Ever had questions about Hell, Satan or various and sundry demons? Then TV writer Martin Olson's Encyclopaedia of Hell: An Invasion Manual for Demons Concerning the Planet Earth and the Human Race Which Infests It will prove most edifying, as it sheds some much-needed comedic light on the dark side.
Purporting to be a detailed manual for demons who are invading the Earth, with a truly encyclopedic glossary of terms featuring often hilarious definitions, fastidious, Sears catalog-Gothic artwork by Tony Millionaire and Mahendra Singh and interesting cosmological stories and sidebars, the comedy is close-to-the-vest and sophisticated enough that the exceedingly pious and godly may still take offense at its flirtation with the Satanic and demonic.
Olson, who, with his sturdy head of silver-colored hair and strong, angular features, looks like a rakish police detective crossed with a lit professor, has had an interesting life, to say the least. A native Bostonian, still sporting a slight Beantown brogue, he came out of Boston's golden age of standup, where he was good friends with Denis Leary, Lenny Clarke and Bobcat Goldthwait.
Later, he collaborated on screenplays with Kevin Nealon, Rob Schneider and Goldthwait, and eventually Olson managed to sell his own screenplay, Q 83, to Dreamworks, which afforded him the time off to write the Encyclopaedia. He's also specialized in writing long-form comedy specials for famous TV acts and was producer-writer on Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular. In addition, he happens to be a lauded singer and musician who currently creates music for the highly acclaimed Disney show Phineas and Ferb, while also writing for the series.
While not at all creepy or scary in person, it seems that in the making and networking of his book, Olson may have enjoyed the protective touch of — gulp — demons.
“Rob Schneider's brother John calls me one day and tells me Metallica loves the book,” says Olson, who felt surprised, as this was back when it was only an unpublished manuscript, and a little foolish, as he wasn't exactly sure who Metallica was (yes, true story). But he did gather that they were an incredibly important band.
It turns out that the band's Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett had seen the manuscript while visiting Rob Schneider's production company and picked it up, attracted by the title, and read it and loved it.
“So John says that they want to meet me,” says Olson, who was in Las Vegas at the time, producing Penn and Teller's series for FX. “I met them at a private bar at the Hilton where they set out a row of shots to toast my 'outrageous satire of evil.' Lars called it 'absolutely one of the funniest books ever.'”
The stamp of approval from the legendary metal-heads spread quickly, and soon an odd collection of underground celebrities became devotees of this strange book purportedly written by Satan and translated from the Demonic by Olson. His Hollywood book signing included Lemmy from Motorhead, Ben Vereen and Goldthwait, along with pre-taped messages from Ed Asner and Kevin Nealon.
The comedic and philosophic sources upon which Olson draws are far from typical. “I was influenced at age nine by the nihilistic performer Brother Theodore, while watching The Merv Griffin Show with my Mom,” he says. “This scary-looking Germanic man in black comes out into the harsh light and begins screaming about life being meaningless and how the audience should kill themselves. And at each pause he'd deliver a perfect paradoxical punchline a la Steven Wright. It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen and it liberated my thinking.”
Olson's other writing influences include Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jack Benny, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks and Andy Kaufman. “But maybe my biggest influence was the composer Charles Ives, who enraged audiences back in the 1890's,” he says.
Readers should be forewarned — Olson considers this book merely the first in a trilogy.
“In the sequel,” he explains, “Satan finds God's library and his secret handbook Encyclopaedia of Heaven, which explains the secret of men and women, good and evil, and why some people smoke after sex. The third and final book reveals the bizarre and heart-breaking secret behind creation.”
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