Interview with ‘Agua Donkey’ MP Cunningham


Last week, I finally—finally—got around to watching the cult tv series Agua Donkeys.

A buddy of mine was like, ‘You gotta watch this show about a couple of pool boys—it’s hilarious,’ and was like, ‘Oh, yeah for sure. I’ll check it out.’ But there was no way I was gonna watch it because who has time for all the shows, movies and podcasts they get recommended? Two weeks later my friend asked if I’d watched the show yet. Then she asked again a week later, then once more a few days after that. Over the course of a month, she messaged me eight times about Agua Donkeys, so I checked it out just to get her off my case. Surprise-surprise—Agua Donkeys is brilliant. After absorbing as much of the show as the Internet would allow, I immediately tracked down the show’s director, co-creator and co-star, MP Cunningham, and I rang him up. It was so sick.

MP Cunningham?

What up.

Dude. This is so weird. I just watched your show for the first time ever and now we’re on the phone. What’s up?

You saw it for the first time?

Yeah, I got a friend who’s been at me for ages like, ‘You gotta check out Agua Donkeys,’ but of course, I never did ‘cause, people are always telling you to check shit out these days.

Right, right.

But then I watched it this Friday just gone, and I’m glad I did because it’s my new favourite show.

I appreciate that, man. That’s cool.

The show is set in Salt Lake City, Utah. Are you from there?

No, I’m from Northern California, the Modesto area, but I moved to Salt Lake when I was about 20 and I spent almost 10 years there. But Salt Lake was the place where I really made, like, a hub and formed my own crew so we could make stuff and eventually get a chance to make bigger things, you know?

Right on. So, if you lived in Utah all that time, I guess you know fry sauce is.

Oh yeah, for sure.

I have a buddy from Salt Lake, and he said to mention that. I don’t know what it is.

Well, if you can handle mayonnaise, you’ll love fry sauce.

Were you ever an Agua Donkey in real life?

No, but I have a buddy who is a pool cleaner, and he is the funniest dude, and he’d always tell me the funniest stories from on the job. So, when Jer (Jackson, co-creator, and co-star) and I started making stuff, we talked about that. Jer and I would always hang out at the pool and write and make things, and one day we were like, ‘Holy shit, it would be so sick to make a show about pool cleaners because then we would be by pools all the time with our shirts off, hangin’ out, like, filming things at the pool—how sick would that be?

So sick.

And we loved the idea that every house with a pool was a potential new character, so creatively it’s really interesting because you can dream up anything you want and any time, you know?

And stay cool in the pool.

Yeah.

Are you and Jer best friends in real life?

Yeah, we’re really close. We’ve been friends for about ten years.

How does the writing work with you two?

Well, I think the reason Jer and I even started making stuff was because we naturally had great chemistry, as far as working off each other and trying to make each other laugh; and over time we created our own language, like all friends do after a while, you know? Like you have your own tone or sense of humour.

Yeah, that’s the best.

Yeah, so there was a part of my own sense of humour in my work, but I wanted to go more dry. And I’d just made a film called Ford Clitaurus, and afterwards, I felt like… Well, my natural sense of humour is even drier than that, and Jer and I, our sense of humour combined, we can get that tone naturally because it’s just who we are. So, that’s how things kinda got started with us. We just sit around and try to make each other laugh, essentially.

That’s cool.

Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s a fun process.

Are the characters based on real people? Like Donnie—is he a real person you know? And also, will there be a Donnie spin-off show down the track? Because I can watch Donnie forever.

Oh, man, let’s hope so. But are the characters based on real people… My work has always been [made] with my friends, you know? So, Joey, the dude that plays Donnie, he has very similar tendencies to Donnie, so a lot of his natural humour leans perfectly into the character. When I cast people, I love to understand their language, in a sense, and give them words that sound like them. Joey is this dude that grew up in Hawaii, surfer dude, and so it’s so funny when he plays Donnie because it just comes so natural to him.

I like Donnie.

Yeah, everyone has that kid that they grew up with who is, like, the total badass surfer or skater or something, and everybody in town wanted to be like him. So, Donnie is that dude in our world. He’s the sickest kneeboarder and he can do no wrong.

That clip where you roll up on him and he says he just got sponsored destroys me every time. It’s so funny.

Thanks, man.

And there’s the old dude… I saw on Reddit people were speculating if he was Mel Gibson.

Oh yeah, Ray Kelleher, he plays ‘Leonard’.

Yeah, I looked him up, he’s a Utah-based actor, but he’s relatively new to it?

Yeah, Ray is a dude who later in life went, ‘Shit, I think I want to be an actor,’ y’know? And he’d lived this super-crazy life. He showed up at an audition and I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ Jer and I just fell in love with him.

I read about him. He was in the Navy and stuff?

He was a marine, actually.

Oh wow. He’s a trip, and so good to look at. Can I change the subject real quick?

Sure.

What the hell are ‘gainers’? Everyone on the show is always doing ‘gainers’ off the roof or something. What’s a ‘gainer’?

Gainers are like… Well, okay. You run forward…

Yeah?

…and do a backflip. While you’re moving forward.

And that’s a gainer.

Yeah. It’s this thing where you and the boys go cliff jumping or something, and the dude that does the gainer is, like, the sickest dude, y’know? Because it’s pretty ballsy.

Gainer. Okay. The word ‘cherry’ gets thrown around a lot too. My buddy from Salt Lake checked out the show and was like, ‘That’s exactly how people talk in Utah.’ And he mentioned if you read interviews with, like, Lizard King or JP Walker, they’re all, ‘oh, dude, that was so cherry.’

Oh, yeah.

Is it hard to write, direct and star in a show all by yourself?

Well, Jer’s involved in that too. He writes and he’s in it, and he’s such a big part of being there and being able to explain [to the cast and crew] what we dream up. And having his super-specific perspective on life… He’s such a lightning rod of a person, and he’s a super-funny dude, so he’s a big part of the tone of Agua Donkeys, you know?

Right, right. And his brother is in the show too, which one is he?

Yeah, his brother, Luke, plays our boss, ‘Rod’.

Rod is hilarious. The whole thing is. You guys have done an amazing job.

Thanks, man.

Ok, that’s it. I really just wanted to find out what a gainer is.

You gotta try a gainer, man.

Not a chance. Thanks for talkin’, MP!

No problem. Great chattin’ to ya.

Season 1 of Agua Donkeys is available to watch on Roku. Stay tuned for season 2….

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