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Fanboy Comics Interviews Neil Hopkins, John Forest, and Sherwin Shilati of ‘Neil & John in: The Key’

The following is an interview with Neil Hopkins, John Forest, and Sherwin Shilati, the creators and director of the comedy web series Neil & John. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Hopkins, Forest, and Shilati about the inspiration for the series, the buzz surrounding the latest episode (“The Key”), and what is up next for the creators.

This interview was conducted on November 22, 2013.

Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Neil and John, as co-creators and stars in the comedy web series Neil & John, can you tell us more about the premise of the series, how it began, and from where you drew your inspiration?

Neil Hopkins and John Forest: We started shooting shorts a couple years ago, because we were utterly bored and tired of waiting for acting gigs.  Our premises started out as pretty straight forward propositions (i.e., Neil getting a text from John saying, “Come over. It’s urgent,” or Neil driving John to the bike store in order for him to get his own mode of transportation).  Pretty soon we’d get an improv going back and forth on the script we’d come up with and found that this led us to some fun and bizarre ways of getting from point A to point B in a narrative that, by all accounts, might’ve otherwise unfolded uneventfully.  The characters and dynamic were also taking shape in an exciting, almost vaudevillian kind of way.  This brand of “is it scripted or is it improv” has been a big part of our esthetic and something we definitely owe to shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  The surrealism and absurdity of shows like The Simpsons and South Park have also had huge impact on us.  And, we’re both big Key and Peele fans.  

BD: How often do you produce new episodes, and do you have plans for a certain number of episodes in the future?  

NH and JF: We’d certainly like to be more regular about it, but up to this point we’ve averaged about 3 or 4 a year.  Ideally, we’ll get the chance for a full season whether online or on TV.  

BD: The latest episode of the series is called “The Key.”  How would you describe the episode’s premise?

NH and JF: It’s your standard New Age adventure thriller, really.  The Secret meets The Da Vinci Code at the Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s house for VHS screening of The Goonies.  John has unlocked a secret of the ages that all of history’s most successful men have shared, but because this knowledge is so powerful, it has been cryptically coded over the years and only parsed out to a select few.  Eager to share the new knowledge at his fingertips, John imparts the details of this hard-won discovery to his best friend Neil.  The results will change both of their lives forever.  

BD: For the episode, you teamed with director/writer Sherwin Shilati.  What can you tell us about the process of working with the creative team?

NH and JF: It was an incredibly fruitful collaboration.  Sherwin brought us the idea for “The Key,” which we all worked on folding into our established dynamic.  Our trust in his script and direction allowed us the freedom to play while we were shooting. This freedom, combined with his vision and execution, absolutely brought our work to new heights.  It was a blast.  

BD: Sherwin, how did you learn of Neil & John, and what intrigued you about working on “The Key?”

Sherwin Shilati: I’ve had the pleasure of being friends with both Neil and John prior to our experience on “The Key.” I first learned of their shorts, however, when I was introduced to an episode where John’s chiropractor was named Reginald Vel Johnson. After that, I was always a big fan. When I had the concept for “The Key,” I knew they were the right guys to collaborate with to make it shine.    

BD: How would you describe your experience of working on the episode, and do you have plans to work on further episodes?

SS: I’ve only worked on “The Key” in this capacity as far as N&J goes, but I do have some very special credits on some of their other episodes. If Hollywood ever needs a tinsel wrangler . . . I might be your guy. Currently, there’s nothing on the horizon in regards to directing and/or writing another Neil & John, but I’m always excited to uncover mystical truths with them.   

BD: There has been some online discussion amongst viewers regarding the depiction of sexual orientation in “The Key.”  Do you feel that Neil & John is inclusive of LGBT viewers, and have you received any feedback from viewers regarding this topic?

NH and JF: Without question we think it’s inclusive.  Part of the parody depicted in “The Key” is the idea that hetero-normative “taboos” are much of what’s held mankind back over the years, and only those enlightened souls with the ability to get over these cultural hang-ups are worthy of the rewards offered by “The Key.”  When John pleads with Neil to open his mind and accept all of the “potentialities” of “The Key,” he’s asking him to leave his comfort zone over something which at the end of the day is actually a very simple, non-threatening, not to mention non-sexual proposition.  The fact that Neil experiences fear and defensiveness over this is a send up of those knee-jerk responses, which are so prevalent heterosexual male society.  

In this country, it’s historical been difficult for males who identify as straight to embrace their sexuality without a certain amount of defensiveness, since any questioning to the contrary is equated with a challenge to one’s “manhood.”  These fears of not measuring up to some level of “real man” status abound at all levels of our society and they carry an undue weight with many heterosexual males, especially during youth.  So, part of the joy of “The Key” for us is the demystification a perceived taboo from the point of view of two heterosexual, and somewhat juvenile, characters.  Their willingness to move past this unwarranted threat to hetero masculinity for the sake of their friendship offers them a shot at success beyond their wildest dreams, and a chance to become all around better people, the kind that History will lovingly remember.  Unfortunately for Neil, his involvement leads to other personal complications. 

BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?

SS: I just directed an ad campaign for Hyundai and am in development on a couple of feature films with the hopes of directing in 2014.   

NH and JF: We recently completed a short just before Halloween titled “Jerry” that can be found on our Vimeo page, and we continue to pitch Neil & John in addition to several other show ideas in both the digital and TV realms.   

BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Neil & John?

SS: You should see a doctor . . . (I hear Dr. Reginald Vel Johnson is good.)    

NH and JF: Check out our website and, as well as our YouTube channel – Neil & John

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Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief




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