“What do you want to do before you die?” That was the question on everyone’s mind on Wednesday, November 14th, when Dave Lingwood and Jonnie Penn of MTV’s The Buried Life visited UM’s Fieldhouse for a hilarious and often moving presentation. A few years ago, the boys, along with Jonnie’s brother, Duncan, and friend Ben Nemtin, set out to complete their bucket list while helping others complete items on their list. What started as an attempt to bring meaning to four lives impacted the lives of millions more, also leading to the creation of the docuseries, a self-help book, appearances on talk shows, and even a little hoops action with a certain leader of the free world. We caught up with Lingwood and Penn and found out their true motives for making The Buried Life (hint: the chance to model their lives after Forrest Gump…?).
Distraction Magazine: What did you want to accomplish when you created the bucket list?
Dave Lingwood: Well, I really wanted to get Morgan Freeman and was like, “who would compliment him well?” and Jack Nicholson was who came next. (To Penn) I can’t remember – what did we want to accomplish?
Jonnie Penn: I think we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do difficult things and the idea of doing some of the things on that list seemed so impossible that it seemed like it’d be fun to try. We wanted to get people [to think] about death and the fact that they will die one day and should do things with their life. Whatever it is that they want to do.
Distraction Magazine: What’s the most rewarding thing that you’ve taken from your experiences with The Buried Life?
Penn: Probably just doing these sorts of talks and getting to meet our audience. We’ve got 1.3 million [followers] on Facebook now and we laugh about having met, like, half of them. We do meet and greets after every single talk and people will come up and share the things they want to do before they die and we’ve probably heard more answers to that question than anyone, ever. We’ve heard so many.
Lingwood: Even the Pope.
Penn: Even the Pope. He’s heard a lot.
Distraction Magazine: What is the favorite item that you guys have completed on your list?
Penn: Probably different for each of us.
Lingwood: For me, it was probably the Playboy Mansion or getting into a fight. I had to get qualified as an amateur fighter and do my first bout in a UFC/MMA fight.
Penn: Growing my ‘stache.
Distraction Magazine: What about your favorite item that you’ve helped someone complete?
Penn: That changes everyday because we get letters from people saying they’ve done really incredible things. The fact that a guy walked five hours for the show tonight is pretty inspiring for me because I get motivated by other people’s determination when I see them do something that’s really difficult. I also saw my brother, Duncan, swim recently from Alcatraz to the mainland in a Speedo and in freezing temperatures. [It was] a really grueling swim but we watched him do it and that was really inspiring. We helped a guy get a house for his dad who was homeless. That was a great one, too.
Distraction Magazine: What is the most rewarding thing about knowing you’ve helped someone change his or her life? What keeps you going?
Penn: I’ve started to be empowered by the futility of life. When I was growing up, I used to be really scared about the fact that I was going to die one day and [now that I’m older] I’ve started to enjoy the fact that there’s no real super meaning of life that you have to find. You just enjoy the time that you have and help other people enjoy their time.
Distraction Magazine: Okay so you guys have made a TV show, you were on Oprah, you were on a New York Times bestsellers list, and obviously you had the President Obama basketball incident [the foursome got the opportunity to play basketball with the President], and you’ve done a million other things. How does it feel to have done more before the age of thirty than most people have ever done in their entire life?
Penn: I just want to take on Forrest Gump for the title.
Lingwood: We’ve got to take the Gump!
Penn: We’re going after Gump. We’re going to get you. That guy did everything. He’s a war hero! I don’t know, we’ve had interesting things that we’ve done but I think everybody’s got an interesting life, you know? It’s just about taking chances. But we’ve been very lucky. We’ve been very lucky to be able to have the opportunities that we’ve had and that’s why we help people because we feel like we owe it to everybody.