By Walt Hickey
Welcome to the Numlock Sunday edition.
This week, I am utterly thrilled to be joined by the documentarian Kevin Perjurer. He’s best known for Defunctland, the documentary series about theme parks that is my absolutely favorite thing on YouTube. This summer, Perjurer launched a new podcast — Where We Parked — that continues to explore themed entertainment, and the first season is out now with a second on the way.
The inaugural season of Where We Parked explores Epcot’s hilariously botched Person of the Century poll, the unique cultural cachet of Shamu, and the lore around the castle drawbridge in Disneyland. We talked about the podcast, as well as Kevin’s continuing documentary work, which I genuinely cannot recommend enough.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Kevin, you are a documentary producer, you created the Defunctland channel. You are out with a brand new podcast called Where We Parked with Jack from Park Ride History. The podcast is called Where We Parked. The first season is out, it's six episodes. I'll just kick it off: What prompted you to start pursuing a podcast as well as the channel?
Well, I had the Defunctland podcast for a while, that was interview-based and I had different guests on, and it was more informative and trying to learn about pop culture, usually tied into whatever episode or whatever history documentary I was making. But what happened with that podcast was it was so difficult to set up because it required a lot of scheduling and a lot of prep, and it was not nearly as interesting to me. I like making documentaries and I love being a filmmaker, but being a interviewer is a totally different trade that I dabble in, mostly only to further the documentary stuff. So that podcast was just very time intensive, labor intensive, and it became something that I wasn't looking forward to doing sometimes, even though all the guests I had on were really great. It was just like I had to schedule it with them and I felt like I was always asking a favor and that whole thing.
So that went away and I did a few other little things. The podcast space has always been something that everyone tells you you have to do. If you're doing online media, you have to have a podcast. I've never really subscribed to that. I've never subscribed to any of those, how to run your YouTube channel, advice articles or gurus, because I'm doing it wrong according to them, you should have a release schedule and an upload schedule and all that stuff, and I do not. I release two videos a year now, and so essentially I let go of the Defunctland podcast. I started posting less frequently on YouTube because the effort that was being put into each documentary, they were becoming less videos that told a documentary story and more actual documentaries that were both informative but also contained within themselves, and each one required a much higher amount of effort.
But then after a year or two of doing that where I would release two or three videos a year, it got to the point where I was like, man, I really miss just talking casually about theme parks because I do love theme parks on top of loving making documentaries about them. I love the small details. My friend Jack, he would just come over and we would have these conversations, and Jack is similar to me in that we really don't like podcasts or that we don't listen to them. And we think that — I'm trying not to ramble about this. I'm trying to get to the point — right now in the podcast market, I don't want to be derogatory toward other creators, but I think there's an influx of content and I think the podcasts in the grand scheme of everyone's content output is something that you can be consistent on and something that you can put out a lot of. So a big sea of content. And there are so many podcasts, and I don't know, it felt as I just moved on in making documentaries and trying to make them interesting and weirder, it just felt so weird to sit there and just say like, hi, my name is Kevin Perjurer. Welcome to this podcast. And then Jack never likes that and Jack could never find his voice in that. And I think that's the way I would put it; we just could not find our voices in what is considered the podcast format.
And so we're like, we should do something because we love talking about these parks, and how do we set this up in a way where we don't feel like we're performing and we don't feel like we're podcasting, which is not the right way to do a podcast. And so that's how it came about. And then we just started experimenting with it. Sorry, that was a long answer.
I definitely want to talk a little bit more about the first season of the show, which was a delight. I really had a good time listening to it. You covered all sorts of fascinating elements of theme park history, but also just fun, really contemplating things at a level that I appreciated, whether it was the ‘50s primetime cafe or just SeaWorld and the entire lore around it.
I keeled over laughing from the episode about the person of the century, which, it takes a lot to be one of Michael Eisner's worst ideas, but it sounds like it was up there. Do you want to talk a little about what people can expect if they check out the first season?
Yeah, so essentially the way we record these is we sit down and just talk on the couch and we have tiny little mics. We forget we're recording and we'll talk for probably five hours and we'll do that every weekend. We're best friends. We just hang out. We also, coincidentally, are both theme park documentarians. Actually, that's not a coincidence, that's why we're friends. It was my answer a little bit to, well, how do I find my voice in this podcast format? How do I find my voice without scripting it?
And the answer, what I found is, well, we just record and we trash probably 95 percent of what we record, because what I really don't like about some podcasts, what I don't find interesting — again, trying not to use derogatory language — but what I don't find as interesting is if someone will be like, this podcast is hilarious. And you listen to it and that funny moment happens at minute 45 and you have to listen to 40 minutes of podcast, and then the big funny moment happens. And so we record until we have 30 to 45 minutes of just contained, single-topic funny stuff.
You're listening to two best friends hang out and coincidentally have a lot of knowledge on this very niche subject. Essentially what happens is we record on Saturday nights, we hang out, we order dinner, we put the mics on, we record for six hours, we're just talking, we're watching stuff on TV, and then we leave. And we go live our lives for six days, and in those six days we're doing work and we're going through newspapers and we're going through articles and we're watching theme park videos.
But with that, we come across stuff; I come across stuff every week that I'll just never be able to work into a documentary because it's just not related, but it's so weird and specific and fascinating, like person of the century at Epcot. And once we find one of those topics, we just talk about it, riff on it, we add to it, we do analysis of it. The thing that is the common denominator that we found as we did the first season, I edited a few episodes and I was like, I don't like this. And the thing that I didn't like is whenever we were trying to make a point where we were coming at it from the perspective of like, oh, I want to tell you this for the purpose of making a smart point. And instead just like, no, the best episodes come from us on our phones or just sitting there and me reading the history of this thing that nobody has cared about. And so each episode of the first season is centered around a singular topic.
So we have an episode on SeaWorld, and that is very much about Shamu specifically and how big of an icon Shamu is. And so that's the topic. There's a lot of humor. We find it very funny; we find each other very funny. Through that Shamu topic we'll just talk forever about Shamu. But we also have insights because we also do all this research, and not to pat ourselves on the back, but we have a historical place setting or scene with it. So just like Shamu, that's an old icon, like Smokey the Bear, and we'll talk about Smokey the Bear. We talk about person of the century, which is this thing that happened, this attraction at Epcot where you could vote on who was the most important person or the most... No, not important, most influential person of the 20th century.
And that just allows us, it's like we know we found an episode when we can really just take it and get to flex both our humor and get to flex all this research we've done. So that episode is like, oh, well here are 100 people on a list and we know all these people. We get to talk about Judy Garland and Adolf Hitler and all these historical figures. But also—
Wait, who was that second one?
Yeah, I know.
It keeps coming back to Epcot and it's just the funniest thing to me. I just find Jack so funny and I love talking. And then one episode we did was on Epcot's concert series, and it's just that episode is like us being music nerds, which is something that I never get to do on Defunctland. I don't really ever get to talk about Bonnie Tyler or all the new wave Talking Heads ‘80s stuff that I like, so it just allows us to explore some of those topics that just would not be that interesting. It's topics that work better as conversations than as documentaries. And I think that's probably the best way to put it.
Sorry, the other thing about it is it's coming at it from a very postmodern perspective because not only are there a lot of podcasts, but there are a lot of Disney podcasts. And I think we uniquely love this thing but are not lost in it. So it's this weird dichotomy of we love Epcot more than anyone, but we also love it because it is a theme park and it is this big operation, and they do have to get 100,000 hamburgers in that place every day. And that there is a guy in the Mickey Mouse costume, that thing where it's not like, oh, not safe for magic. Don't say that, which is a thing. And a lot of podcasts are like that, where there's no artifice, but we still authentically love these places, which is also a common theme in my documentary work.
Totally. Your work has always reminded me of this concept, I have friends who follow WWE and wrestling very closely, and there's this concept in that world that there are marks who are your 10-year-old kid who thinks that John Cena beats a guy up every week. And then there are smarks who are like, they understand what's going on here, but they are able to appreciate it for its aesthetic properties even though they understand that it is an act of sorts. And I've always really enjoyed that your channel takes that perspective, and your work in general takes that perspective for a thing that I think a lot of people just take the bait on.
Or they don't appreciate at all. It's usually two camps. It's either people are lost in the magic or they think it's stupid and that you're a child if you like it. And I think both of those are rather limiting because the truly fascinating thing in my opinion, and the thing that I try to get across, is no, it is just insane, but it's not insane that people are wearing Mickey ears. That article that goes around once a year is that these Disney adults are crazy. They wear Mickey ears and it's like, no, they are crazy. But not because of that, not because of high school bully logic.
It's because this is a giant; it's because of capitalism and because of just history and influence and politics, and it's everything. It's like the entire history of humanity just swirling around a tornado and then the tornado goes away and it's just these theme parks and you go, what is this place? And that's why I find them so fascinating, and why they act as such a great lens or entry point into history, because I do think these places are just fascinating on their own. They are so connected to history, and I think that's what my documentaries do. But also with Where We Parked, what I like is, like I said, we do have that episode where it is about Epcot, it is about the concert venue, but the entire time we're talking about washed up ‘80s acts who have been there, and it's because it's just this big weird place where a bunch of stuff happens.
I am so glad that you took it there because I know that you mentioned that you resist trying to have a point with some of these episodes on Where We Parked. But if there's a takeaway from the first season, what I really got that is a point of view y'all have that I think is atypical is that Walt Disney is one of the weirdest men who has ever lived.
Yes, yes. I think that comes up a lot because it's, again, it's the same narrative with Walt Disney. Either Walt Disney is evil and awful and the worst person that has ever lived, or he is a dreamer and a doer and he's everything right about America. And as with everything, unfortunately, that is such a dichotomy like that. The answer is neither, but also much more interesting and that this guy's crazy, and that's what we love to characterize. We love to talk about Walt Disney as this character because we both studied him, and this is what I talk about. We're both doing work unrelated to the podcast, and then we bring that knowledge to it inadvertently.
So Jack is doing this episode where he's just compiling every photo of Walt Disney smoking, and it's just every single photo, because the thing that doesn't fit into the narrative that Walt Disney's an evil person or Walt Disney is a dreamer, is just that Walt Disney was good friends with Salvador Dali.
That's so weird! Why? And we just keep bringing that up of why, because you think you found the last photo of Walt Disney hanging out with Salvador Dali, but you haven't. There are so many. They were really good friends.
And so that's just the stuff that doesn't fit those really easy, what I call playground narratives, where it's like on the playground you'd hear, oh, the guy who played Barney got arrested because someone stepped on his tail and he said the F word. It's like, no, that didn't happen. But there's something in a lot of people that find it funny or humorous or cool to take something that is supposed to be innocent — Barney, Disney, theme parks — and make it dark and edgy just to prove how dark and edgy they are. And it's like, that's not fun.n.
And that's why I like the episode when we have Rob on and we talk about the primetime cafe and Walt Disney. What would Walt Disney think of Hollywood Studios today? What would be his reaction? And through that, you get this funny riff material, but you also get this idea of what would he think if he saw Hollywood recreated? Wouldn't that be weird to him considering that's where he lived? And then through that, I think you just get some, like I said, historical placemaking of not alternate histories, but just reframing of things that you've either never thought about or the narrative has been set on. And not just to be contrarian either. We're not trying to be different. We just legitimately, we have more photos of Walt Disney than you've seen. We found them. They're out there. It's just you have to look for them.
I have the photo of Walt Disney at the pool with his shirt off, and if I showed it to you, you wouldn't know how to feel about it because you've never seen that photo, but you've seen Walt Disney, and so it's a weird photo of him hanging out at the beach. Or Jack was showing me this the other day, there's this famous photo of Walt Disney, and you might've seen it. He's in the sand, he's got the camera and he's taking a photo.
I genuinely like that photo. I think that's a charming photograph.
Yes. But do you know what he's taking a photo of?
No, I do not.
Thirteen shirtless men, because there's another photo of him in the sand taking that photo, and it's of all these shirtless hunks at a beach. And so that's where it's like, that's what's happening, that's the truth.
That's where just we constantly end up. I also think that’s the way this season progresses inadvertently, because it is somewhat in order of our lives, and we continually reach new levels of conclusions. I think the last episode, the season finale where we talk about, oh, Walt Disney wanted Disneyland so he could have fun for him, what would be my equivalent? And we talk about how my equivalent would be if I built my high school. That's an insane thing! But that's not that far off from what he did!
As we continue to make episodes, we just love to bring in those ideas or things that we talk about because we just genuinely love talking to each other. We just recorded an episode for season two, and we're talking about Jack’s life, Jack grew up in the theme park world. He grew up in Orlando with theme parks everywhere, and I grew up in Kansas City in the middle of nowhere with no theme parks except for the little amusement parks. I just think that's why I love doing it, and I think people have really enjoyed it because my documentaries have become, I know you'll probably have a question about that or two, but the documentaries have become so involved, I think is the way to put them without giving them a qualifier of value. It's just that they're just so involved, and so much effort is going into every upload.
So it's been really fun to still get to be historical, still get to talk about weird intricacies of pop culture, but in a way that's way more casual, in a way that I look forward to. Not that I don't look forward to making my documentaries. I can only look forward to people seeing them twice every year, once every year, God willing three times a year if I can ever do that again in my life. We'll see.
No, it definitely, it sounds like it is a lower lift, and honestly, it sounds like you're having a lot of fun when you're making the podcast, so I can't recommend it enough.
I appreciate that.
While we're talking about the docs, I do have one question. This most recent season, season three, I've really, really enjoyed. When I pitch it to my friends, which I do constantly, I tell them that it's basically about the relationship between Walt Disney and the future, and how you can trace that over the course of a half-century. This has been such an ambitious project of yours. It spans multiple years. It's some of the most intricate documentary work out there right now when it comes to pop culture. What have you learned about this project, this man, yourself, over the course of reporting out and designing this most recent arc of Defunctland?
Oh, well, thank you. I'm working on the next iteration right now on what happens after Walt Disney's death, which I've been working on for three years. But yeah, no, season three, there are multiple threads, but the big overarching theme is futurism and the idea of looking forward and what that means. And I think what I've learned, I've learned a lot, but I think what I've learned through Walt Disney's life is just the once in existence revolution that happened over the past 120 years, or through Walt Disney's life. Disneyland really could have only been built in the ‘50s. It's the truth of anything, that anything could only have been built when it was built. Anything could have only been theorized when it was theorized.
To track the history of the American identity as well as just general futurism, you track it and you see this, you see Walt Disney, a guy that eventually creates what we consider a corporation today. And he ends up later in his life being part of this ‘50s and ‘60s corporate world. But who is he looking up to? He's looking up to titans, not necessarily of a corporate world that we invented post-World War II, but more of a mid-industrial, pre-industrial. It would've been early industrial, Henry Ford, Rockefeller, these types of monopolists and titans, and it's just that these things only happened once. They say history happens in cycles. And I understand that. I think it's limiting. I think it's less interesting from what I've been trying to understand, is that it's just so many things could only happen once like Disneyland.
That type of entertainment could have only been invented after World War II, and Walt could have only wanted to build a city when he did, and why did Walt want to build a city? And just learning how often it comes back to the themes that eventually we see in the Epcot theme park. Just look at transportation. Walt Disney saw the advent of cars through his life, and he ended up having a disdain for cars, even though he claimed, oh, cars are fine; his city was designed so that you wouldn't see cars and just how cars took over for really money reasons and corporate reasons and Detroit and all of these things. And that's just one thread. And then you look at energy, and that's something I'm looking forward to doing more of in this next half of this season after I'm done with this project. It’ll never end.
On Epcot, which I'm very excited for, it's this idea that Epcot the theme park — not the city, but the theme park — eventually was built with all of these themes, all of these industries, transportation, energy, agriculture. And you track these. And even today you see this, how each one has their own cinematic Greek tragedy or monster movie story and you can track the course of energy through Walt Disney's life and to today and how he interacted with it. And it's not just about Walt Disney; I think what Disney did, especially toward the later half of his life is, and this is not even historical analyzation, he just says this verbatim many times, that Disney can teach people about corporations and about American industry in a way that no other company can. It's like a direct quote from the Epcot film.
Because Walt Disney was not just making Betty Boop, he was not just making a cartoon about a dog. Yes, he was making Mickey Mouse shorts, but he was not just Universal Studios, he was not just Paramount or any of these. He was not just making movies.
He was also like, oh, well Disney, we know how to communicate to people. We can do this. The sponsors of Tomorrowland, I have an episode on that. As somebody who always thought that I would be doing narrative films, there are things in these documentaries that are just too perfect where you're like, oh, man, that was written that way. And it's like, no, that's just how history works. Cause and effect. But little things like in Disneyland, they had a sponsor that was a lead paint sponsor in Tomorrowland.
You would write that as a joke. You would write that to be funny, and that is funny. But it actually happened and it's still funny! Because it was real, I don't know, it is a hard question of, what did I learn? I think I just learned how interconnected everything is, because that's the thrust of that project to season three. If you watch them in order, every episode influences the next and the previous one, and you can watch them independently because you need to be able to for YouTube purposes, but you can also watch them in order and it will build, and it'll become something then more. And I think through that it's just because I had to then go, once I had that idea, well now what are the topics?
How do I map this out? You just see all the connections like, oh, Walt Disney, he was talking to Robert Moses, and Robert Moses was also interacting with this theme park, and this theme park was interacting with Disneyland. These things aren't coincidences, especially the way power and influence are so monopolized in our culture. It's just that the elite hang out. So it makes the documentarian’s job really easy, that they're all in the same rooms and dining rooms and meetings, but just trying to map all that out was really interesting.
This is something I said to Jack; I was like, I don't know if I can back this up, but it's just like people die when they're supposed to: we were just joking and this didn't make it in, but I was like, what do you think the Beatles album was right after Walt Disney died? Because the Beatles, when Walt Disney's alive, they're wearing mop tops, they're wearing suits. Then Walt Disney dies and a few months later it's Sergeant Pepper. Then all of a sudden counterculture is here. And in the ‘60s, acid rock is here right after Walt Disney dies.
Our history is just so connected and so not random, and it is not just Walt Disney that is causing all of this, but he's not irrelevant to it. I don't know if that's an interesting thing to say, just how connected everything is and how much. It's very bizarre. And I think that's what makes my job fun, is because I get to then tie it back into something that I think people are just generally fascinated by, which is theme parks.
People just think those things are so interesting. I know I do. So if you can tie in, it's like sneaking in some broccoli into a meal, or it's like putting cheese on broccoli because you can feed some good historical analysis or some good interesting stuff about the history of the world, but it's all wrapped in this framework of, hey, there's this crazy ride at Disneyland. That's what my style's landed on.
The sequential nature of it and your broad historical view of it is just again, I really appreciate it. I live in Queens, New York, so I live right by the World's Fair site. It's just cool seeing some of Walt Disney's work on these attractions at a World's Fair become of some iconic attractions at Disneyland and whatnot.
Yeah, absolutely. And the World's Fair? They eventually build one themselves, in Epcot.
Well, again, it is such a pleasure to talk to you. Defunctland is a channel. If you haven't checked it out already, do so. Where We Parked is just such a delight, man. Where can folks find you and find your work?
You can look at Where We Parked, and I think we're on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google, we have the simplecast link where you can get all the links and then yeah, youtube.com/defunctland for the documentaries.
If you have anything you’d like to see in this Sunday special, shoot me an email. Comment below! Thanks for reading, and thanks so much for supporting Numlock.