Creative Spotlight: 10 Q's for James Caven to A

June 2, 2023
Natalia Reagan
James Caven

Natalia: James, you are a comedy writer, performer, editor, graphic designer, musician, and one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever worked with- did I miss anything? I know I missed something.

James: Well, you missed my most important handle: father.  Nah, I’m kidding. Happy Father’s Day, though.

Natalia: So we’ve established you’re the ultimate multi-hyphenate PLUS you’re ridiculously kind. How did you accumulate all these dang skills? How the heck do you stay so humble? Who are your comedy inspos/heroes? 

James: One answer: YouTube. I truly watch so much YouTube. Mostly, though, I think just self-producing your own work is the best way to learn skills. If you have to write, shoot, and edit a video, you just straight-up have to learn how to do it or else it’s not going to happen. It’s also great because you never have to compromise!

Honestly, being humble is pretty easy if you’re still in your mid-20s and everyone you’re working with is 30+. Just listen to them talk about their weekends for about 10 seconds and you’ll realize how much further you still have to go to become a real adult.

Re: comedy inspo, I was exposed to Monty Python tragically young, so I unfortunately have to parrot every comedy writer ever and say that they’re the big one for me. More recently, I’m a big fan of the New Zealand crew: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, all those guys.

Natalia: You are a naturally funny guy. Did you always want to write comedy? What is your comedy writer villain/hero origin story?

James: I’ll leave whether I’m funny or not to the annals of history, but I didn’t have any professional aspirations until joining The Harvard Lampoon in college, though I definitely did enjoy comedy writing back in high school. I remember being really tired of watching my high school’s overdramatic student-written one act plays, so I convinced my best friend to help me write a parody of my specific high school called Maggie Walker Governor’s School: The Musical. We definitely got in some trouble considering we were openly ridiculing specific teachers and school idiosyncrasies, but it was a ton of fun and showed me that, basically, you can get away with whatever you want as long as it’s funny enough.

Natalia: What is your favorite part about writing comedy? Do you have an ideal medium? How would you like to impact the comedy world?

James: What are my dreams, you ask?! I suppose I wanted to be the first 24-year-old to host Late Night, but that’s looking less likely every day. I’m a big fan of silly stuff, and a huge fan of surreal: The Mighty Boosh got to me too young. I think bringing more “evergreen” comedy stuff to the U.S., especially in the sketch world, would be really awesome–something like a contemporary SCTV.

Natalia: While attending Harvard you wrote an undergraduate thesis on the “evolutionary biology of plastic trait adaptation in plants”. How did you become interested in botany? Plastics? And were you able to squeeze in any thesis joke?!

James: Haha, funnily enough, “plastic” in this context is actually referring to the “plasticity” of traits in response to environmental stimuli – basically, their phenotypic environmental variance, for anyone who thinks only in genetics.

I do like plants, don’t get me wrong, but the real reason I’m into them is that you can do a whole bunch of cruel things to them to get data that you can’t in animal labs. For my thesis, I basically tortured plants from different populations to within an inch of their life to see if they would react differently. If I did that to, say, monkeys from different populations, I’d have been jailed.

Natalia: I gotta say, you are a natural at synthesizing a veritable buttload of talents, so how do you like combining science and comedy? Do you have a favorite science comedy joke so far?

James: Personally, I’m a huge fan of letting the comedy drive the science. In my opinion, the best forms of comedy derive from character, situation, and narrative, so I definitely have a bent for writing in the comedy → science direction. For a seemingly-infinite amount of examples of this, just check out the science jokes in any episode of Futurama. It’s a gold mine.

Natalia: As a primatologist, I feel you can really gain insight into someone’s subconscious through this question- what is your favorite animal and why? Be specific. Very specific.

James: Great question! I’m a huge fan of the stoat, along with any of the other small mustelids like the least weasel and the marbled polecat. They’re just so small, yet so long.

Natalia: You were a graphic designer for the Harvard Lampoon (ACK! So cool) can you share your favorite graphic you created?

James: My senior year when I was designing my own magazine issue, I got really into digital collage made of a ton of overlapping layers–for both digital art and film–so I utilized that a lot in my design work. A particular favorite was a mash-up of High School Musical visuals and Kanye footage meant as a sort of satire on the way that the media studies field analyzes the “contemporary landscape”. Jeez, that sentence is really heady. Can you tell I took a film class?

Natalia: How did you find your way to Hello SciCom? 

James: Let’s see. I graduated–like many a Lampoon writer–without a job. After about a month of being at home, I got tired and reached out to the Harvard Career Office to see if anyone was interested in people with backgrounds in science and/or comedy…and lo and behold, that’s the perfect mix for Hello SciCom! And the rest is history :’).

Natalia: What is next for James? What is your dream job (at Hello SciCom or beyond)?!

James: Wouldn’t I also like to know the answer! While I’m here in New York, I’ve been leaning into the comedy scene, but I do feel the stirrings of TV inside of me…stay tuned for if I jump coasts to LA (and join you there)!


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