"Comedy is in the close-ups."
This mantra of Brian Dalton and Jimbo Marshall is the reason we're awake at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning standing in the middle of a dirt road on the outskirts of Temecula with nothing but a giant telephone pole in front of us.
Dalton and Marshall star in the online-only comedy show Mr. Deity, a sometimes-irreverent though never mean-spirited pastiche of The Office, Bruce Almighty and Oh, God! that the pair hope to take to television soon. As much as 36 hours go into each four-minute episode, webcast currently at www.youtube.com and www.mrdeity.com.
But the hard work just might pay off. The Internet buzz the crew has created is big, and with a pilot script ready to go, Dalton-creator, writer, producer, director, actor, crew, editor and composer-says he's currently in negotiations with "a really big company" about the future of the series.
Mr. Deity centers around a God-as-CEO figure (Dalton) in charge of the universe who works closely with a team of executives, including Larry (Marshall), Jesse/Jesus (Sean Douglas) and Lucy/Lucifer (Amy Rohren). The series was launched on YouTube Dec. 27 and within four months received more than 3 million views.
This morning, Dalton and Marshall are re-shooting "Episode 9: Mr. Deity and the Book." Previously, the wind had prevented them from getting good audio, and they had to leave before getting quality close-ups. With adroit attention to detail and a knack for adlibbing, the droll duo acts as cast and crew.
Dalton sets up the cameras.
"I'll push in for a dirty single on both of us," he says. "No, not a dirty single, a clean single, and this time I'm not gonna say stupid things."
"As you can imagine," adds Marshall, "the Deity tends to be a bit of a perfectionist."
Teetering between obsessive-compulsive disorder and general neuroses, Dalton's highbrow humor and antics resemble those of Woody Allen. He fusses with cameras and fidgets with his clothing and accessories throughout the shoot, so much so that Marshall interrupts a scene to remind Dalton that he's now wearing his own glasses instead of Mr. Deity's, which, in order to eliminate glare, contain no lenses.
"Wait. I think I accidentally buttoned another button," says Dalton.
Fidgeting with Mr. Deity's fake earring, Dalton asks, "Is the right ear not gay?" He quickly adds, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
"If you look at the comments," answers Marshall, "people think Deity and Larry are gay." He pauses and looks off in the distance. "Yeah, the whole foot massage thing didn't help matters."
In "Episode 5: Mr. Deity and the Top Ten," in which Deity, Larry and Jesus endure a sapping powwow to come up with a list of commandments, Larry gives Mr. Deity a foot rub, spawning a whole Simpsonian Mr. Burns/Mr. Smithers rumor among fans.
Dalton and Deity are pretty much one and the same, but Marshall couldn't be more different from his character. Marshall has a tendency to drop F-bombs that would fluster the nervous assistant Larry.
"Sockclath-fuck!" Marshall stumbles over the word "sackcloth," messing up his line. "Makes me wanna do the whole sackcloth and ashes thing!"
In the middle of another take, Dalton realizes something doesn't make sense and cuts the scene. Originally, Larry had said, "I even faxed them the forms."
"Wait. Why are you faxing if I didn't sign? Say, "They never even had the decency to send the forms.'"
Take four. And-we're rolling.
"I sent those forms."
Marshall realizes his error. "Oh, shit!"
Take five. Marshall gets the line right but says it in the wrong place. "Fuckin' A! And I was so on that line!"
For a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, there's an awful lot of traffic. The crew stops shooting to review what they've recorded so far. Four horseback riders bounce by, and a woman in a car stops.
"Did you guys know this is private property? She asks. "You're not supposed to be taking pictures. I'm gonna send the sheriff out."
She peels out, leaving a cloud of dust behind.
Borrowing from "Episode 5: Mr. Deity and Lucifer," Dalton says, "Must be that time of the millennium."
Though Mr. Deity delves into some of the difficult spiritual questions people grapple with, the show doesn't come off as preachy. Surprising, since Dalton and Marshall both have religious backgrounds. But with natural disasters and the downpour of disturbances in daily life, a lot of people, including Dalton and Marshall, struggle with why God-if He exists-allows awful things to happen.
Born out of his frustration after the Asian tsunami disaster in 2004, Dalton wrote "Episode One: Mr. Deity and the Evil." After that, all he had to do for ideas was crack open the Bible.
"I like taking things that people have always read about and taken for granted," he says, "but to make that conversational. I love being able to think about this stuff in a way that's very human and remove it from that untouchable thing."
Dalton, a former Mormon-a "Formon," he calls himself-is now your basic agnostic. "You can't really know anything, because [God's] a prankster; He's a jokester. I would love it if there was a God and a plan, and we get to heaven afterwards."
Marshall has a similar theology. Having grown up in the church, he says, "I like to believe there's a higher being. I'm not sure what that is anymore."
The youngest of Marshall's three kids was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2.
"I never knew that kind of pain existed until that happened. It rocked me to my inner core."
His daughter is fine now, but this is why he wears a yellow LiveStrong bracelet.
These guys know they're dealing with touchy subjects.
"We don't do anything that's so completely offensive," explains Dalton. "We avoid that at all costs. I could see how some people would be offended by some things we do, but it's all done with a wink and a smile. We don't really have an agenda; we just want people to laugh."
To watch Mr. Deity, visit www.mrdeity.com, or for more fun with Mr. Deity, visit the unofficial fan site at mrdeityfan.blogspot.com.
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