In the dim early hours of June 17, 1992, Asher Montandon was the target of a robbery on a Los Angeles street. The robber had a gun. He ended Asher’s life in a moment of violent chaos which would reverberate through time to this day. Asher was 24 years-old and living with his brother Maccabee. He was killed as he parked near their apartment. The two brothers were writing partners who shared big dreams. The crime was never solved.
Mac left Los Angeles, but the heartbreak haunted him and the friends he left behind. One of the friends was Josh Mills who would become the founder and owner of It’s Alive! Media, representing musicians, record labels and more. He never stopped thinking about Mac and Asher and the toll the murder took.
In 2012, he reached out to Mac with a proposal. He envisioned an event that would be a tribute to Asher and a way to raise awareness about gun reform. In 2014, Fun Lovers Unite! An Evening of Music, Comedy, and Gun Sense was born. The event premiered in Los Angeles and featured Sarah Silverman, Jenny Lewis, Tim Heidecker and Kurt Braunohler, to name a few.
The event was such a success that on May 11, Josh and Mac will reprise it in New York. They are partnering with the Manhattan chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Eventgoers will be treated to performances by Janeane Garofalo, Jon Glaser, John Hodgman, Josh Gondelman, Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells of HBO’s Doll and Em, and Jeanne Darst, who wrote one of my favorite memoirs of all time, Fiction Ruined My Family.
Musical guests are Yo La Tengo, Bambi Kino and Tammy Faye Starlight.
Josh kindly emailed with me about the upcoming event, its backstory, and why we should each believe we can make a difference.
Q: What was the moment you knew you had to get in touch with Mac? Was it hard to compose that first communication or did it flow?
A: I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for an appointment when Sandy Hook happened. I remember being physically ill reading about it on my phone. As a new father, all sorts of horrific images swept over me and although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was my “Aha!” moment. It was deeply disturbing.
Sadly, it took me a long time to act on it. I was sort of unsure how to proceed at all, but I knew I was feeling very guilty about not doing anything. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem, right?
I hadn’t been in touch with Mac for quite a few years. But his brother Asher was killed in a botched robbery attempt in the early 90’s during a time that we all were just so carefree and happy after graduating college that it really (rightfully) threw everyone for a loop. None more so than Mac and his cousin Aaron who moved away from LA shortly after. It destroyed our friendship. It just disappeared. It was just too painful for all of us but I always felt robbed that by the action of some idiot with a gun, Asher was dead for no reason at all and I lost two friends who meant a lot to me.
I ended up contacting Mac (who I don’t even know if I saw more than once after he left Los Angeles in 1992) via a friend Jeremy about trying to reopen the case into his brother’s murder. I felt that something should be done with all these cold cases getting looked into, with all the new technology, etc.
Mac was happy to talk about it to me (I wasn’t sure he would be), but he really didn’t have any interest in looking into this as a cold case. He said he sort of made peace with Asher’s death years ago and didn’t want to open that can of worms again, nor expose his family to it either. I understood that even though I was hoping we could do something. It was so unfair that 20+ years later, we still didn’t know who killed Asher. But I didn’t push it – this was his issue, not mine and I respected that.
But not too long after I contacted Mac, he said he had thought about it a bit more and he might contact the LAPD (which he did) but unfortunately there were no new developments. This was the impetus that got us thinking about what we could do, and that became “Fun Lovers Unite: An Evening of Music, Comedy and Gun Sense in support of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.”
Q: Can you describe your first conversation about organizing this event? What were your hopes and goals?
A: It’s funny but ignorance is bliss. I’ve never been a joiner although secretly I probably always wanted that acceptance. But really, the only thing we thought we knew how to do was to raise some money and some awareness for an organization that was as outraged as we were about senseless killings. Everyone seemed to pay lip service to this issue but no one did much about it. We wanted to act.
Our goals were modest – find a partner willing to work with us on an event that raised money and awareness for combating the senseless killing of more than 90 Americans every day from gun violence. We had no idea how it would go – we aren’t promoters but we were shocked at how quickly it all came together that first year (2014).
Q: What are some of your favorite moments from the first “Fun Lovers” event and what are some of the positive things that have come out of it?
A: Honestly, aside from almost passing out from laughing at Tim Heidecker’s stand-up set, I genuinely felt that I (with the help of so many people) really put my money where my mouth was and did something. That was immensely gratifying personally. I’ll admit that I was nervous about how this would go off and it literally couldn’t have been a better experience. I met so many people who were so passionate about this issue who were so committed and smart and eager to work hard for this issue that I just felt like it was one of the few times I really had no idea if this would be a success or a failure and it was about as great as it could have been.
Q: What gives you hope and confidence that individuals can make a difference?
A: Frankly, outrage. It’s clear we are the only developed nation to have this issue to this degree. It’s absurd. You literally have toddlers shooting parents, parents shooting and killing their own children, kids shooting other kids with unlocked guns, puppies shooting their owners (I am not making this up), suicides, senseless urban crime, mass murders and the like.
And yet if 90 people were being killed a day by cars or pollution or air travel or medication or literally anything else, Americans would be up in arms (see what I did there?) that the government wasn’t doing their job in trying to stop all this senseless violence.
But because guns have a tradition in this country going back to our founding, people just shrug their shoulders and go, “Well, it’s in the constitution. You can’t do anything about it.” I know people whose own family members have been incapacitated to the point they could not leave their own house and have used a family gun to kill themselves. And it is these same people who vehemently defend everyone’s right to firearms, with no limits – full stop. It’s unreal.
When people started suing tobacco companies for giving them cancer, Americans thought that was an absurd notion. Here we are years later and not only have we saved millions of lives by forcing cigarette manufacturers to put warnings on their products, but smoking in this country is at an all time low and dropping by 4% a year.
Ironically, the money paid out by big tobacco to state government in the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in 1998 is helping states pay for many services aside from tobacco awareness that help Americans every day.
I see a day in the future when there will be a Gun Manufacturers Settlement Agreement where Smith & Wesson and the other major manufactures that will pay millions of dollars a year to state governments just like RJ Reynolds and others do today.
Q: What are some of the challenges of putting together this event?
A: Where do I start? Securing a venue, securing talent, spending time on this when you have so many other commitments that help you earn a living….it never ends. But it’s all worth it in the end for my own peace of mind.
Q: What will eventgoers experience in New York?
A: Laughs and some rock and roll. We have an amazing group of musicians (Yo La Tengo, Bambi Kino, Tammy Faye Starlight) and comedians (Janeane Garofalo, John Hodgman, Josh Gondelman, Jon Glaser) and performers (Jeanne Darst, Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells from HBO’s Doll & Em) that it’s just gonna be amazing.
And if you attend with VIP seating, you get an amazing piece of jewelry literally made from recycled guns from the folks at Liberty United. It’s gonna be great.
Q: Have there been any developments in Asher’s case?
A: Sadly no. Nothing. But something that none of us could have imagined sitting in Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles crying our eyes out the night he was murdered was that Asher essentially led us to this very moment. It was his death that spurred me to reach out to Mac after Sandy Hook to try and possibly track down his murderer.
We didn’t find any personal satisfaction there for his family and friends but it led Mac and me to this place, this event, “Fun Lovers Unite!” We really are doing good work to help raise awareness and raise money to combat the NRA’s lobbying efforts.
I only knew Asher for a few too short months, but I have to believe that had he known that his legacy would be “Fun Lovers,” he might have smiled. Because he loved to have fun like we all did. He should be here.
Q: What is your message to anyone wondering whether they should attend?
A: This is a passionate issue on both sides. But I think that because this is such a serious subject, this evening is more about having a good time, having some laughs, enjoying some amazing music and just enjoying this one night without it being such a heavy and depressing evening.
There are so many families suffering from all the horrors of gun violence and the good people at the Brady Campaign deal with so much hardship that it will be good to let loose for an evening. That’s my message. Well, that and to do something. Get involved, be heard, and support this cause. That’s the message.
“Fun Lovers Unite! An Evening of Music, Comedy and Gun Sense” is Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. at The Highline Ballroom, 431 W. 16th St., New York City. Tickets here.
Maccabee Montandon’s account of the night his brother was killed and the aftermath is here.
Interview with Jeanne Darst here. Stay tuned for an interview with the Brady Campaign’s Kim Parker Russell!
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