With the RITE OF PASSAGE premiering on the El Rey network, ComicsVerse took the opportunity to sit down with its creator and star, Tim Noonan to talk about everything from how his show came to be to manhood and chasing your dreams. Below is a transcription of our conversation that has been edited for clarity.

ComicsVerse (CV): The first thing I wanted to know was, why rites of passage? Was there something fundamentally intriguing about exploring different rites of passage around the world? This is very unique and different, so what drew you to this project?

Tim Noonan (TN): Well, I’ve always been fascinated by other worlds, so I guess deep down, I always wanted to go on a Tin Tin-like adventure […] and “man up”. Honestly, I think that, probably, my whole life has always been defined by exploring what it means to be a man. Growing up with my mother and without that father figure always around — Dad was there until I was ten — […] I think I was left, you know, you need to download that software of how to handle yourself. How to walk, talk, make decisions for yourself, do all the things you would normally download from a father figure. So, for me, it left me with this burning desire to explore and create my own rite of passage and hopefully come back stronger and a little tougher, and hopefully with a new sense of myself.

CV: Yeah, I totally get that having grown up with primarily my mother as well. It’s like, you see all the other guys around you with their father figures around…and you’re going in totally blind trying to figure out what it is to be a man when all you know is how to be a woman, you know?

TN: Exactly! I used to be a journalist, and I traveled the world for a show that’s similar to CBS’s 60 MINUTES, it was called, SUNDAY NIGHT IN AUSTRALIA. And I tried to do daring stories for that program and have wild adventures. I tried to sort of test my manhood in that domain, but it wasn’t enough. So, I left that job, the cushy, cozy career in the city, to try and chase a dream. That’s how RITE OF PASSAGE began.

CV: And did you find what you were looking for in doing these rites of passage?

TN: Yeah, I did. I did, I did. People often ask me, do you feel like more of a man now, and the short answer is, “Yeah!” I sort of feel like I don’t have too much to prove because it really wasn’t about proving something to someone else. This was a personal journey where I had a lot to prove to myself. I mean, we went to 12 different cultures and I put myself through 12 different initiations to try to match with some of the toughest men in the world […] that did’t always mean jumping on the back of bulls or going head-first into a snake pit or hitting giant wasp’s nests. Sometimes, it was softer rites of passage where you had to tame a wild golden eagle and learn to care for it like a baby. So, I learned different things about being a man in different cultures. Sometimes it was about how to protect or provide, and other times it was about how to survive. And these are all really cool, like, “how do I assess risks? How do I make decisions?” and they’re pretty cool, fundamental pillars of manhood that every boy has to discover to become a man; it’s just how you do it.

I mean, some of these cultures, the thing that always stuns me is that it isn’t like they all got together and universally [organized] that this would be how boys become men. They all developed in these remote parts of the world, their own unique ways, yet also so similar. The boys would always be divorced from their parents and then put into a manhut where they are taught the secrets of manhood. You know, you’re taught how to become a man, and how to handle a woman, and how to provide, and hunt, raise a family. And then there was always this obstacle at the end, this really forbidding, fearsome task that the boys had learned about all their lives, so frightened of it and then they had to overcome it. And when you do, it’s always the fear leading up to it that’s worse than the initiation itself.

Sometimes you’d get to the initiation and it’s almost nothing, but they committed to going through it. Then they’d always be reborn and given a new name, reborn in the sense of being put into the water and being almost baptized and then brought back into the community. And then they’re brought back into the community and recognized for your accomplishments.

CV: Yeah, it must be weird for you to enter these cultures as someone who’s not a part of them and take part in these rites of passages. Was there any difference between how you were experiencing it and how they were [experiencing it]?

TN: I mean, I guess it did mean different things to me, but […] I’m still a man, or a boy in their eyes trying to be a man. I think I probably felt the same sort of things. I think, for them, [one of the] biggest challenges they’re facing is [that] some of the young don’t want to perform the rituals these days. So the elders are trying really hard to get the young to embrace old customs. So when I came in, it was a novelty and it was a reason for their young to say, “This is cool! We want to take part in them. We want to be identified to these old rituals and old customs.” I don’t know, that’s a hard question to answer, actually.

CV: Do you think that’s why they were as receptive to you as they were? In anthropology, I know some researchers experience some apprehension from locals when they first enter a culture. Do you think it was your willingness next to the youth’s reluctance to get into these rites of passage?

TN: Absolutely! For a lot of these places, they had never had a film crew come and live with them before. The rituals were so extreme that the young just decided that it wasn’t worth the pain, but, when we were there, and they realized that it was part of their identity and it was cool, I think it reinvigorated who they were.

CV: Is that something you wanted to do or set out to do?

TN: Yeah, absolutely […] because I feel like we’re living at a pivotal time where, in the next decade, so many customs and ancient traditions and secrets of manhood are going to fade away. I’d seen that as a journalist, so it was another reason for me to go on these adventures and try to document them before they fade forever.

CV: Totally. I mean, what, how many languages die every year? I can’t remember the exact number, but it’s a very real problem. As an American, we don’t really have this, but I imagine for those older generations, this globalization is probably hard to swallow.

TN: Yeah. Like, what was your rite of passage? Was it going out on your 21st birthday and having a few drinks, or maybe its going off on a gap year and coming back? But there’s no real ceremony that surrounds that event when you return. You sort of come back as the same person. It is important […] I think rituals are important, ceremonies are important.

CV: I think it’s funny you mention that because there [are] so many coming-of-age novels nowadays [where there is] this big, emotional back-and-forth in the character. Then you look at these other cultures and they have this definitive ritual that defines what it takes and means to be a man.

TN: Absolutely! In these places I went, the path to manhood was so clearly defined; it’s not vague at all. There’s usually some big, fearful challenge that you need to overcome and it’s always about conquering fear rather than the initiation itself, but I said that before.

CV: When going through these cultures, did you notice any commonalities for what it takes and means to be a man? Did you see any common practices across these cultures?

TN: I think, like all these hallmark characteristics of what it means to be a man […] to be a protector, to be a dependable provider, to assess situations and take care of a family. If there’s one thing I became good at, it was how to assess risk. I mean, in Venezuela, I had to tame a bucking bronco and a wild stallion. I’d never ridden a horse before. So, to have the guts to get on this horse, pull the blindfold off of its eyes and then survive while it was going berserk, was a challenge in and of itself…I guess that’s not really answering the question [laughs]. I guess, there are those pillars across every culture, but how you get to them is different.

These were really the best adventures I ever had. I mean, you can’t predict what was going to happen when you set out. I mean, we went to Siberia, Mongolia, into the Amazon, the deepest places in Africa. We went to some of the most remote places on Earth, and I had a basic understanding of what I was going to film, but you can never know what’s going to happen until the guys sit you down and let you know what the final initiation is going to be. Then you’ve just got to hold on and survive it

CV: When you were moving around so much, did you find it difficult mentally adjust to so many different places or was it like, you landed and you got right into it without any time to mull it over?

TN: In every location we spent about a month, sometimes a bit longer. It was a pretty decent amount of time and it was always a shock to the system when you found out what the rite of passage was. Sometimes it would take weeks to work myself up to them, and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes being a man is knowing when to walk away. Sometimes it’s just too risky. There was a giant wasp’s nest in Brazil and the [ritual involves climbing up] into the canopy and [having] the courage to attack this nest and get stung all over [the body]. It was just not worth it, I still wanted to have a family and children. When you do do them, there’s this sixth sense you can tap into […] you know when it’s safe and when it’s not […] when it comes to wild animals, it’s primal.

CV: I feel like everyone has that instinct, but that they try to override it. And it’s so much simpler than people make it out to be.

TN: …and I think, for me, it was about exploring what it meant to be alive. I think my whole life, I guess moving forward is about trying to reach the extremes of humanity, so I can comb the earth while I’m alive to be the best person I can be.

CV: You know, most people don’t have that, for lack of better word, extreme reaction to life. So, what brought you to that?

TN: Ah…That’s a good question. Not everybody certainly needs to go jump on bulls to prove their manhood. I know that everyone dubs me crazy or calls me extreme, but I don’t feel that what I’m doing is that extreme […] I guess I just made a decision that what I want to do is document life’s rites of passage whatever they may be. They sort of stack onto each other.

Like, marriage is next, what does it take and mean to be married and have a relationship? […] I truly believe, and I tell myself this every day: you only grow from the challenges you face, you don’t grow from the adoration or praise. That’s just not possible, and so, for me, I try my hardest to seek out things that scare me and [then] embrace that fear because I know the rewards of doing so are so great.

I mean…that’s a really great question, and I don’t know the answer. Like, are we born with that drive or is it created when you’re a kid?

CV: Yeah, and if you look at the bulk of the developed world, many kids grow up in this domesticated environment and so maybe there’s this internal anxiety to push yourself beyond that because you know there’s more.

TN: Everyone has a dream, right? And it’s just having the courage to chase it and answer your own call to adventure and not being scared of following it. I guess, that doesn’t always mean going into the wilds of crazy places and tackling wild animals. It doesn’t have to entail that, but if you do have a dream and if you follow your bliss […] having the courage to chase that [dream] is probably the most important thing in life, in general, I think.

Catch Tim Noonan on his show RITE OF PASSAGE, premiering on June 8th on the El Rey network at 9pm ET.

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