Nerdlocker Interview: The Joco Cruise with Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm

JoCo Cruise 2016 guests

When at a Comic Con you would have to try very hard not to find a group of people that love at least one thing as much as you do. They’re a few days celebrating those nerdy hobbies  alongside other like minded fans at a convention center. The only thing better than I could think of is if all that fun was happening day and night on a boat traveling along the Pacific Ocean. Luckily for fans of comedy, music, and board games there is such a cruise.

With a lineup that has included everyone from comedian Paul F. Tompkins, musician Aimee Mann, and The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast, the JoCo Cruise is a celebration on the water where you’ll be doing more than playing shuffle board. Started in 2011, the JoCo Cruise brings together fans (or Sea Monkeys as they call themselves) of all things nerdy for a seven day adventure on the sea. Comedic musical duo Paul and Storm along with singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton sat down with Nerdlocker during Emerald City Comic Con to discuss their founding of the cruise, the next one in 2017, and the fun they’ve had putting it on the past six years.

Paul & Storm

NERDLOCKER (NL): What was the inspiration to start the JoCo Cruise?

Jonathan Coulton: We, Paul and Storm and I, had toured together for several years. We had had the same booking agent. It was his idea, he mentioned that the Barenaked Ladies had this cruise that they do and a ton of people come every year and it looks like a ton of fun. What would you guys think about it? We thought that it could never work, but for fun did a poll on my website just to see how many people would be interested in such a thing. And we had a really overwhelming response (Laughs). Based on those numbers it seemed like we could probably pull it off. That first year we set it up and we had 350 people. It was kind of amazing.

Jonathan Coulton
Jonathan Coulton

NL: What size boat are you doing the cruise on now?

Storm: It’s really been, not a straight line but pretty much going straight up. 350 the first year, about 550 the second year, 800 to a thousand last year and this year as many as 1,900.

NL: Do you guys come to many conventions? Is the cruise like a convention where there’s stuff such as cosplay?

Paul: It’s sort of, not so much cosplay as there’s limited space and you’ve got to pack all your stuff up and put it on a ship. There’s some dress up to a degree, but it’s definitely not full bodied Warcraft or Buzz Lightyear kind of stuff. We have a formal night. Cruise ships always have a formal night in the dining room and our people have started a tradition that everybody or most start wearing fezzes as part of their formal attire.

Storm: We like to think of it as the best part of a con. Spread out over a week that happens to be in this awesome warm place during winter.

Paul: There is absolutely, certainly that sense of community that a lot of people feel at conventions and we try to foster that and people are really enthusiastic about that aspect of the cruise.

Jonathan: I think that a lot of people that came away from it come away with an experience that they have just spent a week hanging out with their people. Which is a very gratifying thing for us because we’re [all three] a bunch of weirdos ourselves so it’s really wonderful to be a part of a thing where people come and feel included and meet other people that share their interests and enthusiasm.  It’s a really rewarding thing for us.

Storm: From the start we’re always listening to the community and people have always been interested in the community aspect and that’s become a really big part. We’re going to have a whole ship this year so we’re going to be able to have games all over the place and have a game library. Game designers will be on board as they love to be among the folks and can do game testing while they’re there for new stuff. So that’s another dimension that makes it a bit like a con.

Gaming with Steve Jackson. Credit: Steve Petrucelli
Gaming with Steve Jackson. Credit: Steve Petrucelli

NL: Do you guys play boardgames yourselves?

Storm: Not as much as I want to, but yes. We always enjoy playing.

Jonathan: For a while there we were hooked on Magic the Gathering and would play it in the van and on airplanes. We’d be spending a lot of time together when traveling and touring. I have a seven and ten year old at home so I’ve been playing the cooperative games since it’s much more pleasant (chuckles). The seven year old doesn’t get angry when he loses and start smashing things. So we’ve been into Pandemic and Forbidden Island.

Storm: Do you play Castle Panic? [To Jonathan]

Jonathan: No, but that’s a great one too.

NL: Have you done many cruises outside of this one? I myself get really seasick so haven’t been on one before.

Jonathan: I’ll tell you that I was first on a cruise ship when I was in college. I was in a college acapella group called the Whiffenpoofs. After we graduated we went on a tour, a long forty day tour all around the world, which sounds crazy but is true, and one of the things we did was get hired to sing on a cruise ship that went around the mediterranean. That was my first cruise ship experience and granted I was with a bunch of college student friends and there was not very much work to do. I think we had two sets that we had to do that whole time we were on the ship. It was a blast. Cruises are definitely weird places, people are nervous about being on a ship but once you’re on there it doesn’t feel like you’re on a ship since it’s so big it feels like you’re in a building or casino.

Paul: I come from a cruising family and my parents were always going. They took us on one when we were ten and I still remember getting that feeling when you first head out from the port, a sense of adventure that you just don’t feel on land. This idea that oh my god, we’re all on this boat and here we go. A lot of bonding happens.

Jonathan: It’s very much this summer camp experience. You’re all going through the same experience together in the same space, you come away from it having really spent time with people. It’s pretty fantastic.

Credit: Steve Petrucelli
Credit: Steve Petrucelli

NL: I’m a big fan of comedy and comedy podcasts, I saw a few of the podcasts that I listen to have been on previous JoCo cruises. If you could have anyone living or dead on a comedy cruise who would you bring?

Jonathan: I would go with Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor,


Jonathan: Jesus Christ. Aristotle was actually a pretty good comedian.

Storm: Aristotle did a lot of good improv work.

Paul: I feel like we’re doing our dream cruise.

Jonathan: It is kind of a dream. We’re fans of this stuff too and one of the fun things about this job is we have camouflage since we’re the event organizers and we get to go up to these famous people we love and say we’d like to talk with you about the possibility of performing on this cruise ship. People like Paul F. Tompkins. We get to bring them together and put them in front of our fans and cross pollinate these things. It’s such a blast. This isn’t in the comedy realm but last year in the music side of things we closed the last performance event of the week with a super group jam session of David Bowie songs. It was me, John Roderick from “Long Winters”, Paul and Storm, Aimee Mann, Ted Leo from “Ted Leo and the Pharmacists”. Paul F. Tompkins sang a couple. We all traded off on the instruments and got together to sing and it was a huge thrill to perform with all of them and it’s a unique thing to see.

Storm: It really was a treat, it’s kind of the feeling of being a rich person having command of performances. We had “Thrilling Adventure Hour” come and do a custom episode that they wrote for our cruise and we had a bunch of our performers and musicians in it. Last year Paul F. Tompkins did a live “Spontaneum Nation” and Matt Gourley did a live “I Was There Too”.

NL: Thanks for talking with me.

Jonathan: You’re very welcome.

Paul: Appreciate it.

Storm: Absolutely. Thanks.

The JoCo Cruise will be setting sail again in 2017 from San Diego, CA on Saturday, March 4th and return on Saturday, March 11th, with ports of call at Cabo San Lucas, Pichilingue and Loreto.

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