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This Is John Ross Bowie

The actor, comedian, and author discusses his multi-faceted career in the arts.

John Ross Bowie has acted for TV and movies, authored books, been a regular at the coveted improv theater Upright Citizens Brigade, and even toured in a punk band. We caught up with the multi-talented creative to discuss his upbringing in New York, his versatile career, his family, and his style. 

All photos by Robyn Von Swank

RB: Could you tell us a little about your background? What was it like growing up in the city in the 80's?
JRB: Everything that made the city terrifying and dangerous also made it kind of amazing – the crime drove down the rents, and lower rents made it easier for artists to thrive. Of course, said artists often got their amps stolen and their workshops broken into, but there was a vitality to the city in those days. I wish there was a way to encourage that sort of thing without kids like me getting mugged quite so often.

RB: Who or what influences/inspires you? 
JRB: I know it sounds corny, but my two kids really inspire me. They’re both discovering themselves right now, and my son is really into comics, and my daughter is really into theater. It’s fun to watch them explore things that I sometimes take for granted. My son is writing comics with his friends, and my daughter is running around the house singing Sondheim deep cuts. It’s a pretty fun place to live.

RB: You penned a part-memoir-part-analysis of the movie Heathers. As you say in the book, you grew up far away from the kind of suburban backdrop of the movie. What resonated with you about the movie that made you want to sit down and write a whole book about? 
JRB: I think what I love about the movie is that even though Westerberg High and my high school couldn’t be more different on the surface, deep down all the same fear and anger haunts kids. No matter where they are. The stylized photography and amazing use of color and light doesn’t look the way high school looks, but it feels the way high school feels.

RB: Heathers just celebrated its 30th Anniversary and your book is turning 8. When you wrote the book you thought that Heathers clearly had a connection to present (you even opened with a political example including Sarah Palin). Do you think there is still a Heathers connection to the time we are in now?
JRB: The reason people keep talking about that film is that the themes of horrible wish fulfillment and the very real consequences thereof still resonate. Loudly. And there’s a horrifically clear lineage from Kurt and Ram to Eric and Don Jr.

RB: I am sure you have been asked this, but what do you think of the recent essay published in The Wrap that called for content warnings to be put on before Heathers and condemned it as "take[ing] sexual assault and suicide more lightly than it should"?
JRB: I got about two paragraphs into that piece, the central thesis of which seems to be “Things are different now!” Art has to be put into its historical context, or else you’re doing half a job. In 1989, school shootings were an abstraction so it felt like real satire. Also it’s important to note that nobody in the film actually commits suicide. Even JD is probably gonna die, bomb or not. Is it flippant? Of course. Does it capture something very true about how stressful and draining high school can be for everyone, even the popular girls? Definitely.

RB: You dabbled a bit before settling on a career in acting/comedy. What drew you to this life? What were some of your favorite detours on your way to knowing what you wanted to do?
JRB: Well, I was in a punk band for a couple years, which was a time/money suck and also incredibly fun and fascinating. I met some people with whom I’m still very close and learned a lot about making my own opportunities. We pressed our own 7 inches, we silk screened our own t-shirts, we booked our own tours. There was a wonderful self-reliance to our tier of punk rock, and I’ve tried to hang on to that over the years.

RB: What are some of your career highlights?
JRB: I’ve been really lucky. My very first film role was in Road Trip, where I did a scene with Fred Ward, who was in Tremors with Kevin Bacon. My first movie and I have a Kevin Bacon number of 1. That’s a good start. Since then, I’ve made a decent living and worked with some heroes (Diane Keaton, John Cleese, George Segal, etc). I’ve also done a couple of pretty forgettable shows, but you learn a lot doing those as well. Even my lowlights are highlights, in a way.

RB: You cut your teeth at The Upright Citizens Brigade. How was it learning and laughing there?
JRB: I started at UCB in 1998, and while it’s a great place to study and play now, at that time it was still very small so it was remarkably easy to get stage time. We made a lot of big choices and fell flat on our faces and the stakes were low enough that it didn’t matter. I came up with Rob Corddry and Brian Huskey and Seth Morris and Jamie Denbo (who was so funny I married her). We drank with impunity, took the subway home to terrible apartments at 4 am and we all inspired each other to be funnier. It was pretty magical.

RB: What are some of your hobbies?
JRB: I still play guitar, which is very satisfying. I’ve started DMing Dungeons and Dragons games for my son and some neighbor kids, which is actually a lot of work but pretty delightful.

RB: How would you describe your style of dress?
JRB: Somebody once called it ‘stylishly disheveled.’ I think that’s pretty accurate. What I like about Rowing Blazers is that it allows me to dress my age without throwing my hands up and wearing cargo shorts and flipflops. The clothes have a nice mix of elegant and scruffy with a soupçon of my Scottish heritage mixed in.

RB: Do you have any projects coming up that you are excited about (if you can share)? 
JRB: I just finished season 3 of Speechless, I’m about to shoot my last ever Big Bang Theory, and I just had a play I wrote open in Toronto. I am exhausted and no, no projects on the horizon this instant. Couldn’t be happier about that.