Published on October 27th, 2018 | by Padraic Coffey


My Favourite Things – John Cullen

John Cullen is a comedian based in Vancouver, Canada. His debut album ‘Most Likely to Be a Comedian’ is available on Comedy Records.

Toy Story / Toy Story 2 / Toy Story 3 (1995/1999/2010, John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich)

I am not a movie person. I’m that guy who people say, “Oh my God, you haven’t seen it?” to all the time. I barely watch movies, and for some reason the only movies that I consistently watch are cartoons. I’ve always really liked them since I was a kid. The thing with the Toy Story movies – and this will probably be a theme when I talk about my favourite book and favourite album – is that they were uniquely positioned in my life. The theme of every Toy Story movie was similar to where I was at that point. The first one came out when I was about 10. The idea that your toys could come to life was so magical. I remember seeing that, and it was obviously a fantasy that you have as a kid – “My toys are coming to life! This is the best thing ever!”

Toy Story 2 came out, and it was kind of about how Andy’s getting a little bit too cool for toys. That was kind of where I was going in my life. I was excited to see what happened to the Toy Story characters, but I was over toys at that point. The third one came out when I was an adult, and had that theme of, once you become an adult, you get nostalgic for childhood. You don’t necessarily revert back to having toys, but you sort of have those memories of your old toys, and you start to think about where they ended up.

The reason I’ve kind of cheated and chosen three was that I felt Toy Story was a unique series. I love all of them, and I’ve seen them all multiple times, but they also kind of reflected the arc of my own life, which made them even more special. If I had to pick a scene that stuck out for me, the moment in Toy Story 3 when the toys are about to get sent into the incinerator comes to mind. I think everybody thought, “this might actually happen”. I didn’t cry, but I remember having those feelings in my body, wondering if these beloved toys were going to be destroyed.

I’m a fan of Pixar in general. If I go to see a movie at the theatre – which I do about twice a year – it’s usually to see a cartoon. Some DreamWorks ones are okay, and some other companies who do claymation and stuff, but I’ve pretty much seen every Pixar movie. The last movie I saw in the theatres was Incredibles 2, and I went on opening night. I love seeing cartoons on the big screen, the colours are so much more lush, so if Pixar put something out, I’ll watch it. 

The Catcher in the Rye (1951, J.D. Salinger)

I’m a straight white man, so, of course, my favourite book is The Catcher in the Rye. It’s a pretty stereotypical answer, but just as with Toy Story, it was the first time that a book had ever spoken to me. I loved reading from the time I was a kid. I was a bit of a loner in school, and books were always my escape. I was always a very avid reader, and read at a pretty high level, I just never really read any serious books. When I was in Grade 8 – which, in Ontario, where I grew up, is still elementary school – I misbehaved a little, so I was put into a Grade 7-8 split class. There were only three Grade 8 students in the whole class, but I guess we were troublemakers, and they thought it might help to separate us from the rest. It was a pretty emotional year, because I’d been in the gifted program, and I’d been with the same kids from Grade 4 to Grade 8.

I had a teacher that year who was amazing – Miss P – who really helped me grow a lot as a person, and when I graduated from Grade 8 she gave me The Catcher in the Rye as a present. I think she felt pretty connected to the three Grade 8 students. It spoke to me because of that feeling of being an outsider and a loner, and doing your own thing. I’d never read a book that directly spoke to me, and that also was a little bit more serious. Up to that point, I’d just read a lot of fun books, or books about sport. The Catcher in the Rye was the first real book I read at exactly the right time in my life. My family moved to Vancouver after that Grade 8 year, and I started going to school Vancouver Grade 9. It helped me mature a lot. I don’t know if I would say it’s my favourite book anymore, because I’ve read lots of books since then, but to this day my favourite type of book is a coming-of-age story. I’m a real sucker for those. The Catcher in the Rye was the start of that for me.

Asleep in the Back (2001, Elbow)

I’ve been a music fan for a very long time. I’ve played drums since I was a kid. I chose Asleep in the Back because I feel like Elbow are one of those bands that I’m shocked aren’t known by more people in North America. It’s weird to me that they never made it bigger here. Elbow were also the first indie band that I ever got into. When I went to university, I considered myself a hard-done-by child, and little bit angsty. I listened to a lot of Korn and Limp Bizkit and System of a Down, and other nu-metal bands. Elbow were introduced to me by a friend I made in university, Lee, who I’m still friends with today. We played in a band together for a couple of years.

The album was unlike anything I’d ever really heard before to that point. I didn’t know you could make music like that. It was great mix of an indie sound with something a little bit darker. Even the cover of the album is pale blue and black, and the pastiche of the album is that it’s a bit more down-tempo. It’s recorded in a very dark way. Elbow ended up becoming more of a sunny day band later in their career, but Asleep in the Back was still the first one I got into. The first track, Any Day Now, is one of my favourite songs of all time, to this day, and the whole album all the way through is amazing.

Follow John on social media.
Twitter: @cullenthecomic

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About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.

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