So you thought the first season of The Whitest Kids U’ Know was a bit, um, strange? Can you imagine what those five twisted minds could conjure if their series was uncensored and uncut? Imagine no longer; this month, IFC brings you the fucked up reality.
To call The Whitest Kids U’ Know just a sketch comedy show would be to overlook the subtleties of the program, namely, how bat-shit insane it is. This is sketch comedy without a net, and, now with the second season premiering Feb. 10 on IFC (leaving their former Fuse), there are no limitations.
When you watch a Whitest Kids sketch, you get a feeling that anything can happen. But it’s not so much they’re breaking the rules Monty Python-style; it’s more like their stone-faced deliveries and their even-keeled approach to the psychotically absurd convinces you that they’ve never even heard of rules.
In one much-downloaded sketch from their first season, Abraham Lincoln is a hilariously obnoxious theater-goer. In another, the lyrics and video for a joyful children’s song advise the kids on how to “get a new daddy.” Because, why not?
The Whitest Kids started as a school-sponsored sketch comedy performance troupe at New York’s School of Visual Arts. In the eight years since, their live sketch show won awards at festivals all over the country, they became minor celebrities thanks to Fuse and, of course, the Internet, and now they’re prepping for their biggest splash of exposure yet.
For founding members Trevor Moore, Sam Brown, and Zach Cregger, and their partners Timmy Williams and Darren Trumeter, it’s been an interesting path to success– a path paved with poop jokes, surreal premises and an uncomfortable amount of drag.
Timmy, Trevor, and Zach recently talked with Punchline Magazine about the show, their history, and the price of fame– like when strangers make eye contact with you while they mime slow masturbation.
Are you awash in success? Are you calling me from a Jacuzzi filled with champagne?
TW: No, I’m calling you from my bedroom in Brooklyn. But it is awash in champagne. So, part of that is true.
TM: I was just talking to SuicideGirls.com.
That’s a good one, You’ll get lots of neat fan mail for that.
TM: I was doing an interview with pornography. They sent me a free password to their site.
Is that one of the benefits of fame?
TM: Free porn? Yes.
Can you talk about how you met? It involved 9/11, didn’t it?
TW: Sam lived on my floor. Trevor and Zach and Sam all knew each other already, and they all lived in this building in Brooklyn Heights where anyone who goes to school in the New York City area that doesn’t have a dorm can live– like kind of a dumping ground full of slackers. And, they were there for a year and had already met and formed the Whitest Kids.
I moved there in 2001 in August, and on Sept. 11, my window was left open during the day. When I got home, my room was full of smoke, so I hung out in the hallway and Sam lived across the way from me, and I met Sam and Zach and Trevor all that night.
And that was the beginnings of a comedy troupe?
TW: Yeah, I joined a couple months after that. It’s a ridiculous anniversary every year.
And, since the core group started at an art school (the School of Visual Arts), I think that makes you the Talking Heads of sketch comedy teams. Maybe you can make a really bizarre concert film.
ZC: I’ll be dancing around with a lamp, and it’ll just be magic.
TM: When we first started the group, it was a school club. Sam and I had the idea to start it as a club, because we would get $700 a semester, which we would spend on beer. But, because it was a school club, you couldn’t pick who was in the group. We had 18 kids in it at one point, and the shows would be two-and-a-half hours long because everybody wanted their sketches in it. It was a big show. So, Sam, Zach, Timmy and I are the people who are from that old, big troupe. I think the reason we gravitated to each other is because we have that same sense of humor. We all saw eye to eye on what we thought was funny.
Were you surprised to find people who shared your sense of humor? What you guys do is so unlike anything that’s out there.
ZC: I have a very distinct memory of our first meeting. I was friends with Sam before I met Trevor, but I hung out with Trevor just once, before the first meeting, and we had kind of riffed and joked together, and I thought he was really funny.
But, then when we sat down in this classroom in SVA, and there were like 12 kids, I was kind of half in and half out, and Trevor popped in some tapes of his public access show that he had, and I remember I was just so surprised that the stuff was actually funny. Because it’s hard to be actually funny. Once I saw that, I was in. That was kind of the inspiring thing to push through the bullshit that we had to for the first two years.
Timmy, growing up in South Dakota, did you find that you had a really weird sense of humor, considering mostly news anchors come from the Midwest?
TW: Yeah, we’re good at pouring out news anchors and people who invent different kinds of fast food. I get my sense of humor a lot from my family, so I think I probably would’ve had a similar one no matter where I grew up. But, it’s more sheltered, so a lot of the characters I play on the show reflect the fact that I’ve had a little bit more of an innocent, sheltered life living in a town of 20,000 people, not always knowing what was going on or what girls looked like naked.
How did the “slow jerk” sketch come to be?
TM: That one is weird because it’s one we did in our live show for a long time, but it was never like a standout sketch for us. But, for some reason, when that hit the Internet, that became the most downloaded sketch. And, then, when people recognize us, like when I’m in a bar, someone will start doing that, and everyone does the eye contact thing when they do it, so that’s pretty weird.
What do you like about sketch comedy in particular?
TM: I like that you’re not reined in to anything. You can do an idea that takes place in the 1700’s and one that takes place in space. Any idea that you have that’s funny, you can devote three minutes to it, let the idea run its course, and then move to the next thing, and not worry about any transition, not worry if it works in the world you’re making. It’s nice to be able to do anything you find funny, and then jump to something else that doesn’t have anything to do with that.
ZC: I think the biggest trap of writing a sketch is wearing the joke thin. That’s the number one death of sketches. So many sketches die because you get it, they milk the joke in the first thirty seconds, and then you’re watching the same shitty joke get lamer and lamer. If we have a solid joke, we can play that out in thirty seconds, and then we can end the sketch or we can take it in a new direction.
You tend to stay away from getting explicitly political or doing celebrity-related stuff. That’s certainly very unlike other sketch comedy groups.
TW: Yeah, there’s that one sketch in season one where Trevor is telling a group of young kids that 9/11 was an inside job. But, yeah, when we write a sketch, we try to have kind of a timeless nature. We never mention specific goings-on, like George W. Bush or Britney Spears. If we are impersonating someone, it’s someone who’s been dead for a hundred years.
ZC: I can’t really speak to other sketch groups. As a rule, we try to put the blinders up and not follow other sketch groups, just for our own creativity. But, the thing that makes our sketches funny is that when we’re writing, if a sketch doesn’t make us all laugh truly and hard, we won’t put it on the screen. When kids ask me about the writing process, that’s the only thing I can say. If you don’t think it’s funny, no one else will think it’s funny.
Everyone’s been raised on — I’m not even going to say the show’s name — we’ve all seen so much celebrity impersonations in sketch comedy, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I just think we need to try something new. We don’t really get excited by celebrity impersonations or reoccurring characters.
TW: We try to stay accessible, even though it scares away people like my mom and my grandma. But if they wanted to watch it, they’d understand it, because we don’t make too many pop culture references.
A lot of your sketches start one place and then seem to veer off in some insane directions– like the “McLaughlins” sketch, which begins as a sitcom parody and then turns into a bit about teenagers who graft animal genitalia to their faces as a form of rebellion.
TW: When we found out we were going to be on IFC, we were like, ‘Oh, we get to be uncensored.’ We immediately went back to Zach’s place and wrote that sketch. ‘We can do anything we want, what should we do? Oh, a sketch with people with penises and vaginas on their face.’ When we hear uncensored, that’s what we think.
ZC: I did think for a while that every sketch should have one joke and that joke should be manifested differently and have different beats, but once you start adding other jokes, it can get long-winded and shitty. So, now we’ll have one sketch that will have multiple jokes, but in turns. You can’t have two jokes playing against each other. You’ll have one joke, it burns itself out, and then we start a new joke, it may be the same sketch, but it goes a different way.
In our Scotty sketch it starts with a kid in a classroom. He finds out his parents are dead; that’s one joke. Then he runs out and goes on this big escapade because his parents are dead and there are no rules; that’s another joke. Then it goes to Trevor in the kitchen explaining he’s safe from black people because they shot it on a soundstage; so, that’s another joke. It’s three jokes in one sketch but they never really overlap.
How would you say season two is different from the first season?
TM: I think it’s more cinematic. I think it’s darker, but it’s also sillier at the same time. A lot of our sketches are basically about very dark subject matter, but then all the characters have this child-like innocence, so they’re oblivious to how dark what’s going on is. One of the sketches I like in season two, Darren and I play guillotine operators during the French revolution, and we’re basically just chopping off aristocrats’ heads, but we’re making wagers on how long the heads will stay alive after we cut them off the body. It’s a pretty dark premise for a sketch, but the whole death aspect is basically background.
ZC: We honestly have so much more freedom at IFC than we had even at Fuse. When you don’t have a commercial break, you can make a sketch that goes the entire episode. We don’t have a lot of that, but we do have running sketches that are lengthy that we wouldn’t have tried if we’d had three commercial breaks. And, I’m not crazy about having nudity in sketches, but, hey, we can if we want to.
It’s great tool to have absolutely no hindrances, so if we want to have somebody’s balls out there, we can. And, I don’t think anyone else is able to do that with a budget. I don’t even think you can show some of the shit we have on our show on YouTube, and I don’t even give a fuck. I think funny is funny. It’s just great that the network is pumping all this money into something like this
Which sketches are you most looking forward to people seeing?
TW: I would say the ones with nudity are the ones I’m excited about. I know that sounds weird. I don’t know if you’ve seen the one where Darren plays a stripper. We do drag a lot, but this season we thought, ‘Why don’t we have someone in drag, but be a naked woman?’
TM: I like the songs, personally. We have one sketch that basically becomes a musical. It’s about Oswald hanging out with Lyndon Johnson in the book depository as they’re plotting to kill Kennedy. I like that one because it says that Lyndon Johnson was involved in the Kennedy assassination and then it becomes a happy musical.
And, something like the song about getting high with dinosaurs; is there a requisite amount of marijuana that you need to smoke to fully enjoy that?
TM: I actually don’t smoke weed, so that’s living a lie.
If you can make people think that through your work, isn’t that an achievement?
TM: Yes, I can make people think I’m much cooler than I am.
Is there something particularly fun about writing a sketch like the dating game bit, where one of the bachelors tells the single girl, ‘I want to beat you with my hard dick’?
ZC: It’s fun to write stuff that you know is going to make your parents cringe if they ever see it. When we would ever do that dating game sketch, my girlfriend at the time would ask if we were going to do it, and if we were, she wouldn’t come to the show. And that kind of made me laugh.
But that’s not my favorite stuff to write. Anything we write that’s not like anything we’ve done before, that’s funny; that makes me feel really good. Anything we write that I can see as a manifestation of anything we’ve done previous, that doesn’t make me very excited.
So, are you looking forward to fame ruining you? Has it begun already?
TW: No, I’m just kind of more lazy. We’re still cool. I got a weird tattoo of a dinosaur on a spaceship, but I think I would’ve gotten that whether I had a TV or not.
ZC: I would love to have money make me eccentric. Howard Hughes? I think he was probably fucked up without fame.
TM: I guess I would want that drug overdose in a hot tub, or just die in some little plane crash in the Midwest, because that way I’d be close to home– like a Big Bopper kind of thing. Maybe get a couple more years on me than those guys, that’d be great.
Well, congratulations. You seem to be living the dream.
TW: Yeah, I definitely am. It wasn’t anything I planned to do, but I’m glad I stumbled into it. So, thank you, 9/11.
The new season of The Whitest Kids U’ Know premieres Sunday, Feb. 10 on IFC. For more info check out the network’s official site.