What do you do during a pandemic when your whole career is built on interacting directly with other people? For Tom Green, the answer was to pack his life into the back of a van and hit the open road, making a new podcast along the way.
“Don’t look back saying ‘man, I shoulda done more’, ‘cos right now is the right time.”
That’s the philosophical lyric from ‘Right Now Is the Right Time’, by the rising star of country music, Tom Green. Yes, that Tom Green. The same comedian Tom Green that made ‘Freddy Got Fingered’. Okay, so he hasn’t exactly packed the comedy in and moved to Nashville just yet. But there’s a good chance he’ll pass through Music City at some point as he travels across North America in his specialized van (more on that in a minute) recording his new podcast ‘Van Life with Tom Green’, produced by Audio Up Media.
“It’s weird but, having stopped touring for the first time in a decade, I’ve got all this time on my hands” Green, who barely seems to have ever stopped working, told TravelMag.
The pioneering multi-hyphenate was among the first comedians to take sketch comedy directly to the unsuspecting public in Canada. Later, he ran a streaming online talk show from his own LA home called Webovision, which influenced many successful podcasters, including Joe Rogan, along the way.
It’s tempting to wonder then, what sentiment encouraged Green to join the van life movement, social media’s favorite travel trend, with its pastiche of Instagram-filtered sunsets, hammock lounging and camp fires. Van life and podcasting almost seem too safe for a comedian who has often been at the vanguard of the latest tech-driven entertainment trends.
But when videos from the road started emerging on Green’s YouTube channel, it quickly became clear that he was not merely phoning it in, so to speak, with a podcast alone, but pushing the boundaries of his creativity. It’s the combination of all of these creative ventures that is intriguing.
“I realized this is a chance for me to really go into the weeds and figure out detailed stuff that I haven’t had a chance to figure out in my life yet” said Green. “Everybody is online now on social media so I like being able to focus my creativity by being on the other side of the camera.”
In true Tom Green style, he took things a step further than anybody else was willing to go. Boundary-pushing starts with the right van set-up. “It took about three months of careful preparation before I was ready to hit the road,” explained Green. His Boho camper van has solar panels on the roof, a battery system that could power a small village for a few weeks, and that’s not the best part: the interior is kitted out with full audio recording and video production studio capabilities.
Inspiration on Wheels
Long-time fans of Green will know exactly what I mean when I say moose, sausage, piggy hill, or Swedish, but they’ll see a completely different side to him here. One that is undeniably moved, awed even, by the natural world he is encountering during his van life experience. You can hear it in his interviews on the podcast, such as the episode with Brent Underwood who bought a ghost town when Covid hit. Many of his YouTube videos feel more like short films, containing an uncharacteristically pensive flow to them, notably ‘Amboy to Ludlow’, showing a gentler side to the comedian.
“It’s kind of exciting because I love photography, I love nature, I love making music, I love making videos, I love editing. Build all of that into this mobile environment…all of the images are a total expression of mine.” It’s what Green referred to as his “broad artistic expression,” right down to the choice of location. And it’s impossible to ignore the impact of those places on his work.
Like all good travel stories, the journey shapes the individual. Drive anywhere in the Southwestern United States and you’ll encounter open roads and stunning vistas that were hewn and shaped by the elements with all the verve and panache of a surrealist painter. Turn on the radio anywhere in the Southwestern US and you’ll hear the familiar drawl of the pedal steel and geetar serenades of country music.
By January 2021, it was clear that both were making an impression on Green: the music video for ‘Right Now Is the Right Time’ was shot by Green in Arizona’s Cabeza Prieta Wilderness. And it’s stunning. There’s footage of the open road, desert art, lumbering cacti, and of course Charley, Green’s faithful pooch and sidekick on his rambling journeys across the continent.
Close Encounters of the First Kind
The slow, brooding drone shots are not just taking in these remarkable landscapes, but they leave room for thought. There’s no punchline to the set-up. There’s no need for one. The Southwestern US changes you. How can it not? Something about the yawning, timeless chasms of land humble the soul. Something about the past, shrouded in mystery, speaking from beyond the grave in the form of petroglyphs and tumbleweed-strewn settlements, reminds us that nothing is permanent.
“In Chaco Canyon, I felt the energy of the thousands and thousands of people that lived and travelled through there thousands of years ago,” said Green.
“I find it sometimes when I’m on Native American land, where there is traditionally more importance on the land and the energy that’s in the land, I feel it there, I really do. And I don’t know how much of that is psychological because I’m loving being in nature, but when you walk into a building that was built in the year 750, you realize that nobody talks about this in America,” said Green of the Ancestral Puebloan ruins in New Mexico.
This feels significant and speaks really to the deeper human condition, the desire to see and do new things. Choosing to be nomadic is a similar impulse to the desire to create and push the boundaries and do something brand new, something creative. It’s the same impulse that drove our ancestors to paint and build and migrate.
There seems to be a lot more to Tom’s journey though. A case of the itchy feet? Perhaps. Although it could also be inspired by recent events in Tom’s personal life that suggest he is circling back to his roots.
Green gained his US citizenship in 2019. In 2020, he and ex-partner Drew Barrymore reunited on her talk show a couple of times, both in studio and when Tom was on the road recording the podcast. So, there’s certainly a sense of both discovery and rediscovery to Green’s van life, personally and professionally.
Naturally, Canada should be next, and Green expressed his desire to take the van up to his birth country once the weather warms. “This right now is the longest I’ve gone without seeing my parents or my brother. It’s been almost a year,” said Green, whose parents have always been a supportive, yet beleaguered presence in his work from the early days of the Tom Green Show. In the Van Life podcast, Green regularly checks in with his folks, a touching nod to an aspect of travel we often neglect to mention in the highlights-reels of our trips: letting our loved ones know we’re still alive.
Even the van itself is a form of returning to the start. “We originally did this for the Tom Green show: got a van and piled everybody in it,” said Green.
For now, he and Charley are a self-contained production unit, but as we start to see a road out of the much less enjoyable podcast: ‘Covid life with literally everybody,’ Green plans to bring people back into his creative work. “A big part of my comedy has always been about interacting with real people, so this is gonna evolve into something that’s a little closer to the original Tom Green Show”.
One thing’s for certain, Green’s time on the road will ignite plenty of creative plans for the future. When I asked him about maybe going back into writing and directing comedy films he said “this kind of new filmmaking I’m doing is definitely a strong step forwards, but also towards that world again.”
You can listen to Van Life with Tom Green by clicking here.