We Talked About Surrealist Anti-Comedy with 'Too Many Cooks' Creator Casper Kelly
Why does everyone love "Too Many Cooks" so much? We asked the video's creator, Casper Kelly, who said it has something to do with making fun of the things we feel nostalgic for.
Writer and cartoonist Chris "Casper" Kelly (self-named after Harmony Korine's character in Kids) is one of the writers, directors, and artists behind mainstream television's surrealist anti-comedy movement. You might already know his work on shows like Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell, Squidbillies, Harvey Birdman, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, along with a number of nostalgia-bending promos for Cartoon Network over the years. His most recent project, Too Many Cooks, just went viral a week after airing every night at 4 AM for a week straight on Adult Swim.
Too Many Cooks is an 11-minute long, fucked up, never-ending, 80s family sitcom intro montage that includes references to cop dramas, space sci-fi, and animated kids action shows. It melds different realities inside of a murder spree bizarro-world with, you guessed it, too many cooks. It might be the best absurdist parody of 80s television ever made.
VICE: What was the first thing you pitched for Cartoon Network?
Casper Kelly: Well, I've been with them since the late 90s. I got a job doing promos, and I think the first promo I did for them was the one where - well, there's two of them. It was the Harvey Birdman one where he accidentally pressed the self-destruct button trying to get coffee, and then another one with Fred Flintstone coming back from lunch with a bunch of other characters trying to find a parking space.
I distinctly remember that one from my childhood. So, looking at your work, between Too Many Cooks and Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell, it seems like you play with the idea of hell-like banality and degrading repetition, why is that?
I've always liked it, you know? I never saw it, but [I liked] the Andy Kaufman routine where he reads The Great Gatsby until everyone leaves the building, and of course Tim and Eric, I love their stuff so much. I like to mess with convention, like, there's a Stroker and Hoop episode where, you know in a detective show there's the classic scene where there's two bad guys are handing off a big suitcase of money?
Well in this one, they hand off the money but then he's like, "I need my suitcase back. You need to just take the money out". And the guy's like, "Well, what am I gonna carry it in?" "Well that's not my problem, you should've brought your own suitcase, this suitcase is special to me." You know, just playing with those clichés.
There does seem to be a sort of nostalgia "running off the rails" in some of your work, like the cross-universe promos, or the Wonder Twins redubs, just playing with old concepts. What is it about that style that's so appealing right now?
I don't know... I would almost ask you what your theory is.
Honestly, it kind of feels a little bit dirty to play around with my childhood memories like that, there's an innocence being corrupted.
Yes, I agree with you, but there is also something, like on Too Many Cooks, there's a feeling of... What am I trying to say? You can both remember something fondly, and look down on it ironically at the same time. You know what I mean? Like on Full House, yeah, I can look down on it, but it also makes me happy when I see it. It really does. It really enhances those two moods at the same time, which is interesting.
You describe yourself as dark and absurdist, the way Tim and Eric are. How do you walk the line of absurdity without getting too absurd and kind of irrelevant?
It's a tough question... I would argue that Stroker and Hoop and Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell are much more character-based, and they don't go as absurd as Too Many Cooks. Like, I think the character Jerry in Your Pretty Face is a very earnest person. It's just a classic setup of being a very good-natured guy in a job where he's gotta do things that are against his soul, which I think people can relate to. So I think that as an absurdism, that's more a relatable human situation.
So then, in terms of something like Too Many Cooks, how do you balance that line? You said in another interview that you didn't want to just add characters all the way through because that would be boring. Where is that line?
That is a great question, and it was a scary sort of "closing your eyes and jumping" situation. When we shot it, I just shot as many ideas as I could, hoping it would work. We spent a long time in edit, because we were doing it around our other shows. We had the luxury of a year editing off and on, and we could really mess with it, and bring people in and say, "Does this work [or] are you getting bored? When are you getting bored?" And we'd go back and readjust it to try and get that feeling. But it's tough, it's tough. You know, it's like that whole gag of when David Letterman repeats something and its funny, and then it's annoying, and then it's funny again, it's a hard to figure out that line. But we worked on it hard, and hopefully it works.
Well, clearly it did. When did you think of it?
Must have been a couple of years ago, and I even sat on it because I didn't think it would work. But I told some co-workers about it, like the guy on Squidbillies, Jim Fortier, and at a work party he told my boss, Mike Lazzo, and it made him laugh, and I thought I could maybe do this. I was nervous the whole time until we sent it in to air the day of. My boss sent me an email, saying it was "F'ing great," and he's a tough sell. I framed that email. I printed it out and framed it.
How much did the concept change since you pitched it?
I'd say it was 70 percent there, and I kept adding stuff just to be safe we had enough.
How much did you cut?
A little bit, but not very much. There were a few things we cut because they didn't quite fit. Like, in the end credits, you know when you watch a big sitcom in the ending credits there'll be a squeeze credit and they'll say, "Hey! Be sure and stick around for the next show, Two in the Bush, where Chloe has her hands full!" and then there's a funny soundbite. I had something like that, but I decided it was funnier to rush out of the ending credits before there was time to react.
So, I noticed that William Tokarsky, the murdering hobo, is also in the intro to Your Pretty Face. Did you double up on talent from any of your other shows?
Yes, he plays a demon, he was an extra, we liked him and we gave him lines and he's an actor now. Let me think, yeah, the guy who gets stabbed on the tennis court, he's a demon named Benji, and Mary Kraft is the doctor, the female doctor, she plays Krystal on Squidbillies. And after doing Too Many Cooks, we started using some of them on the new season of Your Pretty Face.
Did you cameo in it at all?
I didn't, and I wish I had.
How many shows did you end up having to watch for research?
Oh man, I'd say like 20 or 30. A number of them I'd never even seen. Small Wonder and Family Matters were a big influence. Small Wonder has a weird stiffness to it already, and Family Matters seems like if you took every sitcom and averaged them together it'd be the Family Matters intro.
Who did the music?
Two guys we use to do our shows. One is Michael Kohler, who does the audio for Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell and Aqua Teen, and then Shawn Coleman who does the audio for Squidbilles.
Who were you childhood influences?
Mad magazine, back when it was a magazine. Marvel Comics, DC Comics, David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick. Oh, and Gary Shandling! His first sitcom had a great intro with a song making fun of the fact that it was an intro.
Have you considered that there's probably going to be a porn parody called "Too Many Cocks?"
Yes. I'm not sure I'll watch it, but the idea makes me smile. I'll see if James Deen has a Twitter and ask him.
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