INTERVIEW: Josh Ruben on Comedy, Writing, and ‘Scare Me’

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Fanny (Aya Cash) and Fred (Josh Ruben) meet by an icy lake.

Shudder’s latest original ‘Scare Me‘ is a horror-comedy written and directed by Josh Ruben. The film focuses on an insecure copywriter Fred (Josh Ruben), who finds himself stuck with a successful young horror author Fanny (Aya Cash) during a power outage. To pass the time, both take turns telling scary stories and adding to the tension between the two of them – particularly as Fred fears Fanny may be a better writer than he is. Levity is also brought into the movie by the introduction of a pizza delivery man (Chris Redd) who is also a fan of horror.

We got the chance to talk to the director/writer/co-star of the movie Josh Ruben about what inspired him and what he experienced while making the movie. Josh was a founding member of the CollegeHumor ‘Originals’ team, creating thousands of comedy-shorts and also bringing crazy characters to life such as Mama in ‘Precious Plum‘. He has also directed sketches for ‘The Late Late Show w/ James Corden‘ and  ‘Adam Ruins Everything‘, and hosts a podcast called ‘Josh’s Mindhouse‘.

But Why Tho: As someone who has been involved with comedy for so long, how was the transition to horror for you?

Josh Ruben: I’ve watched horror films since I was a kid, and all the ones I gravitated toward were inherently funny: from Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors and Tales from the Crypt to Beetlejuice and Dead By DawnThe transition was seamless and such a damn thrill, since my only opportunities to play in this sandbox previously was short form, whether horror parodies with CollegeHumor or The Late Late Show or shorts I’d produced and acted in.

But Why Tho: Is it true that you financed the film using money from your retirement plan? Now that the movie has been picked up by Shudder and screened around the world, was that risk worth it?

Josh Ruben: OH BOY is it ever true. I didn’t finance the film outright – I have the extremely generous Last Rodeo Studios and Irony Point to thank for that (along with a few giving others). But yes, I took a significant chunk of cash out of my 401k amassed from my years at CollegeHumor. For me to say whether the risk was worth it or not is biased — yes, I got to make my first film, yes people seem to like it, thank goodness, but I deferred what payments I legally could, given union restrictions. So, there’s no dump truck full of cash backing up to my apartment… YET.

But Why Tho: You’ve mentioned how integral the MeToo movement was with writing this movie, and your character Fred embodies fragile masculinity – did you feel any responsibility portraying that on-screen?

Josh Ruben: That’s a great question. I “wrote angry” scripting this thing, given the state of our world at the top of 2018 – about the male silence in my circle in the wake of MeToo; the lack of male allyship. I didn’t seek out to make a preachy MeToo movie by any means, but Fred is unquestionably an amalgamation of fractured, white dudes who squirm in the shadow of a woman’s greatness. That was my drive in portraying him – keeping that resentment and pain alive but also playing the joy and desperation of being “heard” and receiving praise. My responsibility as an actor was to hone in on all that, on the squirming insecurity stemmed from pain. (Can you tell I’m in therapy?)

But Why Tho: Did the anthology aspect of the story allow you to be more creative with the narrative?

Josh Ruben: Absolutely. The great thing about anthology films is you’ve got the justification to explore just about anything. In Scare Me, we didn’t cut to (nor did we have the budget to cut to) vignettes “beyond the campfire.” But it made the movie more creative by nature of execution… it’s a sound designer’s movie, a composer’s movie…

But Why Tho: Were there any classic horror movies that inspired you when writing ‘Scare Me?’

Josh Ruben: If your definition of “classic” is less Christopher Lee-Hammer-horror-pics and more Evil Dead: Dead By Dawn, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet, The Shining kinda classics, then hell yeah! (I guess there’s a lot of King inspo, huh… lord, I love him). I think there’s a host of inspiration inherent beyond the on-the-nose references. I’ve devoured so many horror flicks, I’m excited to see what movies Scare Me makes fans of the genre think of.

But Why Tho: On your hilarious Instagram Videos, and during your tenure at CollegeHumor, you’ve shown off your keen talent for using noises – whether that’s replicating Jeff Bridges or a Seagull. Did that somehow prepare you for the unique use of sound in this movie?

Josh Ruben: Yes! I love creating soundscapes. I wanna do a one-man show making objects in space and doing vocals at like, St. Ann’s Warehouse someday… I wrote Scare Me to my strengths, because – as is the case in “the biz” – no one’s gonna give you a better shot than yourself – and some of those strengths include doing silly voices.  I wrote with an undercurrent of gender dynamic-based social commentary, but I also wrote to do my troll walk, Cryptkeeper impression, some beast noises, and gore sounds to boot. The pleasure of it all was convincing Aya Cash and Chris Redd to come along for the ride…

But Why Tho: What was it like working with Aya Cash and Chris Redd? – did the intimate ensemble add to the tone you were looking for?

Josh Ruben: The intimacy definitely made the whole process of making my first movie manageable. The actors, crew – everyone was focused and committed, despite the conditions (we were snowed out twice in 14 days of shooting). And, I don’t know how else to say it: Chris and Aya are a damn dream. So down to play and explore and make bold choices. They’d never met, and they got along like twin flames. I did very little acting in act three when Fred’s all butt-hurt being the third wheel.

But Why Tho: ‘Scare Me’ is your directorial debut, were there key lessons you took away from this experience?

Josh Ruben: Yes. No joke: Make sure there’s hot breakfast.

But Why Tho: What’s next for you as a director? – are there any other genres you would like to explore?

Josh Ruben: I just locked picture on WEREWOLVES WITHIN, a horror/comedy whodunnit. We wrapped three days before lockdown. It’s got such an incredible cast. Sam Richardson as the hero? All damn day, please. As far as other genres, I’d love to stick around in the genre space — try darker, stranger… then execute something absolutely, stupidly funny. Maybe a nod to Leslie Nielson…

But Why Tho: What do you want your audience to take away from this movie?

Josh Ruben: While I’d love people to walk away having conversations about how we gotta raise our sons to not be problematic, my goal was to make the kinda film you’d want to pop on in the background and not think too much about.  Something to give people comfort and escape from the real horrors of, uh… now.

Josh makes an excellent point, with so much going on in the world right now – it’s exciting to have films that give you some form of escape while also threading through important messages about society today. As a fan of Josh’s work over the years, it was interesting to see how everything has built up to this movie. It will be interesting to see where Josh takes us next and if he will continue to leave us laughing, screaming – or both.

Scare Me is currently streaming on Shudder, as of October 1st 2020.

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