Chad Kroeger and JT Parr by Alexis Gross
Entertainment

The Real-Life Bill and Ted Are Trying to Make You Political

‘Chad Kroeger’ and JT Parr have made their name rolling into city council meetings with ridiculous demands—like a 2nd Fourth of July—but they’re not just trying to make people laugh.
March 9, 2020, 1:46pm

This article appears in VICE Magazine's Stupid Issue, which is dedicated to the entertaining, goofy, and just plain dumb. It features stories celebrating ridiculous ideas, trends, and products; pieces arguing that unabashed stupidity can be a great part of life; and articles calling out the bad side of stupidity. Click HERE to subscribe to the print edition.

On July 16, 2019, several residents of Manhattan Beach, California, attended a city council meeting to complain about a candlelit vigil. Earlier that month, crowds had gotten together for “Lights for Liberty,” a countrywide demonstration that railed against the Trump administration’s migrant detention centers on the southern border, and the opposition wasn’t too thrilled about it. The event had taken place on the city’s pier; those against it argued that the council had improperly encouraged the city to back the gathering, since they believed it was political. The mayor, Nancy Hersman, apologized before she opened up the floor for public comment that evening, admitting that she understood their concerns and probably acted, in some way, wrongly. By the time the second citizen approached the podium, nearing the end of the session, the council members appeared drained by the conversation.

Then, a young man with a brown and bleach-blond flow, wearing a button-down shirt covered in watercolor-looking trees and flamingos, walked up to the microphone. “What up, Council?” he said, as if he had just stumbled through the door of his buddy’s apartment. “My name is Chad Kroeger.” The dude had mere minutes to speak. He began talking about his most recent Fourth of July experience: “To paint a painting for you,” he continued, “I started the day by sinking a no-rebuttal on the beer pong table with my girlfriend at 7 a.m. in my blazing eagle kimono.” At least one council member was smiling.

“Just remember, Chad,” Mayor Hersman interrupted, “like we told you the last time you were here—and we do remember you here—make sure it is about things coming before our council.”

Chad wasn’t swayed. He set up a little more context, but he did reach his point: a request that the council push for a second Independence Day. The details were precise. Specifically, he wanted it on July 2, to honor the movie Independence Day, the date that it was released and when aliens in the film launch their invasion. The United States of America, in Chad’s view, does not afford him enough holidays to “rage.”

When he was finished, his friend, the curly-haired JT Parr, also addressed the local officials. He had a hat reading "Team Debauchery ’19" atop his head. JT made the same argument as Chad, though he seemed more stoned than confident. He topped off his proclamation with an abridged, a cappella rendition of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten,” the tune many will probably know as the theme song for MTV’s The Hills. The council decided not to pursue the matter.

“We do not comment on the public comments,” Mayor Hersman told me in an email exchange. “Just listen.”

Eight days later, Howard Stern, a vocal fan of Chad and JT, had them on his radio show. On air, they premiered their speeches from the Manhattan Beach City Council to the wider world.

The so-called “Chad Kroeger” and JT Parr, as you may have already suspected, do not live in Manhattan Beach. They are a pair of comedians—Tom Allen and John Thomas Parr, from Orange County—who have almost fully assumed the personas they created a few years ago. One obvious tip-off that they are not exactly who they say they are is that Chad Kroeger is the name of Nickelback’s lead singer. If you have ever been on the internet, you’ll be aware that the band is often the subject of intense mockery and think pieces about that intense mockery. When Allen introduces himself as Chad Kroeger, it’s almost like a millennial inside joke, a slight reveal, a stamp that the coming declaration is—if nothing else—at least a bit tongue-in-cheek.

In mid-January, I met Chad and JT for an hours-long lunch at the poké restaurant Sweetfin in West Hollywood. We had all intended to lift weights before we ate, which I considered an excellent opportunity to injure myself, but JT had pulled a muscle in his neck a couple of days prior and canceled our session. Chad helped JT and me with our orders; he opts for both creamy togarashi sauce and ponzu lime, for an additional kick. The combination, he clarified, might be unconventional. As we sat down, I prepared to be trolled, but they were immediately introspective. They barely touched their food. When I initially asked about their characters’ names, JT explained it like this: “What I always tell people is that I’m JT, and Chad is more Chad than I am JT.” Chad assured me that his girlfriend calls him Chad, too.

Since 2017, Chad and JT have gained most of their notoriety for their frequent attendance at city council meetings around Southern California, like at Manhattan Beach. They have been to around a dozen, usually spaced out months apart. There are some recurring themes. They almost always greet the council with a casual, “What up, Council?” JT almost always sings in his signature Hawaiian shirt. Chad and his original sidekick, a comedian named Spencer Kalendar who went by the moniker “Bodhi Johnson,” kicked off their city council tour by requesting that a 12-foot Paul Walker statue be erected in San Clemente, where Chad is from. “In the midst of gnarly times,” Chad states—they were pitching the monument as a means of unifying the nation—it would be “a beacon of headlights that can guide us down the dusty road.” Chad and Bodhi later made a similar demand in Huntington Beach, about 35 miles north up the coast, and Chad eventually returned to San Clemente with JT, equipped with visual aids. Not long after Chad’s original visit, one of the council members, Tim Brown, relented, and had a one-foot statue of Walker put up near the ocean. Bodhi never showed up again.

The simplest way to understand Chad and JT is that they act as slightly exaggerated versions of their actual selves, empathetic and self-aware SoCal surfer bros who preach improvement and tackle mundane and heady topics through language usually reserved for encouraging keg stands. At their core: They love being “stoked.” They enjoy it so much that it is at the center of their half-serious, half-farcical political agenda. More than once, Chad has described what he and JT are doing as Bill and Ted meets Huell Howser, a television personality famous in California for his human interest stories on Los Angeles PBS stations. They call themselves activists. They like philosophy as much as they do the Fast and the Furious franchise. As we were chatting, JT mentioned both Vince Vaughn and Friedrich Nietzsche in a single sentence.

The Trump presidency has caused everything to be beyond bleak, their logic goes, so why not have a little fun?

“It’s about being positive bros,” JT said, between bites from his poké bowl. He had chosen not to get rice for his base, since he had eaten too many carbs already that afternoon. “I don’t know if you remember, but in the buildup to the [presidential] election, bros were not very popular. There was a lot of media stuff coming out, where bros were not being chill. And I think that, now, we provide a healthy alternative.”

The simplest way to understand Chad and JT is that they act as slightly exaggerated versions of their actual selves, empathetic and self-aware SoCal surfer bros who preach improvement and tackle mundane and heady topics through language usually reserved for encouraging keg stands. At their core: They love being “stoked.” They enjoy it so much that it is at the center of their half-serious, half-farcical political agenda.

San Clemente was just the beginning for them. For their first swing through Manhattan Beach, Chad and JT advocated for the city’s water-treatment center to be renamed “The Britney Spears Toxic Water Center.” (The city of Manhattan Beach does not have a water-treatment center. JT, naturally, sang Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”) They stopped by West Hollywood to battle a proposed ban on Bird scooters. (“I get tremendous joy as I travel from poké shop to smoothie shop on these wonderful chariots,” Chad told the council members, sounding earnest as they laughed.) They critiqued the Los Angeles city budget—the “budge”—in front of the LA City Council, where they urged the government to consider adopting things like “an anti-carbohydrate campaign similar to the D.A.R.E. program,” “more Coachellas,” “streets where you can drag race legally and more safely,” “wave pools for inlanders,” “lightsaber research and development,” “hoverboards that actually hover,” and “free oysters on Valentine’s Day.” They traveled to Laguna Beach, where they asked the council to literally adopt Kevin, the “shmole” or annoying friend in their squad, because they realized that they had no choice but to “boke” him from—kick him out of—their crew. JT brought his mother up to vouch for the veracity of his claims.

“The idea is that we’re making politics accessible,” Chad told me. “People are, like, ‘How do you speak at these meetings?’ And I’m like, ‘I cruise up, sign a piece of paper, and say what’s up.’ We’re showing the youth that it’s that easy: You can just go and say what’s up.”

Chad and JT told me that they met in high school, at the house party of a mutual friend. Chad attended the elite private boarding school Hotchkiss in Connecticut, so he was home in San Clemente sparingly during his teenage years. JT went to a string of Catholic schools in the area. They remained friends through college, and they both moved to Los Angeles with the notion of leading relatively unconventional lifestyles, with some financial assistance from their parents: slam poetry, surfing, improv, filmmaking, working out. They’re still eager to discuss the roots of their partnership.

“In high school, Chad and a few buddies were about to do a four-hose beer bong, and one of the guys couldn’t do it because he was on antibiotics, so then I stepped up,” JT said. “I used to drink exclusively from beer bongs. I didn’t like the taste of alcohol. I just liked being drunk. We housed that, and then it was kind of off to the races.”

It’s a fitting origin story, since the city council meeting that got Chad and JT the most attention online, other than their repeated calls for a Paul Walker statue, was at the Los Angeles City Council in late 2017. There, they tried to fight a new proposal that would crack down on house parties. That clip, at the time this issue went to press, had close to 1 million views on YouTube.

“I grew up like most kids,” JT said, staring up at Herb Wesson, then the council president. “Worried I couldn’t bench two plates. That I wouldn’t fit in. That I wouldn’t find love. Then I discovered partying, and suddenly all those worries went to the wayside. I didn’t need love. I had keg stands. I discovered I was great at raging, and it revealed wonderful things about myself: I could relate to bros, regardless of what kind of bro they were.”

“Those guys are one part community activist with credible points of view that intersect with our community and one part run-of-the-mill West Hollywood performance artist,” John D’Amico, the mayor of West Hollywood, told me. Like most of the council members I reached out to in the Los Angeles area, he supported—and admired—their efforts. He also revealed that they are part of a varied ensemble of off-kilter personalities that exist in tandem.

“On any given night, there is a full cast of non-union actors that drop in for two minutes of POV meets TV time,” D’Amico continued. “There’s the self-declared clairvoyant idiot savant. There’s the parking ticket recipient looking for some relief. There’s Mr. Etcetera, who is on part 18 of a meandering, gentle, multipart story of the goings-on at his apartment complex. There’s the retired philosophy PhD who only comes out after midnight at the end of the meeting to grade us on our performances. There’s the bicycling movie star historian. Occasionally, there’s even a movie star.”

Despite this, they manage to stand out. Chad and JT possess an irrefutable, juvenile, and attractive logic. Their most obvious predecessors are Sacha Baron Cohen or Nathan Fielder; the latter went viral himself for his small-business market stunts before he was well-known, like when he employed parody law to open up a “Dumb” Starbucks to much fanfare, or when he intricately staged a pig’s rescue of a baby goat at a petting zoo. But rather than their potential real-life counterparts, to me, the pair bring more to mind the moment in Fast Times at Ridgemont High when the stoner Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn, orders a pizza to his history class. His teacher, Mr. Hand, tells Spicoli that the student is wasting his time. Spicoli responds: “You know, I’ve been thinking about this Mr. Hand. If I’m here, and you’re here, doesn’t it make it our time?”

That question might offer the best explanation of Chad and JT’s inherent appeal. We do, as Chad insists, “live in gnarly times.” We exist in a polarizing era, where the pettiest squabbles are blown out of proportion and the most serious issues are seemingly tossed away. Institutions are crumbling around us. Scams, and exposing them with relentless Netflix documentaries, are in vogue. The president of the United States is, of course, a former reality television star. Conspiracy theories run wild. Climate change will likely kill many of us. Politics may be theater—and attracting voters may only require persuasive, sometimes fictional storytelling—but we have become so distrustful of systems at-large that there is hardly room to laugh, even for a second. Chad and JT have brought attention to a long-forgotten fact: that civic engagement doesn’t always necessitate despair or anger or cynicism. (Those feelings are all fair.) But unlike Baron Cohen’s or Fielder’s, Chad and JT’s performative selves are better people than they are. Their whole “shtick,” or whatever you decide to call it, is that they are relentlessly optimistic, constantly working to make human beings more fun, thoughtful, and laid-back. Their act is as much comedy and a display of free speech as it is self-betterment in action. It’s difficult to differentiate who they really are from the characters they purport to play, because they’re tied so closely together. That’s what makes them so fun—blurring that line, that middle ground.

It’s why they can be guests on everything from Ellen, Howard Stern, and Hawaii 5-0, to Jesse Watters’ show on Fox News. It’s why they can lift weights and embrace Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it’s why they can troll a Trump rally saying that they don’t want the president to bring jobs back to this country, because they don’t want to work.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what to make of them at first,” said Kathleen Ward, a current city council member in San Clemente who was mayor when Chad made his initial appearance. “For all I knew, they were actually residents of San Clemente. Our city council is responsive to the needs of our community, and I was trying to figure out where exactly they were going with their public comment.”

Listening to their podcast, Going Deep with Chad and JT, would have given Ward a better sense. Spun out of the success of their city council meetings, the podcast, which is put out by Al Madrigal and Bill Burr’s company All Things Comedy, is much more toned down. It’s a kind of Dr. Phil for bros.

“I think that I’ve become a safer person since we’ve gotten attention for this,” JT said. “I don’t want to send a bad message to suggestible youth. Not to be pious.”

Chad and JT’s performative selves are better people than they are. Their whole “shtick,” or whatever you decide to call it, is that they are relentlessly optimistic, constantly working to make human beings more fun, thoughtful, and laid-back. Their act is as much comedy and a display of free speech as it is self-betterment in action.

Chad and JT can chat for hours on end. They call their fans “stokers.” They have established a vernacular that’s so amusing I found myself thinking of adopting it. They pronounce words like “melancholy” and “dichotomy” with the “ch” making the “cha” sound. They invite their best friends on the show. They have conversations about films, music, and Joe Rogan. They’ve interviewed both Tony Hawk and Howie Mandel. They respond to listeners’—usually men’s—problems with relationships, money, and partying with a calm seriousness, as if they’re older, more mature brothers. You wouldn’t know they were really comedians. They are bros, for sure, but compared with their contemporaries—everybody from Rogan to Marc Maron to the Pod Save America guys—Chad and JT possess an incredible amount of self-awareness. They have difficulty dropping their sincerity even if they’re being funny. They are welcoming and kind; the universe they’ve created is a joke on them, a jab at their expense. Behind the bro, there is a bro.

“There’s a certain amount of joy to be found in responsible behavior that you thought was lame when you were younger,” Chad told me, to sum up his point of view. He said that he had recently taken an interest in money management.

So far, Chad and JT have clocked in more than 100 podcast episodes since they began in January 2018. Their only plan, Chad told me, is to keep going. The best things that happen to them, he said, always occur by accident. For example: He had seen that the LA City Council was attacking house parties while he was running on the treadmill.

In March 2019, just months before they went to Manhattan Beach, Chad and JT flew to Newark, Delaware. It is the home of the University of Delaware, famously one of the top party colleges in the country. But that reputation was being threatened. The city council had just unanimously passed a new law meant to curb “super parties”: Police officers could issue citations—a combination of fines and community service—if they observed “three or more nuisance behaviors at a residence where four or more people have gathered,” according to the Newark Post. Many students and alumni saw the legislation as too strict, and some viewed Chad and JT as potential saviors, or at least a reasonable option to piss off local lawmakers. The latter certainly seemed to work. For one thing, they were not welcomed as warmly as they are around LA.

“I guess every generation needs their Cheech and Chong and Spicoli characters, but Chad and JT fell way short in their efforts,” wrote Chris Hamilton, a current Newark council member, in an email to me. “I enjoy a good sense of humor and wish they had used better material that would have made them funny instead of predictable.”

Hamilton had anticipated their presence. A GoFundMe page had been set up by a handful of fans for Chad and JT to come, and Dylan O’Keeffe, a comedian, podcaster, and Delaware alum, told me that a former frat head had agreed to pay a majority of the cost if O’Keeffe and his creative partner agreed to film the whole thing. They did. Chad and JT documented their journey as well. They would pop by the Newark City Council and share their opinions, although the law was already in effect. There would also be a meet-and-greet at a student apartment—a chance for students and alumni to informally interact with them, as I had while chomping on raw fish in Los Angeles, before the microphones turned on and the cameras started rolling.

Lauren Schiavo, who graduated from the University of Delaware and now lives and works in Philadelphia, drove down with her young son to express her gratitude to Chad and JT. She is a hardcore fan. “I really do think that they’re trying to make the world a better place,” she told me over the phone.

At the council meeting, similar to what happened at Manhattan Beach, there was a more contentious and pressing issue at hand: The council was debating whether to approve a new commercial development, along with a Hyatt hotel. The city would lose a historic landmark in the process. Students watched from the audience as Chad and JT had to wait more than six hours before they could speak. But they didn’t lose their patience. Here, they were celebrities. They were being paid to be themselves.

“Labeling more than four people hanging out as a party, though, that means this council meeting could be called a party,” JT said to the council. “This is chill,” he continued, looking up. “But this is not a party.”

Follow Alex Norcia on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.