Benski Korhonen is a multi talented virtual world resident that rezzed on the scene in early February 2007. Benski likes to look at it as “reverse virtual reality”. He controls his First Life "Character", making him go see all kinds of First Life bands (he also play keyboards in one), art exhibits, plays, and working various jobs to pay for his First Life house and expenses. He has a First Life virtual dog named Vinny, and flirts with other First Life Characters. It's all very "meta," and not at all auto-biographical.
He brings his acting, singing, piano and Ukulele skills to Second Life along with a new venture that includes a RL/SL Variety show; The Benski Show coming soon! His talent doesn’t end there, Benski also writes and records jingles for First Life companies to "help make ends meet". He and his RL crew already have a fantastic bunch of bands to bring to you, including Wake Up Joel, Glass Affection, Michael Wasmund, Treasure Mammal, Fading Point, We Are Nemesis, RubixxQube, Something Colossus (formerly known as The Foleys), Former Friends of Young Americans, Sound Potion, ScaTTer Gather, Sun Bones, and an experimental improv trio that Benski plays in called MWC.
Before we get into the details of his newest venture, I thought it would be fitting to shine a spotlight on Benski and learn a little bit more about him and his perspective of the virtual world.
Lanai: Who is Benski Korhonen? In one sentence can you describe yourself?
Benski: Benski Korhonen is a traveller, an artist, a renaissance man, a “quadruple threat”: an actor, singer, dancer, composer/musician, a lover, a clown, a man with a dream and a vision, and an all ‘round likeable chap! So they tell me.
Lanai: That is quite the description Benski. Would you say your avatar is similar or different than your real self?
Benski: My avatar is me! I spent close to 1,000 hours making him look like me, and close to L$0! No, but really… I just duplicated myself so I could explore everything that Second Life had to offer. I never intended to get “involved”, I just wanted to walk and fly around and look at stuff! And that’s pretty much all I did, for the first year. Then I discovered the art, followed not long after by the live music scene. In THE BENSKI SHOW, you’ll see how everything is exactly the other way around, and how I, Benski, joined a computer “game” called First Life and created a “character” named Benny to represent myself over there so as to experience challenges and limitations, and to walk around and look at stuff in complete anonymity. (You can’t fly in First Life. Well, not without assistance…)
Lanai: Right. Imagine how different the real world would be if we could fly around at will. Let’s backtrack a little, where are you from and how did you discover Second Life?
Benski: I grew up in Southeast Arizona, and made my way back down here after seven years in the Big Apple (having moved there to attend the American Musical & Dramatic Academy). Things didn’t go so well in The City That Never Sleeps (you know, for a city that never sleeps, a lot of it sure seems to!) so, home I returned to be in a play a friend wrote and wound up working at the little music and drama academy for kids in my home town. Not much later, after a pretty bad breakup, I was pretty depressed, when I stumbled upon an article (I quite actually might have been on StumbleUpon! Or I might not have) about the first millionaire to emerge from selling virtual real estate in a mystical land called Second Life. Being intrigued, I looked it up, and the first thing that popped up was a mind boggling video on YouTube called Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey. It talks about a man who left California to live in Second Life, and never returned. I was fascinated, so I thought I’d try it out; two months later, I figured I should probably eat something and take a nap, but I didn’t wanna… too busy exploring the largest user-created 3D universe!
Lanai: Yes, Second Life can be very addicting when you first start exploring. I can relate to the zombie-like state of my first year soaking in Second Life. Would you say it is an extension of your real life or is it an entertainment outlet?
Benski: That’s an interesting question! My so called “second life” (hey, that’d be a good name for a tv show or something!) is really just a part of my life… I go to Tombstone or Bisbee, I do a show, I go home and log in to SL, do a show… I log out, go to The Void and watch Michael Wasmund, Glass Affection and Wake Up Joel play, I go home, log in, and watch SaraMarie Philly, TerryLynn Melody, and Engrama play! It’s still “life,” whether you’re walking out into the cold in the middle of the night to buy tacos, or typing away at your laptop at noon.
Lanai: Juggling two existences is a skill to be mastered for sure. Second Life is such a vast creative space, what do you like most about being immersed in this virtual world?
Benski: Anything is possible, and everything happens. This one time, I was watching Abrahams’ and Zuckers’ Airplane! at Beth Odets’ pad, and three tiny koalas TP’d in, did a tiny Riverdance, and TP’d out… it was very surreal, to say the least, and one of the most random things I’ve ever experienced in or out of SL!
I also love the art - to use your word, I particularly like being immersed in the works of Bryn Oh, creator of Immersiva (If you’ve never been, do yourself a favor and check it out immediately!), I’m a huge fan of Madcow Cosmo’s works, AND of course the music from all over the world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
Lanai: Oh yes, the music scene in Second Life is definitely an intriguing aspect of this virtual reality for me too. What improvements do you think should be made to this virtual environment?
Benski: Less politics, more art, theater and music.
Lanai: Yea, I could do without the politics here too. How does Second Life influence you in the real world?
Benski: It’s been through my involvement with Second Life that I got back into consistent live performing (albeit, in my bedroom, in my pajamas, and yet for a worldwide audience!); it was in Second Life that I had the brainstorm for this entire BENSKI SHOW project and, as a result, have reached out to SO many of my RL and SL friends to join me on what is going to be an INCREDIBLE journey with a boatload of extremely talented people.
Lanai: What you are doing is so great. I find it difficult to get people in my real world to understand what is happening in the virtual world. Who or what would you say inspires you the most in RL and SL?
Benski: SO many answers to that! I’ll try to narrow it down to my major influences with regards to the show: My two biggest inspirations that have been very much of a driving force to get this project going is, without a doubt, the Dean Martin Variety Hour and the Carol Burnette Show. Laugh-In has been a MAJOR influence, The Smothers Brothers, Sonny & Cher, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Friends, Senfeld, Family Guy and The Simpsons are also heavily factored in there (with a dash of Twin Peaks thrown in for good measure). Moving on to major life inspirations, there’s George Gershwin, Danny Kaye, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Brian Wilson, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Paul McCartney (okay George and Ringo, you too), Nellie McKay, Julia Nunes (she signed my ukulele! Could have got Nellie’s too, but I didn’t have my sharpie at the time), Michael Jackson (what can I say? He is one of the world’s most talented performer ever), Elvis Presley, and too many more to mention here. And that’s just on the First Life side! In SL, I also find SaraMarie Philly, TerryLynn Melody, and Beth Odets (for starters) particularly inspirational, for filling up their calendars with performances, releasing albums, and just generally being really cool people. And then there’s Keiko Takamura, in my opinion, Second Life’s first rock n’ roll superstar who eventually crossed over exclusively to First Life performing! Truly one of my original inspirations in this endeavor.
Lanai: Wow you have quite a few inspirational energies to draw from. I should add a couple of those to my list of inspirations too. You are also a performer here in Second Life, how would you describe your genre?
Benski: I try to mix it up… I do an eclectic mix of covers, everything from Scott Joplin ragtime to the Beatles to James Taylor and Billy Joel, and a few originals, which range from jazzy to show tune-esque to “novelty”.
Lanai: It sounds like Coffehouse meets Broadway. How often do you perform and how do you prefer to be contacted for bookings?
Benski: I haven’t been doing too much live performing in SL lately… had too many First Life gigs going on! But I recommend any interested parties to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lanai: What is your fee for performance (if you have time)?
Benski: I start at L$3,000 + tips for an hour (pretty standard these days). Want the Frytown Toughs? It’s L$6,000 + tips for an hour, and you get me AND my brother, doing all our old-tymey style hits, everything from Maple Leaf Rag to Stairway to Heaven to Party Rock Anthem, and everything in between. http://www.FrytownToughs.com
Lanai: While perving your profile, I saw a reference to Frytown Toughs, Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Benski: While working at the OK Corral in Tombstone as actors (dressing up like cowboys and playing with guns), we became involved in an interactive musical saloon show, where I played piano and my brother and I harmonized; and thus, the Frytown Toughs were born. Since then, we have played all over Tombstone, in Bisbee, Sierra Vista, Tucson, Phoenix, Albuquerque, and various other towns in First Life Arizona. The saloon show has long since passed, but the Toughs live on! In fact, they are the hosts of the all-star variety program within The Benski Show.
Lanai: Wow that’s very cool that you have this performance background. You have a background in acting too. What types of gigs have you done in RL/SL?
Benski: Mostly musicals! I did three national tours with a children’s theater company, doing such favorites as “Aladdin and His Magic Lamp” and “101 Dalmatians,” a couple of off-Broadway shows, a couple of off-off Broadway shows, a stint with The Czechoslovak American Marionette Theater (my cousin’s husband’s company)... My favorite role was definitely Captain Hook in Peter Pan, with my little brother playing Mr. Smee, meaning I got to hit him over the head with my hook every five minutes; now I call him “Little Big Brother,” and he has retained the nickname of Smee ever since). Also done some Shakespeare, and spent an entire summer at an amusement park singing and dancing for six shows a day, six days a week. I’ve never been in better shape, let me tell you!
Lanai: LOL, You are definitely an active person. Let’s talk about The Benski Show now. I know it is currently in the production phase but can you give our readers a taste of what to expect from the show?
Benski: Benski is the co-host of a wildly successful music and comedy variety television show on a major SL television network. We get to see the lives of the cast and crew before the cameras start rolling, and after they stop. (I had never seen a single episode of 30 Rock as I was conceiving my show, and didn’t even know what it was about… boy, was I surprised when a friend alerted me to the similarity!) Anyway, once the show has wrapped for the night, Benski goes home, fires up his laptop, and logs into “First Life,” an online virtual world filled with challenges and limitations - can’t fly, can’t teleport, and your character DIES (permanently!) if you fall off a fifty story building! In this computer “game” with crude (but improving yearly) graphics, Benski is in a band (a rock n’ roll cover band that plays at dive bars, chain restaurants and assisted living facilities), acts in plays of varying degrees of awful for varying increments of peanuts, performs at open mics, and travels all over watching other bands perform, going to plays and such, making art and collaborating with his First Life friends. Will there be First Life virtual sex? We’re not telling.
Lanai: Well sex does sell.... Keep that advice in your back pocket! The show description from the promotional video I watched references behind the scenes activities. I know creating a show takes a lot of work, who is part of the production team and what goes into creating one of your shows?
Benski: Well, we have a crew of writers, cameramen, video editors, head of wardrobe, set and lighting designers, hair and makeup artists… standard television crew. It takes a small army to make a tv show! The writing team will throw ideas ‘round the table, the ad men deal with the sponsors, auditions are held for bit roles and extras, guest stars are contacted and coordinated, choreographing the dance numbers, rehearsals for the cast, crew and house band, corralling the studio audience, and more than of which I am even aware!
Lanai: You advertise The Benski Show as a real life (RL) and Second Life (SL) show. How do you combine both worlds in this project?
Benski: I’m describing it as “reverse virtual reality”. Eventually, Benski starts doing more and more shows in First Life and, convinces his brother (in spite of his grumblings) to make an account so they can bring THE FRYTOWN TOUGHS to a whole new audience and take the show on the road… literally! Within the scope of this show, we aim to do a national tour, showcasing both popular and undiscovered bands in dozens of locales, including going through Las Vegas (both Nevada AND New Mexico), LA, New York, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas… and that’s just the US! We’ve got people who’ve agreed to do the show in Mexico, Canada, Germany, and all over the world! And I’m really not exaggerating, I assure you.
Lanai: You should look into ArtQuest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I hear they have a booming Art & Entertainment outlet and it is gaining lots of attention with the Casino and all. So, where will viewers be able to see these episodes?
Benski: They should sign up for our email list at http://BenskiShow.com and we’ll keep them updated on everything from screenings, to the status of the contest; you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube…. all the usual suspects. We’re not hard to find.
Lanai: How long will each episode be?
Benski: Each episode will be an hour long, with commercial breaks. Don’t worry… the commercial breaks will be ALMOST (if not equally) as entertaining as the show, itself! During the first thirty minutes, we’ll see what goes into the making of that week’s Frytown Toughs Variety Show: the writing, the auditions, the rehearsing, dealing with sponsors and censors and drama queens, everything. After a short break from our commercial sponsor, you will SEE that week’s Frytown Toughs Variety Show in its entirety, complete with musical guest, cameo appearances, dancing girls, and comedy sketches.
Lanai: Sounds similar to those outrageous Superbowl commercials. I look forward to seeing them. Can you spill some privileged information on who will be making guest appearances?
Benski: The question ought to be “who WON’T be making guest appearances?” But seriously, we have QUITE a few guests planned, and I’ve already mentioned a few of them above. A couple others are Obeloinkment Wrigglesworth (AKA Oblee), Bat Masters, and a bunch of surprises!
Lanai: Sweet. When do you expect to debut the show?
Benski: Sign up for the email newsletter, we’ll let you know ;-)
Lanai: What group can residents join to get the latest information for The Benski Show?
Benski: The group is simply “The Benski Show” - if you’re in world, copy and paste this into local chat or do a search; if this is a hotlink in this article, it might open the group automagiacally in your SL viewer! secondlife:///app/group/003f9a3d-c6c0-a3ad-3022-2a196dbc5e98/about
Lanai: I know production takes a team effort, do you have any positions open? If so, what are the qualifications you are looking for?
Benski: Right now we are looking for hardworking fundraisers and social media gurus; in order to further fund our project of astronomical proportions, we are paying our fundraising team 15% of the funds they, themselves, are responsible for securing. Along the same lines, we need someone fluent in ad sales, to find us sponsors who desire product placements and interstitial commercials (I also write and record the best tailor-made jingles). We are also looking for sketch comedy writers, improv performers, actors, singers, and dancers. Send a headshot and a resume to email@example.com (or just a resume and/or cover letter if you are interested in the fundraising, social media, or ad sales positions).
Lanai: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Benski: Enjoy every sandwich, tell the people you love how you feel on a daily basis, if there’s something that you’ve always wanted to do (but haven’t yet), all you have to do is begin. And here’s a riddle: Where does a Jewish fiddle go on a Friday night?
Lanai: *thinks about that*
Connect with Benski Korhonen
Group: Benski and the Jets
The Benski Show
The Benski Show: http://facebook.com/TheBenskiShow
Benski’s Facebook: http://on.fb.me/facebook-benski-korhonen