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Tugs: This is Tugs from Digital Stardust - bringing you commentary and analysis on the video game industry with a different bend. Tonight I'm pleased to be able to bring you a chat with a special guest. He's an accomplished television skydiver, he’s played an active role in setting a world record (if you believe Microsoft), and lives in Passamaquoddy while eating his kiwis - if you believe his twitter. But most of you know him as the host of 1 vs 100 for Xbox Live. Tonight I’m joined by Chris Cashman.
T: Chris, how are you tonight?
Chris: I’m doing fantastic! Thank you…You nailed the bio. You got it all in there.
T: I know it was accurate - I pulled it from Wikipedia.
C: Which is always true. Not a lot of people know that, but it is abso… Whatever you read in there is true.
T: Absolutely. I read pigs could fly the other day, so I think they’re doing really well.
C: I know….and it’s under-reported. So, I’m glad you said it.
T: Exactly. So! Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into the entertainment and voice-over business?
C: You know, I, just like a lot of aspiring, I don’t know … actors and folks who want to be in entertainment… I just sorta was born with it. I really just, you know since I can remember just talking to myself and I would hear commercials in the car, and radio commercials, TV commercials, and I would sorta do this thing where, which I still find myself doing…where I kinda talk into my hand and I cup it to my ear so I could hear myself announcing directly into my own ear. And I would just always imitate commercials and kinda study voices and delivery, and the way they do things. And I just sorta had the bug, ya know? I just, I don’t know, I just did. I…I sort of, you know, stumbled into it, really.
T: It runs in the family, doesn’t it?
C: Well, see, there’s a misconception on that as well, because I’m just an average dude who grew up blue collar, son of a hair dresser and a mill worker, and you know, my mom would go off and work at the mill and my dad would dress hair…six days a week, and now that I said that out loud it doesn’t sound right. Ummmmm, I guess that’s not that typical. No, I was of course, not of course but of course to me, Yeah I was brought up in it. My father was in TV and radio and in particular was on a comedy TV show when I growing up and I think it was like Junior High when it finally hit, when I saw people looking a little weird at me at school and I had played a little roll of an actor in this little comedy show called “Almost Live” that he was on, and I saw kids in the hall looking at me very strange the next day. To me, it was like, “Woo hoo! A day off of school! Sweet!” And I was in this little skit, but then it aired, and people were looking at me in school. And even the teachers were kinda, like, high fiving me, and I thought “Man, this TV thing’s pretty cool! I guess my dad’s pretty cool!” So, yeah I did grow up around a father who was on TV and in radio, and my mother even did some stuff on TV as well, and my whole family, you know are just complete hambones, so I definitely grew up around it.
T: Right, right, so you still host now?
C: I do! You know, I got out of school, of college in about 2000, and started doing work on radio. I did like the weekend DJ thing, and then I worked doing copywriting and commercials and production. I wanted to know how to edit commercials and make commercials. ‘Cuz my whole thing was always that one day I would love to do it for myself. I would love for someone to say “Hey! We want to make a commercial or a video!” Ya know, “Can you do it?” and then I could do it all myself.
And so, that’s sort of what I’ve worked towards. Then after a couple years in radio, I got a job on a TV station - a local TV station in Seattle - that wanted somebody in radio, but who was pretty much unknown. In other words, somebody they knew could talk for a living, but nobody knew who were they were…that they could make kind of their local yokel guy who would stand out at a car dealership and say, “Come on down and see us! We got hot dogs for the kiddies!” And so I started doing that, and it went really well, and I pitched them some original ideas for TV shows and said “No no no… We don’t need a crew. You know, just a camera guy. Just, we’ll go out and it’ll you know, whatever movie you’re already playing on the weekend, just let me pop in around it. And I’ll… we’ll take the show on the road, I’ll edit it myself.”
And…and before you know it, it was like five six years, and I was there at the TV station and we had a lot of success, ya know, with no budget essentially, and you know was able to learn how to edit, and kind of really learned all of the skills in front and behind the scenes, and then parlayed that into doing a lot of live stuff, events, and you know, somewhere down the line got hooked up with Microsoft, and was able to do some jobs for them. You know, corporate videos and even some writing, and things like that. And you know, was what, a couple of years ago when I got a call for a new audition for Microsoft.
It was through their division of Xbox and they wanted to do a game show, and a video game game show. And that was about as bizarre sounding to me as I’m sure it was to people when they first heard that they were going to get to play it. It was like “What does that mean? What? What do you mean? What?” And so I went in and did the audition. They kind of put me through the meat grinder and, you know, they were really just looking for somebody who couldn’t get thrown off kilter too easy. You know, they could throw something bizarre at you and you could tap dance around it.
And so that’s really what it was. And after a couple of times coming back to visit them, they called me and said. “Hey! We want you to host the show, 1 vs 100!” And so, it really wasn’t until we got into the beta that I really was able to figure out what exactly this was. I got to go on and see, ya know, the work in progress and got to see the game, “Hey look! Here’s the little avatar version of you!” and was like “Wow, this is crazy!” So, I was, a lot of it was really kind of just a learning on the job thing that was kinda an evolution that I already was doing. TV, radio, hosting, and a lot of you know, improvising. So it was really kind of, it felt like, ya know, everything had funneled down to this moment where it was like “Cool, I can use all of it with this one thing!”
T: Excellent. So, you when we were setting up this little chat here, you mentioned that humor is your life and it makes life more fun. So how has that affected your outlook on life and 1 vs 100?
C: Well, I mean the most obvious example, I would say, also the most recent example… when I like, many people, discovered that they weren’t going to continue the game. You know, there was two ways to look at it. 1 is “Oh noooooo! Now what am I gonna do?”
T: I was one of those…
C: …which was a couple of seconds. But then I immediately said, “You know what? The audience was so cool with this game”, and people, you know, on Twitter and what-not, have always been so cool that I kinda felt I immediately had to put that aside and I felt more obligated to, like, continue to fight in whatever fashion. I thought, “No! I’ve got to go on YouTube. I’m gonna do a goofy little farewell video.” Which I did and I stuck up on YouTube and then quickly…
T: You dropped the controller in it…
C: Yeah just, yeah hey – see, every dramatic scene has to have the moment of so shocked that you dropped whatever is in their hand in slow motion.
C: So I worked that into it, and I just thought that, you know what, rather than ya know, mope and think, “Oh man! Woe is me!” I thought I’m gonna put some humor on it, have fun with it, and I know that even in a corny way, we can all have a little chuckle, even though a lot of folks I think were bummed and thought “Wait a minute, this was working! What happened?” So, I just, ya know, in all walks of my life, I sorta live and breathe humor and not because we need to, but I just find it that life is a whole lot more fun when you’re able to just laugh through things, you know?
T: Definitely! Positive outlooks always help.
T: So, with 1 vs 100, was that your first exposure to video games or do you play games in your spare time? Are you a gamer at all?
C: I wouldn’t say I’m a gamer. I hadn’t…there was a good gap from like the mid 90’s to maybe the early 2000’s where I was not playing games any more. I played games when I was younger, but, you know, I went off to college and the technology wasn’t what it is now. We don’t have these insane, you know, the Xbox Live, you know. If I had that now, if I was in college now and I had Xbox live, you know, forget about class. I’d be in trouble.
So, I mean, fortunately, the technology wasn’t where it is now, cuz I was able to be a bit more productive, from like the mid 90’s to the early 2000’s and I kinda just didn’t play games. I think I got over the Nintendo thing, I was sort of like [Mike] Tyson’s Punch Out was sorta my thing. Like that was like about the level of games I like. It was just kind of like mindless goofy fun entertainment, and you know, Piston Honda really made me mad, and so he gave me something to strive for, to beat him. And once I did that, I thought “Good! Check! Next!” and I took, I guess a bunch of years off, not on purpose but, you know, I just did.
I went off to school, and you know, I mean, basically it was a little bit of heartbreak. We had a garage sale before I went to college, and I was trying to sell my Atari Lynx, which you may remember, or my …
C: Right? But at the time I was the coolest dude cuz I had it. And somebody stole it from the garage sale and I was heartbroken, because I wanted the at least, you know, the sweet money I was gonna make off of that thing, and I didn’t have it. And so that was like the last game console I had, I think, until you know, a couple, maybe four years ago.
And then I got back on with Xbox and Xbox Live, and once I saw the platform and Netflix and all of that, I was just like “Wow, this is unbelievable!” And I just found myself sorta preaching to my friends and family - even my wife who’s kinda looking at me cross-eyed, going, “Really? Video games?” You know, ‘cuz I have a small daughter, and we’re getting ready to have a second, and so it was sort of like not really conducive to the lifestyle. I need to be a good, more, you know, helpful with her, rather than trying to stack up achievements. So, but when she saw it too, she agreed, she was “Wow! I can’t believe this,” because of Netflix and you know, Last.fm and all these things, and they keep in folding in more with Facebook and all that.
So that’s when I really kinda got excited because the game was fun, I was excited to do it, but then I saw this platform, I thought, “Holy cow! I think… I think I’m on board the ground level of like the undeniable future of entertainment!” You know, I said “they’re gonna have TV on here! It’s gonna happen!”
T: They already do!
C: They now they’ve already announced – yeah - and now they’ve announced TV shows, they signed the thing with ESPN, all this stuff that’s sorta like the tidal wave is coming, and I thought “Man, I think I’m on board! This is cool! I’m on the ground floor of this amazing new thing.” So, you know, that was the excitement and really, the biggest heartbreak part for me was, I hope this isn’t the end of my relationship with them just because I just think they’re on to something, you know. I just, I really, I would mortgage the farm that they are really leading the way.
Make sure to look for Part 2 of our interview with Chris, complete with more discussion on how the show came to be in its current form, and what it was like working with the team at Microsoft.