen, Sarah Silverman, Karl Braunohler, Tim Heidecker, The Everyday Visuals, and Neil Hamburger performing. It’s overwhelming!
Big thanks to John Philip, Daniel Levin, Erik Paparozzi, and Naomi Scott for their endless support. We can’t thank them enough!
Tim Heidecker, The Comedy (2012); Kurt Braunohler, Gettin’ Some Strange with Kurt Braunohler (2014)
Have you received any resistance? Have you asked a comedian or musician and then found out that he or she was a rabid NRA supporter, etc.?
Actually, no. I had asked a band to perform and they liked the cause but they were off’ the road and not touring. There is an expense, too, for bands: rehearsing, possibly paying crew to run audio, or whatever. It was disappointing to a degree but it wasn’t because they wouldn’t stand up for what they believed in. I would have loved to have someone like Dave Grohl do an acoustic set or something but like that guy ain’t busy doing amazing things right now, huh? Is there someone more busy than Dave Grohl?
A year back I spoke to a booking agent friend about the idea that eventually became Fun Lovers Unite and he was wary of talking to other bands he worked with about this because he felt that some bands or management or whoever might not support the cause. He felt it might reflect badly on him or the company. That opened my eyes. Living in a state like California, you’d think, “As California goes, so goes the nation” but it didn’t in this case. In another state, I wouldn’t have been as surprised to hear that. I think I was just naive. But so far, it’s been awesome. The only real reason bands or comics haven’t been able to do it is because of other commitments, expense, time, etc. I get it. But far more said yes than no.
Maybe next year!
Are you getting support from any surpassing people or places?
Not sure what you mean by surpassing but I have to thanks Liz Garo at The Echo and Spaceland Productions. I hit her up in October and basically said, “I want to do a benefit show in November. What dates do you have open? Oh, and will you give me the venue for free?” And she said yes! I’ve known Liz forever (I’m the one that’s old Liz, not you!). In fact, we did sometime similar years ago. I organized a much smaller benefit show at The Echo for some good friends of mine who were homeless after an arsonist burned down their home and everything in it. They barely made it out alive with just the clothes on their backs and they lost their cat. It was tragic. But Liz really came through then and now and I can’t thank her enough. Everyone at The Echo (Kyle Wilkerson and Tim Bolish) have been great. I haven’t spoken to Mitchell Frank yet but I want to publicly thank him for the support!
I have friends who work for non-profits who were shocked we didn’t pay a venue fee and the performers have literally not asked for a thing other than a drink ticket. No hair and make-up, no car service, no special production requests, no nothing. It’s been very mellow from that standpoint and it makes me appreciate every performer who is giving his or her time to this cause.
Even more than I did before. I was a fan and now they have my respect, too. There is no ego and tons of integrity.
The variety show theme is something that runs in your family. Do you see it as an extension of a tradition?
Ha! Well, the friendship between Mac and me started out with music and laughter. When you have a passion for SCTV and Sonic Youth, you are obviously cut from the same cloth. But, yeah, my mom was an actress and comedian and I met so many amazing people through her that it seemed like a good idea to combine comedy and music–for gun sense! My mom always said that she liked comics best and she knew everyone, believe me.
I think Mac and I wanted to also have some comedy in here because the topic itself can be pretty grim. When you talk about guns or even gun sense, it’s sometimes a non-starter with people. We feel we need to start electing politicians who will stand up for the people who believe in some sort of discussion and change. Seeing how Initiative 594 passed in Washington state, which will now require background checks on all gun sales and seeing how the new Governor of Rhode Island is looking into the state pension fund to rid itself of a $20 million dollar investment in a company that distributes firearms is encouraging. It’s a very serious subject. I doubt any American feels washy-washy one way or another on the topic of guns. So in the end, all felt that maybe a night of laughter instead of tears would be better.
Can you give me hint about the surprise guest comedian? You can trust me. I won’t tell. Or maybe that’s a veiled way to list the Unknown Comic?
I’m sad to report our surprise guest had to bow out. She was awesome and we love her, but life happens. She just couldn’t make it work. I hope we can pin her down next year, though. She is so enthusiastic and she’s down with the cause.
For more information about Fun Lovers Unite, visit the Facebook event page or go directly to Ticketfly to purchase tickets. And for more articles, events, and announcements, follow Imprint Culture Lab via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.