Morgan Spurlock burst onto the scene in 2004, feasting on nothing but McDonald's for a month to make his landmark film Super Size Me. He shifted the concept to the small screen last year with reality/documentary series 30 Days on FX. The series examines social issues through extreme fish-out-of-water premises, such as Spurlock and his fiancée living on minimum wage or an anti-immigration activist living in a house full of illegal aliens, all for the requisite 30 days. The second season, in which Spurlock spends a month in prison, debuts July 26. He spoke to B&C's Michael Malone about America's “Puritanical” values, his alter ego on The Sopranos, and how he's still recovering from his Big Mac attack.
You can put your finger on some lasting effects of Super Size Me, whether it's healthier school cafeterias or the menu board at McDonald's. Any anecdotal evidence that 30 Days has made its mark?
The perfect example is Dave Stacy, the [right-wing Christian] guy in the “Islam in America” episode who lives as a Muslim for 30 days. Ever since that show, his outlook on religion and the world is completely different. Here's a guy who goes around to churches and mosques and talks about the importance of tolerance. It's really phenomenal.
Then there's Ed, the gay man in the “Gay/Straight” episode. A guy came up to Ed and said, “I just wanted to let you know, I came out to my parents six years ago, and I've been estranged from my family for the past six years. My parents saw that episode and called me the next day.” That was one of the most beautiful things I could ever hear.
Is there pressure to make 30 Days less politically charged and more entertaining?
I think we do that anyway. Over the course of 30 days, funny things happen. We have great situations and interactions with the characters, and humor naturally comes out. We try to use that to add some levity to really heavy situations. And with animations and music, we try to keep it light and pop-oriented.
Given your provocative nature, has the FCC gone too far in its crackdown on indecency?
I think we've let our Puritanical basis get the best of us. We live in a country where free speech is so important, and the more I hear about the things that are getting fined, I think we're continuing to impede this freedom. Where does it end? I don't disagree that there are certain things that shouldn't be on the air at a time when children can see them. But there should also be a time when things can be on that aren't for children. Parents have to do the thing that is most important, which is be a parent.
Who are your influences?
I was the kid who watched way too much TV growing up. I would sit and watch hours of TV and play hours of video games, and go to the movies two or three times a week. I grew up loving Elia Kazan, Stanley Kubrick, documentary filmmakers like Errol Morris, Steve James, Michael Moore, Barbara Kopple. I also grew up on a fantastic diet of English comedy: Monty Python. Black Adder, The Young Ones.
What's next for your TV plans?
We shot a pilot for Comedy Central called Public Nuisance that we're waiting to hear about. It's like The Daily Show meets Monty Python, with this fantastic band of nuisances, of which I am one.