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INTERVIEW: Get to know SYFY Wire’s ‘The Great Debate’ host Baron Vaughn

Star Wars vs Star Trek, plus, why martial arts films need more nerdom love

Looking for your next quarantine binge? Search no further! SYFY Wire’s The Great Debate, hosted by Baron Vaughn, is exactly what us passionate geeks are looking for to unwind. The series is a unique game show unlike any other:

“Transformed from the stage for the SYFY screen, the half-hour, late-night series features a rotating group of nerd-tastic, nostalgia loving celebrities who go head-to-head each week to hash out fandom’s burning questions .”(SYFY)

The series is hosted by Baron Vaughn, (Girls, Superstore, Arrested Development, Cloverfield and Black Dynamite). Baron is most recently known for his role as the hilarious Nwabudike “Bud” Douglas Bergstein on Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. Vaughn is a successful comedian, having toured the world and appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Conan. Vaughn’s had his own special on Comedy Central, where he also co-hosted the Comedy Central stand-up series, New Negroes, with musician Open Mike Eagle.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Vaughn—The Great Debate style! We dig-in on some of Vaughn’s favorite fandoms, plus quiz him on which sides of classic geek debates his favors. 

THE GREAT DEBATE — Season:1 — Pictured: Baron Vaughn — (Photo by: Richie Knapp/SYFY)

PURE FANDOM: The Great Debate is ALL about sci-fi nerdom, which we love here at Pure Fandom. What are your all-time favorite fandoms?
That’s a hard one! But I’ll start by naming a favorite movie and its genre. I have a poster that I’m looking at right now that is of one of my favorite movies of all time – it holds a special place in my heart. It’s The Last Dragon, full title Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. It is a Motown Production, and it’s two of my favorite things together in one place: blaxploitation and martial arts.

I’m a gigantic fan of martial arts films–it’s a genre I feel like needs to get included a little bit more in nerdom. Martial arts and kung-fu movies have had an indelible influence on nerd films. For instance, there would be no “Matrix” if it wasn’t for the choreography of Yuen Woo-ping, who’s one of the greatest action fight choreographers ever. He’s worked with everyone from Donnie Yen, who you might have seen in Rogue One, to Jet Li, to Jackie Chan. This guy’s been around–he’s done the choreography for films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and he’s directed a couple movies himself as well. So, martial arts films have made an impression on everything that we’re doing in fandom, and I don’t think that we include them enough in nerd culture, except for with specific stars, like the Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, who wrote and directed The Man with the Iron Fists, and filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, those behind the John Wick franchise, and even Keanu Reeves, who directed the Man of Tai Chi, which was great by the way.

More recently, I watched the film called Triple Threat with martial arts stars, Tiger Hu Chen, Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais. They’re three of the biggest martial arts stars in Asia right now, and they’re all from different countries, so it’s cool to see their different styles in one place.

I think the martial arts film has a lot in common with the superhero film–there’s a person with a certain set of skills that is there to save the day.

The Great Debate is unique in that it’s a bunch of celebrities nerding-out over their favorite (or not-so-favorite!) fandoms. Why else should people tune in?
The laughs, the having of good times, and the celebration of all these different things that we love. Plus, we’re all really good looking and we’re dressed so fly. I don’t want to say that fashion will be forever changed after The Great Debate airs, but I will say that Anna Wintour saw the trailer, called me and said “you can have my job.”

Are you down for a lightning round of settling some classic sci-fi debates so we can get to know you?
Let’s do it!

Star Wars or Star Trek—and why?
They’re so different to me. I feel like “Star Wars” is a bit more action-oriented, and “Star Trek” is a little more philosophical, so it depends on what you’re in the mood for. There IS strong philosophy to “Star Wars” as well, and I think that the biggest thing that enrages people about “Star Wars” is which themes get picked. That’s why I would actually say that I prefer “Star Wars” over “Star Trek”, purely because it has driven more people crazy. “Star Trek” has been pretty damn consistent.

What’s the scarier situation: Running from a horde of zombies, OR, stuck on a ship in outer space with an alien (Ridley-Scott style), that gets larger by the minute?
Which kind of zombies are talking about–are they slow moving or are they fast moving?! I guess I would rather run away from a hoard of zombies. I’m not in as good of shape as a lot of zombies are, even though some of them have a shape that doesn’t include all of their limbs or ribs… or skin… or eye balls… or hair… or toe nails… but being stuck on a ship with an alien sounds like the worst thing ever because you cannot escape. Even if I’m not as fast as a zombie, at least I’m on a planet that is gigantic and if I stick to it, I can escape to somewhere where maybe these zombies aren’t, or where they won’t know that I’m there. On a ship with an alien, it’s the alien’s ship, and you’re just lunch.

Let’s veer from sci-fi for a second and talk about your role on Grace and Frankie. There’s no other character like Bud on TV. Why do you think fans love him so much and what can fans look forward to in season 7?
I think that people like Bud because he’s the voice of reason amongst an insane group of people. Not that he doesn’t have his ticks and idiosyncrasies, because he does… you know who he’s raised by and the situations that he has to deal with! But ultimately, what he ends up always doing is trying to take care of his family. To nurture them and support them so that way they can all be the best versions of themselves possible. I think a lot of people identify with that because while love your family, sometimes they get on your nerves, often times because of their habits. They don’t always necessarily mean to get on your nerves, but they do. So, I think people have been in his situation, and they like his humanity, plus his ability to say something sarcastic here and there.

As for Season 7? I’m actually not sure. Unfortunately, we had to shut down production when—what’s it called again?—an unprecedented global pandemic happened. We were barely in the beginning of filming the seventh season, so I actually don’t know what’s going to happen because I haven’t read any of those scripts yet. In fact, some to them are still being written since the writers are still working remotely. When will we go back to set and finish filming, though? I wish I had an answer.

The Great Debate airs Thursdays at 11/010c

Photo by: Richie Knapp/SYFY

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Liz Prugh

Liz is the co-founder of She loves geeking out over any and all sci-fi/fantasy and always thinks vampires are cool. You can currently find her co-hosting the Pure Fandom Podcast and writing about pop culture. Nerd out with her on Twitter @lizprugh.

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