Welcome to Stories Found
AVA LOVE HANNA: Welcome to stories found. Each week we feature funny, weird, and mostly true stories from writers, artists, and storytellers around the world. I’m your host, Ava Love Hanna, a writer and humorist from Austin, Texas. Joining me is my writing partner, audio engineer, and all around cool guy, Paul Hanna. You’re listening to stories found.
Our featured organization is 826 National
Our featured organization this week is eight two six national. Eight Two Six National helps foster a love of creative writing in children. Their mission is to help young people use writing as a tool to ignite and channel their creativity, explore identity, advocate for themselves and their community, and achieve academic and professional success. You can help Eight Two Six advance this goal by volunteering at a local chapter, buying the children’s published works, or shopping at one of their stores. Each one has its own unique theme. For example, we’ll be heading to New Orleans this year and plan to stop by the Eight Two Six chapter and shop at the New Orleans Haunting Supply Company. Listeners in Los Angeles can visit the Time Travel Mart, while those in Boston can stop by the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. There are currently nine really cool stores just like these in cities across the country. Visit Eight Two Six National to learn more about this amazing program and to see how you can help them continue to foster a love of creative writing in children.
We’re talking to screenwriter Jonathan Wickremasinghe-Kuhn about his hilarious story Off-Target
AVA LOVE HANNA: Thanks for joining us for this episode of Stories Found. This week we’re talking to the talented screenwriter, playwright, and storyteller Jonathan Wickremasinghe-Kuhn before hearing his hilarious story Off Target. Jonathan grew up in Selma, Alabama and attended the University of Southern California, where he received both his BFA in writing for screen and television and his Master of Professional Writing degree. He’s performed stories of the Moth and for the Two Truths and a Lie podcast. His plays have been produced by numerous theaters across the country. He’s smart, he’s funny, and we’re super happy to have him on Stories Found today. Hi, Jonathan. Thanks for joining us today to chat about your hilarious story Off Target.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.
Stories Found features funny stories that are also embarrassing for the storyteller
AVA LOVE HANNA: Well, we’re really excited to have you here on Stories Found, because if there is one thing we love, it is really funny stories that are also sort of embarrassing for the storyteller. And this story is both of those things, and honestly, it’s just one of the funniest ones I’ve heard in a long time.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: I appreciate that. It definitely fits the embarrassing category well.
AVA LOVE HANNA: So without giving too much away, can you give us just a little preview of what we’re going to hear today?
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Uh, yeah, I would say that what started off as a pretty innocuous visit to Target to buy some cleaning supplies ended, uh, up with a crowd that was gathered to witness an accident that had happened.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Oh my God. So now actually sounds terrible that I’m laughing like it’s an accident. Fortunately, you weren’t harmed, right?
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Uh, not harmed. No blood was spilled. I’ll put it that way.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Okay. Because otherwise they’re like, well, Ava’s really mean
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: No bones broken.
AVA LOVE HANNA: No bones broken. Okay. Just some pride. Yeah.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Yes. The pride was severely wounded, I would say.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Well, I think one of the things I like best about this story it is that, um, it’s sort of a weird thing to have happen. But at the same time, as I was reading it when you sent it in, I was thinking, oh my god, this could be me. I read it. I ran over to Paul. He was in his office to tell him about the story. And I was like, I can’t believe this actually hasn’t already happened to me. So it’s, ah, super relatable.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Which is, I’m sure, exactly what you.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Were going for right. When this happened, you’re like, oh, this is so relatable.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Yeah. Immediately after, I was like, oh, this is going to be a great story to tell. And I told anyone who would listen.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Well, it’s like, oh, look, I’ve done this embarrassing thing.
AVA LOVE HANNA: But boy, do I have a funny everyman story.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Now, this could be word of warning to you. Don’t let this happen to you.
AVA LOVE HANNA: So when something funny like this happens to a writer, I think it’s always great because people aren’t just going to get a log line like, yeah, I went to Target and had a bad day. They’re going to get a fully developed experience. Correct.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Yeah, exactly. The story as presented here was kind of polished and honed over, telling it to friends over and over and kind of trying to tell it the same way. And, um, I think as writers, the people we’re in relationships with get tired of hearing us tell the same story to different people the exact same way. But I’m like, well, I know what hits. I know it lands.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Right. So that’s sort of one of the joys of being a writer too, though, is that no experience is wasted. This is going to come back up, right?
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Exactly.
Screenwriting and playwriting are mainly what you do
AVA LOVE HANNA: So let’s talk about some of your other work.
AVA LOVE HANNA: I was looking and you are primarily a screenwriter, correct? Correct.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Uh, screenwriting and playwriting is mainly what I do.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Well, great.
AVA LOVE HANNA: And you’ve got a pretty great sense of timing here. So are you doing comedy writing? Are you doing primarily drama? What writing are you doing?
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Uh, sure. I’ve done a fair amount of comedy writing in the past. Um, and m my short plays that I’ve done, that’s kind of what I’ve been focused on the past few years. Um, usually have some comedic elements to them, but I would say most of them aren’t straight comedy. Um, but in screenwriting, actually, more recently, I’m doing more horror thriller. Um, but comedy can work its way into that too.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Oh, yeah.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: So comedy kind of finds its way into everything I do.
AVA LOVE HANNA: I wanted to say, I know for me,
AVA LOVE HANNA: I’m always keeping sort of like a running tab of all the ridiculous or painful things that happen to me with the intention of using them in my work again.
AVA LOVE HANNA: And what I found over the years.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Is I do use them, but not consciously. Right. Instead, I’ll write a new play and then later read it, like, oh, yeah, that’s my life, isn’t it?
How directly does your personal life seep into and influence your work
AVA LOVE HANNA: So how directly does your personal life sort of seep into and influence your work?
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: That’s a great question. Yeah, I would say there’s definitely things from my life that have been like, oh, I want to incorporate this in some way, or some form. Um, but I’ve also had experiences like yours, uh, where I’ll write something and be like, oh, this character is this person that I really didn’t like and had to deal with over the years. Um, and then also, there’s been other times where I’ve had to kind of actively avoid things seeping into my life, because I wrote this play that I, uh, directed as well for the Hollywood, um, uh, film or the Hollywood Theater Festival. French Festival. Hollywood french festival. Uh, that was called excommunication. And, um, I came up with this idea of a guy meeting with all his exes in the same day, trying to see if they’d get back together with him. And I was like, Well, I don’t want my exes to think this is about them. So I very consciously modeled the people off of people I knew in real life, but that I had never dated or anything like that to try to avoid any people in real life.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: At least one did, I think.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Yes.
When you are writing heavier or horror based, where are you turning for ideas
AVA LOVE HANNA: Well, so when you’re writing sort of heavier stuff and horror stuff now, I mean, that isn’t the kind of thing you can harvest from your own life. Although that’s kind of presumptuous for me. You could live in a haunted house or something. I don’t know. So when you are writing something heavier or horror based, where are you turning for ideas?
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Yeah, I mean, a lot of it one reason I’ve gravitated towards horror and thriller is having meetings with different, uh, producers and things like that. Uh, one was saying two things. One, that that’s kind of the last genre that new writers are really breaking in with. Um, and that’s probably more so true now than even before, because the opportunities are even more dried up. Um, but the other thing was, it’s really one of the last genres where you can tackle social issues and people will still be okay with that, not feel like you’re forcing something upon them. And so I really try to explore that, um, find an issue, something that I hear about that moves me in a certain way and be like, okay, how can I address this? But not as a straight drama, in a way that really twists it, in a way and makes it more horrific, um, more sadistic in some cases and just more heightened, um, so that audiences would maybe get on board, but either consciously or subconsciously, maybe take a lesson from it.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Oh, that is fascinating because I know that’s something we try to do with comedy. Right. You can always sort of teach a lesson if you want to without people feeling like they’re getting hit over the head.
AVA LOVE HANNA: But I had not realized, yeah, that.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Is something that I’ve been seeing happen to trend in horror. And that is amazing that that’s what you’re doing with your writing. I love that. So I know for me, definitely being exposed to other writers or other genres, I know that I’m often drawn back to poetry. Um, I’ve said this before on this podcast that my villain origin story is that I went to grad school for poetry because I guess I hate money, but poetry reminds me to sort of keep it succinct and shows how to tell a complete story.
So are there screenwriters that you kind of are gravitating towards
AVA LOVE HANNA: So are there screenwriters that you kind of are gravitating?
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Um yeah, I would say I really like Tony Gilroy. I, uh, really like his style. Um, and then some horror writers, no specific names are coming to mind. I mean, I love Jordan Peele storytelling. Um, m. Those are two who come to mind. One in horror and one outside of it. Um, but as you said, I’m kind of seeing a lot of films that are starting to explore that. So I’ve got a list of more scripts that I need to read just to kind of see how it translated from the page to the screen.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Oh, yeah. Uh, okay.
Jonathan, you’ve woven into the urban legend of that Target store
AVA LOVE HANNA: To get back to your story, I do have one final question, and it may be the most important one. Do you still shop at that same Target, or do you travel a long distance to go to a different one?
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: I did shop there for many years because it was my closest one. It was, like, five minutes away. I wasn’t going to go way out of my way, but I no longer live near, uh, there. I’m in a new city.
AVA LOVE HANNA: So you’ve got a whole fresh start.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Yes, I can make my mark on a new Target.
AVA LOVE HANNA: But then again, maybe you’ve become part of Target lore, just something they use.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: In a training video. Everyone who worked there, I assume, had to talk about it, and so I would imagine it gets passed down over the years. Actually, I hadn’t thought about that until now, but yeah, maybe now no one’s there who was there when it happened, but they learned about it from people, so they just tell it as, like, an urban legend.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Yeah, you’ve woven into the urban legend of that Target store. Well, that is hilarious.
AVA LOVE HANNA: And Jonathan, thank you so much for.
AVA LOVE HANNA: Joining us on Stories Found today. It has been a real treat talking to you.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Off Target by Jonathan Wickremasinghe-Kuhn
AVA LOVE HANNA: Stories found is now proud to present Off Target by Jonathan Wickremasinghe-Kuhn.
JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN: Napoleon had Waterloo Custer had his last stand and I had the target on Jefferson Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. I was only buying a few things, so I had one of those little baskets instead of a cart and I got to use the express checkout line. It was going to be a quick, easy, uneventful shopping trip. It was taking a little while because the woman was having some computer login issues, but that wasn’t a big deal. I could wait a few minutes. I began absent-mindedly playing with the basket. Little FYI target baskets have holes all over them. Without thinking much about it, I stuck my finger in one of these holes. That was a mistake because the next thing I knew, my index finger was stuck in this hole. And when I say stuck, I mean past the second knuckle stuck. It was really in there. The cashier didn’t notice at first. She was dealing with the computer and I didn’t want her to notice, so I tried to subtly pull my finger out. I tried yanking it, I tried slowly twisting it, but nothing worked. I started to panic. I was frantically pushing and pulling and in all this chaos and momentum, somehow my middle finger slipped into the hole right next to it. And now they were both stuck. So there I was, the little double Dutch boy, two fingers stuck in a basket. And I realized that even if I managed to get out of this on my own, she was going to notice, so I might as well suck it up and ask for help. So I swallowed my pride and said, excuse me, ma’am, this is really embarrassing, but my fingers are stuck in this basket. She looked at me, she looked at my fingers, she looked at the basket and then she said, they are not about this time, a manager showed up thinking all she had to deal with was a computer login issue. But instead she had to deal with me, the guy who just turned a target basket into a sadistic Chinese finger trap. She got me some lotion and I massaged it into my fingers. It was a good idea, but it didn’t help at all. Then, for whatever reason, she put the lotion into her own hands and started massaging into my fingers herself, which was just as ineffective, but a lot more awkward. A security guard came over. He had a pair of scissors and tried to cut the basket, but that didn’t do anything except scratch it. It’s pretty thick plastic. The three of them stepped away to brainstorm. I felt a little like Winnie the Pooh stuck there while they tried to figure out what the hell they were going to do with me. Obviously, this whole time I’d been trying to get my fingers out so they were pulled very tight against the holes. They were turning a little red, like the color of the basket. But it didn’t seem like anything I needed to worry about, except as I was standing there, I started, huh. Huh, that’s weird. I feel a little light headed. The next thing I knew, I woke up on the floor of target, my arms stretched out, my fingers still stuck in this basket. Employees all around me, customers gawking at me, and from the customer’s point of view, I imagine went something like this oh, my god. That guy’s on the ground, is he okay? I wonder if are his fingers stuck in that basket? The employees helped me up and gave me some water. Paramedics arrived. I asked if they’d ever seen anything like this before. I meant it as a joke, but one of them considered it thoughtfully before scrunching up his bushy white mustache and simply replying, nope. They checked my vitals. Everything seemed okay, and I felt fine. Then they asked, did you hit your head when you fell? Well, I don’t know. I told them I was unconscious. The security guard came over and said, well, when he started to fall, the basket sort of caught on the counter and slowed him down, and I helped him to the ground. The paramedics ended up using a, uh, ring cutter to free my fingers from their plastic prison. The target logo is prominently featured on the piece they cut out, sort of an advertisement for my stupidity. The security guard asked me, do you still want to check out? Well, yeah, I still need this stuff. I told him there wasn’t anyone in my register because they had closed it, so I offered to move to another one, but he yelled, no, you stay right there. He was terrified if I took a step, I was going to faint again. He got an employee who was coming off break to open the register. She logged in. She started ringing me up. She didn’t say anything about what had just happened, but I know she had to know, because if I worked at target, the very first thing I would have done was run into the break room and yell, some idiot just passed out because he got his finger stuck in a basket. But she was a professional to check me out. I paid for everything. Then I had this basket with a hole in it. So I turned to the security guard. You probably want to get rid of this, right? He took it, but he was always looking out for me and asked, uh, do you want to take a picture of it? I told him, that’s okay, and pulled out the piece of the basket that the paramedics had given to me. I’ve got my souvenir.
This week’s episode sponsor is Magikjaz Creations in Austin, Texas
AVA LOVE HANNA: You’ve just heard off target by Jonathan Wickremasinghe-Kuhn.
We’ll have a post on our website with more information about Jonathan, as well as links to find him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can find all of that on our website, storiesfound.com.
Our episode sponsor this week is Magikjaz Creations. It’s a woman minority and LGBTQ+ owned business based in Austin, Texas. Jasmine is a proud Latinx artist who creates jewelry and wearable art and specializes in chainmail and wirework. She offers creative, original pieces that are truly one-of-a-kind. Make sure to check out her website at magikjazcreations.com. We’ll have a direct link to their store on Storiesfound.com.
Thanks for listening to Stories Found! We’ve been your hosts, Ava Love Hanna and Paul Hanna. Get more information about this week’s episode, subscribe to our newsletter, or submit your own story to be a featured storyteller in a future episode. You can do all of that and more on our website, Storiesfound.com. Stories Found was recorded at ELA Studios, deep in the heart of Austin, Texas.