When actor and filmmaker Dante Basco was featured as part of CAAM’s Storytellers series in 2021, he teased a new podcast on the horizon. While he didn’t reveal what it was about at the time, a few weeks later he, alongside actor Janet Varney, were announced as the co-hosts of Avatar: Braving the Elements; the official companion podcast to the hit Nickelodeon series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Airing from 2005-2008, this animated series set in a East Asian-influenced world where some people have the ability to manipulate (or bend) water, earth, fire, or air, the show follows the Avatar – the one who can bend all four elements – as he and his friends work to bring the Hundred Year War to an end. Basco voiced Zuko, prince of the Fire Nation, who navigated a character arc of growth and redemption.
Each Tuesday, Basco and Varney (who voiced Avatar Korra in the sequel series, The Legend of Korra) either break down an episode as they’re watched in chronological order, interview people who worked on the show, or talk to other people in the entertainment industry who are fans of the show. They will be doing a live recording of the podcast with some of the cast members from the original series at SF Sketchfest (which CAAM is co-presenting).
Ahead of the event, CAAM spoke with Basco to discuss his experience with the podcast so far, as well as to how it has affected his perspective when looking back on his work on the show.
How did this podcast come to be, and what led to you and Janet becoming the co-hosts for it?
Well, I believe Janet created it and she asked me to come and co-host with her, which I was so flattered that she would want me to embark on this journey with her. But it’s my first time podcasting. I’m a longtime podcast fan. So I jumped at the chance to have my own podcast and of course, going over something like Avatar. I think part of it was the resurgence of Avatar during the pandemic and becoming the number one show on Netflix that just led to something like this, which is really wonderful.
How has your first foray into podcasting been for you so far?
It’s been amazing. Like I said, I’m a big podcast fan and a mutual friend of me and Janet got me into podcasts, a voice actor named Chris Abbot. And he sent me a Radiolab podcast years ago, which then got me into Serial and got me into all this podcasting. And so being able to do it myself has been really wonderful, going through the old shows and really breaking them down and talking to old friends and old coworkers, from actors to the creators, of course Mike [DiMartino] and Brian [Konietzko], which are amazing, to the animators that I didn’t really know that well, to other directors and music guys. So it’s been really, really educational for me doing it. And it’s great that fans get to listen to it and it’s really great going to Comic Cons and having so many people that listen to the podcast. It’s been wonderful.
I think it’s fair to say that of the multiple roles you’ve played over the years, Zuko has definitely come to be one that a lot of people know you for. And I’m wondering, through hosting this podcast, has that had any influence on how you’ve viewed this character over time?
Zuko is definitely a special character in my career and I never would’ve guessed it as I signed on to do this animated show for Nickelodeon. I thought it would be a fun thing to do and it was a fun thing to do and I didn’t know back then it’d be a character that I will be remembered for, for sure. But as time goes on and things like this podcast, I don’t know, it just continues to strengthen the … I don’t know.
When you stumble upon some of these iconic characters, and I’ve been fortunate to have a few in my resume, it’s magical. I have no idea. I can’t even explain it. I don’t know going into it that these characters are going to be beloved like this and then all these years later for fans to really kind of gravitate towards … Really, these certain characters impact their lives. I’m really just in awe of it sometimes.
Are there any memorable episodes of the podcast so far for you?
Oh, several. I mean, just starting out and then getting to talk with Mike and Brian about certain questions we get to ask him for the fans really and for ourselves as fans about the show that it’s always kind of wonderful to actually just jump into the minds of the creators of any show and get their background.
I remember when Zach Tyler Eisen came on the show, who’s Aang, who no one’s seen him in forever. And I got to get him on the show. I ran into him in New York and it was really kismet because it was like me, Zuko, finally capturing the Avatar and getting him on the show. It was phenomenal. It’s just so many. I mean, every time we got a new voice actor on the show, it was like seeing an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. So they’re so fun.
But then other memorable things: the music episode, which is something I didn’t really think about a lot as I was doing the show, because that’s a different department, but really to see what went on in the music and the creation of the music. And we did this 15, 17 years ago, and this is young Mike and Brian. I remember it’s their first show they got, but they were show-running and creating and they brought a lot of their friends that were young too. And there’s their first time doing things like the music for a show.
I loved hearing the stories of them creating these sounds and being young artists who were now all accomplished artists some 17 years later and how they were creating sounds because they didn’t know how they were supposed to do it, which was really cool.
Later this month you, Janet, and other members of the cast are going to be at SF SketchFest to do a live episode. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that, especially since there were plans to do it last year before it got canceled.
Yeah, the live episodes are always fun. We did one at New York City Comic Con, we did one at San Diego Comic Con, and so it’s really fun to go and do Janet’s SketchFest because everyone who knows Janet, she’s been doing SketchFest for so many years. It’s a beloved thing she does. It’s one of the biggest comedy festivals in the country and I’ve got to do it before.
So for us to be able to go back up there and do this podcast up there, it’s great. Every time we do it, it’s just a different energy. People listen to the podcast. When you get to do it live in front of an audience, it’s really a different energy. And we’re going to have some of the funniest people on this show along with us in this podcast. So I’m looking forward to them.
I mean, I know Jack DeSena for sure is going to be there. He’s one of my favorite actors on the show. I’m not that funny of a character. So I don’t know what I’m going to do on the podcast, but I’m going to listen and wait for the funny guys to be funny.
Are there any future episodes and interviewees for the podcast that you’re looking forward to that you can tease?
Well, we just finished the end of our season here, Book Two. So I look forward to hopefully getting picked up and going to be able to get through Book Three for everybody and myself included. But the last few episodes of this season are really great, so we can’t wait for the rest of them to drop.
Catch the live recording of Avatar: Braving the Elements at SF Sketchfest on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 1pm at the Great Star Theater in San Francisco.