Savage Dynamite—could be a one hit wonder from MTV’s video heyday, but actually it’s the union of two teen comedy cult icons, Savage Steve Holland and Napoleon Dynamite.
Holland is the writer-director of the 1985 classic “Better Off Dead,” which will have a live read at SF Sketchfest and will feature Jon Heder (a.k.a. Napoleon Dynamite) playing lead role, Lane Meyer (originally brought to life by John Cusack. More on him in a bit.)
The event takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday, February 8, in the Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St. The live read also will feature cast members from the movie Amanda Wyss (Beth), Diane Franklin (Monique), Kim Darby (Mom Jenny Meyer) and Curtis Armstrong (Charles De Mar) as well as guest readers Kevin Pollack, Eddie Pepitone, Annie Savage, Paul F. Tompkins, Cole Stratton and Janet Varney, the last two who are Sketchfest co-creators.
“Jon Heder was on my bucket list because ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ was a teen movie that wasn’t mean-spirited. It had really good sight gags, really great characters and really had a good heart in the middle of it all,” Holland said in a recent phone interview.
The same could be said for “Better Off Dead.” While it follows a teen movie archetype, geeky guy loses girl to popular jock only to discover that he’s better suited for the girl next door, “Dead” is chock a block with memorable oddballs and winning gags.
Fans have their favorites, whether it’s Johnny, the psychotic paperboy, who wants his “two dollars!” or perhaps the comical fails of Lane Meyer trying to kill himself after getting dumped by Beth. Of course, I love Charles De Mar’s ingenious attempts to get high in a clean town—including snorting snow off a mountaintop.
“Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?” De Mar asked after freezing his brain with a huge snort.
Curtis Armstrong was cast because Holland really enjoyed his take as the best pal in “Risky Business,” and the director has since brought him in for roles whenever possible.
“We’ve known each other for decades now, and all that time he would ask me to do something, and I would do it if I could. It meant working with somebody who I really enjoy,” Armstrong said.
“Curtis I always trick into doing my shows,” Holland said. “He’s so awesome.”
February 8th’s reading will be dedicated to comedian/actor Taylor Negron, who appeared in “Better Off Dead” as a slimy mailman. Holland called Negron, who died from cancer on Jan. 10, his good luck charm.
“He once said to me, ‘Your career has not been very successful; so I don’t know how I’m lucky for you,’” Holland laughed.
Despite Dead’s status as a cult classic at campuses around the country, Cusack has notoriously distanced himself from “Better Off Dead” since it was first screened.
“I love that he was in the movie, and I will forever be grateful to him. ... I guess the cat poop in the sundae was that he was there for dailies. He knew every joke that was happening. We would laugh hard,” Holland said. “I was heartbroken because I couldn’t get why he didn’t understand that’s what we were doing. It seriously exploded my brain.”
A fan reached out to both Armstrong and Holland not long ago to let them know that Cusack was actually willing to autograph a piece of “Better Off Dead” merchandise; so perhaps that’s a small step toward him coming around to the fan favorite flick.
“I love Cus-dog. I think he’s awesome. I Think Lane Meyer is one of the most charming characters John has ever been,” Holland said.
Armstrong said Diane Franklin, who sent many a heart aflutter as French foreign exchange student/grease monkey, Monique, is actively trying to get a special edition Blu-ray release of “Better Off Dead” created.
“Most people are still around and could actually contribute to this,” Armstrong said. “I would love to do it. I think it would be great fun.”
Armstrong added that he had a blast making “Better Off Dead’s” follow-up with Holland, “One Crazy Summer.” Those hoping for Savage Steve’s return to the world of wacky comedies might get their wish. He’s been working on ideas with Bobcat Goldthwait for a possible follow-up.
“I don’t know if I can get away with doing what I did back in the ’80s. Back then, nobody gave me notes or anything…My job these days is like artistic waterboarding because whenever I try to do stuff, I just get stopped. I can imagine the reaction when I say, ‘Now there’s dancing hamburgers.’ People would think you’re on drugs,” Holland said. “We’re thinking about doing this sort-of sequel in a way that can stand on its own. When you write with Bob, it’s just so funny; it could be anything.”
Visit SFsketchfest.com for ticket info to “Better Off Dead” and other shows that run through Sunday, Feb. 8.