Derrick Beckles and Eric Andre are two of Adult Swim’s most visionary creators and some of the network’s greatest assets. Before creating their new show, Mostly 4 Millennials, for Cartoon Network’s late-night art-comedy block, both Beckles and Andre began their careers with thoughtful stunt comedy and a love for lowbrow vintage television. During the mid 90s in Canada, Beckles spearheaded a mash-up television subculture with his VHS compilations, TV Carnage, long before YouTube, and then went on to contribute to VICE and create the entertainment news satire Hot Package.
Andre, on the other hand, began about a decade later with commercial acting and stand-up, and eventually conceived a pilot for his own off-kilter low-budget talk show, The Eric Andre Show. Once Adult Swim decided to pick up The Eric Andre Show in 2012, Beckles and Andre began working together in the writing room, and formed an immediate bond in their comedic sensibilities and creative goals.
This summer on their new joint venture, Mostly 4 Millennials, Beckles plays the host of a surrealist talk show aimed at Generation Y that’s brimming with product placement for fake brands, outrageous man-on-the-street segments, and excruciating celebrity interviews. M4M was born out of the ashes of a different project parodying corporate desperation in youth media called Totally 4 Teens, but instead skewers the vapidness that plagues content made for millennials. The show features a cast of sideshows including DJ Durst, played by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, whose role in the early 2000s as a pop-culture figurehead young people would emulate mirrors the atmosphere of M4M. For its first season Beckles tortures guests of the show—Joey Badass, Anne Coulter, Snooki, Steve Wilkos—in front of an obedient studio audience that feels like a cross between TRL and 1984.
Each episode is a dizzying barrage or pranks and social observations, cut from a similar cloth as the show’s predecessors. But through the sarcastic humor and apolitical antics it’s hard to tell, at certain points, the difference between the value of M4M and the value of content it’s making fun of. Beckles and Andre’s genius is apparent in their ability to predict dumb millennial trends before they even happen, like eating tide pods. But creating a show that involves making young people look stupid as a way to critique media that treats young people like they’re stupid feels like a stalemate for a millennial viewer.
Still, Mostly 4 Millennials is well-crafted comedy and an exciting edition to the network’s changing programing. To dig deeper into the shows creation and intent, VICE spoke to the creators in a hotel lounge in Lower Manhattan. There, we discussed their creative partnership, how to make a show for millennials, and the Kardashians.
VICE: What was your experience like when you first started working on The Eric Andre Show together?
Derrick Beckles: I was really excited to work on it. Eric and I were drawn through this very similar gravity. I was always intrigued with the talk show idea, and it’s such a rich format. But the great thing about working on it was, when I’m working on anything with Eric, there’s no translation needed. It’s almost telepathic. We started talking about doing the project, and I went to see him do a trial run of it live at UCB in LA. I trusted his instincts, but I had never written with him before. When the first thing that came out of his mouth was “This cannot be a parody of a talk show,” I just lit up. We were both like, “It’s got to be its own universe. We’re just going to make it look familiar, and that’s where it begins and ends.”
Do you feel like you’ve benefited in your careers by being able to work with each other, rather than having to work on teams that you feel alienated within?
Yeah that feels like being a square peg in a round hole.
Eric Andre: And we’ve all done it. We’ve had to work gigs where we feel completely alienated and isolated.
Beckles: You feel like a session musician. It’s difficult to be sincere. This is true sincerity when we’re laughing together or even just critiquing something.
Andre: When you work at it long enough, you find the people that are on your wavelength who have a similar aesthetic or a similar way of thinking or a similar worldview.
How did the pilot for Totally 4 Teens sort of evolve into Mostly 4 Millennials?
Beckles: The genesis of the idea was, on TV Carnage there was this Christian show with this set that looked like every-town USA that has a guy saying no to drugs.
Andre: Oh yeah, that’s one of my favorite TV Carnage bits.
Beckles: There’s this guy pantomiming smoking weed and there’s this horrible needle drop grunge music playing. It’s so beautiful because the kids are all trying so hard and they’ve got on these polite rave clothes—because they don’t want to get too rave-y. I would watch that show every week and I just tried to strap myself into the mind of a producer of a show like that. Then I started writing this idea for Totally 4 Teens. Even if a show doesn’t live it out loud all of the time, it’s great to just have those layers in your mind of who’s in control of the show in this universe and how would they do this. So it was a lot about corporate desperation and trying to be cool on television.
Andre: It’s kind of like Kids Incorporated—do you remember that show? It had a little bit of You Can’t Do That on Television, and a little bit of the schmaltzy sentimentality of Degrassi.
Beckles: And that ernest PSA type bull shit. It’s all internally ethically and morally super corrupt. So Eric and I were always talking about it. So we were working on The Eric Andre Show and I had a show called Hot Package , and we were across the hall from each other editing our shows. I remember one day we were just like “What the fuck man, I just want to do Totally 4 Teens again.”
Andre: But Totally 4 Teens kind of had a 90s nostalgic slant to it, and Mike Lazzo from Adult Swim was like, “I’ll pick it up as a series as long as you call it Mostly 4 Millennials and you make it feel current, rather than a 90s throwback.”
Beckles: Millennials are the version of that sort of 90s desperation now. I was going to call it “Only 4 Millennials,” but I thought M4M made more sense, and he was like, “I love it!”
With TV Carnage, you were cataloging the aesthetic of shitty television from the past, but with this show you’re sort of doing that with something contemporary. What was the research process for figuring out what a show aimed at millennials should be like?
Andre: This is what we did—if you go on Apple TV, the first few options are like YouTube and HBO Go and things you’re familiar with. But when you scroll down and you get past six Korean television apps and you go all the way down to Red Bull TV and Crackle and BuzzFeed TV, and you find these outer-stratosphere networks that you didn’t even know were networks. Their content is so piss poor. It's like they gave 14-year-olds cameras and millions of dollars and they’re just like, “Just film what’s in your refrigerator dude! Whatever!”
Beckles: I think one of the greatest things about writing comedy is being infuriated. All of a sudden these passions bubbled to the surface, and we were getting so angry watching this stuff.
Andre: There was one that was like, “Learn how to pack soda into your fridge four different ways!” If you pitch a show now and the network passes on your show, just be like “Look, this show about putting soda in your fridge made it to air. This is not fair, you gotta give me a shot.” [ Laughs]
Beckles: The one thing we didn’t want to do was make it like, “This generation is so dumb! When we were younger, we were smarter.” because, no we weren’t. But, holy fuck, on every level everything is as vapid as possible, and I don’t know that the people making it know that they’re being vapid. They think it’s relevant. Rome is like on fire right now, and we’re just toasting our weiner on it.
Andre: I think stardom and being a performer has its own inherent narcissism, but it was masked behind being a talented performer, like you dance really well or sing really well or act really well. You were a narcissist, but you had some talent to showcase. But now with social media, the talent to showcase is gone, and now everybody just has the narcissism to show off. The Kardashian’s are worth like $300 million, and they don’t do anything. So I think we’re kind of taking the piss out of that world, while at the same time, our cynicism is spread throughout all of the generations.
Were there any shows that helped inform what the show would look like?
Nick Cannon made Mostly 4 Millennials before we did! What was that Nick Cannon show?
Beckles: I think it was called Caught On Camera, and it was supposed to be about people who were caught on camera doing things that they weren’t supposed to. I remember watching that show and taking photos of it because it was shot on this try hard, putrid set. It was like everything that we had wanted to do for Mostly 4 Millennials. So I was taking pictures and sending them to Eric saying “Oh my God dude, Nick Cannon made Mostly 4 Millennials!”
What was it like working with Fred Durst on the show?
Beckles: He was great! He was very patient. We probably actually made him feel this way for real—but wanted to have a guy who seemed like he wanted to get off of the show. We wanted to create the feeling of this guy who seemed like he was in prison being on the show, and we kind of got him to that point in real life. He nailed it and he totally got it. I think sometimes he really had no idea what was going on—which was great too! That way he gave us the most honest reactions.
Under a conservative presidency progressive media often has to reaffirm it’s values and sometimes there's less room for nuance or sarcasm. Same goes for conservative media under a progressive presidency. Did you feel any pressure to change your comedic sensibility because of the state of things?
Yeah, people are always going to go against the grain of the current political culture that’s in the air. When they have something to say about it or they want to react to it, a lot of the times it’s just hyperbolic on both sides. There’s no sacred cause with the show, and it looks to some degree at all of that. I get mad at the liberal bubble. My character kind of blows in the wind politically. He’s an extreme on every level.
Andre: He just takes whatever buzz words are in the air on both side of the spectrum.
Beckles: We didn’t go out of our way to make a political statement necessarily, but at the same time I think the show does have a politic to it and it does, I think, capture where we are right now and the insidious nature of the situation. I just feel like everybody’s lost and looking for an answer, and everybody can give an opinion about something and everyone is afraid of what people’s opinions are going to be, so my character is kind of that guy. The current political scene—we’ve been in better times. [Laughs] It seems like a mad house and the bar is pretty low.
Andre: I think our comedy point of view has always been our comedy point of view. I don’t think Trump came into the white house and we suddenly changed how we approach comedy. But everything now is more hyperbolic feeling, at least. But that only fuels the comedy. We’re in the same world. I don’t think the world was one way the night before election day and then the 325 million people in America were radically different the next day. We’re all dealing with the same maniacs in the country. We’ve always dealt with the maniacs our whole life. Now the maniacs are just full tilt–they’ve always been there though. It’s not like they landed from outer space and they’re foreign objects. They’re just behind the wheel now in a major way.
Beckles: Everybody feels more empowered now. But the madness from within is on the surface now. It’s always been there, now it’s just like, “Open up the box! Let it all out!” I think that’s where we are now more than ever—people are just wearing it on their sleeves.
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