Features

The Kingcast Finds the Personal Stories of Stephen King Fans

Eric Vespe and Scott Wampler make for the podcast's skeleton crew


Collage by the Chronicle Art Staff

It's scary how much one writer can haunt your life. With 26 episodes of The Kingcast already online, and over a dozen more in the can, host and Stephen King obsessive Scott Wampler estimates that he's probably talked about the novels and film & TV adaptations of the author of The Shining and The Green Mile more than any other subject. "Maybe Trump," he said. "Maybe bitching about that."

Whose fault is that massive obsession? "Stephen King's," said co-host Eric Vespe.

Honestly, it's really Vespe who came up with the idea. He explained that he had been fascinated by podcasting as a medium for years "but the only way that I could get into it and have any kind of voice was to talk about something I was fluent in, and Stephen King and the work of Stephen King is one of the few things I can claim to know a great deal about."

Carrie’s about a girl that’s getting bullied. Cujo is about an angry dog ... The Shining is about alcoholism and feeling trapped. The elevator pitches on these things are very simple.” – Scott Wampler

That's self-deprecation on the level of self-libel. It's hard to talk about online film journalism without mentioning Vespe. Under the pseudonym Quint (an homage to the salty old shark-hunter in Jaws) he was one of the first wave of movie bloggers and one of the most respected, putting Austin's film journalism and criticism scene on the global map. Meanwhile, Wampler is probably best known as the laconic and sardonic managing editor of movie magazine Birth.Movies.Death. When searching for a co-conspirator, Vespe said, "I knew he was just as big of a King nerd as I was, if not bigger, he's funny, and he's got everything that I wanted."

"Also bringing a necessary sex appeal to the podcast," added Wampler.

Amid the torrent of Stephen King podcasts out there, The Kingcast had defined itself by its extraordinary guest list, including Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Doctor Strange), April Wolfe (Black Christmas), and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick). Of course, you spend enough time in this business, you end up knowing a long list of creatives, writers, and filmmakers. Wampler said, "Eric and I are uniquely positioned in that we've spent the last 10 – and in Eric's case 20 years – covering the film industry. We're both pretty personable dudes and over the course of that time we've made a lot of contacts and we know a lot of famous people, and we also know that a lot of those people were Stephen King folks."

Wampler added, "Somewhat inadvertently this podcast became a testament to what a powerful force [King] has been in the entertainment world."

Yet contrary to what you might expect for the man nicknamed the King of Horror, he's not actually the biggest-selling genre writer of all time. There he's beaten out by Dean Koontz, by an estimated 25 to 50 million additional books sold globally. Yet here's the difference: Name one Koontz book. By contrast, everyone can rattle off a long list of King titles. The difference, Wampler said, is in the quality of the writing. Koontz's books are "the kind of horror that people who are looking for a book to read on an airplane or are buying it in a gift shop on the beach. Stephen King is a higher quality writer, and the fact that he's had so many of his novels adapted to the screen, the influence he's had is infinitely greater than Dean Koontz's."

"You know Stephen King's face. You know his voice. That font" – Vespe pointed to his baseball cap, embroidered with the distinctive jagged ITC Benguiat that appeared on all his early novels – "that speaks to people."

There's also something very universal and identifiable about the themes in King books – even when he's dealing with transdimensional monsters or suburban vampires. Wampler said, "Carrie's about a girl that's getting bullied. Cujo is about an angry dog, and dogs are scary to a lot of people. The Shining is about alcoholism and feeling trapped. The elevator pitches on these things are very simple. As he's gone on in his career he's got a little wackier, but the heart is always there."

Of course, like any King fans the duo had a list of stories they wanted to cover. Yet when they started reaching out to potential guests, they'd automatically suggest a title that meant something to them. Rather than "assigning homework," Vespe said, "the guests are bringing the title to us. So every conversation is coming from a place of passion."

Wampler explained, "There are episodes that are funny. There are episodes that are far more serious. It depends on the material but really on the guest." Thomas Jane, for example, has starred in three King adaptations (1922, Dreamcatcher, and The Mist) and digs deep into all three plus his long-running effort to bring From a Buick 8 to the screen. Noah Segan talks as much about his father-in-law's hunt for first editions in a thrift store as he does about his supposed topic, The Langoliers. There's a sub-strand in the show on unseen King: Author Seth Grahame-Smith (The Last American Vampire) came on to exhume his failed attempts to make The Eyes of the Dragon, while Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead) explained what went wrong with his three-year battle to adapt King's fantasy magnum opus, the eight volumes of The Dark Tower.

The format also allowed for repeated visits to the same story: Just as Mazzara has his experiences with the adventures of the Gunslinger, so does Damien Echols, one of the famous West Memphis Three, falsely convicted of three satanic murders. Vespe said, "He was on death row for 20 years, and The Dark Tower in particular helped him get through all that. There are all these common threads from everybody of how Stephen King has helped them at some point in their lives get through trauma or a creative block, or discover who they are as storytellers."

That the show is about personal and professional relationships with King's work means the show is definitely not a "greatest hits," and Vespe and Wampler agreed there had been a few curveball picks. David Farrier, the journalist and documentarian behind Tickled and Dark Tourist, picked the widely despised The Tommyknockers miniseries (adapted from a book even the author has all-bar disowned) because it was one of the first big Hollywood productions in his native New Zealand. Even obscure King stories can lead to illuminating discussions, and there's a lot of obscure King. Out of the upcoming episodes, one of Vespe's favorites is a deep dive into A Good Marriage. When the guest suggested the 2010 novella, which was even adapted to the screen in 2014, Vespe admitted, "My instant thought was, 'What the fuck is A Good Marriage?'"


The Kingcast is available now on Apple Podcasts, Audioboom, Spotify, Stitcher, and anywhere you get your podcasts. Support The Kingcast via www.patreon.com/thekingcast.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Halloween 2020, Halloween 2020, The Kingcast, Podcasts, Stephen King, Eric Vespe, Scott Wampler

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