Jackson Banks, the rising star of Utah comedy, is having a pretty awesome month. He just turned the big 2-4, has appeared on numerous comedy stages throughout the state, and walked away with a coveted X96 Radio From Hell Film Festival award. Through all the commotion, he manages to live up to his adopted mantra of “keep it weird,” reeling in new fans of his oddly endearing short films and unique comedy style. Just a few short days before his birthday bash and celebratory comedy showcase, A Brief History of Jackson Banks, he caught up with SLUG to talk film, friends and funny.
Banks started out making films long before his turn on the stage as a local comedy god. Growing up he was always inherently funny. Being known as the class clown, his original dream was to be an actor. “When I realized being an actor is shitty, and you have to wait around for people to write good lines for you and hope you get a good part, I decided I wanted to make my own movies,” he says. After seven years of film making exclusively, he tried his hand at stand-up comedy. He had always been into all things comedy, but he found stand-up daunting—therefore, he had to do it. It went so well for him that he never looked back. Banks points out that stand-up comedy can be exhausting at times among the seemingly endless pool of other comedians. The key is to stay true to one’s self and to stick with material that you legitimately find funny. “You’ve got to live the joke, you’ve got to dive into the narrative and be the character of the joke and sell it, otherwise it’s going to be dull,” he says. For the record, seeing Banks live onstage in his element is anything but dull.
His passion in film making for over a decade led him to complete a film degree at the University of Utah, doing comedy on the side the whole way. Finding a balance between his comedy and film has actually had a pretty natural progression. “They’re all comedy films,” says Banks. “The catharsis of inner pain, my pain turned into hilarious cartoon—that’s my film, that’s my life.” His short films, like his award winners, are collaborations with some of his closest friends who essentially become his partners in crime. “My closest friends are those that I create with,” he says. He finds somebody that he can click with and forms a bond, and keeps his collaborators on rotation. But with a joking tone, he warns, “If you don’t like my comedy I will never be your friend.”
This year’s honor at the Radio From Hell Film Festival was his second—he won Best Actor for his original character Mark Molasses in an original short film, Collapsible Cups. This two-minute infomercial on the best invention since beer pong has Molasses and his assistant Lionel (also Banks) blowing minds with its perfect absurdity. Banks came up with the character for Molasses in 2013 after watching a podcast recording at the Sundance Film Festival. He soon became Banks’ outlet for all of the jokes he couldn’t do otherwise. If anything felt a little too hack or a little too harsh for his normal set, that was all Molasses material. As Mark Molasses grows and expands, he shows up in more of Banks’ films, such as the sequel to Collapsible Cups, where fans may find out the darker side of the character’s past. “I have a deep fear that he may become more popular than me, but I won’t let that happen,” says Banks. “He comes out very rarely when I have to let the demons out.” Banks describes him as an integral part of who he is, almost like a split personality. “He’s in me, haunting me,” he says. “I can’t control when he comes out.” Although, he does assure me he’s trying hard to keep him under control.
Banks had a blast making his short film, but it almost didn’t happen that way. He had started making Collapsible Cups as a little project with a friend, and something was lacking. It wasn’t until he examined what he had and added in the Radio From Hell requirements that it really came together and felt right. “I feel like the contest pushed the video to completion.” This is how cinematic classics are made. He wasn’t necessarily shocked when he won Best Actor, as Molasses has wowed the judges in the past. The acceptance speech at the awards ceremony did come as a shock, though. Unprepared to make meaningful remarks, he made a joke about his prize of concert tickets and inadvertently made an insult about the band. He felt bad enough to email them as soon as it was over and apologize. “Be a badass in public, apologize in private, that’s my philosophy.” All was in good spirits though, as comedians are rarely ever known for their appropriate social skills. He compares the validation of winning to never needing a woman’s love again (but, he adds, that effect wore off after several days).
As he’s celebrating his birthday week in style he reflects poetically, “Getting older is kind of weird,” says Banks. “You’re not the young guy anymore, you’re kinda just this weird asshole.” Banks’ philosophy on his “weird” brand of comedy is equally refreshing and honest. “Do shit that you love, that you think is funny,” he says. “I like to keep it nice and raw. Keep it cartoony.” He always wanted to be a comedian and it shows whether you see him on stage or on screen. “I like to keep it sexy, keep it weird, no matter the occasion,” he says. Going forward, he’s planning on making more films and performing more shows locally. In the near future he’s going to make it out to L.A. for a stint, hunker down, and just “see what happens.” The good news is that we have him here in Salt Lake City for just a little bit longer, so if you haven’t seen one of his shows, now is the time. The next time you see Jackson Banks, he, or possibly Mark Molasses, could already be famous.
You can check out Collapsible Cups or any of his other films, including stand-up, on his YouTube channel Jackson Banks.