Interview: "Miss Mia" Park, Chic-a-go-go!
By Karl Klockars in Miscellaneous on Dec 21, 2007 8:33PM
To know Chic-a-go-go is to love Chic-a-go-go. The first time we flipped onto the program, which airs on local cable access, it was a real WTF moment. There's kids of all ages dancing around, a puppet rat with a high goofy voice, a sugar-rush hostess in Miss Mia, and - is that Frank Black? Is that The Donnas? Is that Jerry Only from The Misfits? What the devil is going on here?
For over a decade now, Chic-a-go-go has been fusing dance party with performance art, musical all-star revue with Soul Train bootyshaking. Mia Park, better known as "Miss Mia!" on the program, has been the face of the show since 1998 and her always-up rock n' roll demeanor is the perfect complement for the diverse world of the program. For a city that has a long and storied history of classic children's television, Chicago is woefully lacking any sort of homegrown kid-centric programming - save for Chic-a-go-go. It's a cotton-candy headtrip with grooving kids, innocent fun, and Li'l Ratso with all his friends. It's beautifully awesome.
We talked to Miss Mia about Duran Duran, the Black Lone Ranger, and why you can't date her, after the jump.
Chicagoist: Chic-a-go-go has been around since 1996, yes?
Mia Park: '96 is correct, yes. I've been on board since '98. Which still feels like a million years ago... but I was actually on first episode. Do you know that story? I was on there as a dancer. At the time, my then-boyfriend's band was the first band to play Chicago-go. That was in '96, and a year and a half later was hosting it. Go figure. At the time, my mom was visiting. The other guest star was the Black Lone Ranger, who's passed away, and he sat next to my mom and flirted with her in the audience during the whole taping. We're talking the blue outfit, scarf, mask, hat--he wore it all the time, he was a real Chicago character. And he's in the audience, she's in the audience, all the rest of us are dancing--my mom is being beautiful and polite, and for some reason is attracting the Black Lone Ranger.
C: The first time I saw the show, I thought to myself - no offense - "What are these people on?" Do you get that a lot?
We get that all the time. The glory of cable access is that it's inherently lo-fi. Which is so rare in this slick time of ours. That lo-fi experience is timeless and ageless. The age [of our dancers] ranges [from] newborns to grandmas, and it's timeless in that it's...analog! Like 1982 TVs! Because that's how old the equipment is - and you can't get it on satellite, you can only get it in the city...there's something so wonderful about that. We don't take ourselves seriously, and that's why people freak out about it.
Can I just tell you the coolest Chic-a-go-go thing that's happening this week? I had a freakout and I couldn't sleep last night! Because! Because! We're interviewing Duran Duran! That's huge! I mean, in a creative sense, [they] gave me license to be an artist. I dyed my hair red, I danced around...they're a lot more than my teenage crush. Now they're old men in their fifties, I don't care, I'm going to make out with at least one of them. [laughs] I'm so excited I'm going to meet Duran Duran! That's huge!
C: You have an insane number of bands that have appeared on the program- how do you get these guys to do a cable-access kids' show?
MP: Well, the show at this point speaks for itself, because we've had so many people on it. Our Myspace page has everything. Like The Cramps, Shonen Knife, Vanilla Ice, Sonic Youth. Why do they do it? Because it's a kids' show, the artists want to be on the show. Because it's a kids show. As in, you know, "for the kids."
In addition to that, we're just pretty persistent. I do quite a bit of marketing and PR, so I feel like I can spin a good yarn. and I can be pretty tenacious. It's for kids, there's a puppet, and now with technology we can show all the Youtube clips, so it's not like we're creeps. We've been turned down a lot. Last time Duran Duran came around they turned us down. So, whatever. Lady Sovereign turned us down because she thought the puppet thing was going to be like Triumph [the Insult Comic Dog].
C: How does your production schedule work?
MP: We tape once a month, and the production schedule works out...our entire taping and production schedule is based on cable access availability. the soonest that we can get in there is about once every three weeks because so many people want it. If we were in a smaller market we'd be in there all the time.
[But] we don't know when we tape, until about 3 weeks ahead of the date because that's how cable access works. So as far as accommodating bands, that just doesn't work. We usually end up in a million different rock clubs, backstage, with a puppet. I interviewed TV On The Radio in a laundromat. It's all part of the kookiness.
C: Whose idea was Ratso?
MP: It's all Jake Austen. He's a genius. He is the show. Jake is the skeleton of the show, his wife Jackie Stewart who does editing is the flesh of the show, and I am the smile. They can exist without me, but I couldn't exist without them.
C: And how did you become the host?
MP: Well, I was a dancer on the first show, but I've known Jake from the music scene for about that long. I've played in bands since '95. We saw each other a lot. A mutual friend of ours, James Porter, told me that Chic-a-go-go needs a new host. I called up Jake, told him I'm interested, he said, "Why don't you come down to a taping and see what you think!"
I went down to Miss Lisa's last taping, and Jake was running around doing 50 things at once and as I'm following him around, there's a guy with a video camera following us around making a documentary about the show. Jake says to the guy, "why don't you interview her, she's our new host!" And I thought this was just an audition! It was all based on Jake's judgement. I'm very bubbly, outgoing...I mean, I don't have a shy bone in my body. And from there I got interested in acting, and now acting is a real passion of mine.
C: It seems like by being solely on public access, your audience is...I don't want to use the word "insular," but maybe devoted.
MP: We have a very devoted following, yes. I wouldn't use insular, we don't commercially advertise, but that doesn't mean we're insular. We're just doing our thing and it's what we like to do, and if we were ever asked to do commercial [television], I don't think we'd do it. That's not what we are, I don't think. We used to have an annual call in show, and I was thrilled to know how many people were watching based on all the calls we got. And I thought how cool is this! The internet is a big help. Things like Youtube, bands put themselves up on Youtube from Chic-a-go-go all the time. It's exciting.
C: You have something on your FAQ page about "no dating Miss Mia" - did you ever have any problems with that?
MP: Jake put that on there preventatively. There was a guy that used to write me letters. Based on his handwriting you could tell he was...kind of a kooky guy. Every once in a while I get messages on my Myspace page. Even outside of Chic-a-go-go there's Miss Mia and Mia Park. It's the same person but they're not. I put my presence all over the internet. It's what I do. I'm a performer.
So yeah. I get...emails. Maybe it's because its the winter, or holiday season, but for the last few weeks, the people are coming out of the woodwork. I got a message from a guy who reminded me who he was and he played Chic-a-go-go like 7 years ago...he said something like, "thanks to the therapy I got over my huge crush on you." [laughs]
C: Well, there's gotta be some kind of fetish for performers on kids shows.
MP: Yeah. That's the weird thing. I used to wear these short shorts, because I was on TV, and I'm going to show off my ass! But I got rid of those because...it was a kids show. I get hired a lot from Chic-a-go-go. I get calls to help with birthday parties, to help with dancing gigs, emceeing...all from Chic-a-go-go. Those are not necessarily children's things. But I do some things because I do have an ego, and because I want to seem marketable, and because it's fun being a girl dressing up! I don't try to be too sexy anymore. Now I do the show for fun. I always do it for fun.
C: Did you decided to join Chic-a-go-go because of the possibility of doing a kids show? Or was it more of a vehicle to meet and interview all these groups?
MP: Absolutely the former. I didn't join the show to interview bands. Duran Duran is a bonus. I didn't do the show at all to interview bands or meet musicians. I did it because it sounded like so much fun, getting to work with kids, and it's a TV show! Definitely the former. Our slogan is that the show is a dance show for kids of all ages. That's how we define kids.
C: Well, having a lot of different, well-known bands is a good way to get people to watch any show.
MP: Yeah, but we don't think about that. The show exists for the show. We're not interested in building an audience, or getting big and huge bands. I mean, The Streets, Lemmy and Vanilla Ice were on the show saying they hate puppets. That's hilarious! We're doing it for the sake of doing it. Not any other reason besides that.
C: What about Mia Park outside of Chic-a-go-go?
MP: I was a musician before the show. Since the show started, I'm now more of an actress than a musician. I still play rock shows, but I'm doing much more acting, doing voice over, industrial films, print ads, things like that. I'm also a theater actress; I did 3 plays this year. I'm also a performer in the sense that I emcee shows and I host private parties for kids. In addition to that, before Chic-a-go-go I had been producing events all along, rock shows, variety shows, I had a series at the Hideout for a few years, I helped produce the last play I was in. I call myself "special projects coordinator." I literally have 5 jobs. And I love it.
C: It sounds to me like your special project is your life.
MP: Something like that.
More video is available at Chic-a-go-go's Youtube account, and Mia's website is at miapark.com. Catch Chic-a-go-go Tuesday nights at 8:30pm and Wednesday afternoons at 3:30 on Channel 19. Thanks, Mia!