Geva’s production of Airness, by Chelsea Marcantel, begins rehearsing on December 14 and will kick off Season 49 on January 11, 2022. I reached out to Jason Farnan, 2003 RIT graduate and 2013 US Air Guitar National Champion, who performs under the persona “Lt. Facemelter,” to chat about his air guitar experiences.

David Kensek: What are you doing now? How long has it been since you’ve been in Rochester?

Jason Farnan: I grew up in Rochester, lived there for the first twenty-four years of my life. I grew up in Penfield. I went to RIT for graphic design, and after I graduated I spent a couple years in Rochester, then I moved to San Diego in 2005. So I’ve been here now for 16 years—I keep forgetting how long it’s been—but I always try and go back every now and then. I still have extended family there; my close family has now all moved to Virginia, but every now and then we get opportunities to go back. Whether it’s a friend’s wedding or some other holiday get-together, we like to go back often. Rochester still holds a very dear place in my heart: I love visiting, I always get a garbage plate. Have to hit all the staples when I’m home. I was able to go back in July earlier this year, which was nice. I got to spend a few days there.

DK: I know the weather makes it hard to miss compared to San Diego, but I’m glad you still make it back here. My supervisor Skip Greer, who will be directing Airness in January, has been really encouraging me to find out if RIT had any air guitar programs or club. Could you describe your college experience at RIT? What was that like?

JF: No air guitar, unfortunately. At least professionally, back then. I loved my experience at RIT. I got an exceptional education, I had great professors, I really enjoyed my programs—I was able to pile up a couple internships that led to a lot of opportunities—and I met a lot of great friends I’m still friends with today. I had the pleasure of being an RA for two years, and that gave me a ton of experience in leadership and people skills and management relationship-building. Socially, it’s tough going to a school where there’s no sport team to rally behind, but there were plenty of other things for people to be interested in. I’m a huge hockey fan, so I went to many of their hockey games. It was a good four years there. I’m amazed with what they’ve done since I’ve left; I was able to drive through the campus a couple times—I think five years ago now, it’s been awhile—but it’s incredible how much bigger it’s gotten, how much nicer it’s gotten. I get the alumni magazine and I’m always reading up on what they’re doing next.

A man, smiling, with glasses and a blue shirt on a Zoom call from home, in a room with decorated walls, desk and bookshelf and a potted plant. Another man on the Zoom call with glasses, facial hair, and a grey shirt in front of a dark grey wall.
Jason Farnan (left), Zooms from his home in San Diego, and David Kensek (right) from Geva Theatre Center.

DK: I’m glad you mentioned that it really helped you start a professional career outside of this fantastic hobby of yours. Why don’t you talk a little about your day job, and your career so far?

JF: I graduated with a degree in graphic design, so my immediate focus when I left school was doing web design for a couple different companies. In doing work for one company I was essentially running and designing their entire Ecommerce website, and I started learning a little bit more about product design. Then when I moved to California I took a job with a startup company and I was designing for… a failed social network site, I guess you could say. A wannabe Myspace. But in doing so I was able to learn a lot about product development; I was designing anything you see on Facebook today: photo albums, being able to play video, music, galleries, blog posts. Before “user experience” became a big buzzword for the design profession, I realized I was doing UX. And so, my next job after that, I ended up working for a company designing cell phone interfaces, and was pretty much doing user experience for them. I was there for a few years, and then the job that I’ve had for the past twelve years now, I work for a medical company called Tandem Diabetes Care, and we make insulin pumps. I joined them as a senior UX designer and was designing the interface for our insulin pump and our therapy management system, and twelve years later we’re now a team of eleven and I’m associate director of that team, and I have ten employees, and we work on over a dozen projects at the company. I’ve gotten to see the company grow from—I think I was employee thirty-eight when I joined and we have over 1500 people now. Really cool to be part of that for so long; I love my job, I love working with in the diabetes community and it means so much to me that we do work that is impactful and helpful to people struggling with diabetes. And just knowing that we’re helping people sleep better at night, and we’re helping people manage their diabetes, their blood sugar, or their insulin throughout the day better than they ever have before is really cool. You don’t get that feeling designing cell phone interfaces. It’s been really fun to do that for the past twelve years and hopefully I’m there for twelve years more.

Four panels displaying the features of an insulin pump: Home Screen, Number Pad Screen, Personal Profile Screen, Bolus Screen.
Tandem t:slim X2 GUI Sample (

DK: Thank you so much. I was going to ask about user experience (UX) but you gave a great definition of that and the accessibility it’s improving in the world. Why don’t we get into the good stuff now? How did you discover air guitar?

JF: When I had roommates in San Diego, I had a guy I lived with who was obsessed with renting movies—he watched everything—and one day he brought home this movie called Air Guitar Nation. And he just said, “We’re going to watch this, and you’re going to love this.” And he was right. It’s a documentary about the first year US Air Guitar was born, essentially. The co-commissioners of the US Air Guitar created a documentary about the first air guitar championship they ever held in the United States, and it follows two competitors from New York, to LA, and eventually to Finland where the Air Guitar World Championships are held. I watched the movie, fell in love with it, and I was like, I have to go to one of these shows. Sure enough they eventually came to town the following year. I went to go, and I was going to buy a ticket and I realized for two more dollars you could just sign up and compete. And I was like, I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Right? Have some fun, see what happens, and, man, that was twelve years ago. Twelve years later, I’ve been more involved in this than I ever had before. I went from competing in 2009, I won my first show in 2010, I was lucky enough to win the National Championship in 2013 and I got to go to Finland for the first time. I placed fifth in the world that year, and my wife and I had so much fun in Finland that we’ve been back two more times since. My last trip to Finland was in 2018, you can go there and compete as a Dark Horse in the show right before the Finals, which is basically, anyone in the world can go and sign up, and if you qualify you get a spot on the world stage. So I did that in 2018. I qualified again and I came in fifth place again. It was cool, from competing, and then I did a lot of design work for US Air Guitar. I designed US Air Guitar trading cards as a fun thing to do for people to use to promote their shows and to feel like a professional athlete, which I thought was really fun.

A man in a leather jacket with green accents holding a championship title belt. He is beside a list of descriptions and funny statistics.
“Lt. Facemelter” trading card (2014).
A shirtless man with a gold headband, red kimono and shorts, and Hello Kitty chest plate playing an invisible guitar, beside a list of funny statistics.
2003 Air Guitar World Champion and subject of Air Guitar Nation, “C-Diddy” trading card (2010).

I’ve even organized US Air Guitar. 2016, 2017: myself, my wife, and a few others, we ran the tour, so we set up shows all over the country, we ran an organized the Finals, we got sponsorships. It was an interesting challenge to take on a brand new thing I’ve never done before, and with a wonderful group of people and a wonderful community supporting us. We had a really cool challenge these last two years with the pandemic; we wanted to have a show in 2020 so we did it all online. And then in 2021, things weren’t quite ready yet for people being out in public, so we did another online show and I actually I taught myself how to use OBS, Open Broadcasting Software, to do live streams. Me and a couple other people essentially learn how to get ourselves on Twitch, and I ran all of our online shows this year. Air guitar has done so much for me, I’ve always tried to give back and to do more for the community. I’ve been involved in so many different angles and it’s been such a wonderful experience doing that; I’ve learned a lot, had a ton of fun, and even at the end of this online experience we eventually were able to have a Finals, live, and got featured on ESPN 8: The Ocho this year. What are the dreams, right? We always talk about wouldn’t this be cool clear if we were on ESPN? This year we made it happen.

DK: Maybe eventually you’ll have a chance at the Olympics, and it’ll be an Olympic sport.

JF: Living the dream.

DK: Would it be a summer or winter event?

JF: It’d have to be summer. It’s always been a summer sport for us.

A man with a monster t-shirt, silver pants, and frilled wrist gauntlets, on a stage with red lights, confetti, and white screens on monitors.
“Lt. Facemelter” performing at the Oulu Music Video Festival in Finland, 2018. (Juuso Haarala)

DK: Were you a performer at all before air guitar?

JF: No, that’s the weird thing about it. My parents will always say that I’ve always liked attention, which is true, but I’ve never performed doing anything outside of a fifth-grade play where I was Uncle Max from The Sound of Music—which, I think I did pretty okay. But I never did anything past that, never did theater in high school or college. I played music growing up but I never really formed a band. I’ve always liked speaking and presenting. Again, I think a lot of that comes from being an RA, honestly: the opportunity to lead, the opportunity to be heard, to help, to talk to people and shape people’s minds. I treated it like that: how fun would it be like just be a rock star for 60 seconds? I’ve always liked dressing up— Halloween is a big thing of mine—and dressing up and being on stage playing an invisible instrument sounded like something too stupid to pass up. And then you do it and it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before because you’re on stage and for 60 seconds you become kind of a rock god. And you finish your song and people cheer for you and the adrenaline you get from that—I mean for me it was life changing, because rather than just doing it once and leaving and feeling embarrassed or not getting any response, I’ve been doing this for twelve years and I’ve met so many people had so many cool opportunities along the way. It really was a life changing experience and all because I said, For one minute I’m going to play an invisible guitar in front of all these people.

DK: I would like to ask about your persona. I did some research and I see you’re using “Lieutenant Facemelter” today, but a couple sources say you went by “Randy Diablo” recently. Is that incorrect?

JF: (Laughter.) No, no. That is correct.

DK: Could you talk about what inspired each of these, and why the change?

JF: Facemelter is who I’ve always been. It’s just who I am. A lot of air guitarists say their air guitar personality is really just an exaggerated version of themselves. When I first started I actually wanted to be called “Sergeant Awesome.” And then I realized, after doing some careful research before my first competition, there was a guy who basically had the same name as me, and I thought, Well, I just bought $100 worth of military stuff to dress up and do this whole military motif, and I had two days before the show, so I kind of panicked and had to find another name that felt military. And I’d always loved the idea of having a face-melting solo, so I just literally put the word ‘Lieutenant’ in front of it because I had spent so much money on trying to do this military thing. And then it just stuck. And I was always Lt. Facemelter from that moment. A lot of people who know me from air guitar, even friends who I know that are not involved in air guitar but have met me because of air guitar, have always just called me Facemelter. I like to think it’s, again, the exaggerated version of myself that’s still kind of my persona.

A man in a fake military uniform, cargo shorts, sneakers, red frilled gauntlets, and a knight helmet, on his knees playing an invisible guitar.
The Debut of Lt. Facemelter,” US Air Guitar Regional Competition, San Diego, 2009.

And then “Randy Diablo” is just… I’m not Randy Diablo. Randy Diablo’s not here. He’s somewhere else, he’s eating hot dogs at the gas station two blocks away. He was an idea I had many years ago, I just had no idea how to bring to the stage. It was just this character I thought of: this guy who crashes backyard barbecues, and people are excited, like, Yeah, Randy’s here. He’s gonna start the whiffle ball game, and we’re gonna have a lot of fun. And 30 minutes in, I really wish Randy would leave. It was this idea that this guy would show up, actively eating a hot dog and swilling and beer, knowing that he’s going to start the party, and then very quickly knowing he should leave the party. I never knew how to bring that to the stage, and then this year during the online competition everything was being filmed in your house or wherever you want to film, and I was like, This is perfect, I can’t pass this up. I have a backyard. I can put Randy in the backyard, we can tell the story of him showing up and eating a hot dog—I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see the video but the routine is: there’s people in the backyard and they’re clearly annoyed that he’s playing air guitar right now, and the routine ends and everyone just wants to get out of there. It’s so fun because it’s such a departure from who my character is—it definitely takes a little bit of acting—but it’s also a little bit of me when I have too much to drink. But it’s just a mullet and a mustache, right?

“Randy Diablo” – 2021 US Air Guitar Round 1

I think that’s another reason why I wanted to do that character. I don’t know if you can tell, I do not have a lot of hair, nor can I grow very good facial hair. To have your beard would take me two months and it would look awful. I just always wanted to do a character that had facial features and long hair that I know I could never ever pull off. It was fun to do something different, and to hide behind a pair of sunglasses to see if anybody could figure out that it was me. And I fooled a lot of people. I was fortunate enough to make the finals that year; right up until then I had people saying that when I took off my wig and glasses they did not know that I was the person underneath it. It was all part of the fun of doing something totally different this year—and I don’t know, we’ll see if Randy shows up again in the future. But for right now, he’s somewhere out in Bakersfield, you know, playing poker in some guy’s basement that’s definitely not legal.

“Randy Diablo” – 2021 Finals – Round 1

DK: In 2016 you published the article “Embracing Our Second Lives in the Workplace” and talked a lot about introducing your air guitar life to the people at work. Has your workplace changed at all since you unveiled this part of yourself? Has the confidence bolstered or have people been more open? How has it changed?

JF: Absolutely. The fun thing about this, part of the reason I wrote the article is I had already tried that out; there are a lot of people at work who knew I was doing air guitar. And I’ve always said to everybody who does it for the first time, “It’s the ultimate icebreaker.” You’re never going to have a conversation with a new person where you don’t have something interesting to say. Most people say, Wait that exists? or, if they somehow already know about it then they want to talk about it because it’s such a niche thing that you don’t get to talk about too often. For people who don’t know about it, it’s such a great introduction to something silly that you’ve done, because people want to know all about it after that: But what happens? How does the competition work? How are you judged? Where do you go? What can you win? What did you dress like? All of a sudden it just fuels conversation, which I’ve always found to be so interesting.

And so I wrote that article as a way to encourage people to embrace what they do outside of the workplace, because I think a lot of people by default treat the workplace as a very sacred place—This is a place for work, it’s not a place for fun. Obviously you find people along the way we have fun with, but at the end of the day it’s still a job, so people are pretty guarded to what they do in their own for their free time in fear of maybe being judged. One thing I touched on in the article is—obviously different workplaces will have different rules, sets of guidelines, or expectations, so tread carefully when sharing certain things—but the reality is we all leave the workplace, we all watch R-rated movies, or we all go out and play bowling or do something fun and weird and silly that could be something you don’t often see or talk about while you’re at work; and to maybe test that out a little bit. When people ask what you did over the weekend, tell them what you actually did, share the weird things that you’re involved with. You’ll be surprised how many people are either interested in that or might even be connecting with that—Oh my God I did that too!, or, I’m into that as well—and it fosters relationships, people get to know each other better, you form friendships that way. I think the point I was driving home about air guitar in that article was that people all of a sudden knew, Oh, this guy’s comfortable being out in front of a crowd, what if we gave him more opportunities to present? If he’s willing to put himself in front of hundreds of people playing an invisible instrument, maybe he can talk to 50 people about his profession. I think that went a long way, too, and it also helps with stage fright for people who are afraid of public speaking, or afraid of failure. Air guitar is—it’s weird for me to say this—it really does help squash that mentality. I tell this to everyone who competes in air guitar every year, before we start the show, right before we start going into the venue, “Believe it or not, people pay to watch you perform tonight. People spent money to watch you play air guitar tonight. So when you are on stage, people are going to cheer for you. Even if you don’t win, if you don’t come in the second round, when you finish that song you will have people cheering for you.” That’s such a confidence booster. You feel cool even if you don’t go far. You feel like a rock star. I think for a lot of people who have done this for the first time, they come back and they’re willing to try other things because of it, that’s such a huge win for something as silly as playing an invisible instrument for 60 seconds.

A man on a stage seen from above with an audience of hundreds in the streets beside stores.
“Lt. Facemelter” onstage at the World Air Guitar Championships in Oulu, Finland. (2018)

DK: It seems like, if someone is unfamiliar with it, it might be hard to let them know that you’re not lying, that this is a real thing, and then you have to go into describing airness to them and what all that is. Would you say you have achieved airness and that you’ve felt it in your performances? What does it feel like? How long does it last?

JF: I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone ask that question. That’s a great question. “What does it feel like, and how long does it last?”—My wife is laughing. (Laughter. Aside: “That’s such a great question, right? Have you ever felt airness, he said, how long does it last?”) Okay, so my wife, she said, As a judge, yes. She’s judged our San Diego competitions for years, she judged the World competition in 2015, she has a lot of credentials under her belt. It’s interesting, that question is normally asked to people who watch air guitar—“How do you know when you see airness?” How do you know when you feel it? I’d have to think about that.

For me it’s when it ends. For me personally, when you perform—again, you only do this for 60 seconds and it’s really fast paced, you have to know you are in your song at all times—I black out. It’s like that moment in Old School where Will Ferrell beats the Ragin’ Cajun in that debate and all of a sudden just wakes up at the end. It really is that feeling; all of a sudden people are cheering for you, you have goosebumps on your arm, and all of a sudden, It’s over, I did it. I think in that moment that’s when I feel the air just along the way; if I hit move where I know there’s a risk; for example, if you do a somersault and you pop up and you catch the guitar right when you’re supposed to catch it, and you can hear people cheer, and you can feel that you did that move successfully, that’s a moment of airness. You know you landed it, and then as soon as that performance is over and you get that crowd, you get those scores, and you walk off the stage, you’re exhausted, and you’re sweating, and the people are high-fiving you, they’re hugging you, telling you how awesome you did. That’s airness to me. It’s knowing that you conquered the feat of performing in front of all these people, and you’re getting validation from it. People are telling you that that was awesome, that it was so much fun, and it lasts for a while, I think. Especially if you did really well, if you win, and then the high of winning after that, and continue to talk to people about it, and watching videos again with everybody, just the feeling of the show in general. Even if you don’t win, talking about the show afterwards with everyone who was there and sharing the experiences that you had, telling your coworkers about it, your coworkers talking to you about it if they might have gone for the very first time. That feeling for me, knowing you accomplished what you set out to do but it’s also touched a lot of people in a lot of really fun ways and they’ve had like such a great time with it, that high can last for a week.

And I think that’s what’s so cool about air guitar, not only is it performance art and comedy and being a rock star, but it’s forming the relationships along the way. Not only are you performing and you have a show, but at the end of that maybe you connect with somebody, and then all of a sudden you have a bunch of new Facebook contacts, or you’re reaching out and getting together in your local area, you’re going to karaoke together, or you form these relationships over the years. And, my God, the people that I’ve met along the way, and the places we traveled to because of it—I never would have got to Kansas on a whim. I don’t know a lot about Kansas, it’s just in Middle America. Maybe I would have gone there for something else someday, but I have a dozen friends there now that we would actually go and visit to see. That’s really cool to me. We had the Belgian Air Guitar Champion stay with us—they spent their honeymoon at our house, which was so weird. Granted, they were other places they went to on the way, but they ended their honeymoon staying with us for three days.

A man under blue and red lights jumping and doing a split, playing an invisible guitar.
“Lt. Facemelter” at an Aireoke event in Lousiville, KT. (Bobby Plascenia)

I realize I’m talking way too much about this. How long does airness last? In the moment it could be anywhere from the 60 seconds from the time you finish that routine, but really, for a lifetime. I’m going to have so many opportunities until the day I die to see all these people that I’ve connected with, to talk about and laugh about the experiences that we’ve had, visit new places, see new things, and continue living, with so many new people in my life. That’s the extension of what airness can really be.

For more of this interview, stay tuned for Part 2! Airness, directed by Skip Greer, opens January 11, 2022.

One thought on “Clearing the Air with Jason “Lt. Facemelter” Farnan (Part 1)

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