Frank Sisti Jr. Exclusive Interview: Unveiling the Mind Behind the Magic

Frank Sisti Jr.

Frank Sisti Jr is a diverse and multi- faceted artist whose mediums have included art, music and video. Known for his unique and beloved show, The Kid America Adventure Hour and the creative force that is DJ Kid America. Another popular program is Frankies Apartment.

Frank Sisti Jr. embarked on his creative journey with a determination to bring his imaginative ideas to life. From doodling in notebooks to honing his craft in animation, Frank's dedication and hard work paved the way for the success of "The Kid America Adventure Hour." His ability to blend humor, action, and heart has set him apart as a rising star in the world of entertainment.

Born in Astoria, Queens and he started working in a comic shop when he was just 11 years old. He later attended the Bronx High School of Science. Growing up, Frank Jr. was exposed to a variety of musical genres, including rock, jazz, and funk. His family often played music together, and Frank Jr. learned to play several instruments, including the drums, bass guitar, and keyboard. After not quite graduating from NYU's Dramatic Writing Program, Sisti sold a script to Garry Marshall called Bicycle Ice Cream. This was just the beginning of his creative journey.

Later in life, Sisti teamed up with his childhood friend Jeff Roberts to form Bandy, a quasi-hip-hop group with mostly fictional members. They created music and performed together, paving the way for Sisti's future projects. Not knowing how to perform live with Bandy, Sisti created a program for Manhattan Public Access television called The Kid America Adventure Hour. This unconventional variety show featured puppets, animation, and a cast of young actors.

Through all these creative projects, Sisti Jr. is bringing his outrageous creativity and his stimulating sense of humor to the world. Through his art, Sisti invites viewers to explore not only the world around them but also the depths of their own minds, encouraging introspection and self-discovery. The mind of Frank Sisti Jr. is a complex and electrifying.

Read below to delve into what inspires and motivates Frank Sisti Jr and what shapes his eccentric world.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up?

When I was 11, I started working at the local busted-ass comic shop – Big Bang Books – bagging comics on Thursday nights, doing inventory, cleaning up. I bought Frank Miller Daredevils and Alan Moore’s Watchmen off the rack. Secret Wars! Crisis on Infinite Earths! The black & white magazine size Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it first hit. Stuff that didn’t sell went into the back room, where it was easy to steal – there I discovered both Dan Clowes and Yummy Fur by Chester Brown.

But they had old comics too – and on Sundays when the owners weren’t there I could grab an X-men #96 off the high rack and read the OG copy – four-color press on newsprint – the best. I liked the ritual of comics, the weekly drop, and probably best of all the yearly conventions, especially the Thanksgiving Creation Conventions that were a little more Trek based and sci-fi. Back then it was a more isolated community of super-nerds, only a few dedicated types would really dress up – but everybody was versed in the same general competing mythologies. There was less variety and more deep dark antisocial nerd shit happening. If I had to put it in words – there were more full blown incredible psychopaths back then. I loved that.

I loved cartoons – did every Saturday Morning – full block – 90 minutes of Smurfs, Mighty Orbots, Galaxy High… Sunday morning religious stuff like Davey and Goliath, after school – Gumby, Inspector Gadget, Voltron. And I liked to read – Terabithia, Mockingbird, John Bellairs, Westing Game, and Judy Blume. I was through the roof for Roald Dahl – early on I wanted to be a writer like him. Loved hitting bookstores in the city with my Mom - Waldenbooks and Doubleday and Brentannos. Seeing movies across the street from Bloomingdales at the Baronet and Coronet. That’s where we saw Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure - still blows my mind. The part where he makes his bunny slippers sniff the rubber squeaky carrot on the floor? Years later I was able to go to Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum at the Modern – and it really changed what I thought Pee-Wee Herman had accomplished.

The Mouse Museum is an incredible collection of found items, a lot of insane old novelties and household items, as well as Oldenburg’s soft sculptures and things like that. I spent the day there and went back for more before they moved the show to another city. But I thought Pee-Wee took a lot of care in everything he chose (same as Oldenburg) – and it was all really aesthetically correct. Not cheesy or kitschy – more like consistently artistic – and interesting. All the items were special. I thought this of both Pee-Wee and Oldenburg. Those 2 guys might be my biggest influence - oh wait - except for De La Soul!

I collect records like an idiot – I buy too many, try too many, have too many. I always liked good kids songs and hit oldies and early drum machine rap and glorious theme songs with lots of brass. But it was a total vertigo moment for me when I first heard De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising – and it was a constant joy (still is) to listen to any of their 1st 3 records produced by Prince Paul.

It was the first time I thought I could make music - by collecting sounds and samples from all aspects of audio in the world. Plus I loved the rapping – LOVED the rhymes. I’ve always heaped a lot of the credit on Prince Paul for the greatness of De La – I thought it was his work with the sampler that really got me. But now I feel that it was all those guys (Pos, Dove, Maceo + Paul) all together, sharing their own little part of the world (raps, jokes, fears, and obsessions) that made it so so damn magical.

See The Top Picks by Frank Sisti & Melia Marden here.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as an artist?

Little Richard said Jimi Hendrix gave it all to you – and that’s what you want. David Letterman said in an interview with Bob Costas that he was treated nice because he was a celebrity, but really we should all treat each other like that. Steven Spielberg said that he saw all the movies that existed as a world library of necessary movies – but when he began to make movies he made movies that he saw as the “missing movies” in that world library. I’m paraphrasing. A lot of talkers have given me the less-is-more thing but I think more is more.

On the other hand nothing is as good as the shortness of Ramones songs. This guy Clay Weiner told me this thing about comedy once that has stuck with me – but I don’t think I really remember it right. It’s something like: set it up so that they know it could maybe be coming (the joke), but keep it from them, until just the right moment – and for a split second before you give it to them, they’ll have a flicker of thinking that it might be coming, but not exactly know it or actually think it - so that when you do give it to them – it’s that snap that actually is the laugh - that’s why they laugh. Because it was both expected and unexpected. They have to know what the fuck you’re talking about to be able to laugh - but they want to be surprised too. He said that if you do that - they’ll love you forever.

Frank Sisti Jr.

Describe your creative process.

I like to take a really long time. I like to collect things to support whatever I’m doing - which is usually a video or a sampled song piece. So behind anything I’m working on – I might collect a bunch or records, or like old Hawaiian shirts, or like, go deep on a certain strain of toys or gadgets. I like to put off doing the thing until I can’t take it anymore. But when I do it, I like to keep on working on it till I can’t figure out how to do anything else to even one tiny crevice. But like if I’m making, like, a sculpture out of a toy - I might just break it and put a new part on for a head and be done. So it’s not always the same. But I take a long time on videos or songs.

Other art things literally are collections which just take a really really long time to put together by hitting the pavement and looking around for the thing I’m collecting. A little detective work makes things better. Some research. I like to let things age a bit. Work on it, then leave it alone for a while - like years - then finally go back and finish it. Sometimes a good idea is just worth the time. And sometimes a bad idea will reveal itself in that time – and you can kill it if you need to.

What types of art and culture do you like to consume?

I like to go to big museum shows with my family and take a lot of detailed photos. I watch Criterion Channel as much as possible but sometimes I might just have to watch Sopranos or Adventure Time again. I listen to old records probably more than anything - and I really like it when some private press record comes through with some sort of really good song – a lot of times it’s a song that might just seem a little bit wrong somehow – like sloppy or poorly recorded or like there’s a fuck-up in it somewhere – but it’s still great and magical and you wanna drop the needle again and again. I like all sorts of music and I like listening to full length lp’s but I will put down the $$ if I know there might be 1 really good song.

Probably my favorite thing is to go to a record shop and go through a pile at the listening station – it’s so exciting. I also watch too much fucking tv - I see anything that is supposed to be remotely good - any movie, any show. Seen all of SNL - how many days of my life is that? Been getting through all the old Monty Pythons. Those Terry Gilliam animations really are all that, by the way. Really good. I wouldn’t watch Schitt’s Creek. I don’t really like going to, like, solo art shows, it makes me too nervous – plus I don’t want to see the artist there – cuz let’s face it some of the most fun stuff about experiencing art – is hating it. I love hating shit all the time. And I don’t think that’s bad – I think it helps to figure everything out and get on with it.

Still - my favorite thing is walking around the outer boroughs of NY - there is constant culture all over the place. So many little fucked up homemade signs and solutions to a better life – but in small sweet ways. Different foods and chips and wack-o candies and honestly – stuff that might make you sick – but it’s exciting! Probably my real most favorite thing is hitting the 99¢ Stores - anywhere - anytime. My wife and I like to eat and drink fine wines as well. I like good wine. I’m not talking about biodynamic fresh fresh either. That can be good - but I like to drink crazy expensive stuffy old wine – Bordeaux, Burgundy (especially white!), Brunello – with a good meal whenever I can get it.

What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

I guess the record player. Fucking hate the computer at this point - but you can do all this fly shit with it - so I guess the computer is good - love the audio editing program Fruity Loops - LOVE IT. Needle nose pliers are good. Newspaper and Elmer’s for paper mâché. Iris weathertight storage containers are the shit for storing collections and oddities!!! Plastic, wherever it comes from – an old toy, a failed household gimmick, sheets of acrylic from Canal Plastic – I love to work with and respect it to the fullest as a noble material. I like to save plastic, treasure it, repurpose it, display it – use it. If it doesn’t go in the garbage it can be a wonderful part of your space. They can make anything out of plastic, it’s the closest to real life cartoonism.

What experience has been most important in developing the direction of your work?

I’ll tell you the 4 things I think answer this.

• My dad was a funny guy, like an old school Bronx Italian cursing and acting silly sort of raucously funny guy.

• I went to the Louis Armstrong Middle School in Corona Queens which was this sort of big bussed-in experimental school where there were gifted kids and kids from all walks of life and they also had a big Intellectual Disability program, the most amazing part being that at some point all the kids integrated and worked with each other. It is still an odyssey of personality and hilariousness that I draw from every day. It was the best. But the buses were overcrowded, and you could really get your ass kicked on the way home.

• We used to smoke weed down at Astoria Park between the Triboro Bridge and the Hell Gate Bridge. There was an evening when the whole 6th Borough came to me in an instant – names of characters, the colorful styles, the dead neighborhoods. Sure, it was drug-induced, but it literally felt like a layer had been peeled away and I could see something that was always there. I’m not kidding at all. And for years after that, I would make connections to things that I believed was the 6th Borough trying to shine through to me. In memories, in movies, in other people’s art.

• in 2010, we made a short film called Stuff that was based on a feature that I wrote about a 30-something guy who runs a comic shop and can’t get laid and runs a 2-bit comic shop in Queens. He’s got an imaginary friend who he spends all his time with making all sorts of crazy projects including a concept band. But when the guy goes to an estate sale he finds, like, this sick mint pedigree collection of golden age comics – all these key issues and number ones in perfect condition stashed in the dead guy’s wall. He sells it for millions and him and his imaginary friend put the $$ into the shop and the band – but news gets out and the guy’s dad, an old con man type, comes back into his life looking for a piece of the action. Long story short – the old man sort of helps the dude to grow up, the dude is able to hook up with a nurse that comes to care for the father and we end to realize that the imaginary friend was actually some sort of real thing that either came from outer space or was like some leprechaun adjacent species or a genie or some shit like that.

But we made a short based on this idea – and I guess I feel the short just sort of sold the whole idea short. I wanted to make the short in order to make the feature and to try out directing a narrative thing – but I also sort of wanted to make this softer thing than our previous stuff (which is filled with cursing and nudity and drug use). The feature has its toughness, but the short is soft. And it’s sort of just wrong because of that. It’s not bad, it’s just kind of soft and slow and not the right thing.

But I also didn’t like making it – it all seemed like a waste of money – all the people you need to do it – all the hanging around – the craft services. I hated all that. I liked working with the actors, but in a way – the film is just too rigid. Even with improv – the whole idea is that you pre-decide what’s going to happen. It’s hard to get that looser idea of dancing - of just feeling your way through it – the pre-meditation is a bummer. And you’re really counting on the actors to do their thing – but I sort of like the idea of acting being like a stunt – I prefer non-actors being in peril, trying to do a scene – and lots of mistakes happen, but some stuff is real because of that. Good acting is like 4K video – it’s everywhere – it’s great, I guess – but it’s all over the place – like everyone seems to be able to act fairly well these days.

Our earlier work has lots of man-on-the-street stuff – either interviews with random people or a single performer just going out and doing crazy stuff. I prefer this because it becomes a version of collecting – either we’re collecting strange answers to questions from interesting people or we’re capturing odd moments or fuck-ups.

In the end I realized that although Stuff was autobiographical to some extent, especially some of the story about my father – ultimately it was about my relationship with my creative partner and best friend Jeff Roberts. And what I really wanted to do was to work on the projects that the dude from the movie was working on with his imaginary friend – but with Jeff.

I wanted to work on much weirder things than just videos, with Jeff, over a long period of time – and I wanted to document us aging in the process. And I wanted those weird things that we worked on to be in line with Oldenburg, Pee-Wee, and De La Soul. I wanted it to be more of an art piece, or a collection of art pieces, that could include videos that remind of Saturday Morning Cartoons, or toys that come from another dimension, and the sheer joy of what it feels like to find stuff that seems as if it just can’t exist in this world. So that’s what we’ve been doing.

Can you discuss any ongoing projects or themes that you are currently exploring in your work?

Most of the things we have made before and after the short film Stuff (which took place in Queens), is representing the 6th Borough of New York City - a collection of magical and forgotten neighborhoods that slipped into a pocket dimension in 1977 due to the same incident that was actually responsible for the NY Blackout of the same year. The 6th Borough is mystical and majestic – and the space that it occupies is always changing. Outside might be inside, streets disappear, refrigerators act as teleport hubs.

The personalities that occupy the 6th Borough are connected electromagnetically due to the Forcefield that holds what’s left of the terrain together – this Forcefield is made of a particle blanket that borrows energy from everything and everyone beneath it. The candy in the 6th has been known to gift eaters with special powers, which has brought many other-worlders in search of. The place is to-the-rafters with weirdos and fantastical-types – both good guys and bad – the worst of which is the ruling clan of Video Jockeys – the Zerberan Virus – the company of evil that controls the airwaves of the 6th and hypnotizes the youth to collect candy in their honor and deliver it unto them! Kid America, and his roommate squadron, aka the Candy Crusaders – broadcast their pirate TV show (on Sixth Borough Cable Access!) in quest to block the Zerberans’ signals and hep citizens and kids to the dangers of the everyday hypno-streams casted by the Virus.

And besides the Sixth Borough – Well, I was sort of saying this in the number 6 question – but I like the idea of aging – cuz it’s such a crazy change. Growing up was cool and having kids was great and now we’re in the next cycle which is getting old. Which is scary – but it’s sort of the funnest thing ever when you haven’t seen a guy in a few years and you see him and he’s all sort of wrinkled up or balding or some lady that you used to sweat has just completely lost it. And it’s a good laugh but then you look in the mirror and you’re fucked up too, so. So we got a little bit of aging stuff that I’m thinking about. But besides that we have our lists – our stuff now is a crazy checklist of a lot of “locked-in” ideas that we’ve been pursuing.

Why do you create art? Is it for money? Is it for fame? Is it to fulfill that inner calling? Is it to change the world?

I create art to pass the time. I’ve come up with this long-range project, and these lists of things that define that project – and I think doing the art is the most fulfilling thing, and the best use of my time. No matter what I do I like to think that it is adding to the fulfillment of my original design – defining and adding to the 6th Borough, the world of Kid America, and the expansion of my style. Zeroing in on the style of it all, is the reason I do it, or the gasoline – getting the style right is my favorite thing. Style over substance all the way.

Style is substance. I hate the rejection of style. The culture of graphics in our society has been in a tailspin ever since computers took front seats on ad campaigns and wallpaper designs and outdoor signage creation. There used to be frustrated artists in charge of all that stuff, getting some joy out of those jobs. Now I’m not sure what’s going on. But I guess I’d like to change the world at least a little – to help it to shift into a better aesthetic position – in support of the overall culture being less mundane or dumb.

How do you describe your art to someone who has never seen it?

I usually fold like a deck of cards when this comes up. I feel like we do our work in secret. If I must describe, I begin with the fact that we were on New York City public access for a long time and that I was a DJ for 20 years – and that we’ve been working on an art project that includes both of those things – a collection of music led video pieces that together form an exploration of both our real autobiographical adventures in trying to make it as well as a psychedelic attempt to make Saturday Morning style programming about an alternate, forgotten dimension of New York. If the person I’m talking to is only mildly perplexed, I like to go on to say that our work is an ode to early types of electronic communication and entertainment – the ways in which things were broadcast, recorded, and shared. In general, though, it is a quest to focus on special little moments and funny things.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever drawn inspiration from?

I hack up a lot of old kid’s records to make music and get samples that we use in our videos. When we get into the seemingly endless region of religious records made for kids – it’s the most buffooned out ridiculous shit of all time. Another weird place is Pennsylvania. I go there a lot for antiques and stuff. One of Brooklyn’s best Chinatowns – Lil’ Fuzhou in Sunset Park is a paradise of 99¢ Stores. It’s weird there.

In what ways do you push your boundaries or comfort zones through your art?

I don’t like to push boundaries or exit my comfort zone. I like to think of my stuff as a big cozy bed with lots of pillows. But doing on-street interviews is terrifying and we have always been so scared and upset up to the moment that we start doing it. While you’re doing it, it’s fine, but the lead-up is torture. So that is the opposite of comfortable. It’s the interviews for sure.

Do you believe art has a social responsibility? If so, how do you address it in your work?

This isn’t really my kind of question. I don’t know! I think a lasting sort of art will have reflected the culture it came from and be satisfying to interact with because that reflection was poignant in some way. It is art’s job to be good – I believe that “bad art” just sort of is not art – the whole thing about art for me is the question – is it art? Whether it’s through poetry or schadenfreude or some kind of joke or just basic good drawing skills. As far as a social responsibility goes, I suppose – yes – people need art (think about raising a baby without songs), so people must make art, and art must be consumed so that there is a general feeling of moving forward and using our brains and eyes and ears and feeling good. We’re all getting better all the time. Following that logic, if one feels that they might be good at making art, they should do everything they have to do in order to make it. They might not be right, of course, but you only live once – and I don’t want anyone raining on my parade. As far as my art is concerned, I just try to put a lot of time into it.

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