The art of storytelling comes in many different formats from films, to books to audio series, and the latter is where Audible lies. Audible is an audio entertainment platform that is similar to the production of podcasts, but tells straightforward stories instead of having conversations, and in Audible’s latest original comedy series written by John Lutz, “Escape From Virtual Island,” listeners are thrown into the world of an eclectic island resort in the year 2038 where guests can live out their virtual fantasies in a variety of computer simulations. When one of the guests goes missing virtually though, chaos ensues and a crew of colorful characters must try and figure out why and how they can save the day.
Comedian Paula Pell plays a strong-willed, yet harmlessly eccentric security guard along with Paul Rudd who plays the hilarious and reluctant owner of the resort and a variety of other interesting personalities (played by a star-studded cast including Jack McBrayer, Jane Krakowski and many more.) What Pell loves most about this over-the-top series, however, is the fact that even with the cast of colorful characters, the format of this series is actually quite stripped down allowing listeners to tap into their own imaginations while on this wild ride.
Pell sat down with Metro to discuss the series, the process for creating “Escape from Virtual Island,” and dive into more on why the story creates a needed creative escape for listeners.
What first motivated you to sign on for this project?
I knew of Audible because I had spoken to them before about a few things that I could possibly turn into a series. I love the idea of Audible, I was one of those people growing up that had TV radios that you could just listen to the audio of TV stations—I don’t know why I loved it so much, but I would just walk my dog and listen to my soap operas. Audible is a little different from the podcast world, which is so huge in general, because Audible actually tells straightforward stories. “Escape from Virtual Island” itself gives me a good sense of nostalgia, but also is so modern in its subject matter. Then John Lutz—who I adore and had just worked on another project with and at “SNL” for years—called me, and he had asked quite a while ago if I was interested in playing this part. He’s one of the funniest human beings on earth, so I was so thrilled to do it.
What was the recording process like for this?
Well, because I was [based] in LA, I came in to record on my own for a couple of days there, but there were a couple of times where they brought in other people to read with me on parts that were sort of rapid-fire. It’s amazing how they can stitch it all together and make it sound seamless as if everyone was in the room, but a lot of times logistically they can’t pull that off with everyone’s schedules. Comedically sometimes they want certain scenes to be together and some you can absolutely achieve the same amount of comedy, laughs and rhythm just by editing it together.
Are there any benefits of getting to work on a series like this as a comedian?
I think the very big benefit is the process is simple. Obviously, editing isn’t as simple and is more intricate and writing all of that was not simple—how John wrote all of that really amazes me, especially since there was so much comedy and acting involved with it. But I do love voice-over because it sort of strips everything down. In production, with anything you do on camera, there are just so many meetings and so many costumes and so many sets. It’s part of the fun, but sometimes when you’re doing something, especially comedy, you just love to strip it down to feeling like you’re a bunch of people being funny together and just being a character. I always wrote for characters and so did John, and so his writing is always coming out of these crazy people and it’s just fun to hear their voices. I’ve always loved just doing the voices of different crazy characters and funny, quirky, weird people in my life or imitating people in my family who are hilarious. Sometimes the bells and whistles of comedy distract from the pure part of that. Probably the only negative part is that sometimes you’re not able to be in the same room with other actors, which is always so much fun. That part is sometimes absent, but when you hear it together, it feels like you all created something and it’s a strange feeling of comradery. Also, you don’t have to wear make-up when you go into work doing this—that’s just wonderful.
What do you think this unconventional way of telling stories will do for the audience’s experience overall?
I feel like when we’re given less, we are able to imagine more in our brains, and it’s really fun. Now, there is so much technology and so many varied high-end ways to paint the picture for us, so we don’t paint as much of a picture, and I think sometimes we don’t feel it as deeply. You watch an old movie that is pretty simply shot, and it’s in black and white and doesn’t have special effects, and you’ll end up at the end just sobbing at it. You realize it along the way, but it’s because you were sort of just ingesting it deeper and because you have to add to it. It’s like a dream and your brain puts in all of these details. So, I really love that you can get the audio of a character and you’re going to visualize [them] and imagine the people in this Audible story. It’s something that’s great for us to return to—to just simplify all of that. I love the feeling of being connected to these voices just somewhere out there in the sky, floating through and how simple and pure it is—especially with comedy.
What do you like about the story? What is about “Virtual Island” that makes it so entertaining that people will want to delve into this world for four hours?
The very first thing I like about it—it does throwback to a very nostalgic feel to those movies where something happens in the beginning, we’re on an adventure and it’s just a crazy crew of people who are trying to save someone or save themselves. I’ve always been a sucker for that type of story—where you get to know the characters at the beginning and then you begin to realize that they are going to get to know themselves a lot better, it’s just a good formula and a fun formula. Then you have someone like John who has just such a hilarious comedy character brain. The fact that the place is run by Paul Rudd’s character, the rich guy with the mom issues and the fact that I sort of have my own Andy Griffith type of pride of sort of knowing the island—it just works. All of the characters are over the top, and then you have this modern twist where everything is virtual—it’s really fun. We’re going to need and want all this type of comedy to laugh and keep our spirits up, especially now. Eventually, everything will pass and be okay, but I think comedy can be really healing in that department—so let’s keep talking about it and making it.
“Escape From Virtual Island” drops on Audible April 2.