The PEOWW Conference: Dr. Stuart Ashen
Dr. Stuart Ashen the self-proclaimed â€œinternet cunt and failed psychologistâ€ is better known to his legions of fans (over eighteen thousand subscribers and counting) as Dr. Ashen, the video reviewer on YouTube who looks a little like Simon Pegg in a killer suit.
His reviews are a mix of technical insight and sarcastic ribbing with tat such as the Pop Station and the KenSingTon Sport Vii reviewed but he also has a great line in comedy sketches featuring poorly made God Monsters and call centre Cybermen. So when he announced he was releasing a DVD of his works Peoww sent me to interview (read: hassle) him to get the lowdown on what to expect.
Peoww: So what’s on the new (plug-plug) Ashens DVD?
Ashen: Everything you ever needed. You know that empty feeling of dread you sometimes get when you wake up, as if you’ve wasted your life and you’ll never achieve anything? Buying my DVD cures that instantly. It contains well over 3 hours of footage comprising nearly all my gadget reviews and cartoons. And there’s all-new content – two fresh reviews (of 5 different things) and two animations and some extra stuff that’s hidden.
That’s over 20 minutes of exclusive footage! Well, exclusive until some worthless little pisscrane rips it and uploads it to YouTube, of course. Also: You get a free lanyard with every DVD. Yes, really.
Peoww: Cool. So what’s in the Dr. Ashen’s book you’re writing?
Ashen: As we say around these parts: “A load of ol’ squit.” It collects written nonsense that I’ve posted on my website over the years, and has heaps of new silliness to boot. It’ll only be a self-published thing with nothing about video games or POP Stations in, and I therefore expect it to sell about three copies worldwide. (Two of which will be returned.)
Peoww: What first inspired you to do a video review?
Ashen: An Ebay link for the original POP Station was posted on a forum I used to frequent. I ended up buying it, and ad-libbed a quick video to show it to the other forum members who were interested. Somebody must have sent it to B3ta as it was in their newsletter the following week. I only expected about twenty specific people to watch it, so didn’t introduce myself or put my website address on it or anything. The main reason I made a second video was to prove that I’d made the first one!
Peoww: Has there ever been a gadget or system too bad to review?
Ashen: No way – the worse it is the better, generally. I did buy a Gizmondo and never reviewed it though. I got it to try out some weird, unfinished ‘augmented reality’ games you could play with its camera after seeing footage on YouTube. Sadly the footage was taken from a PC-based development kit and the actual Gizmondo code was totally unplayable. Everything else on the machine was a bit dull so I ended up selling it on without filming anything.
Peoww: So just how much of your time is spent hunting Ebay for potential review fodder?
Ashen: Very little, I’m pleased to say. The usual routine is that a gaming site / blog spots something, loads of people e-mail me about it, I make a search on Ebay and then wait for one to turn up. I have found a couple of items by searching for things like â€œFake PS3â€ and â€œLike Wiiâ€ but that’s pretty much a dead end these days.
Peoww: How supportive if at all have YouTube been?
Ashen: I’ve never had any support from YouTube. They did contact me once, just before they introduced the ad-revenue-sharing Partner programme in the UK. They allowed me to apply early “as special thanks for the great videos you make!” So I applied and they turned me down flat because “Your account does not contain sufficient original new content that represents the uniqueness of our community.” I applied again after I was featured on the front page for the second time, and I was again turned down with the same response. So I think it’s pretty safe to say I’m not the sort of thing they’re interested in on an ongoing basis. It doesn’t really matter though – they provide free video hosting and access to a large audience which is fine by me.
Peoww: Has there been any interest in your work from TV types?
Ashen: Yes, but only very recently. I’ve had significant interest from a proper TV production company that you’ve heard of and everything.
Peoww: So why use your sofa for the reviews?
Ashen: I filmed the original POP Station review on it just because it was handy, and I kept using it because it was instantly recognisable. It’s hugely popular for some reason – I get a lot of e-mail about it.
Peoww: Time for an AV nerd question, what gear do you use for your reviews?
Ashen: Video: Old Sony DCR-TRV15E MiniDV camera and an ancient broken tripod. Capture: Cheapo Dazzle USB thing. Microphone: Behringer Podcast Studio set. Clothing: twelve-year-old Marks and Spencer basic suit. Teeth: All mine.
Peoww: While we’re talking hardwareâ€¦ Spectrum vs. Commodore – Will it ever end?
Ashen: Never. Even when computers are forgotten, idiots will become emotionally attached to their purchases and defend them to the death. It will be Something Unimportant vs. Something Slightly Similar until the world ends.
Peoww: The PS3 – Evil or just misunderstood?
Ashen: Neither. It’s not an evil device – there’s nothing inherently wrong or broken about it. And most people have discovered it’s ace at movies but a bit of an embarrassment games-wise, so it’s not misunderstood.
Peoww: Ok, time for the standard ‘top five best games ever’ question.
Ashen: I hate “best games ever” lists more than I hate TV chefs. So instead I shall list five of my personal favourites in no particular order: Dungeon Master / Chaos Strikes Back (Atari ST), Renegade (Spectrum), Shining Force 3 (Saturn), UFO: Enemy Unknown (Amiga), Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (Arcade).
Peoww: Do you think things like the Wii’s Virtual Console or the Xbox’s Arcade is a good way to get kids into classic retro games or an attempt by greedy publishers to keep wringing money out of old intellectual properties?
Ashen: The latter. The prices are far too high to start a retro renaissance – the kids I know would rather put £7.50 towards a second-hand Wii game than spend it on an emulated version of Wave Race 64.
Peoww: Do you think the general perception of videogames has changed in the last few years or is it still the domain of the nerds and shut-ins?
Ashen: Games are becoming more socially accepted as time progresses but it’s a slow process. Perhaps the current Nintendo boom will help non-gamers understand the hobby a bit more – even Mum wants a DS these days. I think it’s going to be a long time before she’s playing proper games with laser power-ups and end of level bosses, though.
Peoww: What are your inspiration for the comedy sketches like ‘Liquid Filth’?
Ashen: I don’t know really. I just think of things. I came up with Liquid Filth after watching Columbo, obviously – I loved the way Donald Pleasance delivered the line. He sounds so angry and outraged.
Peoww: When you decided to resurrect Noseybonk where you aware just how many people carried repressed memories of him and his downright creepy antics?
Ashen: Oh yes – I was fully aware of Noseybonk’s eerie power of nostalgic terror. It was one of the reasons I brought him back from The Dark Place. He’s creepy and yet somehow funny at the same time, which is a rare quality that I love.
Peoww: Is Noseybonk truly evil unlike the PS3 or just misunderstood?
Ashen: Neither. Noseybonk just is.
Peoww: I love trawling through TrailerClub70.com watching all the old trailers like ‘The Dark’ and ‘The Bullet Machine’, can we expect a bigger role in the future of Ashens or is it just a little fun?
Ashens: It’s just a bit of fun. I love it when people send me e-mail saying that they’ve just watched the full version of Attack of the Crab Monsters or something.
Peoww: Question 13B. There is no question 13B.
Ashen: And yet, here is an answer!
Peoww: Dr. Who has featured in a number of your comedy sketches, do you go for classic Who or the new RTD style Who?
Ashen: I used to like ‘classic’ Who in the eighties, but I just don’t have the time for the old stuff these days. Some of the seventies serials could go on for ages with nothing much happening. I’ve been watching New Who but it’s very hit and miss – If I see one more bloody ‘reset button’ ending I’m going to track down Russell T Davies and kick him in the shins.
Peoww: So if Dr. Who doesn’t cut it anymore what does Dr. A set his VCR for? And may I take a moment to recommend ‘The Middleman’ as a possible replacement with its complete lack of chav family values and corny sentimentality.
Ashen: To be honest, nothing. The only thing I’ve watched for months are DVDs of the original Twilight Zone from the sixties. I don’t mean that in some poncey “Ooh look how intellectual I am, I don’t watch TV” way. Generally my girlfriend controls the TV while I sit at the PC in the living room creating stupid things and reading crap on the internet. (I’m a little wary of The Middleman as it was based on a comic, and in my experience the original comic is always infinitely superior to any tie-in media.)
Peoww: So what was the last website you bookmarked?
Ashen: littlelinuxlaptop.com. I got one of the ultra-low-spec netbooks they cover stupidly cheap, for looking at the web on the move and showing videos in meetings. It’s almost completely useless for me though – it takes a minute or so to render most web pages regardless of net connection speed, and can’t show video at decent quality. And it can’t play YouTube videos at all. It’s going on Ebay as I speak.
Peoww: Dr. Stuart Ashen thank you for your time, any last words for our readers?
Ashen: None. I’m sure you’re all sick of me by now.
So there we go. The DVD is scheduled for release in early November ’08 and can be ordered from ashens.com where Dr. A can also be found between videos.