David Rees gets more excited about making ice cubes than most grown men get about doing virtually anything, and it’s just this enthusiasm for the mundane that he brings to his new Nat Geo show, Going Deep With David Rees (Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT). Each episode confronts a different everyday topic, from “How to Shake Hands” to “How to Tie Your Shoe,” and consults a variety of experts on the precise science and technique behind each activity.
The cartoonist behind Rolling Stone‘s series Get Your War On and the author of a mostly-satirical-but-kind of-serious treatise on artisanal pencil sharpening, Rees brings wry wit and bursts of adorably unstable giddiness to his hosting duties, making the show the hilarious, surprisingly informative watch that it is.
The Going Deep host talked to Rolling Stone about being terrified of revolving doors and why he shouldn’t be allowed around power tools.
When did you decide to take your lucrative artisanal pencil sharpening business and expand it into other activities?
Well, after a lot of brainstorming, the thing that I realized would be the most fun, and probably the most rewarding, would be to take the spirit of how to sharpen pencils – you know, over-thinking really simple things – and applying it to whatever our team could come up with. There was a lot of research and pre-production that went into it before we started shooting, because obviously we had to pick topics that a) seemed really simple – like there’s nothing you can learn about them – and b) had enough experts to interview, so that we could actually learn better ways of doing these simple things.
One of the things that struck me was your ability to find the most specific experts for each thing. You mentioned in the shoelace-tying episode that you’ve been obsessed with Professor Shoelace for, like, two years.
Well, Professor Shoelace was a special case. I can’t remember how he came into my life; I think I got really interested in his website, where he has these animated instructions on how to tie different shoelaces. I mean, he could have been the whole episode. We shot so much content with him and he was a really good sport.
We have an episode coming up, “How to Throw a Paper Airplane,” where we met with the Professor Shoelace of paper airplanes, John Collins. He designed the paper airplane that set the world record for distance. He didn’t throw it – he hired a football quarterback to throw it in a controlled environment in an airplane hangar. So a guy like that, John Collins, you have to go talk to this person if you’re going to do an episode on paper airplanes because he knows everything about them.
So the show is a mix. Sometimes you find an expert like, “Well, this is the guy.” And other times – and this is just as fun – there’s no expert out there on this particular thing, but can we cobble together a group of people who will teach us enough that, when you take your wisdom and accumulated knowledge and expertise, you have a better sense of how to do this thing well.
Have you ever questioned whether you can get away with a particular segment?
Well, it’s too early to do how to go to the bathroom, even though I think that would be amazing. There are issues about what you could show on TV and what’s appropriate, so there are some topics that I think would be incredible. But we just realized this is probably not the best path to go down at this point.
Do you plan on revisiting them when the show’s a little bit more established?
Yeah, I think for our 20th season, “How to Go to the Bathroom” will be the season finale. It’ll be a six-hour episode.
Were there any segments you just didn’t enjoy filming? It seemed – even though you were very enthusiastic – that maybe you didn’t completely love being in a mine breaking rock with that terrifying machine for the episode on “How to Dig a Hole.”
That was a very interesting experience because the mine was amazing. I’ve never been in a mine, but I really am fascinated with caves, and being in total darkness, total silence — that was great. But the Jackleg drill really was, uh, scary for me. I mean, you don’t have to be strong to use that thing, you just have to understand how to moderate the pneumatic pressure so that the drill is doing is doing all the work instead of you doing the work. And I couldn’t moderate the pressure correctly. I truly just felt like, “I’m putting everybody in danger.” You know? I was, because I felt like it was just gonna fly out of my hands and, like, fly across the mine and like kill the audio guy or whatever.
What makes the show so exciting to make — and then also so agonizing to edit in post-production — is that we want to show to everybody that there’s no stop. There are so many factors that go into even the simplest things: the science, the physics, sometimes the chemistry, the anthropology, the aesthetics. What does it mean to open a door well? Or to go through a revolving door with elegance, rather than stumbling around in a revolving door?
Are revolving doors going to be one of the episodes?
Next week we have “How to Open a Door,” and we do a whole segment on my fear of revolving doors.
I’m also terrified of them. I always try to wait until everyone’s exited the revolving door because I don’t want to be pressured to go faster than I have to.
Yeah, you need to watch this because we actually do dramatic reenactments of nightmare scenarios in revolving doors. If you don’t like revolving doors, it’s gonna be really hard to watch. It’s like, your ankle getting stuck in the revolving door and getting crushed. We met with a track coach who teaches the timed relay, who gave me some techniques for matching the speed of the people entering and exiting the revolving door so you don’t have those awkward moments of pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough.
You’re doing God’s work. What else can we look forward to this season?
Next week is “How to Swat a Fly” and “How to Open a Door,” and then we have “How to Light a Match” and “How to Climb a Tree.” That last one was super fun because my parents didn’t let me climb trees as a kid. In fact, we had this huge magnolia tree in our front yard and the climax of the episode is that, at the end, I go home to North Carolina and make my parents sit and watch me climb the magnolia tree all the way to the top.