What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, John Osebold?

I’m going to tell you about my brother Paul. Paul is the eldest in my sibling tribe, followed by my sister Sara, then me. As kids raised in north Spokane, we were surrounded by open landscapes. Our backyard was a forest, so it was easy to immerse ourselves in complete imagination. On rainy days we would bring those expansive imaginationscapes inside and fill the basement or rec room, or both. We made up plays, songs, games, jokes – whatever struck our fancy, and it was Paul, the natural pioneer of our sibling wagon train, who led the charge. He was well versed in TV and radio shows, and well spoken with good enunciation. Paul introduced me to everything TV, from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes to Dr. Who and Star Trek. One of my favorite brotherly routines was watching Jack Horkheimer: Star Hustler, a 5 minute mini-show for astronomy enthusiasts that aired right after Dr. Who just before dinner. I still remember Jack Horkheimer’s tips for locating the North Star and understanding quasars, but it was the ritual of watching the show with my brother that made the show significant. Paul also introduced me to Jack BennyAbbott & Costello, and old radio programs like The Shadow and War of the Worlds,Magical Mystery TourBloom County—the list goes on. In fact, Paul was a trailblazer not only in what I watched, read, and listened to, but he also paved the way for me in what I consider to be two pillars of kidhood life: playing a sport and learning a musical instrument. He played soccer. He played violin. So I did as well.

Our lives changed when the Osebold family got a video camera in December 1983. That Christmas, Paul, Sara, and I were in front of the camera whenever it was on—and sometimes when it was off. But whereas Sara and I would crowd the lens without a thought in our heads, Paul was considerate and structured. When Sara and I finally crawled out of the frame after running out of bright ideas, Paul calmly stepped in front of the camera and displayed a model train from his collection. He discussed its make, model, and history with the air of a scholar. Then I ruined his segment.

PAUL: This is an N-scale replica of a Chessie System locomotive—


PAUL: Please excuse my brother, he—


The video camera turned from new toy to tool when Paul started writing sketches to be filmed. I wanted in on that, but to keep up with Paul, I had to gain focus. I started thinking like a performer as well as an audience member. Paul and I quickly honed an Abbott & Costello chemistry – he as the straight man Abbott, and me as the dimwitted, loudmouthed Costello. It was an unplanned, but natural division of personality. We made fake news segments, he as the anchor and me as the guests, complete with intro/outro music. We reproduced a Jack Benny sketch, he as Jack Benny and me as the eccentric violin teacher. We made commercials. We told stories.

Those VHS tapes are still at my parents’ house if you want to see them.  With Paul at the helm, I was confident in our material. Our only audience was ourselves, so we created without concern, or even awareness, of criticism. Then one day I decided to create a little film of my own. To give me confidence, my intended audience was my brother.

This was my film idea: I wrote a fake outtake reel for a fictional commercial airliner called JJJ Airlines. I don’t remember the significance of the triple Js. The idea was to write a script in the style of TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes, set up one shot of a chair against a wall with an oval-shaped airplane window made out of paper, and perform it myself. The character I was playing would be unable to get through a single take without making mistakes—with hilarious consequences, of course. It was 1983 and this sort of thing was still new. I was going to make the film and show it to Paul, hoping it would make him proud. But who knows how it would have made him feel? When your collaborator comes back with a completed work of his own it makes you feel unnecessary, no matter how proud you might be.

I’ll never know how he would have taken it. The JJJ Airlines outtake reel only got as far as a working script before it was abandoned, probably because I had to shovel the driveway and then build a snow fort. Regardless, I had my first taste of creating a project on my own. I had a plan, I made a script and the camera was ready. I credit that attempt, as well as subsequent attempts at other projects that actually made it to fruition, to Paul. Over the years, our sibling projects grew less and less. School took over our lives. Then we were teenagers and you know how that goes. I began to make entire shows of my own. Paul was still writing, but gone were the days of our collaborations. I’ve been fortunate to have engaged in a great many collaborative projects since moving to Seattle in 1995, but I always remember my first team: me, my brother, and my sister. My brother was the leader. He taught me how to make things.

John Osebold / Jose Bold works in music, theater, video, and literature, the results of which have included collage films with a live score (MOUNTAINLong Distance!WWSD), a deconstructo-comedy about the Spider-Man musical (Spidermann in Seattle & NYC), theatrical concerts (<symphony>Universal Translator), literary stage performances (SeateethMinistry of Poems), unstageable plays and other writings (published in Filter Literary Journal vol. 2 & 3, FolioCity Arts MagazineThe Monarch Review), and an annual December album project posted at josebold.com. He’s in the band “Awesome” and sketch comedy group The Habit. He mows his own lawn and does the dishes.

John is also a participant in TPR’s Art & Technology series