An Interview with Earl Mac Rauch (Fall 2004)

This interview originally appeared in the Fall, 2004 edition of the World Watch One newsletter. You can find more information about the newsletter under the question Was there an official Buckaroo Banzai newsletter?

An Interview with Earl Mac Rauch
By Dan Berger

Perhaps one of the more frustrating thoughts for Buckaroo fans these days is that somewhere, out there, a small number of people have read the pilot script “Supersize Those Fries,” the adventure that could have put Buckaroo Banzai: Ancient Secrets and New Mysteries on the small screen every week. It is like the rumor of water after twenty years of drought, and still no water comes.

Fortunately, with the help of W.D. Richter, I was able to track water to the source and interview Earl Mac Rauch, the man responsible for writing The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension! screenplay and novelization, the aforementioned “Supersize Those Fries,” and another Buckaroo novel now approaching completion, titled The Devil’s Own Hole at the time this newsletter went to press. The following interview was conducted by e-mail from the middle of June to the middle of August this year. To avoid various security issues and legal concerns, ourinterview was governed under the conceit that Buckaroo Banzai and his companions are ‘characters’ occupying a ‘fictional’ universe.

Dan Berger: Twenty years is a long time, and Buckaroo as a character has been around even longer. Where does Buckaroo fit in the broader context of your life since you first dreamed him up?

Earl Mac Rauch: I doubt that Buckaroo has anything to do with my life. ‘The death of the author, the birth of the reader’…that kind of thing. Buckaroo is part of the ether, that’s all. He belongs to you as much as to me. Interpret him as you will.

If you’re looking at a real world context, I guess you’d have to say that the past two decades have not been kind to selfless crusaders. On almost most every front the real Hanoi Xans of this world seem to be winning, and like everyone else I watch and feel powerless.

Dan Berger: Where does Buckaroo fit within your professional life? There are many things you could choose to write about. Buckaroo is one of them, but there are a number of other avenues you could, and have, investigated over the course of your career. Where does Buckaroo fall for you within that continuum?

Also, in pursuing Buckaroo, you have had quite a ride following the ups and downs of the Hollywood System roller coaster. What has that ride been like, and where has it taken you?

Earl Mac Rauch: I’m not really the person to ask about Hollywood, and I have trouble with the word ‘career.’ I never consciously thought about having a career doing anything. Certainly if I had, I would not have chosen to write for a living.

I’m mainly a slacker, writing for my own pleasure and then finding that what I’m writing gives me no pleasure at all and moving on to something else. I’ve started dozens of things, but bore myself easily.

In any case, I don’t believe in letting ‘career’ define you. Too many Americans are work-driven and fall into that trap. I’m convinced the world would be a much better place if we all just did less. Despite appearances, Buckaroo doesn’t really work that hard. If we play by the rules of hierarchy, then George W. Bush is arguably the most successful human being on the planet.

Think about it.

Dan Berger: The parameters by which success is sometimes defined in this society are pretty damn unhealthy, no question. What effects have things like the current state of world affairs, your restlessness as a writer, and your view of Buckaroo as an altruistic anachronism had on things like the television script and the new novel?

Earl Mac Rauch: I think the most formidable challenge facing Buckaroo these days is that he is a modern man with all that implies, with a passion and curiosity that almost no one shares anymore in a post-modern world, where all that matters is money and celebrity.

As a result, Buckaroo is at constant risk of becoming a kind of quaint caricature. Most people don’t really care anymore about ideology; it’s all about life style. They just want to know about Buckaroo's love life and what kind of diet he’s on.

And the same goes for the rest of the Hong Kong Cavaliers. They’re famous for being famous. Meanwhile, Hanoi Xan takes over the Trump Organization and people shrug, thinking Xan’s a billionaire so he must be a pretty cool guy.

Dan Berger: At the same time, people more and more are showing outrage over the abuses of big money; examples being the Enron scandal, Anderson Consulting, various mutual fund scandals, and the list goes on. Granted, these stories blow over and fade from the minds of many Americans rather quickly, but it is difficult to make broad generalizations on that score. In short, Hanoi Xan may have won the apathy of contemporary society, but I do not think that he has quite yet won its heart.

Earl Mac Rauch: I don’t share your optimism, but I hope you’re right. One of the problems, as you say, is our collective short attention span. Beyond that, it’s the obsessing over trivial things and a lack of interest in larger issues. It’s all part of the post-modern drift to meaninglessness, where nothing matters except being a consumer.

Buckaroo bemoans this state of the world and preaches a contrary message that the purpose of life is a life of purpose. It’s hard to say how many are listening, but it’s encouraging to know that there are at least a few.

I don’t mean to turn the discussion toward politics. It’s too depressing. What Buckaroo finds most abhorrent is the total fascination with surface in our society. Even if life is fundamentally pointless, individuals should at least scratch the surface to seek a meaning beyond self.

Dan Berger: Then let’s turn to something a little lighter for the moment. One of the great joys about the novelization you wrote for Across the Eighth Dimension! is the way it celebrates its own invention. The references to Buckaroo's many adventures, the ambiguity of Penny’s status as Peggy’s sister or, very likely, Peggy herself, the affairs aboard the Calypso with Pecos and the Death Dwarves, the digression during which Perfect Tommy testifies on the subject of the MX dense-pack concept; the book goes places the movie obviously either didn’t or for the most part couldn’t. How much, if any, of what ended up in the book were things that you had considered for the film, but later abandoned during the script writing process for whatever reason?

Earl Mac Rauch: Sorry, I don’t really know what to say about the creative process. Buckaroo is a highly energetic guy with his fingers in a dozen pies at once. The problem is that I am not so energetic or conscientious about writing it all down, although there is certainly no shortage of raw material. Organization, addition by subtraction, is always the difficult part for me. Much of what interests me about Buckaroo is interior, but I’m not sure people want their action adventure heroes to be overly analyzed. Nobody wants to suffer through pedantic pulp fiction, so I try to err on the side of brevity.

Dan Berger: By “raw material,” do you mean ideas floating in your head or things that you have already collected over the years?

Earl Mac Rauch: I throw all kinds of odds and ends into the Buckaroo file, both stuff I dream up and stuff I rip off from the real world. Since Buckaroo knows pretty much everything about everything, nothing is really out-of-bounds. Over the years Rick and I have faxed each other enough stuff for easily a hundred TV episodes.

A book is a little more work, which is why it’s taken so long. As I’ve said, the problem is not with Buckaroo. The man is as alive and vibrant as ever. The problem is with his poor biographer, that lazy-ass Reno, who typically tumbles out of the rack around noon, sips Old Granddad for a couple of hours, ropes a sheep or two and goes back to bed. If a sheep’s not available, he might troll for a Hong Kong Cavalier groupie. Actually, a book about Reno might be interesting.

Dan Berger: I don’t think you'll hear any complaints about writing a Reno novel.

Before getting back to the new book though, and that’s definitely a topic we’d all like to hear more about, I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about Heroes in Trouble. Was Dick Ready, Doktor Wanko and the rest conceived as an extension of the Buckaroo Banzai lexicon or more a reimagining of the Banzai universe, or something else altogether?

Earl Mac Rauch: As far as Heroes in Trouble goes, my recollection is that ABC originally wanted to do a Buckaroo Banzai TV pilot, but there was always that nagging question about the underlying rights, since Bruce McNall and David Begelman hid their felonious paper trail so well that no one could find even legitimate things.

Anyway, ABC couldn’t do the original Buckaroo, so decided to do something ‘like Buckaroo’. Rick and I pitched them this concept involving a team of elite corporate warriors, anti-industrial espionage agents, who basically fought against a particularly evil corporation, even though they were corporate themselves.

The script was kind of cynical and subversive and we were still exploring where things might lead, but unfortunately in the real world there are scheduling deadlines and other considerations, and ABC decided to do Max Headroom instead.

As far as the characters are concerned, they absolutely were from the Buckaroovian world and would have only gotten better as time went on and they became fleshed-out, but we didn’t get the go-ahead, so they all died in painful isolation, writhing in agony and cursing their creator.

That’s about it.

Dan Berger: As Plato once put it, “That sucks eggs.” Sounds like it would have been a lot of fun.

Was your experience in putting together ‘Supersize Those Fries’ similar to the lead up to Heroes in Trouble in that the killer in the end was an ambush on the McNall/Begelman Paper Trail? It seemed for a long time like Fox and PolyGram were willing to say, “All right. If we do this, the chances of someone coming out of nowhere waving a piece of paper at us and screaming ‘litigation!’ are about the same as someone's ass turning purple and falling off.” What happened?

Earl Mac Rauch: With ‘Supersize Those Fries’, we went in a more broadly comedic direction. It was a pretty funny script, with a crazed Lizardo returning from the ‘dead.’ Actually, he kind of grew himself back together like a regenerating reptile.

We got great responses from all the people at Fox, who kept passing it upward, until it reached the top guy--whose name I forget and of course he isn’t there anymore--and he passed on the project.

There isn’t much else to say. We were one penstroke away from getting to shoot the pilot, but that's the way it is. It’s always one big corporate guy, like Jason in a hockey mask, guarding the net and blocking your shot. But that’s why he gets the big bucks, you know, for being careful with the company’s money.

Dan Berger: I was wondering if you ever read this review of ‘Supersize Those Fries’ that hit the internet back in December of 1999? (Attached to the e-mail is a copy of the review by Glen Oliver, formerly of the Ain’t-it-Cool-News website, found at

Earl Mac Rauch: I liked that ‘Supersize’ review. It made me want to see the show. It’s nice to know someone cared enough to take the time to read the script.

Dan Berger: Will the Buckaroo novel you are currently writing be based on ‘Supersize Those Fries,’ or be a brand new adventure?

Earl Mac Rauch: I don't want to talk about the book until it’s really done and I’m happy with it, so I’ll just make a couple of excuses instead. The difficulty with writing Buckaroo Banzai or any type of speculative fiction is that you’re not ‘just’ writing about characters in the recognizable real world. To be interesting, speculative fiction should be about creating new language and self-contained communities, alien worlds not necessarily having anything to do with aliens. I’m not sure I can do it, but that should be the goal.

If I could write Buckaroo as a private eye with an office in gritty L.A., really all that needs to be invented is a plot. But Buckaroo doesn’t exactly live in the real world. He does and he doesn’t. He and the Hong Kong Cavaliers work and study at the Banzai Institute, where West meets East and the future and ancient past intersect in some bizarre way. There is also a constellation of characters with histories of their own, and all of this needs to be sort of in place from the beginning, since you can’t go changing the rules as you go. Things can be added, but the foundation has to be already laid.

Dan Berger: In some ways the world doesn’t look much different than it did twenty years ago, but in many ways it is almost unrecognizable by comparison. Has Buckaroo's character changed in response to the shifts in our nation’s culture and situation over the last two decades?

Earl Mac Rauch: I’m not sure he has evolved. He continues to struggle between the extreme poles of his personality, between Eastern mysticism and an outdated Western belief in progress toward a utopian world based upon reason and a simple cowboy ethic of right and wrong.

Now, the cowboy mystique ain’t what it used to be. George Bush has probably pounded the last nail in John Wayne’s coffin, and the great American cowboy lives on only among an aging white male caste in this country. Having said that, I am no less of an Orientalist for being aware of the fact that I am one. Do you know what I mean? We are all by-products of cultural arrogance.

Keep in mind that Buckaroo may be half-Asian, but he grew up on the American frontier, so his psychology is complicated. He sees his Asian side through blue eyes and vice-versa.

Finally, I think Buckaroo has always been about pushing the limits of the possible, penetrating mysteries to get at the Truth. And yet the more he penetrates these mysteries, like Penny Priddy or the 8th Dimension, new riddles emerge. Truth with a capital ‘T’ is always elusive, and at the end of the day Buckaroo must ask, like the rest of us, just what the hell is the point of it all.

That’s the real challenge, to get up every day and go penetrate something.

Dan Berger: Rick Richter mentioned a while back that an initial draft of the new Buckaroo novel had been submitted to Simon and Schuster. If I remember correctly, they sent the novel back to you with comments for a re-write. What happened exactly, and what were their comments to you all about, generally speaking?

Earl Mac Rauch: Simon and Schuster was right. The novel wasn’t ready. When I’m not busy protecting the Homeland, I’m working on it.

Dan Berger: Does the thought of doing two more Banzai novels fill you with anticipation? Fear? Great happiness? A happy anticipation of fear? Or do you just not think too much about it since you’re still working on the first in the series?

Earl Mac Rauch: I’d say probably the latter. I try not to get ahead of myself by thinking of things down the road. To me, writing, even as a daily event, is a little like an amnesiac approaching a swimming pool. Only when you’re in the water, do you remember that you remember how to swim, but there’s no way to convince your brain beforehand.

Dan Berger: Stepping into Buckaroo’s world for one final moment, what can we expect to see in the good doctor’s future?

Earl Mac Rauch: Tough to say what’s ahead for Buckaroo. In some ways the old linear storytelling model seems outdated. People are reading less than ever, and you never know if he’ll get another shot at the silver screen or TV...but that's okay. With the internet the culture is becoming less hegemonistic, if that’s a word...less hierarchical.

What I do find strange is how Buckaroo has managed to live on in the popular culture, especially the internet culture, based on only one movie and a paperback novelization twenty years ago.

I’m constantly hearing lines from the movie and seeing production design ideas that have obvious Buckaroo origins. It’s really people like you who have been driving the simulacrum, keeping him alive. It’s like I’ve said: you can write him as well as I.

Dan Berger: Thank you very much for the interview. It’s been a real pleasure trading e-mails with you.

<-- Previous | Next -->

Buckaro Banzai FAQ Home Page

This page was last updated on October 8th, 2016.
Maintained by Sean Murphy []