Pooters, SkyMall, and Haterade - The David Rees Interview

National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Channel / National Geographic Channel

Going Deep With David Rees wraps up its first season Monday night at 10pm. This show is my favorite thing of the year. That's right, my favorite thing, including food. I spoke with Rees to answer some burning questions; below is the full interview. You can also read my early review of Going Deep for more, or read our highlights from this interview if you just want the best bits.

On Pooters

(Some background: in the episode How to Climb a Tree, Rees encounters a piece of technology called a "pooter." Here's a clip that explains the situation, if you haven't seen the episode.)

HIGGINS: Do you own, or have access to, a pooter?

REES: I have the pooter that "Canopy" Meg gave me, yes.

HIGGINS: Where do you go to get a pooter?

REES: I think you can buy them online; they're not that hard to find. So I did some research after I got home, because I was like, "Is this thing really called a pooter?" And it is, but it's also called an aspirator, and you can make them yourself. It's only a few pieces of tubing, and—let me put it to you this way: It's definitely less complicated to make a pooter than to make a pipe for smoking pot. So if you can turn an apple into a pot pipe, you can definitely make a pooter. Because it's one tube, and a filter, and a glass jar, basically.

You're creating a vacuum in the jar by sucking air out of it and then the little filter or screen is just to make sure that whatever is sucked into the jar doesn't continue on into your mouth.

On Lingering Effects of the Show

(Background: in an interview with Ken Plume, Rees indicated that he may have injured his left hand while shooting the How to Shake Hands episode. The video below is not the event that led directly to the problem, but it's...related.)

HIGGINS: Is your hand still maybe broken?

REES: Yeah, I'm gonna try to go to the doctor today. I've got my Mom emailing me every day asking if I've done it. And I have not been, I've just been putting it off. I don't want to know if it's broken, I don't want to have a cast or whatever. But I'm truly going to try my best to go this afternoon and get a diagnosis.

HIGGINS: Are you genuinely good at flipping coins now? Like has that stuck with you, or is it limited to just that one particular coin? (Background: Rees flips coins a lot in the How to Flip a Coin episode.)

REES: Yeah. The coin that I used in that particular episode, that silver half-dollar from 1855, I can kill it, yeah. I can't get heads every time, but I'm definitely better at flipping coins now than I used to be.

I mean I'm not running around chasing the coin every which way. I practiced so much on that coin that I'm not sure I can apply my technique to a quarter, because the quarter is smaller and lighter, and I'm so used to this particular coin. It's like a pool player having a favorite pool cue. Yeah. I'm definitely good at it, and I know where to hit it to make it go "bing!" and all that stuff.

HIGGINS: Okay, opening doors. I actually have a small amount of door anxiety. I live in Portland and I hate the Portland airport door because it's a revolving door and I always hit it or mess it up. After watching the How to Open a Door episode, I do feel better about it, but I'm still not 100%. So my question for you is, have you conquered doors, or is there something residual where doors will always have the upper hand over you?

REES: [Laughs] Since making that episode, I have heard from a lot of people saying that episode has actually helped them, which makes us super-stoked, obviously.

I do feel better about revolving doors and I do feel better about doors with barrel hinges—you know, standard-hinged doors—and looking for the hinge. I know that if you see the barrel of the hinge, you pull on the door rather than pushing on the door.

Obviously, sometimes there's a situation where you can't glean enough visual information from the door, or you're rushed, or you're in a crowd and so you can't control your pace walking through a revolving door. So yeah, in certain cases it can be as nightmarish as it ever was. Overall, under relatively calm conditions, I find opening a door less anxious than I used to, because of the experts who helped me in that episode.

(Background: Here's a bit of the show explaining the Party Hole.)

HIGGINS: In the How to Dig a Hole episode, you dug a Party Hole on a golf course. Is the Party Hole still there? What happened to the hole after the episode?

REES: If you watch that episode, you see that Chris, the grounds supervisor, and I very carefully preserved the sod on top of the hole. We cut it off like a muffin top and moved it out of the way. When we were done [shooting the episode], he took out the piping—you know, the shoring—and filled the hole back up and then placed the grass back on top of it.

A friend who's a member of that golf club sent me a photo of it a couple months later, because it looked kinda creepy. It looks kind of like evidence of a Satanic ritual. It looks like this weird circle in the middle of the golf course that hasn't quite healed all the way. So the Party Hole is gone except in our hearts.

HIGGINS: Aside from the Party Hole, what's the deepest hole you've ever dug? I want you to think hard.

REES: When we were researching the How to Dig a Hole episode, I just went out in my garden and dug a really small hole for a while. I just wanted to remember what it was like, and what some of the issues would be, and what some of the questions would be.

So I just dug this hole. The [diameter] at the top was like 18 inches and it went down two or three feet. You understand that if a hole is really narrow, at some point you can't dig any deeper because you don't have the leverage. You also can't get an angle to actually remove the dirt from the shovel. It just slides off the head because you're basically just straight up and down with the shovel—which is why people use post-hole diggers.

Sorry, I can't think of a super crazy-deep hole that I've dug. I am by nature very skittish and very conservative.

On Travel, SkyMall, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings

HIGGINS: You had to travel a lot for this show. Can you give me an example of something you do on an airplane or in an airport just to pass the time?


Well, one of my favorite holiday traditions, when I'm flying somewhere for Christmas, is to go to the airport ahead of time—because I love the energy of airports at holidays—and just sit around and tweet all the people that I'm looking it. And people got really into that, for some reason. I think it's just because of the spirit of the holidays.

Some people get really dressed up at the airport and some people just wear their pajamas to the airport, and I love people-watching at an airport. I love being at an airport far enough in advance that I'm not worried about making my flight, because I find that very stressful.

Another thing that I do at the airport is, I drink a ton of water. I think you're supposed to drink a lot of water before you fly, right? So I hit up the water fountain like a crazy person when I'm at the airport.

HIGGINS: I know this is a weirdly detailed question, but...have you ever bought anything out of the SkyMall catalog?

REES: No [exhales loudly], I haven't. Obviously I'm familiar with SkyMall, but I've never bought anything. There was once something that I was kinda tempted to buy, it was a foot massaging thing, but...yeah, I don't mess with SkyMall.

HIGGINS: There's a bonus clip online [shown below], when you're hanging around with the pygmy Slow Loris and talking to Jandy, this Slow Loris expert. When you found out that Jandy had that Lord of the Rings ring and you asked if she got it from SkyMall...did she say whether she got it from SkyMall? The clip ended before we found out.

REES: [Laughs] Oh, I see where this is coming from. I can't remember.

So if you've seen that episode, I say everyone should do yoga, and she says, "Yeah, Yoda." And I say, "No, not Yoda, yoga." [Later,] I think she was kinda distracted because she was trying to keep her eyes on the pygmy Slow Loris, you know, just monitoring it. The conversation took this crazy turn where she's really into sci-fi, she's really into Stars Wars. We were talking about Star Wars and Yoda and then it turns to Lord of the Rings, because Daniel, the other guy at the lemur thing was like, "No one can stump Jandy on Lord of the Rings stuff," and she was wearing one of those rings.

In SkyMall they have, like, this Harry Potter junk, Lord of the Rings junk, Spiderman junk, you know, like cheap jewelry and swords and shit that you can buy from your favorite movie in SkyMall. I can't remember if she got it in SkyMall. I know the footage exists; I'd have to find out.

HIGGINS: Obviously it doesn't matter, but I'm pretty sure she got it from SkyMall because that's where you get that.

REES: Yeah, right? I don't think you buy it at Tiffany's or Cartier. I don't know.

The thing I remember about her was she had these bruises all over her arms, and I was like, "Oh, is that from the lemurs?" And she said, no, it was because she was just in a roller derby. Because she does roller derby in West Virginia. She lives in West Virginia and then comes to North Carolina to Duke to research the lemurs. And I think it's in Morgantown, West Virginia, she's in a roller derby league. I thought that was really cool. We didn't have time to put that in the episode.

On Doughnuts

(Background: Here's a video showing a snippet of the opening credits, including a donut bit, and then a deleted scene featuring "Canopy" Meg.)

HIGGINS: In the opening credits, we see you taking a bite out of a doughnut. So, did you eat that whole doughnut or just a TV bite of the doughnut?

REES: If I actually ate it?


REES: You mean swallowed it?

HIGGINS: Yeah. I know you, like, you bite it, we see that. So I can presume you probably swallowed that bite. But did you proceed to say, "Well, I've got a doughnut, and we got the shot, so I'm gonna eat this doughnut."

REES: The whole thing about doughnuts is weird. I'm not actually into doughnuts or sweets at all. It's just this thing where—I'll explain what happened. We were shooting at this mine in Colorado, for How to Dig a Hole, and the staff at the mine, before we shot, they had to give us an intro talk and a safety lecture about it, and they brought in pastries from a local bakery. And they had these doughnuts that were really bright pink with sprinkles, and I thought it would be cool to take one of these really bright, happy-looking doughnuts down into the deep, dark mine and just get a shot of me eating a doughnut in a mine. It just seemed like a cool thing to do.

And I kinda started this doughnut kick, where I felt like all of a sudden, every episode, there was a doughnut in it. Like in the How to Swat a Fly episode, when I put my hand in a container, I'm holding a doughnut [for the flies to eat]. And later, I'm slurping up a doughnut in an approximation of how flies eat.

I think in that instance, Chris, the scientist, had said, "Well, we can put some food in there and you can watch the flies eat it." And I think we thought, "Oh, we might as well do a doughnut, because flies really like sugar." So, something sweet is gonna make flies go crazy.

Then, by the time we shot that opening sequence, one of the producers was like, "Why don't you just take a bite out of a doughnut because you're just eating goddamn doughnuts all the time?" and I was like, "I don't even like doughnuts!" And we just went with it because it was this dark shot, and we thought a doughnut would be like, "Huh? What's going on?" So I probably took the bite and swallowed it, and we did it a couple of times.

By the time we were done getting that shot I had probably eaten three-quarters worth of a doughnut, which is more than enough. Doughnuts are really sweet, they're too sweet for me. I like salty things. Like I can't even talk about what I ate last night. Anything that's really dry, and crunchy, and salty—I crave that stuff.

(DIG IT: Here's footage of Rees talking about something that is neither salty nor sweet from the How to Make an Ice Cube episode.)

On Clothes and Headgear

HIGGINS: In that [opening credits] shot, you're wearing that lighted goggles apparatus that you use for pencil sharpening. Does that thing have a name?

REES: They're just magnifying goggles or magnifying glasses. You can buy them with the additional lights that attach to the lenses. Jewelers use them.

Those goggles and the black apron that I wear on Going Deep definitely come out of pencil sharpening. We decided that I should just wear the same thing all the time and have a uniform, and we decided those should be a part of it.

HIGGINS: In the show, you wear a really nice looking gray shirt—

REES: God, everyone is so into this shirt!

HIGGINS: It's a really good-looking shirt. And I'm wondering if you have, like, a creepy closet filled with dozens of this special TV shirt, you know?

REES: It's a great question, a lot of people have emailed me to ask where I got the shirt.

What happened was, we decided I would wear the same thing all the time, so they ran out and got a couple sample shirts, and I tried them all on, and that was the best one, because it was very neutral. Just very gray. We thought it would go well with the black apron and my gray hair. It's from Brooks Brothers.

Once we picked that shirt, they ran back to the store and bought the rest of them, so we wound up with only four, and we could've used some more, because I sweat a lot. [Laughs] There's a lot of shots where you can see, like, it's too bad they didn't have one more shirt he could've changed into before he shot this scene because it's poppin' off!

So we had four of those Brooks Brothers shirts, we had four pairs of bluejeans, we had four gray v-neck sweaters to wear under the shirt. And keep in mind, this stuff is constantly getting misplaced, or we don't know where something is, and we have to adjust because it's outside and it's cold, and we have to violate some rule of wardrobe by wearing a jacket or a hoodie or something.

So no, we didn't have a whole closet of those, but we had four. We obviously made the right decision, because by far, most emails I've gotten from people are just, "Where did you get that shirt?" Although yesterday, somebody emailed and said, "Where did you get that apron?"

HIGGINS: So how many aprons are there now?

REES: This was the really crazy thing. I had about four different black aprons that I had collected during my pencil sharpening thing, but I knew that none of them were quite right for what I wanted for the show, so I told them the type of apron that we needed in terms of the length of the apron and pockets—pockets were important to me. I wanted to keep notes in my pockets.

And they ran out and they found one, and that was great. For most of the shoot, we just kept track of that black apron like it was the Holy Grail. And then one day it got left at the wrong location, and then all of a sudden, we realized, oh, we should have more than one. Then we ran out and bought like six thousand black aprons.

But I was very particular, like, they would bring me a black apron that was almost right, but maybe the strap was too thin—it would look too wimpy, you know? I've been wearing a black apron now as part of the pencil sharpening project for years and years, so I know my black aprons at this point.

On Wikipedia, Cartooning, and Haterade

HIGGINS: Okay, this is a Wikipedia question. So on Wikipedia, it says that you drew comics for the Oberlin school newspaper, but that a citation is needed. As a member of the media I guess I can fix that. So can you confirm or deny that you drew comics for the Oberlin school newspaper?

REES: The paper was the Oberlin Review, it came out on Fridays. During my freshman year, at one point I was actually drawing two different comics under two different fake names in two different styles for that newspaper. I think I had two out of the three comics that were running in the comics section of the Oberlin Review. And then I did it again in my junior or senior year. I definitely did that, off and on.

I remember [that] I never put my name on the comics. I think I submitted them anonymously or gave them a fake name or something? [One day] I was sitting in the dining hall with this woman who was looking in the newspaper and she was like, "God, I can't stand this comic! It's so weird, I hate it, it just makes me mad!" And I was like, "Uhh, that's my comic."

HIGGINS: No offense, David, but I feel like your career has led to a lot of people saying that shit. Even today.

REES: You know, I've thought about that.

I was very surprised at how angry the pencil sharpening thing made people. Coming out of Get Your War On, obviously, I understand why that made people mad. Totally. And I got some very negative, ugly feedback about that, which makes sense, given that you're talking about political things that are very serious. Though [the feedback] was mostly positive.

But the pencil thing? I was surprised with the amount of Haterade that was spilled over that project.

Going Deep is not supposed to be "weird." We were trying to make a hit show that any adult could watch. I mean, we didn't expect kids or families to watch it, which is an unexpected bonus for us. But we weren't trying to be weird for weird's sake, we were just trying to—I guess this goes to my whole career. I was just trying to make myself crack up and make my friends crack up. Make the crew laugh, or make the producers laugh, or make myself laugh, just try to keep myself entertained or amused.

Going back to the comics that I made in college, I think the same thing was true. And I will say, those comics were kind of weird. [Laughs] But at that time, it was my sensibility. I just thought it was interesting, you know? I've always made things [that made me laugh], and I think most creative people have this experience.

I made this comic strip called Relationshapes, which was just geometric shapes arguing about their relationships and their feelings, and I billed it as, like, "the comic for the modern woman." Just totally goofy, silly, stupid stuff. And it would make me laugh so hard, and then my friend asked if she could run it on this website The Hairpin, and some people were totally into it and got totally obsessed with it, and other people were like, "What are you talking about? This is the dumbest, stupidest, fake-hipster-wannabe-funny bullshit I've ever read in my life. F--- this comic and f--- this guy." You know? And other people were like, "This is the funniest thing ever." You never know.

Yeah, I'm very used to it, but sometimes I am surprised. I guess I'm not that surprised. I'd love to say something like, "Yeah, I'm surprised at the negative comments on the Internet about the thing that I made." [Laughs] But it's like, you do remember what the Internet is, right? It's just a place where people spew negative comments about things.

The Finale and a Bonus Round

HIGGINS: What are your plans for the finale? A big live-tweet party at your friend's house or what?

REES: I'm in a panic: My friend who has a TV and cable is out of town, so I have to find a backup TV friend so I can watch this finale and tweet it.

The finale starts with this guy in my town named George, who owns a bar and is on the town council and is this super-friendly guy, who has a great handshake. He's sort of the star of the show because he has the best handshake in town and I want to be like him. We were talking about showing it at his bar, but his bar is actually closed on Mondays. So I dunno. In this cockamamie world, nothing ever goes right.

HIGGINS: Time for the Bonus Round. On IMDB, there's this section where it says people who liked Going Deep With David Rees ALSO LIKED these other shows. I want to run these shows by you and get just a gut reaction about whether YOU ALSO LIKE these shows. I don't care if you've seen the show, I just want a yay or a boo.

REES: All right, go for it.

HIGGINS: Brain Games.

REES: Yeah, that's NatGeo's #1 show! That's the show that's on before us, and Jason Silva's a super nice guy. Yeah, totally, I'm pro-Brain Games.

HIGGINS: Deadly Devotion.

REES: What?

HIGGINS: It's a crime TV show from 2014, and I have no further information.

REES: What's it called? Deadly Devotion? Well, it sounds like a lot of fun. So I'm gonna have to give a thumbs-up to Deadly Devotion, knowing nothing about it.

HIGGINS: Doomsday Preppers.

REES: Doomsday Preppers is another NatGeo show. I've never seen it, but the photos look amazing, and one of the Doomsday Preppers did basically dig a Party Hole that was even better than mine, so I've gotta give a shout-out to Doomsday Preppers.

HIGGINS: Garfunkel and Oates.

REES: I've never seen that, I've heard a lot of good things about those guys, but I have never actually heard their songs or seen the show, but I know it's a very esteemed show, so if people like that show and our show, I think that's good for our show. So thumbs up.

HIGGINS: So far, and this is probably about to go south, but so far this is reasonable. This algorithm works. Next up, a TV documentary called Your Inner Fish.

REES: Oh, what?

HIGGINS: Your Inner Fish.

REES: Your Inner Fish?


REES: Like a fish that's inside you?

HIGGINS: I guess.

REES: Yeah, I'm into that. I don't know what the f--- that is, but that sounds amazing.

Your Inner Fish. That's a real TV show?

HIGGINS: I guess. It says it's a TV documentary from 2014.

REES: Yeah, I'm into that.

HIGGINS: Next one, it looks like a Spanish-language show called High School of the Dead. [Ed. note: apparently it's actually Japanese.]

REES: Yes.

HIGGINS: And an as-yet-unreleased reality TV show called Die Trying.

REES: Hmm, sounds kinda grim. Unless it's "Dye" like people trying to learn how to tie-dye?

HIGGINS: There's no pun, it's just death.

REES: It's just death? I would need more information before I issue a verdict about a reality show called Die Trying.

HIGGINS: Next one is called Test Your Brain.

REES: Hmm.

It sounds like Brain Games, kind of. I'm into that, yeah.

HIGGINS: Next one is called DRAMAtical Murder, where the word DRAMA is in all caps.

REES: Listen, any time a TV show is doing something weird with capitalization or typography or punctuation marks, I'm totally into it. It's time to shake up the world with naming TV shows.

HIGGINS: Okay, this one's called Talk to the Animals.

REES: No, I hate animals. Next.

HIGGINS: It's called Fat Guys in the Woods.

REES: You can't be serious.

HIGGINS: I'm completely serious. It's the final recommendation.

REES: That's the actual name of the show, it's called Fat Guys in the Woods? What's the network?

HIGGINS: The Weather Channel.

REES: Oh! There we go. The Weather Channel has a show called Fat Guys in the Woods? Uh. That sounds like the kind of thing I would watch when I was in a hotel room, just flipping through the cable channels.

I mean it obviously depends on the personalities of the fat guys, and it depends on the biodiversity of the woods that they're in, but I can see myself enjoying that show.

Where to Watch Going Deep With David Rees

You can enjoy the fist-pumping tenth episode of Going Deep With David Rees Monday, August 25, at 10pm on the National Geographic Channel. (David typically live-tweets the episodes.) You can catch up on older episodes for free on Hulu. I like all of them, but the most brain-bending is probably How to Make a Paper Airplane. Last week's How to Climb a Tree episode is great if you like lemurs and pooters.