Stewart Filbert was the fictional creator of Oranges Are Funny! whom I played in the movie, Off the Cuff. The movie was created by a fantastic Chicago comedian and friend, Jessica Hardy, and her equally talented husband, Brent Kado. It was a “mockumentary” (a la Spinal Tap, Best in Show, etc.) about an improv festival and, as you might have guessed, it was mostly improvised. The story follows two improv teams: the consistently returning champions, “Shuttle Rocket All Stars”, and the painfully terrible newbies, “Blam!” Stewart was on the painfully terrible team, of course.
Stewart’s character was portrayed as a middle aged man who has gotten bitten by the improv bug. His naive enthusiasm for the “craft” of improv was my homage to every new improvisor I have met over the years (including myself) who has seen “Sit, Stand, Kneel” as the fast track to being the next Will Ferrell.
Jessica and I worked together in a box office at the time we were filming, and during my spare time, I would often be drawing comics. As we were preparing to improvise Stewart’s interview for the camera, Jessica suggested that Stewart should also draw comics as a hobby. So, while she and her camera person were setting up, I tried to come up with the worst possible comic with the worst possible drawings. Oranges popped into my head for some reason (perhaps because they were simple, round, and inanimate?), so I quickly sketched some god-awful comics that were just so bad they hurt. When it came time to film, I started showing them to the camera/interviewer without warning. Something about the starry-eyed Stewart presenting these “masterpieces” must have clicked because none of us could stop laughing at each new terrible comic.
As a joke later on, I thought it might be fun to do a blog by Stewart himself drawing more of these terrible comics. They were so simple to draw and there was no pressure to make them “good” because the “bad” was what made them so fun. Gradually, more and more of my friends were reacting so positively to them, I decided to put them on Comics Sherpa where I had my other comic, Fleas On Flick, to see how strangers would respond. While the response was not overwhelming at first, people began to catch on to the humor and the comic began to form a small following. I actually posted them under Stewart’s name on that site to keep it separate from my other comic. However, followers of Flick soon discovered that I was splitting my time between the two (Oranges was so much less time consuming), and I got some angry messages about slowing down my Flick turnout.
As life and work continued to get in the way, both my comics slowed to a halt, but not before Tony Murphy, the creator of one of my favorite comics, It’s All About You, published Oranges briefly in his all comics newspaper, Coffee Talk. It was the first time any of my comics had been published in print!
After a year of not writing Oranges Are Funny!, I got laid off from my day job and decided it was time to finally put the collection into a book the way I always said I would. I decided to put Stewart’s name on the shelf and use my own, mostly because after about a hundred comics, the oranges had become more sophisticated than they were when “Stewart” was writing them. His influence still carries on in the characteristic bad drawings and simple jokes, but I think these simple fruits may have surprised all of us with just how difficult and complicated their lives have become. Of course, maybe Stewart was a little more complicated than I realized, as well.