Shirt and trousers, PRADA. Trinity necklace in white, yellow and rose golds with diamonds, Trinity ring in white, yellow and rose golds with diamonds, and Santos de Cartier watch, 47.5mm steel case with steel bracelet, CARTIER

No one could ever recreate what Gay Talese did for Frank Sinatra in 1966. They are and were respectively two great powerhouses in their own calibre, and nothing will come close to the written legacy presenting a fresh angle of not only the figure himself, but the culture he was embedded in.

Anyway, the premise here isn’t nearly the same. Lucien Laviscount isn’t unwilling to be interviewed, he merely seems really pressed for time. He doesn’t have a cold either. He just has a broken rib, though he didn’t quite specify how. It has been a crazy couple of days.

Friends, family, and associates were not involved in crafting this piece either. The only third-party accounts available are sifted from prior interviews with him. One particularly memorable (shoutout Fashion Magazine) for effusing such enthralment by his looks and charms that it’s borderline comedic.

Jersey, PALACE. Denim overshirt and denim jeans, JW ANDERSON via SELFRIDGES. Santos de Cartier watch, 47.5mm steel case with steel bracelet, CARTIER

The story often begins as a child model for David Beckham’s clothing line at Marks and Spencer, where the former athlete casually comments that the boy should try his hand at acting. It’s that demeanour that got Laviscount scouted for the campaign in the first place.

Laviscount rose to prominence in his teens through a couple of British dramas, strangely all taking namesake from locations—Waterloo Road, Grange Hill, Coronation Street. For international audiences, he plays Earl Grey (kudos to the writers) in Scream Queens and more notably, Alfie in Emily in Paris.

There’s his upcoming rom-com This Time Next Year and we would go on but this isn’t an IMDB page. Though it will be a pity to leave out that music video he did. Not appearances as a man-turned-werewolf in a Calvin Harris release, or a centaur-turned-man in Shakira’s recent hit; which if combined would probably make the rarest bingo card. No, it’d be fronting his own music in the most random 2012 club banger (for those interested, it’s “Dance with You” featuring Mann).

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He has since come far. Now, the rumour mill churns of his Bond candidacy. The 32-year-old English actor takes this call from London, despite coming off a shoot in LA and his posts showing him last in Miami. After the call, that very evening, he’ll jet off to Cannes for the film festival.

He does wish, fully acknowledging it’s not something he should say, that people would work on the weekends. Perhaps then, Mondays wouldn’t be so swamped. He is possibly the poster child for “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”. It’s not a mantra he recites, but it does surface as a running theme in previous coverages.

He actually just flew in from Antigua, where his professional bodybuilder father is from, and where he has been based since the pandemic days. So really, it’s about managing four days of his life at a time. Anything after will be too much to cope with, but of course, he wouldn’t have it any other way. Once again reinforces the grateful-to-be-here vibe.

Laviscount is insistent that he takes nothing for granted. He’s really happy for everything that has happened in his life and grows with it. Besides relaying how he’s learning and getting a better perspective of what the world for him looks like and who he is now, he encloses another almost boilerplate statement about how you won’t be able to live where you want to if you live in the past.

Surprisingly, motivational one-liners and all, the actor doesn’t quite deem himself an optimist. Even though he strikes as the type to believe in the best of everyone, and resonates with uplifting shows like Acapulco; a tale of overcoming odds and achieving dreams. Even though in a similar vein, when most consider audition processes daunting, he finds excitement in bringing what he has to the table and putting his unique spin on a part that was never written for him.

Coat, shirt and trousers, SAINT LAURENT

Underdog trope aside, the notion of optimism was never an option to Laviscount. In his books, it would only mean the reality of the situation is not recognised. His feet are very much planted on the ground. Great things do happen... with hard work and conviction. In other words—in his words—you can’t be a real optimist unless you are a realist at heart.

If anything, he would brand himself as a realist, but ultimately he rejects being labelled. Like many thespians, he hates being pigeonholed. Which is why the actor wouldn’t want to be solely defined by his occupation. His penchant for creating—whether writing, acting, having a fashion brand, fostering an incredible space for people to learn, whatever form that takes—is something that will always be part of him.

He attributes his unquenchable thirst for exploration to the energy he has. Busy savouring a moment where he is confident in his abilities but on the other side of that same coin, advocating the pursuit of ambitions outside of one’s career.

At the minute, it’s interior design and architecture. It fills his Explore feed on Instagram. The interest probably stems from the aspect of building something visual yet tangible that can live beyond him. He then draws opposing observations between the art world and the industry he inhabits. How in the former, nothing is ever truly finished and there’s freedom to curate individual moulds. Whereas the latter may be equally subjective to audiences, but its course and result are commonly dictated by the opinion of one.

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It would be like storytelling; where the storyteller gets to decide how the story is told. Where the reader’s perception is very much shaped by the hands of the writer. Would the license wielded by the author to weave an entirely verbatim-free narrative paint a balanced picture of fact and poetry?

In a delicious twist of irony, storytelling is one key concept Laviscount’s soul is drawn to. For a man who abstains from labels, it’s the sole identity that stays on his social media bio. In separate capitalised words, no less: Story Teller.

According to him, the tales don’t exist unless they are told. The massive appreciation he has for stories extends to people who are just as passionate about telling them. Capturing intrinsic moments of people’s lives and delving deep into their being are nothing short of magic and beauty.

In his yarn, Laviscount is on a continuous journey to discover what the best version of him will be. Navigating life and its many expectations, seeing through the good and the bad, acquiring a variety of experiences and influences with sheer wonder and wide-eyed amazement.

These could be politically correct answers. Or they could be genuine worldviews. Spoken sentences might be rephrased with a keen awareness that responses will be retold. Or they might purely be a reflex to remain neutral. As Laviscount maintains a consistent core, void of career cynicism and characteristically driven, the approach to be guided by inspiration and gratitude is how he aims to take on and run with whatever comes his way.

Or at least, that is how this story goes.

Jersey, PALACE. Denim overshirt and denim jeans, JW ANDERSON via SELFRIDGES. Trinity necklace in white, yellow and rose golds with diamonds, Trinity bracelet in white, yellow and rose golds, Trinity ring in white, yellow and rose golds, and Santos de Cartier watch, 47.5mm steel case with steel bracelet, CARTIER.
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Photography: Philip Sinden
Fashion Direction: Asri Jasman
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Styling: Tanja Martin
Hair: Fluffy the Original Barber
Makeup: Charlotte Hayley Mcritchie Trujillo
Producer: Guoran Yu at APEX COMMUNICATIONS
Executive Producer: Even Yu at APEX COMMUNICATIONS
On-Set Producer (UK): Kate Zhu
Production Assistant: Kingvarit Vongchanphen
Photography Assistant: Jon Conway
Styling Assistant: Ania Egan
Retouching: Yang Liu

I WAS PLAYING around in the surf one day in Hawaii and someone zoomed passed me on a boogie board and I thought, “That’s amazing!”. And then someone went by on a surfboard and I thought, “That’s even more amazing!”. It’s hard to explain how invigorating and joyful surfing is.

WHENEVER I SURF, I feel something deep inside me. That’s the same feeling I have when playing on stage in front of a lot of people.

OUR CHANGING THINKING on spirituality fascinates me. Where quantum physics meets with philosophy meets with mathematics meets with engineering; how they’re all coming to the same place from different starting points and how the numbers and teachings vindicate one another. We’re all one. We’re indivisible.

THAT KIND OF IDEA is not for everyone. You basically have to say goodbye to everything you thought was real. It gets craaazy!

WHEN I LISTEN TO MUSIC—even classical music—I have a tendency to imagine that all the instruments are guitars and that makes it all so much more interesting. Play an oboe passage on guitar and it can sound amazing. Translate a French horn passage in the harmonics of a guitar and the result can just be incredible.

I KNOW ONE DAY my children will come into a lot of money and that bothers me. I still don’t know what I’m going to do about that, especially as I grew up with very little and know that when I had some disposable income I went a bit crazy. I’ve had pretty much everything I’ve ever dreamt of having.

THE TRICK always is to want what you already have, not to keep on wanting.

WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER and inspiring to be a rock musician, I was taken with rock ’n’ roll’s glamour, the romanticising of the lifestyle. Well, then you experience it—and it’s all bollocks.

BELIEVING in sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll is a quick way to ruin your life. Pretty much all of my peers bought into all that and didn’t come out at the end of it—addictions, narcissism, just inappropriate behaviour, all that changes people for the worse. The problem is that it seems like a good idea at the time. Yes, it was fun, but every day I have regrets [about it].

WHERE METALLICA STANDS in culture is very important to me. The band just gets bigger every year and when people hear your music for the first time when they’re younger, they just latch on to it. There’s only a handful of bands that are like that. In our case, it speaks to people who are pissed off and don’t know why, people who haven’t had enough of a voice or who haven’t yet found a way to express it.

WHEN we’ve all run out our lives, Metallica will still be this living entity. For some reason, it’s so much bigger than the four of us [band members].

IT’S SO HARD to find stage clothes—something that’s unique, that you don’t see everywhere but has a flashiness to it because it also needs to be something you can see from 50 feet away.

WEAR ALL BLACK—as you do in heavy metal—and the stage gets dark and then suddenly it’s like, “Where’s Kirk gone?” It took time for me to realise you can really express yourself through clothing and that clothing can be fun.

WHEN I WAS YOUNGER I never really understood what machismo was. And then one day I realised I was neck-deep in it. All my friends, my father, my uncles and cousins—they were macho so I was naturally drawn to that way of thinking. It wasn’t like we were all Clint Eastwood exactly but there is a covert kind of machismo—the aggression and hostility, the need to be the toughest guy in the room. For me that even meant writing tough, scary riffs. It’s still hard for me to write happy-sounding music. It needs to sound like scraping a shovel along concrete.

I TELL MY CHILDREN never to feel pressured by dad’s day job [or] by the idea that they have to rise to some kind of standard [of success]. I tell them to just try to do what makes you happy—as long as it contributes to your well-being—and pray that you can make a living from it.

THAT and be nice to people.

I DON’T KNOW where the points come from but you get extra points for being nice to people. It makes you a lot more positive. And positivity is progress.

I’M A HABITUAL COLLECTOR, BRO. My friend called me the other day and asked me, “Why do you collect plastic bags?”. And I thought ‘I’ve been completely rumbled here’ because I do. I have OCD and collect anything.

I’M AT THAT AGE when I can look back on my life and see patterns when I go hard on certain things—guitars, vehicles, watches... plastic bags.

THE TRICK IS to not care what people think [about you]—not the way you’re dressed or your music or anything.

EVERYONE WILL HAVE AN OPINION—that’s what my parents told me—and it just doesn’t matter, especially since everyone’s opinion is coloured by where they are at in their lives.

UNFORTUNATELY, social media has turned that around.


WHO WOULD BE A COACH? That is the question that might have formed on the lips of anyone watching former Australian rugby coach Eddie Jones’ terse press conference following the Wallabies’ 40-6 thrashing by Wales at the Rugby World Cup in France earlier this year. Jones was in the hot seat, a position in which all coaches at the highest level find themselves at some point. It’s part of the job, if you can call what is a multidimensional, intensely scrutinised and, for some, all-consuming obsession, a job.

“I don’t consider coaching to be a career in any way, shape or form,” says Michael Cheika, coach of the Argentinian rugby team, a former World Rugby Coach of the Year and one of the few people who might have had a real understanding of how Jones was feeling in that moment, having coached the Wallabies from 2014 to 2019. “One day when I grow up, I’m going to have to get a proper job, just like everyone else. I think this is... it’s a lifestyle.”

Cheika, 56, who is speaking to me today from his living room in Paris where he currently lives, loves the real-time, week-by-week, game-by-game accountability of his role (he refuses to call it a job). “That is the best because you know that the day-to-day will get you to the better results later on,” he says. “The ups are never as good if you haven’t had the downs. So, the thing I enjoy most is that attention to results.”

Cheika’s attitude is one that’s built not so much on self-confidence—though, of course, that is important—but supreme self-belief. “Confidence can come and go,” he says. “You can be swayed with confidence. Because after a bad result, you could have your doubts. But what brings you back is that sense of self-belief, that you know what you can do, and what you can achieve.”

If you want to know whether you truly love something, you can get pretty clear confirmation when the things you enjoy about it are the same ones as those you find challenging. Or as pop culture’s most recent coach du jour Ted Lasso has said: “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”

“Mental health in COACHING is a case of whatever doesn’t KILL you makes you stronger.”

Comfort certainly isn’t something you’ll find in abundance in elite-level coaching. This is a role that puts you on a war footing with failure. One in which pressure is a ceaseless companion, scrutiny can be forensic, and all that really matter, regardless of how much an organisation might bang on about about culture and development, are wins and losses that are there for all to see. Succeed and you’re a saint. Fail and you’re a sinner. As Tom Sizemore’s character says in Michael Mann’s Heat, “The action is the juice”. And if it’s not, well, you should probably find another gig.

In that sense, you could call the coaching environment at the top level of professional sports a cauldron. The mental strength required to operate under such a cutthroat dynamic is difficult to fathom. But mental strength is built on mental health. And while the psychological demands faced by players have become a major focus in the past decade, the same can’t be said of the mental burden carried by coaches. Does the authority and visibility of the position preclude it? Could an admission of weakness and vulnerability put your job at risk? In all likelihood, yes. But there is also the possibility that coaches, the ones who’ve survived, are mentally stronger because they have faced adversity, shouldered responsibility and been held accountable.

“I think that mental health in coaching is a case of whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Because if you are to survive long enough as a coach, you’re going to encounter all kinds of anxiety and depression, but you’re going to overcome them,” says Dr Bill Steffen, a former division one soccer coach in the US, and assistant professor in sports science at Wingate University in North Carolina, whose primary research focus is mental toughness in coaching. “You’re going to inoculate yourself to those two conditions. Yeah, you get depressed. Yeah, you get anxious. But you figure out how to handle it, or you don’t, in which case you exit coaching.”

If that is the case, could it be that the seat Jones was occupying at that press conference back in September, while hot enough, perhaps, to scold or even brand him, was one he could endure? Because coaching isn’t so much a cauldron as it is a crucible.

WHEN BRIAN GOORJIAN WAS appointed head coach of the Boomers in 2001 after more than a decade as an NBL coach, he had a very human reaction: am I good enough? “I was excited when I got the position, but as soon as I got it, I’d have to say I felt overwhelmed because the responsibility is huge,” says Goorjian, who’s enjoying a view of the Melbourne skyline on a clear Friday morning, as he speaks to me from his apartment in Prahan. “I thought, Am I good enough to do this? Everyone has those doubts in them and people don’t realise that. You feel insecure. This isn’t just you and your team. This is a country.”

Goorjian, whose heavy Californian twang remains strong despite emigrating here in the late ’70s, found his doubt disappeared once he entered the Boomers’ camp and immersed himself in the day-to- day minutiae of coaching, otherwise known as the X’s and O’s. There, the players and support staff would likely have never twigged that their loquacious, at times temperamental, always passionate coach might have felt unsure of himself. And Goorjian wasn’t about to tell them.

In a leadership position that hinges on authority and respect, there’s not a lot of room for outward expressions of uncertainty.


The popular image of the coach as a solitary figure on the sidelines of games means they’re easily reduced to caricature, at least by their critics in the media and in the often hackneyed archetypes they inhabit in popular culture—stubborn, taciturn, volatile, tight-lipped and inscrutable are a few of the more common adjectives used to describe top-level coaches. Lasso, in his unrelentingly cheesy and avuncular nature, clearly bucks the stereotype. But you do have to wonder how much coaches’ public profiles match their private personas. “I’ve spoken with coaches that say, ‘Yeah, I’m screaming just to scream, just to be a presence so that it looks like I’m doing things, even though I know I’m not’,” says Steffen.

Anson Dorrance, coach of the division one women’s soccer team at the University of North Carolina and former coach of the USWNT that won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991, says many people are surprised when he describes himself as an introvert. “I’m a radical introvert,” says Dorrance from his car on the way home from practice in Chapel Hill. “So for me, even on this phone call, this is a performance. This isn’t me. This is me acting like the women’s soccer coach at the University of North Carolina.”

So, what defines mental toughness as it relates to coaching? Steffen conducted a study in which he and his team asked 22 elite-level coaches in the US that very question. The coaches surveyed came up with 46 characteristics, which were then narrowed down to a top 10. Confidence was rated the most important component in a coach’s mental make-up, followed by resilience, consistency, positivity, energy, passion, optimism, adaptability, inner strength and patience. The coaches were then asked if they thought these traits needed to be innate or could be developed. “Most thought it could be developed because a number of them said they weren’t mentally tough when they started coaching,” says Steffen. “Resilience is adversity and adjustment, and if you don’t have adversity, you can’t be resilient. Most coaches had some difficult times, yet they adjusted, they adapted, then they developed that resiliency.”

Cheika agrees coaches need to be mentally agile to succeed. “I’ve got an open mind as a coach but can also be very authoritarian,” he says. “I think that’s a real skill: to be able to be flexible, but to have single-mindedness when necessary. And then not be afraid to change if you feel like, Oh, no, this actually is better.”

Underpinning all of these traits is often an insane level of competitiveness. “Most people that think they’re competitive, I don’t think are competitive,” says Dorrance, who gleefully tells me he was the subject of a celebrated book, The Man Watching, which includes a chapter in which “everyone who hates me gives their opinion on me”.

It was Dorrance’s competitiveness that drove him, during one year of his 47-year tenure at UNC, to take a single Thursday afternoon off. “I was ok with that,” says the 72-year- old, who elevates plain speaking to an art form. “In fact, as my wife will tell you, I hate vacations because what’s going through my head is someone’s getting ahead of me.”

Clearly this level of commitment is not for everyone and even for those who possess it, is surely a double-edged sword. “The beauty of it [coaching] is that it’s not a nine-to-five job, and the curse of it is it’s not a nine-to-five job,” says Steffen, who also used to coach division one college soccer in the US and once had a year where he was away from home for 49 weekends on recruiting trips, a workload that hastened his transition from coaching into academia.

Dr Will Vickery, a senior advisor in coaching at the Australian Sports Commission, confirms that work- life balance is an alien concept to a majority of coaches. “It consumes your life, so you don’t really have a lot of time to switch off,” he says. “You forget the fact that it’s your job as opposed to your life.”

GOORJIAN KNEW HE MIGHT FACE a little extra heat when he stepped off the plane from Japan after the Boomers’ lacklustre FIBA World Cup campaign back in September. He expected it from the traditional media, who he has long courted and enjoyed a fruitful, symbiotic relationship with. But these days, of course, the real criticism, the stuff that might keep you up at night, doesn’t come from those who report on sports for a living. It’s from the anonymous keyboard combatants on social media. Fortunately, or perhaps astutely, Goorjian isn’t on social media. “My daughter’s like, ‘Don’t worry about what they’re saying’, so I’m like, Jesus, it must be fucking horrible.” Goorjian didn’t care to find out. “I’m oblivious.”

But he’s all too aware how such criticism affects the younger coaches he mentors, calling trolling the work of “cowards with no responsibility”. “Man, you’ve got to watch your mental health because some of that stuff is vile, really nasty,” he says. “I had a guy on the phone the other night and he was like, ‘They’re talking about my wife and my kid’. It breaks my heart.”

Cheika too, shuns social media but is similarly aware of its psyche-shredding potential. “All of a sudden you can be receiving everybody’s judgment,” he says. “It’s probably more in the domain of those who are just starting off in coaching. Whereas a coach my age, I wouldn’t know what anyone’s saying on social media. So it has no effect. And this is the thing, right? It’s a choice.”

While Cheika and Goorjian’s absence from social media removes it as a stressor, they don’t shy away from scrutiny from the mainstream media and are accepting of the fact that reporters, like them, have a job to do. “I always look at it like I’m getting rewarded for my work,” says Goorjian. “People say, ‘You can’t hide this’. I like that. I’m proud of what I’m doing, I’m proud of my team. I love that if I lose a certain number of games, my ass deserves to be in the firing line. It helps drive me.”

Cheika too, is not overly bothered by criticism of his performance; invariably, he’s already judged it for himself. “I’m an extremely harsh auto critic,” he says. “What role have I played and how has my performance been? I’m already asking those questions before any media ask me. I feel like the whole pressure thing is a bit overplayed.”

Of course, pressure also comes from within an organisation, particularly if you’re a coach who’s been brought in to help a team take the final step toward a championship, premiership or medal. Goorjian admits that his outstanding record as an NBL coach, including a three-peat with the Sydney Kings, has created expectations he’s found tough to deal with. “You can’t help but feel it within the organisation and to be truthful with you, that’s why I’ve coached overseas [in China] a lot in the last 15 years,” he says. “You don’t want to let people down.”

The perception created by a team’s position on the ladder can see pressure on a coach mount quickly. “Their win-loss record is their litmus test,” says Vickery. “If they’re not winning, then they’re almost seen as failing, which is absolutely not the case. But the public perception is often that way.”

Steffen, meanwhile, believes the focus on results warps perceptions around the job the coach is actually doing. “I think coaches get too much blame when they lose, but they also get too much credit when they win,” he says.

The fact is, when a team is underperforming, it’s not the star player who’s going to get the axe, even if fault lies within the locker room. “It’s easier to get rid of the coach,” says Steffen. “To sack one person versus sacking an entire team. It’s just easier to change it that way.”

In such a transparent, results-driven profession, job security will always be an issue, says Josh Frost, a researcher at the University of Melbourne’s Orygen Institute, who is currently completing his PhD on the mental health of elite coaches. “In last year’s Premier League season in the UK, 13 out of the 20 football clubs sacked or fired a coach. In some sports coach turnover is very prevalent.”

“It consumes your LIFE, so you don’t switch off. You forget that it’s your JOB as opposed to your life.”

Not surprisingly, those who’ve been in coaching for a while have developed strategies to deal with the precarious nature of their position. Cheika, for example, came into coaching from a successful business career and was already financially secure. “No one is forcing you to do this,” he says. “It’s a choice. I’ve always had my own businesses. What that does for you is give you that autonomy so you don’t make compromises for the reason of job security or because you need that salary to pay your mortgage.”

Earlier in his career, Goorjian, too, leaned on a teaching qualification as a form of insurance, allowing him not only to shelve worry about his financial future but also to take risks. “I always had a plan B,” he says. “I taught when I came to Australia. So, I had a mindset of, I’m in a casino, I’ve got five grand in my pocket that I’ve won,I’ve got the other 500 sitting on the table and I’m playing with the bank’s money. Risk-taking is a very important part of coaching. You’ve got to play a little bit by the seat of your pants.”

AS A FORMER PLAYER WITH THE Melbourne Demons in the AFL, Alistair Nicholson remembers his first coach, Neil Balme, being fired after a string of losses in 1997. “I got quite a strong dose of the instability and impact that can have on a football club and player group,” says Nicholson, who these days is the CEO of the AFL Coaches Association. “And then my time under Neale Daniher, there were times where I’d go, ‘You’re looking after us and looking after us well, but who’s looking after you?’ And I think that’s probably where the conversation is now.”

A 2020 study by the Orygen Institute conducted in partnership with the Australian Institute of Sport of 252 elite coaches found that 41 per cent of them had psychological symptoms that warranted treatment from a health professional, while 42 per cent reported potentially risky alcohol consumption. Almost a fifth (18 per cent) reported moderate to severe sleep disturbance and 14 per cent experienced very high psychological distress.

Frost believes the broad remit of modern coaching makes it inherently mentally demanding. He cites pressure from clubs, fan expectation, job insecurity and social media as contributing factors, which are compounded by long hours and frequent travel, often robbing coaches of the ability to access a support network. “I think a range of things can be very demanding and with a lot of social isolation and travelling, not having your social support around you can really contribute towards being more vulnerable to mental health challenges,” he says.

And while the argument can be made that adversity forges resilience in the longer term, the fact is, not all coaches are equipped to deal with the pressures of the job as well as others. This is only exacerbated by the fact that those who are struggling may not feel comfortable disclosing their difficulties due to concerns about the reaction from their organisations. “Coaches are leaders in their environment and might feel less inclined to exhibit or express emotions at the risk of receiving judgment from players or members of the hierarchy or board,” says Frost. “And that’s why it’s really important that organisations cultivate a psychologically safe culture to allow coaches to be able to express their emotions or challenges in an environment that has fewer consequences.”


Steffen returns to the sink-or-swim dynamic of coaching. “Sinking could lead to problems with mental health or you just get out of coaching,” he says. “I know a number of coaches that have just left coaching because of the demands. They felt like it wasn’t healthy.”

Sometimes coaches just need to refresh themselves, something often only afforded by default after contract termination. Increasingly, though, at least in the AFL, some coaches are choosing to take time off on their terms. “We’ve seen in the AFL some experienced coaches take a sabbatical or time -out and the boards have confidence that they’re going to bring something back to the club. Clarko [Alastair Clarkson] and Brad Scott and Ross Lyon came back after a period away and hopefully their energy levels will continue to let them do it because there’re only so many people that can do it at the top level, and do it well,” says Nicholson, whose organisation helped found, in 2018, a mental health education programme

for AFL community coaches and players called ‘Tackle Your Feelings’. Not surprisingly, the mental toll of the profession is something coaches will often only acknowledge behind closed doors, sometimes with other coaches who are equipped to understand the struggles they might face. Goorjian and Cheika both talk regularly to other national- level coaches. Both also see the advantages to be gained in seeking outside counsel. When Goorjian began coaching he employed a performance coaching consultant to evaluate him on and off the court. “Once a week, it’s like I’m sitting in the chair and he would say, ‘Let’s talk about you. You look tired, let’s talk about your...’ so I know that side of it.”

Similarly, after the World Cup, the 70-year-old sat down with a circle of trusted confidantes. “They knew I was going to call. They’ve watched every game. So it’s like let’s sit down and talk. If I have a problem and it’s affecting me, I have people I can go there with. You need it just like the players need it. You need to be evaluated. I’m like everybody else. I’m not made of steel.”

IF COACHING AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL does ultimately come down to winning and losing, you have to wonder how coaches mentally approach this inescapable, sometimes oppressive dynamic. While there is something to be said for attempting to embody Kipling’s immortal line, "If you can meet with triumph and disaster... And treat those two impostors just the same", coaches do have to allow for their own humanity.

“I think coaches get too much BLAME when they LOSE and too much CREDIT when they win.”

“On wins and losses, I have a rule where at midnight, that game is in the rear-view mirror,” says Goorjian. “If we win, I’ve got to celebrate with my staff, ‘Let’s have a meal together’. But at midnight I put it in the rear view mirror and it’s the same thing with a bad loss.”

Of course, the really big victories, the championships or Olympic medals should be savoured, he adds. “I got a three-peat with the Sydney Kings. You carry those rings around in your heart with that group for the rest of your lives. The bronze medal [at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics], I think about that every single day. I wake up and that’s something I carry. It never goes away.”

Cheika, who’s coming off a fourth- place finish with Argentina at the Rugby World Cup, is in a period of reflection when I speak to him. “Look, it’s hard for me because many would say we had a successful World Cup, finishing fourth. I’m still going through the last game where we could have finished third. What could I have done better in the lead-up? Not because I’m looking to be hard on myself but because I know that will serve me so that when that scenario or something similar occurs again, I’ll be able to make good decisions or better ones.”

That is, of course, all you can do, for soon enough victory and defeat are reduced to something altogether less august: statistics. And those, well, those can be damning, even for the most successful of coaches. “If the only time you’re happy is when you win the championship, you’re going to have a horrible career,” says Goorjian. “I’ve been in this close to 40 years; I’ve won six. It’s very, very rare that you finish a season with a win.”

This all serves to underline the fact that in this business, you need a healthy relationship with failure. Sport’s great conceit is that results mean everything and nothing. The stakes are a construct, the drama confected. “The greatest thing about sports is failure because it doesn’t matter if you fail,” says Dorrance. It’s a lesson he tells his players but one that might serve anyone compelled to embark on coaching as a career. “If you want to really grow, fail as often as you can and recover, because it’s in the failure that you’re going to learn about who the hell you are and you get to make a decision on who the hell you want to be.” Well said, coach.

Originally published on Esquire AUS

Deepak Chopra.

WE ARE AT A CROSSROADS. One road leads to extinction and the other could lead to a more peaceful, sustainable, healthier and joyful planet. Unfortunately, our emotional and spiritual development has not kept up with scientific knowledge.

IT IS WITHIN our power to reverse this calamity, and that can change if humanity has a shared vision. If we complement one another’s strengths, if we have maximum diversity of knowledge and if we connect, emotionally and spiritually... then it could emerge into a new paradigm.

ALL PEOPLE are interested in, is how many likes they get on their selfies. We have sacrificed ourselves for our selfies.

YEAH, I think celebrity is another way on how we replace ourselves with our selfies. It’s the human condition. They like to think that there’s somebody who’s superior but there isn’t.

I USED TO MEET people on the streets who told me, I read your books. Now they say my grandmother used to read your books.

TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION is one particular aspect of mantra meditation. And the mantras that I use take you beyond thought. But now we see that that’s only one form of meditation. [There are others like] mindfulness, reflective inquiry, body awareness, awareness of mental space.

FUNDAMENTAL REALITY cannot be accessed by a system of thought. Whether it’s science or philosophy or any other system. If you want to know reality, you have to go beyond human constructs. Meditation is the only way to go beyond human constructs.

EVERYTHING WE TALK ABOUT IS A story. Stories are maps of reality, not reality. You can’t eat the menu, you have to eat the meal. And so if you want to eat the meal, you have to go beyond rational thought.

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MY FAVOURITE BOOKS haven’t changed. Have you heard of Lost Horizon? It was by a guy called James Hilton. It was the first time people were introduced to the idea of Shangri-La. I have other favourites like W Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge; Rudyard Kipling classics; Arthur Conan Doyle... Shakespeare’s my favourite. I used to be able to recite every play of Shakespeare.

ACTING is a very interesting profession for good actors. I occasionally watch movies and the last one was Oppenheimer because I was curious about the person who had the insanity to create an atomic bomb.

YOU SAW OPPENHEIMER, RIGHT? What an ordinary guy. Do you read Einstein’s biography? I mean, the amount of human problems he had. When you look at famous people, whether they are in the arts or humanity or science or spirituality... everybody is fake. Including me.

IF THERE WAS a biography made on my life? [It’ll be an] authentic fake. At least, I don’t deny it.

HOW OTHERS depict me is a projection of themselves. The story you write about me... isn’t about me, it’s about you because of the questions you’re asking, right? It’s like using AI for a prompt: you’re asking me questions that the next person will not. Every story you write is about you.

IF I HAVE A GRAVE, it would say on the [tombstone], “Where you are, I once was. Where I am, you’ll soon be”.

I HAD A GOOD TIME. Been there, done that.

I WAS NOT SELF-AWARE as a physician-in-training. I graduated medical school in 1970 and went to the United States immediately. The first 10 years of my training, internship president’s fellowship, neuroscience, I was very much part of the system.

IN THOSE DAYS, doctors smoked; we all smoked. Even during the medical conference, doctors would advertise for Lucky Strike or Camel cigarettes. A very interesting time.

WORK doesn’t start until it’s 11am. When I get up at six, I reflect. Meditate; I do yoga. After five I don’t work any more. Weekends too.

I HAVE NO SOCIAL LIFE. I find social conversation very boring. Other than, spending time with friends and family, I don’t go to parties or watch movies.

IT’S DISTRESSING but I watch the news just to keep up with the world. Everybody’s fighting over nothing.

I WANT to be known as an interesting guy. But he’s not there any more. Move on. [laughs]

DO YOU know your great-grandfather? Do you know the grandfather of your grandfather? No. But because of him, you’re here. Every cell in your body has the genes of your ancestors. That is the legacy.

MY NEW BOOK is called Digital Dharma and I think AI, like any other great scientific discovery, can be used to heal the world or to destroy the world. But, at least, we have the intelligence to not allow that to happen.

THEN AGAIN, humans are crazy.

AI IS AUGMENTED HUMAN intelligence: it doesn’t say anything original. It’s a large language model that has no consciousness; doesn’t feel hungry; doesn’t have sex; doesn’t fear death... but it’s super intelligent as a language model..

A LOT OF PEOPLE think I am crazy. Maybe. I don’t know. If war and terrorism and eco-destruction and extinction of species, and poison in your food chain and chronic health and absence of joy is normal, then I don’t want to be normal.

I HAVE NO FEAR. I’ve no fear of death or anything. Zero. My stress level is zero.

TO GET TO THAT STAGE [of having no fear] is to recognise that you’re not your body and you’re not your mind. The only thing that’s real is consciousness; consciousness without form. It doesn’t have borders, therefore, it’s infinite.

Photography: Gan Kah Ying
Art Direction: Joan Tai

Blazer, tank top and bermudas, AMIRI

It is always interesting acquainting with someone for the first time, celebrity status notwithstanding. Largely because you never know which version of them you're meeting. No one maintains an utterly identical self while meandering through the varied seasons of life.

I would like to believe it's a good moment in Justin H. Min's timeline to meet him. He's not quite a household name yet, but it's more than fair to say he's on the better side of fame. Most would predominantly know him as Ben Hargreeves aka The Horror or his alternate self, Sparrow Number Two from The Umbrella Academy. Hardcore fans may even recognise him from his stint with Wong Fu Productions.

At this juncture, we're discussing his latest release on Disney+, The Greatest Hits. The premise takes relatability quite so literally. Ever felt like listening to a particular song transported you back in time? It actually does for female protagonist Harriett, for whom the act has now become an obsessive plan to potentially undo her lover's ultimate death.

Min plays the new man Harriett encounters, whose existence inevitably forces her to make that fateful decision. A choice (no spoilers!) he still doesn't quite know if he would have made the same way, despite heavy contemplation.

"It's a movie about the exploration of grief, and I was grieving a friend that I lost when I received the script," he shares. "It's amazing that I can do art that resounds with me on a very personal level, often at a very specific time in my life the last few years."

Blazer and shirt, KENZO. Sunglasses, OLIVER PEOPLES

Not one with dream genres in mind, the only litmus test Min has is the emotional connection to the material that comes his way; because why would you put your heart and soul into something you are not passionate about?

One character that naturally surfaces is Ben from Randall Park's Shortcomings. If actors enjoy playing roles vastly apart from themselves to have a distinct divide, the highly-flawed and insecure Ben was terrifying for Min.

"The joke when I talk about him is that's who I was before therapy," he chuckles lightly, "He did feel so close to me in many ways that it was very vulnerable. Other characters I could hide behind different qualities that make up the person, but this felt raw sharing a lot of my own brokenness."

Ben, who finds his source in Adrian Tomine's graphic novel of the same name, feels unnervingly like someone you might know in real life. Which begs the question: exactly which traits did Min see in himself most?

"He has a strong sense of what he likes and doesn't. His taste in movies is very elevated, and yet he is unable to produce the kind of art that he loves because he's paralysed by his own perfectionism," Min says, explaining a similar revelation in his early aspirational phase, "You have to be willing to put yourself out there, do the work required to build a portfolio and hopefully reach where your taste and your art aligns."

Blazer, sweater, shorts and belt, AMI

Experience also puts crappy shows in a new perspective. "We can all watch and say it's so bad but we don't know how many things were needed to work out perfectly for it to be done right."

Min agrees that actors often only have the script—a fraction of the final product—to gauge; the execution you can only hope for the best. "That's why when I see a movie now and dislike it, I have so much more compassion than I used to."

However, one special script did make him cry. Not a cinematic singular-tear-down-the-cheek, but unapologetic sobbing on the plane.

"First of all, I would disclaim that by saying some of that was due to altitude," he clears his throat semi-sheepishly and grins, adding that he's not one to cry much but later discovered that heightened sentimentalism during transit is universal. In his defence, this theory has been widely supported by several psychiatric articles and reported stats.

See, the thing about After Yang (which if anything, you should watch solely for that rad dance break at the beginning) is not your typical robot flick. We don't just mean because it's an A24 starring Colin Farrell.

"Majority of android films and TV is always about the robot wanting to become human, and the thing I was so moved by was that Yang was so content being a robot. So content with serving his family and found so much reverence and dignity in doing his duty."

"It's kind of that Asian immigrant mentality that I think really struck a chord. The idea that my parents have no other joy than to see their kids succeed, you know? That's why a lot of immigrant parents move to America, for their kids to have a better life."

Min trips on his words for a split-second and continues, "I thought about my parents and it broke my heart because I want more for them? My mom owned a [dry cleaning business] for 20 years, my dad worked at a supermarket and they were just perfectly happy doing that. Anything to keep our family afloat; for my brother and I to have a future."

Suit, shirt, tie and boots, CELINE. Sunglasses, OLIVER PEOPLES

It's beyond evident that family and his Asian roots are dear to the actor's heart. Presented the hypothetical chance to access anyone's memories the way Yang's was, there wasn't much hesitation.

"I love my parents and they've been so great, but as much as we try to meet each other where we're at, there's always gonna be a fundamental disconnection because of the difference in where we were born and raised," he muses.

"There's also seeing your parents as this sort of omnipotent superheroes who are always there to take care of you and don't really have ambitions and feelings of their own. I think navigating my mom's world through her eyes could give me that much more empathy for her as a human."

Besides that instance where we as children awaken to the fact that our parents knew us our whole lives, but we perhaps only know them for half of theirs, there were other aspects the movie confronted him to consider more critically.

"The ever-evolving question I'm constantly ruminating on is: If I ever have kids, what part of my Asian identity would I want to pass down? Would I go as far as Korean New Year traditions? I don't even know enough myself to feel like I can accurately teach them… so there's no easy answer."

Blazer, vest, trousers and scarf, GIORGIO ARMANI

Still, it doesn't matter whether his Asian identity is at the forefront of his acting. It's as much fun to deep dive into the dialogue as it is simply left as a subtle nod. Min is content to work with the people he admires, participate in discourses about said work and is at peace with current circumstances.

Witnessing peers that he entered the industry with leave; the opportunity to sustain a decent living post-pandemic post-strikes; doing what he loves without countless side jobs as he used to, is in itself, career success.

It's surely been a roller coaster ride since cutting his teeth on The Umbrella Academy, which sees its culmination this August. To summarise, that's going from recurring character to series regular; from bidding the cast farewell to screaming in his Toronto apartment when he read the secret new script that brought him back.

"And before Netflix, no one was dealt fame in such rapid ascension. Even with the biggest stars, you were watched all around the globe in a gradual rollout. Whereas now you're instantly in 190 countries with millions watching. I don't think enough people talk about how crazy that is."

These days, catching a break between press tours and role-prep, Min has retreated to his happy place—alone in nature.

"I've been slowly ticking national parks off my list," he recounts the most recent being Arches National Park, but Redwoods is one he finds himself returning to. "There's something about the grandeur of those trees that just makes me feel so small in the best way possible; and acknowledge that these ‘huge problems' in my head really aren't that big of a deal."

Success on an individual level though, is something he ponders long to define.

When Colin Farrell called you beautiful, I proffer, gaining a merry burst of laughter.

"Exactly, such a core memory in my life now," he humours, referring to the very first time the two met. On a serious note, he goes, "Sounds cliché but living more authentically. By that I mean figuring out more about myself, my values and hopefully learning to live by them."

Tuxedo jacket, shirt, trousers and cummerbund, BRUNELLO CUCINELLI. Cap, stylist’s own.

Who would the authentic Justin H. Min be?

The man who was once less confident and perchance a little more self-centred, or the one before me; who carries an open, positive energy that you can see why he resonates with crews and audiences alike. Who was previously a photojournalist, but whose fascination with the stories of others persists in his curiosity towards mine through the two-way conversation that the interview eventually became.

The actor who resolved from the onset to have his middle initial be present in his stage name because he feels tethered to his Korean identity. Yet was not aware of what "Hong Kee" means (he's convinced it was a phonetic preference his parents had rather than significant symbolism …but he's going to check with them after this).

The child of immigrants, who recalls Celine Dion's It's All Coming Back To Me Now as one of three albums playing in the car on family road trips. Who abides by the culture that surrounds him, who reflects on essential truths when in the forests and in the air; to imbue its amalgamation in his craft, and one day, in his children who would look back and wonder what the world was like through his eyes.

Photography: Art Streiber
Fashion Direction: Asri Jasman
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Styling: Oretta Corbelli
Producer: Cezar Grief at COOL HUNT INC
Grooming: Aika Flores at EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS using SKIN 1004 and ORIBE
Styling Assistant: Alessandra Mai Vinh
Location: Downtown LA Proper Hotel

“It is frustrating that people still think of board games as being like Monopoly, just going on forever and ever, with players sat there circling the drain until it’s over,” laughs Chris Backe, “when there’s a new generation of board games that allow us to explore aspects of ourselves we don’t generally get to explore. It’s like the movies or novels, only with games you’re not a watcher but a participant. With games, we get to step out of our skin”.

Backe is a rare beast: he’s a full-time board game designer, always working up 20 or so new concepts for his company No Box. He’s testing them, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and over recent years seeing his industry enjoy a huge revival—to the tune of USD16b in annual sales, thanks in part to the pandemic. Over his years in the business, he has concluded this: it’s not that people like to play, but that they need to play. And not just in structured ways, as with games or sports, but in manners that have no purpose at all beyond the pleasure of doing them. We’re not just talking about children here; we’re talking about grown-ups too.

“I’m a strong proponent of the idea that adults should play, by which I mean play that is defined as self-chosen and self-directed, not driven by coaches, not something you have to do,” says psychologist Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn and one of the world’s leading scholars of play. “All play in a sense has rules, maybe handed down [from] generation to generation, sometimes implicit, sometimes just made-up on the spot. But we all need to play more. Play has made us what we are”.

And not just us. All mammals play, from dolphins to dogs. One theory proposes that those mammals are capable of using objects as tools. Like a monkey using a stone to break open shellfish, for example, or the first instance when a stone is used as a toy. Utility came later. Others stress how, despite its energy expenditure, and even the occasional injury, natural selection has not weeded play out, as might be expected.

In part that’s because play is often a process of exercise or stress relief, both good for us. But it also has a much more important role. One key idea—first proposed by Karl Groos in his The Play of Man (1901)—is that play not only allows the nervous system to develop ready for certain activities later in life but it also functions as a kind of practice. Of those skills required for survival, learning to cope with unexpected events, and preparation for doing things as a competent adult.

The skills and values explored in play can be specific to a child’s culture—Groos suggested the likes of hunting, skiing, canoeing or horse-riding. It seems that children’s readiness to play at these is instinctual; they observe and mimic without being prompted. The skills can also be more universal. Play, for example, is often social—first is the need to decide together what and how to play, so cooperation and communication are essential.

In fact, animals that are more dependent on their group for survival tend to play more, with, as Gray argues, hunter-gatherer societies positively suffusing nearly all they do with play. From religion to work and ways of settling disputes, all the better to suppress any drive to dominate. In play, you have to learn to control your impulses, like in play fighting where you’re almost hitting your opponent but never actually. It’s as much mental as physical too. Being self-directed, play also fosters creativity, imagination, experimentation and independence.

It’s why, argues Rene Proyer, professor of psychology at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, while some of us play in more obvious, more socially acceptable ways—he cites those who play video games, use colouring books for “mindfulness” or who build the complex sets LEGO created specifically for adults (“Adults welcome,” as its ad has it)—we all tend to play in one way or another. Humour, fantasy, daydreaming, sexuality all offer forms of play, as does language, as the very phrase “wordplay” suggests. People often use play as a means of getting through repetitive tasks, inventing challenges for themselves, he notes.

“[If you play with children] you soon learn that almost anything and everything can be play. But, in a way, adults are more free to play because our worlds are larger [than children’s],” Proyer suggests. “And there are good reasons to continue to play as adults, even the opportunity it brings for continued learning. But the easiest answer to the question of why adults should play—and the most correct one—is that it’s fun. Play can be used to maintain alertness, or to keep you in the moment. It’s through play that you can enter a ‘flow state’.”

This idea, of being fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus and enjoyment, is now more commonly cited about sport or the production of art—but it was first proposed, by the psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in 1990.

And yet the evolutionary necessity of play has long been side-lined, even denigrated. Sebastian Deterding, professor of design engineering at Imperial College, London, and a researcher in playful design, says play got in the way of industrialisation and its need for reliable labour. Capitalism saw play as a waste of time; play became associated not with positivity but with the Bacchanalian wildness of festivals.

“Even in the Medieval period kings would complain about peasants playing cards rather than improving their archery or doing something ‘useful’. And religions have often had bans on games because of their relationship to gambling,” he says. “Today in the [first] world the norm is to have roles and duties — as an employee, as a parent—while caring for oneself and one’s dependents. And play doesn’t fit into that. It’s seen as trivial in a culture in which everything is measured in terms of productivity. Even sleep and fitness are about improving your ability to fulfil your social role, while sport is considered to have the necessary function of being a community ritual.”

Historically some games got what Detarding calls a “free pass”: early board games—the likes of Snakes and Ladders—were morality tales dressed up as games, while chess or backgammon were associated with a kind of brain-training. Even when play is discussed today there is, he says, often some vague kind of attempt to legitimise it—it’s a way of getting the family together, or it’s for the improvement of one’s well-being, “even that the PlayStation you just bought was in the sale,” he laughs. “But attitudes to play are changing—there’s more institutional approval, for example, with big museums running exhibitions on video-gaming; there’s more questioning of the values we’re expected to subscribe to. There’s also been a lot of boredom over recent years”.

“In one sense play is on the up, especially coming out of the pandemic. People had a lot of time on their hands that previously they hadn’t, and turned to play as something to do, even as a way of dealing with the situation,” says Jeremy Saucier, assistant vice president at The Strong National Museum of Play in New York and editor of the American Journal of Play. “Sure, play has long been associated with childhood—play is ‘what kids do’—even as many adults became more open to it, and even if they might not have called it ‘play’. Yet there’s still a certain risk in revealing that you ‘play’ in modern culture. Play is still considered to be frivolous in a highly competitive world”.

Unless, of course, that highly competitive world co-opts play in the pursuit of improved efficiency in business or consumer engagement with a product: the so-called ‘gamification’ of the workplace and education, in training and marketing. This reveals a philosophical conundrum. “Play has so many possibilities and there are ways to harness it to bring all sorts of benefits. But if you assign a purpose to play, is it still really play?” asks Saucier. “The danger is to recognise that play is good for us and then trying to throw play into everything. Then it just becomes performative”.

Remarkably, even play among children is under attack. Ana Fabrega, founder of Synthesis—an educational system based on the idea that children are hard-wired to learn skills the likes of collaboration, autonomy and competence through play—was a career teacher with experience in school systems around the world. She notes how with the notable exception of the education system in Finland, time for free, unstructured play has increasingly been squeezed out of school timetables in favour of academic study and the pursuit of higher grades.

It’s not just in schools either. “We’re seeing the rise of a culture of safetyism in which parents don’t want to expose their children to even the slightest risk, even though the instinct to explore risk [through dicing with heights, speed, dangerous tools or elements, and so on] is fundamental to children from a very young age,” she says. “Play is being trained out of us, so it’s no wonder that by the time we leave education, we tend to think of it as not being serious. But we have to take play seriously—it matters, not least because it’s the engine of invention”.

According to Peter Gray, the last 50 years or so have seen other cultural influences gradually erode children’s access to free play too, notably the rise of TV and, more recently, gaming devices keeping children within the domestic sphere rather than being “free range” and out in the world. In parallel, this period has seen a huge rise in all sorts of mental disorders among young people.

“The whole reason why childhood is so long is to acquire the characteristics necessary to be an adult. You’re gradually given more and more freedom and so must learn to solve your own problems—how to keep your playmates happy, how to deal with differences,” says Gray. “Now we have generations who have grown up without that [training] and absolutely it’s had a [negative] impact on them”.

In 1955 the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, in his book Homo Ludens (playful man) proposed that human culture arises and advances through play; that the pillars of culture, from art to literature, philosophy to the law, arise at times when adults had the freedom and time to play. It’s through play that we innovate. That might not bode so well for a globalised world in the 21st century.

Indeed, Gray says there is evidence to suggest that the good mood fostered by play allows people to perform better at the kind of problem-solving that requires novel thinking. And that, since the 1980s, curtailed childhood play has had a marked negative impact on creativity, as far as it can be measured. “Play teaches creativity, so now we’re producing far fewer creative people in an era when society really needs people to be creative,” he argues. But, he adds, we’re also seeing it reflected starkly in what he notes as the reduced independence and competence of current late teens and 20-somethings. He worries that this will likely become the norm for future generations unless the greater free rein to play, which was historically given to children, is rapidly reinstated.

“We’re seeing high rates of emotional breakdown among college students, for example, often for what would have been considered very trivial reasons a generation ago,” he observes. “Lacking the beneficial childhood experience of play, they haven’t learnt to steel themselves [against challenges], to understand that you can have a negative experience and somehow you survive. There’s an inability to accept negative consequences and to take responsibility for their own failures. Our changing regard for the importance of play [in childhood] is behind all of this”.

That also suggests why we need to take a more positive view of play more broadly, not just for tomorrow’s children and the adults they will become, but for adults today. Rene Proyer notes that the huge popularity of smartphone- and console-based video gaming—an industry that has long since eclipsed the film business, for example—suggests that the desire is there. The average age of a gamer now? 33, with players equally split between men and women. We just need to be more open about embracing the benefits of play—and to recognise that playfulness as a state of mind is a skill that can be developed.

“For a long time, it was thought that video games were just for kids. Back in the ’80s I was almost embarrassed to tell other grown-ups what I did for a living,” says David Mullich, the leading video-game designer for the likes of Disney, Apple and Activision. “Now everyone is slowly discovering how essential play is. It’s in play that we cast off our responsibilities, fears and certainties to engage in challenges that have no material outcome. It’s through play that we find catharsis. We find new meanings in the world. Without play, we wouldn’t be fully human.”

Kevin Nixon

I KNOW FOR SURE that many different types of species are operating hyper-advanced aerodynamic platforms, and they’re visiting Earth, coming and going like taxis. As to who these operators are, I don’t know. Are they interdimensional, inter-realm, interplanetary?

I’VE HAD FOUR vivid sightings of craft that were not jets, helicopters, or planes.

I WAS ON MY MOTORCYCLE about eight o’clock at night, and I saw a red beacon flying over the high-tension power lines. There was no sound. It stops right above my motorcycle and shines a light on me. I look up, totally delighted. And the light winks off, and this thing drifts off over the field again.

MY DAD WAS an absolute absurdist. He would go to a grocery store, grab a roll of paper towels, and whip them over to the next aisle to hear the reaction. “Oh, whoa, whoa!” He was wonderful.

I WAS VERY MOUTHY in class all the way through high school because I knew I could get laughs. I was not a good student, but I was an entertaining one.

My parents enrolled me in the St Pius X minor preparatory seminary for boys, which was a priest school in Ottawa. So I went there from grade 9, 10, 11, and I was asked to leave, dismissed in a letter saying, “We believe your son is not a suitable candidate for the priesthood.”

A LITTLE UNDER HALF THE YEAR, I’m at the farm in Ontario. It’s where the family settled in 1826.

WE HAD A FAMILY MEDIUM, and frequent séances took place in the old farmhouse in the 1930s and ’40s, usually on a Sunday morning. The big black Chryslers, Packards, Cadillacs, and Lincolns would come in with the big bosomy matrons and their tiny, skinny little husbands. They’d sit around the table and my great-grandfather Samuel would host.

I WAS STUDYING criminology at Carleton University and expecting that I would go into the corrections service, having worked a summer as a Clerk 5 in the Penitentiary Service of Canada doing inmate catalogues.

I WROTE A MANUAL for deploying weapons in riots for the commissioner. And I thought, “Well, it's an interesting profession.”

BUT I HAD MET A WOMAN named Valri Bromfield in high school, and she said, “You’re not going to be a prison guard. You’re coming with me to Toronto.” And she dragged me off with our audition tape that we’d made on cable TV in Ottawa. It got the attention of Lorne Michaels.

I HAD A PRETTY GOOD LIFE going in Toronto. We were running an after-hours booze can, selling liquor and beer and wine illegally over the counter and making a massive 80 per cent markup. I bought a Harley. I bought a car.

I HAD AN ORIGINAL 1971 Ontario provincial police Harley motorcycle that had been in the display team of the Golden Riders. It went around the world with these stunt riders from the provincial police. Paid USD1,200 for it. And I kept that for a long time.

I RODE THAT BIKE up and down the thruway from the farm to SNL, the entire four years I was on the show. I never flew or took a train or a bus. I never commuted to New York on anything but that bike. Seven hours. Rain or shine. That was my ride.

IT WASN’T SO MUCH my public exposure that I felt in that first year of SNL. It was Chevy’s. I didn’t get much recognition, but Chevy did. I used to walk down the street with him and they were calling his name out, “Hey, Chevy Chase!”

I SAW HOW Chevy was exposed and thought to myself, I don’t want that.

I TRIED COCAINE a couple of times. I didn’t like what it did. It made me speedy. It didn’t help me creatively. But there were others who liked it a lot more.

I STARTED TO PLAY harmonica when I went up north as a road surveyor and tundra-crawler mechanic for the federal Department of Public Works, a job my father got me through pure nepotism. I played the harp up there around the campfire. I kept it up enough so when Blues Brothers came along, I was modestly proficient on it, and still am today.

MY MOTHER USED TO type my essays up when I was in college. Sometimes they were unfinished and I’d say, “It’s ok. They’ll accept this.” And she’d say, “No, you have to round this out. You’ve got to ride home on a third act or a conclusion here. I’m not letting you go until you compose that.”

MY STYLE IS basically all black. Black jeans, black shirt, black jacket, black tie, black hat. Sometimes I’ll go with a white shirt. I really don’t care about clothes. I prefer just to have a rack of black stuff to put on every morning that’s clean.

YOU CAN NEVER SPEND enough time with your children. You can never listen to them enough, give them enough focus and attention. Accept their advice and their criticism. You can never do that enough.

IF THEY’RE COMING after you and saying, “Dad, you were a little profane today” or “Dad, don’t smoke cannabis in the house”“You know, Dad, you’re driving a little too fast,” instead of being defensive, I’ve learnt to back off the throttle, take the smoke outside. Just listen to them. And cut back on the profanity if I can.

WRITING IS HARD. Alone, it’s arduous. With a partner, you can play back and forth. So I prefer to work with a partner.

I'VE WRITTEN EIGHT SCREENPLAYS that got produced. And every one of them, at some point I'd be stopped cold. Where am I going to go next? So usually, I would just go to sleep and dream on it and get up in the morning and I go, “Well, I got a solution to go forward. It may not be the best one, but it's a solution.”

OK, I’VE BEEN sentenced to death. They’re saying, “Well, Dan, this is your last meal. What would you like?” Oh, jeez, Warden, thanks. Well, let me see. I will have a T-bone steak with green peas, Yorkshire pudding and gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts with maple syrup, button-cap mushrooms, preceded by a lemon-zest Caesar salad.

AFTER THAT, I’D LIKE to move on to a Black Forest chocolate cake, all washed down with a fine Brane-Cantenac Margaux. I would like a cigar. [And a helicopter.]

This year, Aykroyd appeared in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, the fifth film in the series he helped launch as a cowriter and costar of the 1984 original.

Originally published on Esquire US

Kate Elliott

Having started in comedy with his group Dutch West, Sam Reich was later hired as director of original content at CollegeHumor, an Internet comedy company. Responsible for boosting the content team, Reich produced shows for TV and online that include Adam Ruins Everything; Rhett and Link’s Buddy System and Badman starring Pete Holmes.

In 2018, CollegeHumor launched a subscription-based streaming platform called Dropout. According to Reich, who was CollegeHumor’s chief creative officer at the time, this was in response to the “difficulty in receiving advertising dollars on traditional media platforms for mature content”.

Then, the bottom dropped out. In 2020, CollegeHumor’s parent company InterActiveCorp (IAC) withdrew funding, which laid off all but seven employees. Still able to see the potential, Reich bought CollegeHumor. With the newly-minted title of CEO, Reich placed more focus on unscripted productions like Um, Actually, Dimension 20 and Game Changer; rebranded CollegeHumor to Dropout; and rode out the pandemic and SAG-AFTRA strike. At the tail-end of 2023, Reich announced that Dropout subscriptions had grown to a point where it was profitable enough to go into profit-sharing with its employees.

On the wave of a new season of shows, we talk to Sam Reich about Dropout, puzzles and the joys and trials of Game Changer.

SAM REICH: I can't believe it's 1:30 in the morning over there. I can't guarantee you're not dreaming up this interview.

ESQUIRE SINGAPORE: [laughs] Oh no, not again. Do you guys work from home?

SR: We do for the most part. We have a studio space and there are a couple of people who come in for post-production. For the most part, we just come in for shoots and the full-time staff works from home.

ESQ: Let's get this interview started. Sam... where are you from?

SR: [laughs] The fact that this joke has travelled internationally is really annoying.

Where is Sam Reich from?

ESQ: But are you surprised that Dropout is known outside of the United States?

SR: Are you kidding? I’m super surprised. And flattered. We went to the Edinburgh Fringe [last year] for the first time and had an amazing time. I was shocked by how many Scots knew about Dropout. It’s really cool to see our work getting out there.

ESQ: What’s the ratio of American subscribers versus the rest of the world?

SR: It’s predominantly US. I want to say... something like 60 per cent US. And then, there’s the second tier, which would be English-speaking countries. So, a fair portion of Europe, Australia, Canada... we’re popular in Germany for some reason. That ranks high on the list. Germany and India. I think that English is spoken in enough places now, for better or worse, that we have more international fans than I could ever imagine.

Kate Elliott

ESQ: You’ve mentioned before that you were hesitant to be in front of the camera. But you dropped out of school to be an actor.

SR: Yeah, originally I got into this business to be an actor... a dramatic actor. I took an acting class where the teacher said that I should act based on the first impression I gave when I walked into a room. For instance, Sam is short so he should do comedy. And that was the beginning of my comedy career.

I found a lot of warmth in comedy but not a whole lot of work in show business. It’s just really hard to make a living at this. The farther I stepped away from acting, the more money I made. I became a director, then a producer and then an executive... by the time, I became an executive, I worried that casting myself in things would be an abuse of power. I wanted to put myself in a position where I was supporting the careers of other people, who wanted to do what I wanted to do originally. It wasn’t until Game Changer came along. This was a show that no one really wanted to make. I kinda pitched it and got a lukewarm response. No one could wrap their heads around the idea and no one wanted to host it. I said, all right, I’ll take this particular bullet and now I am a gameshow host-CEO, which is a hyphenate I don’t think I share with a lot of people.

ESQ: The title will look great on your LinkedIn profile.

SR: [laughs] Exactly. It’d be a good business card where it says CEO on one side and gameshow host on the other.

ESQ: We discovered Dropout by chance with a Breaking News episode on YouTube—"True Facts About Grant Anthony O’Brien"—where embarrassing facts about Grant (a Dropout writer and performer) were revealed. And that led me down a rabbit hole of other Dropout content and I decided to buy a [Dropout] subscription.

"Is that Slenderman?"

SR: I love hearing about people's different entry points into Dropout. Game Changer and Dimension 20 are usually the popular ones.

ESQ: You’re also a presence on your social media. It’s a little endearing... that someone of your bearing is doing TikTok and [Instagram] Reels.

SR: [laughs] Yeah, I get made fun of for this a lot. Just before signing on to this call, I posted another sketch that I made in my spare time on Instagram. I didn’t have time to do TikTok but I’ll go back and upload to it afterwards. I think I’m one of the few people who loves what’s happening to comedy, thanks to platforms like this. I love how democratic they are. By the way, the House just passed [a bill] to ban TikTok in the US this morning; I’m very sceptical that that will happen.

Anyway, my interpretation of what happened is that TikTok was the first platform that you leaned into this idea of discoverability. So, what you were presented with, first and foremost on the platform, was people you didn’t know. Then given its rise in popularity, Instagram followed suit and created Reels; YouTube followed suit and created YouTube Shorts... TikTok created an opportunity to get seen. That hasn’t existed in our space for a long time. It’s really hard to find an audience doing this, it’s really hard. So, I love it and I want to participate in it. Even though... [laughs] the other day, one of my cast members/writers asked me, so what are you getting out of this financially? The answer is, less than nothing. I’m wasting money doing this. Money and time.

Kate Elliott

ESQ: You’re one of the rare exceptions as an independent streaming subscription platform to crawl out of a hole and find success. Do you have any advice for people trying to do what you do? Or were your circumstances akin to a perfect storm that will never happen again?

SR: If somebody wants to become a CEO/gameshow host of a niche subscription platform, I probably can offer a lot of advice. I think how we’ve ended up here is pretty niche and unique, and lucky, in terms of breaking into the business in general. This, at least, holds true in the United States. I don’t know whether it’s the same over [in Singapore] but it is still very hard and very privileged [that I get to] do this for a living.

I think that our industry has—that is the same in so many other industries—a kind of hollowing out of the middle class that’s occurred, where it’s just harder for folks to float to the top. It’s a system that right now, especially with all the consolidation we’re seeing, is rewarding people who are already at the top way more than it’s providing an avenue for younger and aspirational folks. On the other hand, the Internet has afforded young and hungry entrepreneurial creators better opportunities than ever before. So, if I was just starting, I’d focus on how I get attention online.

ESQ: How different are you from your Game Changer host persona? Is that the real you on camera?

SR: I mean, it is. You know, I think that there’s a very nuanced distinction between Sam on stage and Sam in real life. I do think when I’m in presenter mode, and then I break because one of my players does something funny and I laugh, that’s sort of a quick jump from one Sam to the other. But I was raised on Monty Python and there’s something about comedy in a suit that’s always resonated with me. I love stuff that’s formal and a little surreal. There are a few episodes of Game Changer that require me to be a little bit more of a “straight man”. For those episodes, I do try to unnerve my players with my common confidence, my stoic-ness. In this last episode of Game Changer, I say, Sam says “Don’t flinch” and a body falls from the ceiling... I have to play that straight or the joke doesn’t land. But inside I’m giddy all the time. [laughs]


ESQ: One of your more famous catchphrases is "I've been here the whole time". It's something that you utter at the start of every Game Changer episode. Is there more to the statement?

SR: You know, there's a very pragmatic reason I say that. The original reason is because as the other players take the stage, I'm announcing the show as well and you wouldn't normally know that the announcer and the host were the same person. So, when the camera cuts to me, I'd say, "I've been here the whole time" as a sort of welcome.

But it has taken on a kind of a different quality as the show's gone on. I've introduced the idea of my great-grandfather magician counterpart, Samuel Dalton [from the "Escape the Green Room" episode], who exists somewhere deep in the lore of Game Changer. There's a Loki, god of mischief, quality to the phrase, "I've been here the whole time". I'm always watching. So I embrace it, even though it's not what I meant.

ESQ: But as the seasons go on—and I wish longevity for the show—is it getting harder to come up with themes for the show? Because one of the factors for Game Changer is, you know, the element of surprise.

SR: You’ve just encapsulated the stress of the show. Every season we back ourselves further and further into a corner where it’s harder to be original. And for a show called Game Changer, that’s the pressure. How do we keep reinventing the wheel? And every season we have to step a little further outside the box to find ideas that feel like they’re going to surprise, not only the cast but, also the audience of the show. And, by the way, remain true to, what I feel is, the show’s character.

Kate Elliott

ESQ: And what is that?

SR: For instance, I’m not super inclined to leave the set altogether. There’s more and more reason to do so [as demonstrated in] our two-part season finale, where we leave the studio for a completely different location. But it’s almost like when someone gives you a cardboard box and you have to put something wildly different in that cardboard box every episode but the box doesn’t change its shape so how do you do that? Every season we say, how are we going to top the next season? And every season we say, that’s next season’s problem.

ESQ: I can't wait to see the new season and what you have in the years to come. And also how you're going to get yourself out of the corner you painted yourself into.

SR: [laughs] You and me both. I think this next episode of Game Changer—the one that airs in two weeks—is a good one. And the one that airs two weeks from now is also one of my favourites we've ever done.

ESQ: It sounds like every episode that's coming out is the best one you've ever done.

SR: [laughs] The one coming out that I'm excited about is called "Bingo". You'll know when you see it.

ESQ: I’d assume the writing room for Game Changer is small.

SR: It’s small. Really small. It’s myself; my creative writing partner and head of development, Paul Robalino; it’s a writer whom I love and trust a lot, Ryan Creamer; it’s our head of production, Kyle Rohrbach, and my production designer, Chloe Badner. Recently, we brought in my director and editor, Sam Geer, early into that process.

Except for Ryan, the people who work on Game Changer lead departments on the show. That conversation is more of a production. It’s one part creative and another part logistical. I want those meetings to be practical. What’s the point of having a room full of creative folks if the moment I present my ideas to production we can’t do them?

What I did this past season is that I have 10 folks that I go out to for pitches. Then I take those pitches to the group. With them, we mull the pitches over; beat them up; cut ideas in half; sew two ideas together... that’s how we write a season. As the seasons wear on, I lean less and less on comedians and more and more on game designers. Now, the folks pitching the ideas are those with backgrounds in escape rooms and interactive experiences. I find their backgrounds are better suited to where the show is going.

ESQ: You're also a magician.

SR: Sure. But an aspiring one.

ESQ: Was magic something you took up during the pandemic or when you were young?

SR: It's funny, I was just reviewing some home VHS footage from when I was two and three years old and it was my first ever magic show. I've been into magic for almost my whole life. My school assignment was to create a coat of arms for myself. We had to come up with a sort of a [motto]; mine was "Imagination. Illusion. Humour. Art." I was seven at the time, just to give you a sense of how long this kind of stuff has been in my DNA.

During the pandemic, I found a magician offering lessons—Jason Ladanye on TikTok—and I started two years of training and some sleight of hand with him. It was really fun and really humbling because you learn fast that the stuff is not at all easy. It takes years and years to get good at. Jason is one of the best there is.

ESQ: What's your forte? Cards? Coins?

SR: Cards. I love the elegance of a simple Bicycle deck and this notion of portable magic, you know? Magic that you can take with you. Magic that you can do with someone else's deck of cards. Mentalism is interesting to me. I find it very intimidating and big stage magic like David Copperfield's kind of magic, I've no interest in at all.

ESQ: There's this weird crossroad with magic and humour that magicians often get made fun of by comedians. Do you get to perform for your peers?

SR: I do and people ask, for sure. I also think because they run in the same circle of performers, you'd be surprised about how little I get made fun of for magic as a hobby. It's like all of us here on the east side of Los Angeles are nerds and geeks. You have to be a particular kind of person to love and learn that kind of stuff.

I think it was Teller from Penn and Teller, who said, "Sometimes, magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect." And that's how I feel towards Game Changer, where we put so much effort into creating the fun and surprises of it.

Do you know the Dimension 20 e-art puzzle in "Escape the Green Room"? Took me hours to figure that out. But the whole time, I was just thinking, oh, they'll love this. It's like a little gift for your friends.

ESQ: By the way, I loved that episode because I thought it was going to be a normal escape room. But then you added lore to it. There’s a storyline. I was like, Oh my God, he went that extra mile.

SR: Yeah. It’s pretty high. My creative partner on that episode was Tommy Honton an escape room designer and I learnt a lot from him. Tommy has a terrific escape room here in Los Angeles called Stash House and he told me that the most exciting escape rooms are the ones with background. So, that’s where the seed started.

And then he said, the biggest advantage we have going into this episode, is that it only needs to happen once. As opposed to a traditional escape room, which you can reset over and over again. At that point, it became, Oh, we can put breakables in the room. A breakable clock, a breakable guitar and then it all started to fall into place.

"You didn't count on ingenuity, did you, motherfucker?"

ESQ: It just shows the kind of mind to conjure up themes for Game Changer. It's almost akin to a supervillain's mindset where they set up elaborate death traps and schemes.

SR: If you go back and watch season one of the show, we were still figuring out its identity. [We only figured it out] until season four. If you were to describe the show as a cocktail, it's one part improv comedy; one part British panel show; one part prank; one part magic trick and one part avant-garde art project.

Part of this for me is education. As I'm out in the real world, I'm doing escape rooms or playing social deduction games or seeing theatre. I'm taking notes, Oh that's a really interesting fact. I bet that could be incorporated into the show at some point.

ESQ: What are you watching and reading? Do you even have time for that?

SR: I do. I read a lot of fiction. My favourite book last year was Sea of Tranquility. It's this perfect little time travel book. I watch a lot of mystery. I've been watching The Tourist on Netflix. It's awesome. Amazing performances, an engrossing mystery. The show manages to spin three plates at the same time. It's really good.

I'm also watching shows at the Magic Castle. I'm playing games... I've started playing Blood on the Clock Tower. Again, awesome. I've been seeing a lot of theatre shows again like last year's Fringe. Now that was instructive because people were putting up shows that I'd never considered. It blew my mind. I went to a show called Temping, where only one person can be in the room at a time. You sit in a cubicle and there's a computer in front of you. The "show" centred around the e-mails and the phone calls that you were getting as you temped for this actuary office. Totally outside-the-box stuff... that gets me so excited.

ESQ: Would you like to bring Game Changer to the Fringe?

SR: I would love to if I can convince my business partners that there's any good business reason to do that. And—spoiler alert—there isn't. It would be pure joy if I could. We're toying around with more live stuff in general.

ESQ: Do you watch Taskmaster?

SR: Of course, I do. Alex Horne (creator of Taskmaster) is actually a new buddy of mine. It's funny, I was afraid to watch Taskmaster because it was during the pandemic season of Game Changer and folks started telling me that I should watch it as the shows have so much in common. I didn't want to watch it because I was afraid to derive too much inspiration from it. I didn't want people to feel like I was ripping it off.

But I watched a few episodes, got totally hooked and now I've watched every single one of them.

ESQ: Can we talk about the pandemic? I know, it’s a period that many would want to forget-

SR: It’s still happening.

ESQ: I’d always thought that the pandemic started in 2020 and I realised that it’s called COVID-19... so it started a year earlier. We saw the smoke but we didn’t think the fire would reach us. Your Game Changer season set during the pandemic was amazing. The ingenuity that came out from doing episodes with everybody remotely working from their homes. Did you just want to pause the series during the pandemic or did you feel like doing something...?

SR: We needed to do something. We had a season of Game Changer and a season of Dimension 20 in the can but the clock was ticking and [these episodes] were going to run out and we needed to produce content. We’ve signed a deal with IAC to take over [Dropout] two days before lockdown in Los Angeles and we needed to satisfy these subscribers. In a way, coming up with that season was [brought to a bear] but, in another way, I’m a firm believer that restrictions help assist with creativity.

It’s easier to write poetry that rhymes than poetry that doesn’t. So, the restriction helps. We did episodes that we would have never done in the studio. Not nearly as many people have watched the remote seasons, I get it. Even when I go back to watch the stuff that was filmed over Zoom. It’s... triggering. Thank god, we’re not doing this any more but I am proud of it. There are a few of those episodes that are some of my favourites.


ESQ: You managed to get people like Tony Hawk and Giancarlo Esposito to guest on that season.

SR: That was a really rare situation insofar as no one had anything to do during the pandemic [laughs]. We have some higher-profile guests on next season's Make Some Noise, which is a short-form improv show that I'm excited about. Our experience has been that once people get a flavour of working with us, they will be excited to work with us again. Case in point, the drag queens from [Dimension 20's "Dungeons and Drag Queens" episodes] have been back a bunch. Paul F Tompkins recently started to play with us and he's been back a bunch. It's really fun to have the family expand in that way.

ESQ: You’ve cultivated a nurturing workspace. Your staff and performers look like they genuinely like one another. More family than workmates. In Singapore, it’s rare to see that sort of camaraderie in the workplace, let alone a CEO of a company putting his employees’ welfare before profits.

SR: I can’t take sole credit for this. This new version of the company meant that we could, sort of, start over. And we think long and hard about the kind of people that we want to work with at every level. Especially in a corporate environment, where there are many invisible powers, where [at Dropout,] it’s just us and that’s humbling. And I think that’s something people respond to; they are watching people who make that stuff.

There isn’t some sort of mysterious force behind us or the people who own the company that aren’t us... we are it. When you boil it down that way, we’re just human beings trying to make something and trying to get other people excited to make something with us. To do that, we need to show them—not only kindness and respect—but also reverence for their talent. And talent is really what powers the platform. The reason why Dropout is successful—and you can point to a lot of things like “the organic marketing strategy is clever” or “we’re making good decisions about finances” or “the P&L is well balanced... but the real reason why Dropout is successful is that someone comes out on stage and does something amazing. And for that to happen, you better respect it and have reverence for it.

I think it could be—and maybe it’s a little cynical of me—that in our industry, there are a lot of folks who get into content creation, they aren’t creatives. When you have too many people who get into our business from non-creative positions, meaning they were promoted through [fields that] aren’t like writing, directing, acting, etcetera. They don’t have quite enough respect for what it actually takes to make the product. I think that’s maybe the biggest difference in terms of our company’s DNA or how it’s set up: all of us at a high level are creative folks and we care deeply about other creative folks.

ESQ: We wanna keep to the theme of our discussion and incorporate a puzzle within this interview. Maybe readers who have come this far can figure out how to finish the rest of this url ( _ _-_ _ _ _-_ _ _ _-_ _ _-_ _ _ _ _-_ _ _ _ ) and win a prize.

SR: Wow, very cool. You’ve permission to rewrite my responses [to fit the puzzle].

Sam Reich met his wife, Elaine Carroll, at summer camp in 2000. They remain the best thing about relationships in the entertainment industry.

ESQ: Is there any point in Game Changer that you’d want to be a contestant instead of being a host?

SR: You know, truthfully, no. I know fans are so eager to see it happen. I’m nervous for whoever has to host instead of me. But I’m the show’s quality controller. If you take me out of that part of the creative process, it just wouldn’t be very hard for that episode to live up to the others. Forgive me if that statement is a little bit self-aggrandising but I feel so badly for the person who has to take on the stress of trying to come up with a Game Changer episode instead of me. It’s hard at this point. It is hard to come up with this stuff so I wouldn’t necessarily wish it on them.

ESQ: Hypothetically, if you could have someone to fill in as host, who'd it be?

SR: Folks have talked about who'd take on that mantle. Most specifically Brennan [Lee Mulligan]. A lot of people on Reddit want me to play in an episode and have my wife, Elaine, host it. But never say never. Maybe one day.

ESQ: I feel that the closest thing to you being a participant and getting pranked is on Breaking News.

SR: Breaking News has become where Grant [O’Brien] and the cast get their revenge on me. The next season of Breaking News, there are no less than three episodes targeting me. It is [starts laughing] wild. What they will do, I left to their own devices.

"Brennan, please tell me we met when you were a writer for Um, Actually."
"We met
five years before that."

ESQ: One last question, how has your wife, Elaine [Carroll] contributed to the Sam Reich of today?

SR: This is an amazing question that I’m so glad I got the opportunity to answer. So, thank you. Being in a loving secure relationship for as long as I have has allowed me to focus on work and creative output in a way that’s extremely privileged. Elaine is unbelievably supportive and our relationship is so profoundly uncomplicated compared to what I often see in the world.

Because we live in a [time] of dating apps and the huge amount of choices they bring, I can’t recommend enough for falling in love and marrying young. [laughs] I think it allowed us to start building a life early, which contributed hugely to what I’ve managed to do now in my 30s—I’ll be 40 this year—yeah... it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Game Changer, other originals and more are streaming at Dropout

Jeffrey Koh is well known in the local toy scene, maybe even in the world, for his extensive collection of toys. His Instagram account is a visual archive of the man’s seemingly endless line-up of figurines, statues and pop culture accoutrements.

Just before COVID hit, Koh had mentioned that he managed to clean up the front space at his office. “I was so happy. But during COVID, when staff couldn’t come into the office, I filled it up with boxes and stocks. It bugs the [crap] out of me every day I come into the office because I really wanted to clear that area and run, like, a little guerrilla pop-up.”

He’s not kidding. In fact, in our humble opinion, it might even be an understatement. Step into his foyer and you’re met with brown cardboard boxes, stacked floor-to-ceiling, to your right. To your left, are a hint of what he has—his toys, all black, arranged like tiny idols. You’ll have to leave your shoes at the front and enter through the narrow path into his main office where more of his toys are kept. Many of them loose from their packaging, some, still in their boxes. It’s a hoarder’s dream and a relative-of-said-hoarder-who-is-crushed-under-felled-boxes’ nightmare.

Almost every bit of nook and cranny of his office is taken up by a figurine or a pop culture artefact. So mountainous is his trove that you’d fail to notice his staff at their desk if it weren’t for the sounds of mouse and keyboard clicks.

1. BOBA FETT (2014)

“In the early ’80s, my dad’s friend from Malaysia bought a 12-inch Boba Fett toy. Boba Fett was this super cool guy, so badass and then he had such a lame death [in Return of the Jedi]. I did this piece with Luke [Chueh], which was based on his artwork. It was a brilliant idea. He knows that I’m crazy about Boba Fett so when he came to Singapore, he asked if I’d be interested in making the toy. I immediately jumped at it. To date, we’ve done seven colourways; all sold out. We could put out different colourways every year but money was never the aim. When we do a colourway, it has to feel right.”


“I was on a lot of the Star Wars bulletin boards and there was this guy who posted pictures of packaging prototypes that he found in a dumpster outside the Kenner offices in Ohio. I had to sell some stuff to buy [this prototype cardback]. Think I paid a lot for it and I believe it to be one of a kind. At least, I haven’t seen any replication of this prototype till now.”


“It was known to be rare in the 90s. One day, I saw it being auctioned on eBay. Nobody really knew what it was during that time. I put in a bid and got it for a steal. To others, it’s just a piece of plastic but this is one of the rarer display pieces from that era and in that condition, it can go for up to USD2,000. It’s not a lot of money but finding this online and getting it for a reasonable price… that’s the thrill.”

Here’s the kicker: despite the cornucopia that we have witnessed here, he still has a storage space where more toys are stored. “I just keep running out of storage space,” Koh says. “I’m considering renting a small warehouse. Maybe about 500 square feet.”

It’s a constant struggle, he tells us. Something that many collectors will contend with. The overflow of material joy and the scarcity of space. This will be Koh’s bugbear but he has always lived for the moment; that’s why he collects.

In a way, Koh opines, collecting for him is most collectors’ raison d’etre: reliving their childhood; buying stuff that they didn’t have back then. Nostalgia: it's a hell of a drug.

“It’s never about having the biggest collection in Singapore. I’m just lucky to have a space and the means to buy these toys.”

While it feels like there’s no rhyme nor reason to his purchases, Koh boils it down to “stuff that catches his fancy”. Regret never comes into play. “It sounds a little snobbish to say but I’ve never cared about the investment value of the toys I get,” Koh says. “People ask what my favourite toy is and I’d answer that it’s the one I haven’t bought. Just buy whatever makes you happy.”

And that joy of acquisition, perhaps is collecting at its purest. He still keeps the boxes the toys come in but not because the packaging has more value if he resells his toys, rather he rotates out the toys that are displayed for the ones in the boxes. “Without the boxes, it’ll be difficult to store them.”

He adds that people, with the intention to resell the toys, often will not make much profit. “Here’s the thing with Star Wars... the toys from the ’70s or ’80s fetch a lot of money on the reseller markers as not many people bought them at the time. When Hasbro [the American toy company] released ‘The Power of the Force’ line, people started hoarding them but now they can’t sell them for five bucks.”

3. PAPA (2013)

“We were making stuff on Lee Kuan Yew’s likeness way before he died. We did one with Budi Nugroho and the idea is that LKY is dispensing advice like candy; each piece has a quote he made over the years. So, we put his head on Pez candy dispensers. All of us like sweets but too many are bad for our health. It’s the idea of taking things in moderation.”


“Kozik is a visionary. Way ahead of his time. I wouldn’t put myself at his level but I do see some similarities between the two of us in that we don’t care what other people think. But, I think, he’s actually very kind. I’ve seen his softer side. The idea of a soft fruit being translated into something hard with rivets appealed to me. It’s punk. I bought this piece from Kozik’s wife.”

Koh points to a moment when he had a chance to purchase a rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype. The action figure prototype was shown at the New York Toy Fair in 1979 but it was never mass-produced due to concerns that the missile was a safety hazard to children. There was a chance to buy it for USD7,000. “But I was in my early 20s and that amount at that age was too much for me,” Koh adds, “a graded version went for USD200K.”

He puts out his own toys as well under the arm of FLABSLAB, the acronym for Muhammad Ali’s quote “Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. FLABSLAB isn’t about making money. No, that responsibility belongs to his creative agency Nerf Creative. FLABSLAB is a passion project, a platform for Koh to take his ideas and make them real.

The toys created through FLABSLAB are things that Koh would buy for himself. “In a way, it’s a little bit of a dictatorship,” Koh says, “of course, I’ll listen to input—it is a collaboration—but the toys produced are just stuff that I like.

“A lot of people say that I’m an artist. I feel kind of insulted on behalf of actual artists who dedicate their lives to the craft. I just have stupid ideas [and I need artists to help make it a reality].”

“This was by Kevin Gosselin and it was from his Kickstarter project. He made this in the style of Kozik’s celebrity busts. This one is a custom, showing Kozik in half his human form and the other as a skull. This is the only one in the world.”

Koh is realistic about his toy collection when he dies. He knows that he can’t take it with him. He tells us about images that he reposted on his IG account about a toy collector who passed away two years ago. A man who had so many toys that it took his friends and relatives that long to unpack everything. “It’s a burden, a burden that’s left for the family to deal with. I don’t want that for my own family so the plan is to liquidate everything and have them split the money among themselves.”

Patience isn’t his strongest suit. He bristles at the thought of cataloguing his toys and dealing with—in his own words—”stupid” buyers. “I long for the day when someone would appear at my doorstep and just buy everything. Everything, including the office, and I’ll walk away.”

When that day comes, it’ll feel like an empire has come to an end. But to Jeffrey Koh, the enfant terrible of the toy world, maybe it might feel that he finally has the much-needed space to breathe in.

And who knows, maybe he’ll feel the need to fill it up once again.

Photography: Jaya Khidir

For the longest time Bassem Youssef was motivated by revenge. Not exactly of the arch kind—there were no cunning plans or dastardly schemes—this vengeance was career motivation, plain and simple. The way he looked at it, if he could succeed as an Egyptian stand-up comedian in the US—after everything he’d been through—he would prove everybody wrong. There was only one problem: He wasn’t actually very good.

“I started five or six years ago and, like anything new that you try, in the beginning you’re not good. So, yeah, I sucked big-time,” confirms Youssef via Zoom from his home in Los Angeles. “The problem was that I had come from a point of high expectations, especially from an Arab audience who had seen me on Al Bernameg. Many people would come to my show and be disappointed. I got it—I was disappointed too. I was in my mid-40s competing with kids in their 20s doing shitty open mics and stand-up comedy clubs. To be honest, it was a little bit humiliating.”

The move to stand up was meant to be Youssef’s big pivot. Well, his second one if you count the initial transition from cardiac surgeon to TV show host in 2011 (and you really should). But in 2014 he had cancelled Al Bernameg—his groundbreaking Egyptian show that dared take a satirical sideswipe at the country’s elite—as the pressure had simply become too great. The show had been a staggering success, regularly attracting 30 million viewers across a three-season run, but the country’s Mohamed Morsi-ran government was fragile in ego. In March 2013 a warrant was issued for Youssef’s arrest, claiming he had ‘insulted Islam’ as well as the current president. Four months later Morsi was deposed by military coup, but Youssef believed that his own fate was written, too. In 2014, for the safety of his family, he left Egypt for good.

Key Necklace, by FENDI. Merino Wool Turtleneck, by CH by CAROLINA HERRERA

When it came to stand up, Youssef got better. “Bit by bit things improved,” he says. “I became more comfortable with the material, and the nuance of doing the show in English.” But while the Arab audience was where his fame lay, there was a time when he refused to perform in Arabic at all. That choice feels like it stems from somewhere raw. Perhaps a subconscious kickback to the treatment he received on leaving his homeland.

“What happened to me in Egypt, when I quit for the safety of my family,” he explains. “I didn’t want to do it anymore because it was just too much pressure. But I was called a coward, a sell-out. The epitome of love [from the people] had turned into the depths of hate.”

But of course you can only deny self for so long, and eventually Youssef began performing in Arabic again. Now he tours two shows at the same time, one in English, one in Arabic. “It was hard to begin with,” he admits. “A couple of times they [the Arabic shows] didn’t go so well, but eventually I found my voice. But they are totally different, the Arabic show has nothing to do with the English one. Doing this is difficult.”

There’s a tension that often lies beneath the surface of the best comedians. A dark that fuels the light. You sense it in Youssef, too—and not just because he’s under the weather today and with a big show at the weekend. The experience with Al Bernameg almost broke him, being labelled the ‘Voice of The Arab Spring’ could do that for you. You still feel that a big part of him wants to speak out on issues surrounding the Middle East—his actions tell you that—but he hates it too. The pressure, the expectation. That kind of weight can be debilitating.

Beige Coat, Indigo FF Denim Jacket, both by FENDI

On October 18, 2023, Youssef was interviewed about the Israel-Gaza war on Piers Morgan: Uncensored. It would have seismic results.

“The producers at Piers Morgan: Uncensored had actually approached me to discuss [the situation in Gaza] twice, but at that moment it just felt like any comment would have been career suicide,” he says wearily. Youssef had appeared on the show some months earlier, speaking out on the Afrocentrism row that surrounded the Netflix docu-drama Queen Cleopatra, and had put in a typically indefatigable performance.

“But at that point it just seemed impossible to speak out against the narrative that was being told [on Palestine]. That changed when I saw Ben Shapiro’s comments going out on his show. I got very upset. When the producers called me a third time I said ‘yes’.”

The interview currently sits with 21 million views on YouTube (the most-watched Piers Morgan: Uncensored episode of all-time) and saw Youssef engage with a typically satirical approach, exaggerating all the points made before him. It was a tactical strategy that took guts.

This is how the conversation with his wife, Hala—herself half-Palestinian—went prior to his appearance on the show.

Bassem: “Hey, I’m going on the Piers Morgan show tomorrow to talk about Palestine.”
Hala: “Are you sure—what are you going to say?”
Bassem: “I don’t know.”
Hala: “Good luck.”

And then after the show (after he had joked how Hala, as Palestinian, was indeed ‘difficult to kill’)…

Hala: “Don’t do a second one.”
Bassem: “I’ll just do one more.”
Hala: “OK, do what you want.”

“This is why our marriage works,” he smiles. “We give each other the space to be ourselves.”

Shirt Dress, Trousers, Step Sneakers, POA, all by FENDI

Youssef’s strategy was something approaching shock and awe. A first, slightly-over-the-top exaggerated first interview that would lead to something deeper; a face-to-face with Morgan which duly came on October 31.

“To be honest, the whole thing really felt like a lose-lose situation to me,” he admits. “I thought, ‘If I do well I could lose my whole career, and if I do badly I could be cancelled by my own people’. But I took a chance. For the first interview I wanted to make a splash. But for the second I worked with some amazing people around the world to educate myself further on the situation. There were so many nuances we don’t know, even though we’re Arabs.

"The first [interview] was sensation, the second was education. This approach was risky from beginning to end and I can’t sit here and say that I planned it all. I could have lost everything; but I got lucky. If you look at the videos, the first is on 21 million views while the second has 11 million, but the second has more clips being cut from it, and has been viewed far more.”

The fallout from the interviews has been mixed. “It’s been mostly positive from my people,” he says. “I’ve actually been selling-out shows because people saw it. But I’ve had to tell them that one has nothing to do with the other. On the negative side, I lost a couple of jobs in Hollywood. Movie roles that got cancelled, I’m still working out whether I want to make a fuss about that yet. On a personal level, people have been extremely nice. Although I did have a couple of incidents where some comedians I had worked with were a little nasty about me. I didn’t respond. Why give them any fuel?”

There were also other issues at play here. Since leaving Egypt in 2014, Youssef had made LA his home and is now officially a US citizen—something that he remains positive about the situation. “I haven’t really worried about my position here,” he says. “I’m an American citizen and I do believe in this country. Of course, like anywhere, there are problems. But I would rather live here than any other country. I think that the people growing up in the US can make positive changes. I still believe in the idea of America.”

“I’m not a news agency, I’m not a politician, I’m not an activist. I’m just a comedian that was in a position to serve a cause in some way.” BASSEM YOUSSEF

Inevitably, since the interview, there has been the inclination to push Youssef to the forefront of the conversation when it comes to Palestine. And to an extent, he has continued to highlight the plight of the people. Things like Instagram live check-ins with Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza, for example, show his desire to do something. But there’s a level of unease you see on his face when he discusses it. The shadow of that Al Bernameg pressure creeping back into his life.

“I’m not exactly sure what I will do next. It would really be up to people like Motaz—he has to figure out that risk,” he says before trailing off… “I don’t know if it’s even helpful.”

There’s a real internal struggle at play here. In our social media age, any perceived missteps are publicly called out. And the pressure heaped on high profile accounts can be unbearable for anyone. For Youssef it’s a frustration.

“I don’t like doom scrolling or posting. If you look at my feed I don’t really put ho­rrific images there. Because, at the end of the day—and this is a problem with Arabs especially—we just want to be doom, doom, doom [mimics scrolling on a phone] and then we cry with each other. I’m not saying that people should stop doing this, maybe it is effective.

"But from my point of view, if people started unfollowing me because of that then it doesn’t matter what I’m posting, because it’s not going to be seen. I want to continue working, to become more successful, more vocal, so I will be invited and asked to talk at higher profile shows and opportunities… Piers Morgan, Joe Rogan… suddenly your message can reach a lot more people. But right now I have people cursing me, and judging me if I post about my upcoming shows. ‘You didn’t post about Gaza today’. But they forget that this is my livelihood.”

Turtleneck by CH by CAROLINA HERRERA

So the internal conflict continues. The desire to simply be himself, a comedian, and not have the pressures of a people, versus the knowledge that sometimes he cannot remain silent.

“I do what I do because you feel it’s the right thing,” he says. But then it comes: ‘you are our voice’. Basically you are putting all your expectations on a human being and, at a certain point, maybe they won’t be able to speak up. Maybe they’re tired, maybe they’re afraid. But people are so frustrated by politicians that they come to comedians, actors, footballers. There is a weight on us because people follow our work. But really, we don’t have the solution.

“At a certain point you start to become erased for it, too. For the cause. You’re suddenly responsible for talking only about this subject. I’m not a news agency, I’m not a politician, I’m not an activist. I’m just a comedian that was in a position to serve the cause in some way. Maybe I will do it again. This is life. Life is variable.”

The variable of Youssef’s life has certainly been evident since leaving Egypt; from Netflix documentaries to appearing twice last month in the UAE at COP28, to working his way up to become a successful—as he puts it—‘mid-level’ comedian in the US. But that profile has suddenly gone stratospheric. It’s an uneasy career boost, in all honesty. But he has too many years on the clock to take it all too seriously.

“Before Piers’ show I was doing well. I was filling theatres, shows in Europe, the Middle East, which is great, a good life. Then that show catapults you to a totally different level. But you remain humble. You don’t take this world too seriously. It’s better to enjoy what you have right now, and not to get too hung up about your achievements. Nothing stays forever.”

The sheer exhaustion felt by Bassem Youssef when he left Egypt for the safety of himself and his family over a show that would, anywhere else in the world, have presumably seen him honoured. How do you come back from that? The frustratingly simple answer is: with time. But the years only attach a band aid, they don’t erase. If you’re lucky, however, those scars can take you someplace else.

On November 17, 2023, Bassem Youssef’s stand-up show sold out the Sydney Opera House. Nine years, pretty much, to the day that he had left his homeland. It was a groundbreaking experience that followed a wildly popular extended tour of Australia. In those moments, when we actually get what we dream about, we’re often drawn into introspection and reflection. But when you ask Youssef if he misses Egypt you get a quick-fire “no.” Almost as if he’s trying to say the word before anything else slips out (although he does caveat it with Red Sea beaches and Egyptian mangoes). As for the haters, well those nine years have brought perspective.

V-Neck Striped Knit Cardigan, by MARNI via Ounass. Grey Wool Trousers, by FENDI. Silver & Brown Square Sunglasses, by DUNHILL

“I’ve been on a lot of rollercoasters,” he says before quickly adding the word “emotional” to ensure we don’t think he’s been obsessing over theme parks all this time. “I think when I left Egypt there was a lot of bitterness and a lot of anger. I felt that I was treated unfairly, that I had done something spectacular for the Egyptian media and was punished for it. So, you want to succeed to show the people back home who doubted you, who celebrated your failure, that you’ve still got it. But you know what I found when I did it? Nothing. When you get to that good place, you really don’t care anymore.”

At the Sydney Opera House Youssef had once again done his research. He had spoken to the Arab community and was sad to hear that they felt the Palestinian flag was becoming synonymous with terrorism. Determined to do something special in their honour, he promptly learned a traditional Dabke dance; something to perform on the night at the end of his show. And so, he duly danced with Palestinian dancers in a rare moment of hope. “It was a way of humanising Arabs,” he explains, before pausing. “Maybe if they see some of our culture (before they steal it) they might actually respect us as humans and, hopefully, allow us to live.”

And there you have the complex realities of Bassem Youssef wrapped up in just a few lines. The funny and the fundamental, the gag with a sting in its tail, his art and identity combined. It’s an internal struggle that you feel could play out for some time. Ultimately, the man from Cairo might not want to be a hero. The truth is that he looks set to play the role for the foreseeable future.

STYLING BY Laura Jane Brown
SET DESIGN BY Yehia Bedier
H&MU BY Kasia Domanska

Originally published on Esquire Middle East

He hardly looks like a man with a green thumb, let alone a whole garden. Darren Loke, who is behind Omitir, Veblen Supplies and handles operations at Aa Furniture, collects plants—mostly aroids and caudiciforms.

His interest in them was first piqued during his time with his ex. She had plants, and in those heady days of romance, he lapped up her overspilt passion. He started his own collection; a few here and there initially. Until his hobby blossomed into an obsession. When the pandemic hit, he was plunged even deeper into his garden.

“Obviously, when you start a hobby, you want to explore and understand the craft,” Loke explains. “There are plants that grow around us but then you discover others from the highlands [ecosystem] or more temperamental ones like cold-loving plants that won’t survive in Singapore. It came to a point where I had to concede to only growing plants that can thrive in our climate.”

Before the use of hashtags, interest in plants stopped short of simply knowing their general nomenclature, not even their genus. When it comes to describing a tree, most can say that it has leaves and is covered with bark, but falter if pressed for specifics.

“This would be my most expensive purchase. The plant takes decades to reach a certain size and is hard to root. If you were to get one with a 30cm trunk, it could set you back between SGD1,700 and SGD3,800. I got one for about SGD850 but it died. It’s hard to grow but I took it as a challenge. Of the three that I bought, only one has survived. They are succulents so they love dry conditions. You probably have to water them just once a week so they are quite low maintenance. The only downside is that they need a lot of light, preferably under a full sun.”

“It’s the look of the plant that caught my eye. I like the shape, the way the foliage forms. I probably got this for SGD5 at a supermarket. This was the first plant that I got in 2014. It now resides at my grandma’s but I’ve another in the office. As a climbing plant, it has grown quite tall.

Then, social media made it easier to identify plant types. COVID brought about a heightened insularity that accelerated plant interest for shut-ins. “It used to be that any plant tips you get would most probably be from a US writer with knowledge about plants in their region,” Loke said. “Now it’s more varied.”

Loke had already developed somewhat of a monastic existence a year before the pandemic. He stayed in more, which resulted in an explosion in his plant collection. (Loke also runs an IG account detailing his green wares)

Ficuses are his jam. While commonly found in Singapore, a ficus plant has different subspecies; some hail from Myanmar, others from Japan. Loke is attracted to their forms, finding them “interesting”. Driven by aesthetics, Loke would pair a plant with the pot.

You may have heard people say that having a garden helps them relax. Not Loke. It’s the opposite for him. He used to enjoy tending to his plants whenever he returned from work but his obsession led him to constantly fret about them. “If you think about it, it can be a chore,” Loke says.

One of two rented plots at Chwee Heng Nursery.

He has stopped counting but Loke reckons he has about 400 plant species. Then, catching himself, he adds a disclaimer: “But I’ve cut down a lot.” His current collection is stored in two places: at Aa Furniture showroom and Chwee Nursery in Seletar.

Plants at the nursery blossom due to the humidity. Once they are ready, Loke propagates them and transfers them to the showroom for display and sale. These plants are suitable for indoors and their presence helps customers to visualise, and inspires them to spruce up their own homes with a plant.

He waters the plants twice a week at the showroom and once a week at the nursery. Knowing that his plants are in an environment where they can thrive, assuages his fears about their survival. “I believe,” Loke adds, “that some plants thrive in neglect. Just give them the basics and let nature take care of the rest. In the end, they are plants, right? We shouldn’t be working for them.”

He tried growing a Pachypodium namaquanum but the species is found in dry rocky deserts and thrives in harsh conditions—extreme summer heat and wind. They can survive in a tropical setting, he says. “Think of it as a controlled situation. Air-conditioning with artificial grow lights just to maintain that environment but it’s not sustainable because, at the end of the day, these guys won’t reach their full growth potential.”

“This used to be a unicorn. Hard to get. In the wild, in South America, there could be less than a thousand plants. But over the last few years, several nurseries started tissue-cultivating it to boost the population. It’s easier to find now but it is a slow-growing plant. It took me eight months to get this one from Brazil to acclimatise to Singapore’s weather. But it’s a beautiful plant and worth all the work.”

“They are known for their slender leaves that are broader at the top. They used to be a common landscaping plant [in Singapore] during the ’70s. Then, for some reason, they became hard to find. I’m not sure why that is the case. I asked someone and was told they were used widely in government projects until they were phased out in favour of larger-leafed plants. The one I got is the Ficus alii, a Japanese cultivar with even thinner leaves. I had to get a friend to order it in for me. I find them to be very elegant-looking. They are statement pieces for your home and they are really easy to grow.”

To Loke, a plant is only ready when it starts flowering. “That’s when the plant goes through a full cycle of growth, which means it’s healthy in that current condition. That’s something I definitely learnt. There are a lot of expensive mistakes.”

It is an expensive hobby to get into. The pandemic brought about a price inflation in the plant market, where the entrepreneurial and, depending on who you ask, the exploitative, took advantage by flipping plants for a higher profit. These days, plants are more affordable, the best time to get into the hobby, if you ask us.

Loke doesn’t refute that this can be considered an old man’s hobby. “Gardening taught me to slow down. For the tangible side of things, there are some rare plants that only a few importers can bring in. You’ll just need to make the right contacts. With enough money, you can get almost any plant you want.

“Even so these are life forms that will come and go,” Loke says as he plucked the leaves of a frankincense plant and crushed them between his fingers. With cupped hands, he breathed in the balsamic and woody fragrance.

From the ashes of the pandemic, the local plant community has grown ever larger. While some might opine that it’s just another consideration to create a space for a garden; think about this: it was all green before we intruded. Maybe, space can be made for both.

Photography: Jaya Khidir

Michael Clement

I LOVE BLACK. I love leather jackets, and I like having my old favourite T-shirts. I end up buying the same outfit over and over.

I WAS NEVER Mr Hardcore. When we first started playing together, there was a big trend of who can play the fastest. And it was like, “Well, I don’t want to do that.” That’s not really musical for me. It became almost a bit macho, which is something we were definitely trying to get away from.

WE DIDN’T WANT TO be a bunch of tough guys. We would rather have bigger hearts than bigger muscles.

I’M ONE OF SIX KIDS. I’m the youngest. It was loud. Everybody was funny. Everything seemed pretty much like a normal big family, whatever that means. But then that dynamic really switched when my father passed away when I was 10.

IT WAS DARK. Everyone was sort of forced into dealing with that pain. It was that ghost that was always there. It still is.

THIS WOMAN NAMED Mrs Fiatarone taught me how to sing when I was really young, four or five. I was almost like this child lounge act. I’d sing show tunes. I would sing at veterans’ hospitals. Children’s hospitals.

I MADE A RECORD when I was five. It was called “Look for Love,” and it was recorded at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. It got local radio play. That moment stuck with me my whole life. “Oh, you can make records.”

I MARRIED THE RIGHT PERSON. That’s a big deal. My wife really was smarter than I was. I was more spontaneous and wild, where she could be more practical and knew how to make plans better. But we were the right people for each other.

WHATEVER THE CRITICISMS WERE, though, I had enough of a chip on my shoulder that I wasn’t going to let anybody hold me down.

I’M OBSESSED WITH MUSIC. I just am. If I wasn’t in a big band, I would be working at a record store or teaching guitar lessons or doing anything to support my musical habit.

I LOVE THE BACHELOR. I love watching Bachelor in Paradise. You could play a drinking game and every time they say, “Welcome to Paradise,” you drink.

I NEVER GREW UP in any kind of religion. I tried to go to Sunday school, but it never really worked out.

SURFING IS ONE THING for me that has really been kind of spiritual. When you’re out in the ocean, it’s the most powerful force in the world.

I DO PRAY. I try and think of something out there that is a higher power, just to make sure I’m keeping my ego in check.

I DON’T LIVE IN LOS ANGELES. And when I do go to Los Angeles, you really get to know what all the perks are of being a rock star. It’s like you’re almost on someone else’s vacation.

I LIKE BEING A NORMAL PERSON. I like being someone that just lives in a community and has good friends and strong relationships that are based on the same life experiences that we’re all going through.

THEN I’LL PLAY A GIG in front of a hundred thousand people and I go, “Holy crap!” That doesn’t get old. It’s fun. But I don’t ever want being a rock star to be an excuse for being lazy.

I WAS TALKING to someone once and they asked me, “Why are you afraid of dying?” And I said, “I’m afraid of the darkness.” And they said, “How do you know it’s dark?” And I was like, “That’s a really good question. I have no idea what it’s like.”

SOBRIETY IS NOT a one-and-done kind of thing. I’ve definitely fallen off the wagon several times.

RIGHT NOW I don’t drink. And I like myself. If I was to put one thing that would get in the way of everything I wanted to achieve in my life, alcohol would be it. I make no guarantees. But right now it feels better.

PUNK HAS NEVER BEEN DEAD. It’s alive with the kids. When kids get together and want to play music together or create art or create fanzines, that’s what keeps it alive. Not what’s popular or anything like that.

Originally published on Esquire US