Rusty Buchet will insult your mother without batting an eye. Photo: Cody Kirkland
You know that uncomfortable feeling you get when you think about the 1990s? When you think about all that vapidity and dorkiness, a sort of embarrassment for that neon shadow of American pop culture? Everything Is Terrible!— an online archeological-anthropological museum (or is it just a blog?)—found the source of that feeling, chopped it up, distilled it and put it on a DVD. As part of the Two Head Cleaners and a Microphone Tour, the guys from EIT stopped by Brewvies Cinema Pub to show their two video collections: Comic Relief Zero and Everything Is Terrible! Does the Hip-Hop!
Like the Found Footage Festival, EIT basically collects and compiles the weirdest videos on Earth—self-help videos, instructional videos, commercials, infomercials, TV skits, stand-up comedy footage, public service announcements, etc.—and posts edited theme- or genre-based collages of them on their website. In their live show format, the FFF shows about a dozen different collages of about 15 minute edits of video with live commentary, whereas the EIT show takes a more disorienting and forceful approach. Let me explain.
I take a mid-theater aisle seat right after the seating call. The house lights are still on and there is a video of a laughing theater audience on the screen. The audio is a mix of sped up and slowed down laughter which doesn’t match the on-screen laughers. It isn’t just one shot of one laughing audience, but many different jump cuts to many different audiences and close-ups of people laughing, periodically slowed down and reversed and blended into each other. It is very disorienting. The people in the audiences are all dressed badly and have bad hairstyles and look like maniacs. They aren’t supposed to—they are just regular people enjoying some unknown source of humor. At first, I laugh along with them simply by reflex, but I feel weird and manipulated and embarrassed, so I stop laughing. I sit and drink my beer and wait for the show to start. A hobo clown walks up to the audience from stage right—a real hobo clown and the real audience that I’m actually sitting in—and urges us to move forward so he can feel our sexual energy. One row of people move to an empty row closer up—the rest of the audience stays put. I move up one row because the clown makes me nervous. The hobo clown goes back where he came from and the laughing audience video keeps playing. Ten minutes go by, and the only change is a heavy and minimal club-rap beat mixed in with the maniacal laughter and the house lights are turned down. This only increases the tension. Jump cut from one laughing audience to another laughing audience, ad nauseum. I don’t feel good. I walk out of the theater and up to the bar and order another beer. I know I’ll need reinforcements for this.
After what seems like another ten minutes, the laughing audience fades away and the intro starts. A woman tells the camera that she can effectively communicate with people “because I have AIDS … visual aides!” A warning comes onto the screen—the self-defense video uses “a graphic demonstration using a cucumber to represent a penis.” A woman, kneeling, thwarts a would-be rapist (clutching his “penis” in his hand near the woman’s face) by biting off the tip of his member and spitting it—in slow motion. Other suggestions to ward off an attacker are: “Try to pass gas, urinate on yourself or, better yet, defecate on yourself and rub excrement on your arms and face.” The logistics of this defense seem difficult. Soon, the video stops and the three hosts of Everything Is Terrible! appear—a man in a grotesque upper-body mask/puppet device, the hobo clown, and a brick wall with a brick face in the middle of it. The hobo clown plays a keyboard while the wall, named B. Rick Waldron, and the puppet guy, a comedian named Rusty Buchet, bicker about their insult comedy prowess. Buchet’s signature punchline, “I DON’T GIVE A FUCK!” flashes on the screen throughout. Buchet gets in a fight with a mime in the audience—the mime storms out. The whole thing is supposed to be funny by being obviously anti-funny in an ironic, anti-ironic way, and it is. This is still the intro for the first film of the evening: Comic Relief Zero. When it finally starts, this is what happens:
Comic Relief Zero consists of clip after clip, in quick succession, of the most racist, homophobic, clichéd, and unfunny utterances from the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We’re talking famous ones—Jerry Seinfeld, Sinbad, Carrot Top, Louie Anderson, Whoopi Goldberg, et al. The clips run along a thread of reference—dozens of jump cuts of comedians pantomiming snorting coke or sucking a joint, clips of comedians making fun of Asian languages, about a hundred attempts at a gay lisp. Carrot Top imitates Mandarin Chinese as “bing ding bong dang bow gang pow.” There is a song about “Funny Futhermuckers”—“clean” comedians. Two videos of Jay Leno telling the same joke, word for word, at different times, are superimposed on one another. Countless cringe-inducing popular culture references and act closers unfold on the screen. Howie Mandel ends it by saying, “You don’t want this to be the end of the show? Then rewind the fuckin’ tape!” It’s all funny, but not for the reasons that is supposed to be funny. It’s funny in a “we, as a society, are fucked” kind of way.
Another round of fake stand-up serves as a transition to the part of the show that exhibits the mad street credit of these A/V geeks: Everything Is Terrible! Does The Hip-Hop! This one is a collection of corporate culture co-opting. EIT says that this is the real story of the birth of hip hop, carried on by the white, middle-class burgermongers and Flowbee slingers of ’90s TV. They’re joking, but I still couldn’t stop shaking my head for the next half hour. I’m just going to list some of my titles for the notable commercials and clips that inexplicably incorporate rap music into their videos to try to sell you something or other:
Freddy Krueger Rap
The Leprechaun Rap
Stamp Collecting Rap
The “Be Cool About Fire Safety” commercial that I know you remember
A pigeon rapping
Anne Hathaway rapping on the Conan O’Brien show
Karate Rap (“Karate … train your body”; “Karate life with my karate wife”)
Rappin’ Rodney Dangerfield
“Don’t Copy That Floppy [Disc]”
Christian Gansta Rap (“Do The Jesus Lean”; gunshot sounds)
Olsen Twins Pizza Rap
You get the idea. After about half of it, I’m ready to go home. It’s the kind of stuff that probably seemed normal as a kid, but now it’s apparent just how awful it was. Aside from the fire safety video, I don’t specifically remember any of the other “raps.” I still get a creepy déjà vu feeling, though. I know I’ve seen it all before, and I know that probably explains that uneasy feeling when I think about the ’90s in general. I was the prime demographic for the co-opting marketing scheme and, judging by a significant latency period for my hip hop fandom and that uneasy feeling when I think about the first decade and a half of my life, their scheme worked in reverse. Like the Everything Is Terrible! website warned, I’ll “never listen to music again!” At least not ’90s TV rap.
As far as EIT goes, I think their plan worked, too. It seems like their show isn’t meant to make an audience laugh—like REALLY laugh—as much as it is meant to weird us out and make us uncomfortable. I laughed a few times, but it was the kind of laughter you use when a kid or a crazy person tells you a joke. It’s like getting really stoned and hating it, but you end up looking back on it fondly the next day—you value the “experience,” man. Everything Is Terrible! isn’t as funny as Found Footage Fest, but, strangely, is still rewarding in a fucked-up way. If nothing else, like one of the clips says, it's “a good place to bring broads.”
Find out about their next tour stop or mine their footage here.