The Story of Drunk Bus and the Real Pineapple Tangaroa

Drunk Bus director Brandon LaGanke on his friendship with the film's breakout star, who he’s known since they were punk kids at Kent State.

My name is Brandon LaGanke, co-director of the hit movie Drunk Bus (say it enough and it will manifest itself into a hit!). Drunk Bus isn’t the movie that you think it is, largely due to the fact that it’s “based on real shit,” which is stated in the opening credits. And this is indeed true – I went to Kent State University from 2001 to 2005 and actually drove the “Drunk Bus,” like the main character in the film. For anyone who might not know, the “Drunk Bus” is the all-night campus-loop bus that drives in a circle, ferrying inebriated co-eds to and from parties. The movie is loosely based on my time behind the wheel and some of the hijinks that ensued. Which leads me to Pineapple Tangaroa, who was my actual security guard on that bus at the time. He plays a major role in this movie and many people out there don’t know he’s essentially playing himself!

So, I’m here to shed some light on my old friend and co-worker, Pineapple. Come along for a little ride into our history, which dates back all the way to 2001 in Kent, Ohio. A time before smartphones, Uber and White Claw.

Pineapple and I met each other in the dorms freshman year at Kent State University in Ohio. He was living in the room next to mine. I kept seeing him and thinking, “Who is this guy?!” In those days, he didn’t have face tattoos yet, just a shitload of piercings. But he was also a lot more punk rock-looking back then. He had a mohawk and wore a big, studded leather jacket with patches from his favorite New York bands, such as Choking Victim and Leftover Crack. This jacket became the inspiration for his clothes in Drunk Bus. In fact, he’d wear a handkerchief around his boot, like his character does in the movie. (You don’t get to see much of his feet in the movie, but believe me, it’s there.) I’m not really sure what it meant, other than some punk rock symbol for “I’m a badass.”

Pineapple and I immediately hit it off. He was just one of those guys you wanted to be friends with instantly, and was equivalent to an actual pineapple – rough on the outside, but sweet and gooey on the inside. He’d play obscure punk music for me and I played a lot of Moldy Peaches for him. I fucking loved that band. (Him … not so much.) Along with a slew of other kids in and around the dorms, we quickly formed a little crew. As you can see in the photo below, we were a mix of punk rockers, goth kids, art students and hillbillies. Kent is a great art school and attracts a lot of different people. (Side note: Devo, the seminal art-punk band of the ’70s and ’80s, were formed there.) It was also a pretty inexpensive state school, so that attracted people from different backgrounds. We hung out on the “stoop” outside the student center and scared innocent students on their way to class.

“We hung out on the ‘stoop’ outside the student center and scared innocent students on their way to class.” (Photo by Hilary O’Connell.)

Pineapple and I soon formed a punk band called the Rumblebees (still my favorite name), which we later renamed to the Wanted. I was on bass, Nick “The Drummer” was on, um, drums, Alison (Pineapple’s girlfriend at the time) was the lead guitarist, and our friend Corey played rhythm guitar. Our songs ruled, but our breakout hit, the one that got us our big break playing at Europe Gyro in town to about five people, was “40 OZ Drunk.” That track is actually playing in Pineapple’s car in a scene in Drunk Bus.

Our big break: Europe Gyro in Kent, Ohio. I thought I was super cool by duct-taping my entire bass. It. Was. Not. Cool.
We would put gelatin in our hair to make it stand up. It’s probably the reason I’m losing my hair now. This is also probably right before or after Pineapple headbutted me. He used to headbutt me a lot.

Black-and-white photos of Pineapple Tangaroa by Vince Costello.

It was around this time that Pineapple told me he needed a new job on campus. He wanted to get out of working as a telemarketer, where he had to call alumni asking for more money, something he didn’t agree with morally. I was working as a campus bus driver at the time. It was a great job. Highest paying job on campus apart from nude modeling!

I started driving a route called the Downtowner, which the kids affectionately dubbed the “Drunk Bus.” It was a route that took students from their dorms to the bars in our little downtown area. It ran from about 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. When Pineapple was looking for a new shitty job, I introduced him to the bus service, who made him my security guard. He drove other routes, got his commercial driver’s license (which ain’t easy for a college student, by the way), but the best times we had were on that weird, late-night shift called the “Drunk Bus.”

Pineapple Tangaroa on his Kent State bus route. (Photos by Hilary O’Connell.)

We had all types of regulars – from intoxicated townies to crazy sorority girls – most of whom we didn’t want any part of. I even had kids who would just ride the bus for the hell of it. Their destination was riding my bus. These kids were loosely the inspiration for the characters Kat (Kara Hayward) and Justin (Tonatiuh), who make a night of just riding around in circles.

In time, our punk band disintegrated (I guess that big show at the Europe Gyro didn’t go over too well) and we all graduated and went our separate ways. I ended up in New York City with my now-wife/baby momma, Pineapple moved to Austin, Texas, and started a piercing and body modification business called Shaman Modifications, and everyone else in our crew died in a freak nuclear explosion in Cleveland. Or, they moved on with their lives. You choose which one to believe there …

Pineapple in his store today. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio.)

Over the years, Pineapple and I stayed in touch, mainly through Facebook and the occasional funny meme via text. When I met my directing partner, John Carlucci, and we started riffing on ideas for our first movie, I would always tell him about this crazy job I had in college with my larger-than-life friend, Pineapple. He loved the idea and so we set out to make Drunk Bus.

Pineapple plays himself in Drunk Bus, and goddamnit, he plays Pineapple so good. He wasn’t an actor before this, apart from a few small parts like “Thug #2,” so we had to work intensely with him. We spent about five years developing the script so that it captured his voice, we got him an acting coach and had a lot of rehearsals. It makes me very happy that many people who have seen the movie say that he “steals the show.”

Charlie Tahan and Pineapple Tangaroa in Drunk Bus.

Ultimately, I’m just thrilled to have met Pineapple, to have worked with him at the bus service and on this movie, and – most importantly – to still have him as a close friend. Now, if we can just get the Rumblebees…ahem, the Wanted back together, I’ll die a happy man!

Brandon LaGanke is half of the directing duo Ghost + Cow (along with John Carlucci) whose feature debut is the new movie Drunk Bus, out now through FilmRise. Ghost + Cow has had global viral success with several projects. Drone Boning, a comedic and voyeuristic look at sex and drone surveillance, has 11 million views on Vimeo, made world news, garnered the attention of late-night hosts such as Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien and Seth Meyers and was posted on Banksy’s YouTube page. Their music videos for Big Data’s “Dangerous” and Joywave’s “It’s A Trip” also went viral and continue to have a massive fan following. Some of Ghost + Cow’s other short films include Playhouse, Bunny Boy and Infinity Tree, which was created with Fox Digital. (Image courtesy Brandon LaGanke.)