Brothers Jonnie and Duncan Penn from the former MTV program “The Buried Life” discussed their past experiences and current projects at a campus event this weekend.
Jonnie and Duncan Penn spoke at Edwards Auditorium on Sunday afternoon as part of the Verge Campus Tour.
The Penns, brothers from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, formed The Buried Life in 2006 with friends Ben Nemtin and Dave Lingwood.
The brothers were acquaintedÂ with the other two members from high school, but did not know them well until they began to communicate with each other during college.
“We had gone through these different things in our lives, all these kind of different tumultuous periods and decided kind of serendipitously to start connecting,” Jonnie Penn said. “We’d meet once a week on Skype and just kind of talk about life and talk about things we want to do in our lives.”
While the quartet were connecting through the internet, Jonnie was assigned to write a college essay on the Matthew Arnold poem “The Buried Life” and connected with its message.
After discussing the impact the poem had on him with the others, they decided to name their project after it.
The group proceeded to brainstorm ideas that would form their bucket list at the center of The Buried Life project, and set out to accomplish as many as possible during that summer.
They raised money for a camera, bought an RV and began to film their progress as they traveled around British Columbia checking items off their list.
“We had left with this promise that for everything we did, we were going to help a total stranger do something on their list” Jonnie Penn said. “That was just something that seemed kind of natural to us.”
For instance, the group encountered a man who wanted to deliver pizzas to a homeless shelter that he once lived in, but also needed a truck to continue running his business. The Buried Life was able to help him with both.
“This is a real important day for us because this project was going to be like a two week in between first and second year of college thing, and yet we’re eight years later still here doing it,” Jonnie Penn said. “I think we learned that the feeling we were missing, The Buried Life, that feeling of really knowing what it is you want in your life, in a way we found it.”
The Penns said that the group was offered several television deals after their initial trip, but turned them down because they feared they would compromise the group’s vision.
They ultimately signed a deal with MTV, who became aware of The Buried Life after they crashed the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards to cross an item off the list.
“We had been down this road and didn’t want to see this turned into bullshit, we wanted to try to keep it real,” Jonnie Penn said. “So we explained that to them and they said ‘we know, you just keep doing what you’re doing’ and we were blown away.”
“The Buried Life” television program premiered on MTV in 2010 and ran for two seasons. The brothers shared anecdotes about the show’s production, including their failed attempt to play basketball with Obama for the program’s sixth episode.
The Buried Life’s request was initially denied by the White House and the episode aired without the list item being complete.
However, a clip shown at the Edwards show revealed that the group did eventually meet the president shortly after the episode aired.
The group decided to forego a third season of the show, because they believed it was focusing less on the Buried Life concept. Instead, the four formed their own production group, Buried Life Entertainment.
“In keeping with The Buried Life, we decided for every show or property or big thing that we did in the future, we were gonna help someone in a cool way as well,” Jonnie Penn said.
In May, the group’s first project helped raised funding for a young Ohio woman born without a hand to receive a bionic appendage.
“That was an amazing story that we were privileged to be apart of, and it was a blast,” Duncan Penn said. “We’ve had a lot of fun over the last year and a bit, helping people do these stories and sharing them in a completely different way.”
The Penns also screened a video that detailed their “Most Epic Bucket List Contest Ever,” in which participants enter to win a trip consisting of their selection of five travel options out of a possible 20.
In addition to the free Buried Life event, the Verge Campus Tour also included a concert at the Thomas M. Ryan Center later that evening headlined by Chance the Rapper.