"Toys '4' Cheap" author Asterios Kokkinos on writing comedy, returning to New York, toys & more
As a Long Islander, Asterios Kokkinos got his start in comedy writing for a local newspaper at the age of 12. Asterios eventually found his way out west, working behind-the-scenes on a variety of television shows including MANswers, The Real World, MADtv, and The Daily Habit. Nowadays, Asterios is back on the East Coast, writing and producing comedy for a variety of outlets.
Back in October, alongside artist Jimmy Hasse, Asterios released Toys "4" Cheap via Devastator Press. A catalog of fake toys, Toys "4" Cheap is an homage to the old toy catalogs that had millions of children drooling. It was one of my favorite reads of 2016 as it has hundreds of jokes -- both obvious and obscure -- among its 56 pages.
Asterios caught up with No Place Like Long Island, talking not only about Toys "4" Cheap but also what is ahead for him as a comic. He can be followed on Twitter via @Asterios, while his Patreon page -- as discussed within our Q&A -- can be found at www.patreon.com/asterios.
Where did the idea for your new book come from?
Asterios Kokkinos: I was obsessed with holiday toy catalogs as a kid. I would spend hours and hours reading them, just dreaming of how much fun it would be to OWN MORE THINGS! Ninja Turtle sewer lair, Super Nintendo complete with Super Scope, Teddy Ruxpin...I wanted it ALL!
I would even cut out small photos of the toys I wanted to send to my extended family members. I was a real asshole back then, and times sure haven't changed!
What was the creative process for the book like? I ask because sometimes the main joke is in the illustration and other times it's in the copy.
AK: Honestly, it was just me spending a LOT of time reading old toy catalogs and trying to connect with the stuff that excited me as a kid. My formula was "thing I loved as a kid" plus "things I hate about being an adult." As a kid, I wanted Teddy Ruxpin so bad, because I suffered from terrible insomnia and was afraid of the dark. I thought the idea of a little robot bear who could tell me stories was perfect.
As an adult, I'm really fucking petty about the dumbest shit, like someone not following me back on Twitter. So I literally just wrote down "Petty Ruxpin," about a little robot bear who can't stop complaining about his annoying co-workers, or girls who aren't into him...just this little dumb robot bear who assumes his problems are everyone else's fault. Just like me!
Is there an item that you are most proud of in the catalog?
AK: I'm really proud of "My Digital Stepdad," which is a Tamagotchi of your milquetoast stepdad that you can't stop abusing! He comes with three buttons: "ignore," "ask for money," and "blame for divorce." The drawing Jimmy did just looks so innocent and unassuming. I love it!
Do you remember the first item that you had come up with?
AK: Oh yeah: Stretch The Truth Armstrong -- the doll that lies on his resume! Warning: he does not stretch. Also "Driveway Drencher." Soak your friends with unlimited water -- it's a garden hose.
Toys aside, what else are you working on?
AK: I'm working on a webseries where I review video games that don't exist, and I'm doing bespoke podcasting! People are paying me on Patreon to record a five-minute podcast about any topic they choose. They're picking insane topics, like "How can I break my crippling addiction to Subway Sandwiches?" or "Who would win in a fist fight: Chad Kroeger of Nickelback or Scott Stapp of Creed?" I've gotta talk about whatever they want for five minutes. It's called The Five Minute Podcast, and you can only hear it if you pledge, because each episode is made for just ONE person!
You grew up on Long Island and recently moved back to New York after years in Los Angeles. What led you back here?
AK: Sad reasons that I can't get into!
Is there anything you miss about living on Long Island? Do you still have family out here?
AK: I grew up on the east end of Long Island, and my parents still live in our old family home. I visit it all the time, and it's awesome! As a kid, it's tough to appreciate Long Island because it's so boring. But as an adult, I LOVE BORING. The quieter the better. I want my bars to close early so these hooligans aren't making noise in the street!
Do you have a favorite restaurant on Long Island?
AK: It's tough to beat The Hellenic Diner out in East Marion. Really great french fries, and the best lemonade on earth.
When not busy with comedy, how do you like to spend your free time?
AK: I don't have any -- I'm always doing comedy! The moment I clock out of my day job in advertising, I go right into comedy. Last night, I wrote a sketch for a podcast with a friend in Canada, mailed out signed copies of the book to fans, recorded several five-minute podcasts, and put some time against my new book. I got home at like 3:00 AM. Now I'm all grumpy today at my day job. Boo!
Finally, Asterios, any last words for the kids?
AK: Yes. Give up on your dreams early while you still have time find new ones.