Zach Cregger of the ‘Whitest Kids U’ Know’ on the Troupe’s New Sci-Fi Film
The explosive sketch comedy group reunites to finally make that movie they’ve been meaning to make.
Dark, disruptive, rebellious, blue — just a few choice words that describe sketch group The Whitest Kids U’ Know. Between their Molotov cocktail of a comedy show that went for five seasons on IFC and slew of viral videos in the late 2000s, WKUK’s spot in the comedic canon is etched in stone. With fearless sketches like, “Sex Robot,” “Gallon of PCP” and “I Want to K*ll the President” (filmed while Dubya was in office), it’s easy to see why they’re still hailed as one of the edgiest sketch groups to ever do it. Over the past decade, the troupe’s no holds barred approach to humor has garnered them nothing short of a cult-like following. Now Zach Cregger, Sam Brown, Timmy Williams, Darren Trumeter Jr. and Trevor Moore are back to deliver on a promise made almost five years ago: A Whitest Kids movie. Or their second depending on if you count their marijuana soaked historical drama, The Civil War on Drugs (which aired in ten parts on their show) as the first.
I talked to Cregger about the forthcoming film, how the entertainment industry has evolved and why it’s okay to laugh even when the world is burning.
I keep seeing comments about how you guys coming back together is basically the best thing to happen for comedy in 2020 (laughs). How does it feel to see such a positive response?
I mean, I’m going to be really honest. I think we all were really taken by surprise by the overwhelming response because I tend to think of Whitest Kids as something that was like, a while ago. I know that it was a cult classic but it never really broke through to the mainstream. And so, you know, when something doesn’t make a big splash like that, you just kind of don’t assume that it’s anyone’s favorite show. And then as soon as we started up again, there was this overwhelming love and support that has been great. It’s been honestly very, very emotional for I think all of us. People have been immediately ready to hang with us on these streams and put money towards this movie that we’re trying to get made. I wonder how much of it has to do with just the circumstances of 2020 and how much of it has to do with maybe time. Maybe we needed a little time out to come back and have this sort of thing.
You guys are running some really fun shows on Twitch right now and uploading new YouTube content. Tell me about what you guys are planning for those two platforms.
There’s kind of three tent poles to what we’re doing. The first is a role-playing campaign that we call “Buckerson & Meyers.” It’s just the five of us who have never played any sort of role-playing game whatsoever, trying to stumble our way through a very long, complex game. It’s chaos. It’s filthy. It’s ridiculous. It’s stupid, but it’s really, really fun. Every episode is around an hour and we upload one every two weeks onto YouTube and that’s gotten a big response. On Twitch, Trevor and myself do “Newsboyz” on Friday nights — we try to avoid the news as much as humanly possible and then get together and talk about all the news of the week from a very ignorant point of view. We hope that people watching will feed us some [news] story, give us perspectives that we didn’t have and try not to piss people off. It’s stupid. Everything, by the way, is stupid. But this is probably the dumbest show that we have. And then on Saturday we do what’s called (laughs) “Self Suck Saturdays” which is all about Whitest Kids where we just go back through our library of sketches from the TV show and we’ll interact with any fan that’s watching. It’s a lot of watching videos that chat wants to watch, looking at fan art from the role-playing campaign and giving each other a hard time.
Why 2020 to reunite and start doing things again?
I think part of it is like, we wrote this movie a few years ago as just like [a] labor of love without any real consideration that it might ever get made because it’s such a crazy, wild movie that takes place on different planets. It’s the kind of thing we always thought we would shoot live action and it would just be this huge thing that we were never gonna get the funds for. And then this year we had the idea that it could be animated. We thought, “It’s going to be so much better as an animation.” And then we realized that that’s going to cut the budget by, you know, a tenth. And we have the tools with Twitch and with YouTube and all these online places where people are making money. And if there’s a chance that our crowd will connect with it, maybe we could raise the entire budget and we wouldn’t have to sell it to a network or someone that would have creative input. And it could be 100 percent our vision. I think we’ll be able to pull it off.
It’s kind of a running joke that every year fans ask you guys, “Whitest Kids movie? Whitest Kids movie?” As much as you can share, what is the film about?
What to safely say without pissing my partners off? (Laughs). It’s a science fiction movie. The title is Mars. It’s a sci-fi. I can say this: it’s similar to our other movie, The Civil War on Drugs with how it follows the same characters kind of on this wild adventure. This is that. So it’s not a sketch movie like Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life sort of a thing. It’s one story following five characters on a journey that goes from Earth to Mars and it’s broken [down] just like Civil War. We’ve written it to be broken into ten 10 minute chunks. So you can either view it episodically or you can view it as one 100 minute feature film. And I think that the plan would be to kind of decide when we’re done what’s the best way to release it. Maybe we’ll go the film festival route and then maybe there’s a way we could sell it online as an episodic thing. But I think that’s about all I can say at this point (laughs).
You guys have been working on this for so long and there’s been this big time gap, do you feel like it has to live up to these expectations since people have been waiting for it?
It’s a little daunting that we are having people help out. Some people have donated a considerable amount of money on it. And it’s like, damn dude, if this movie sucks like, we’re letting people down. We really gotta, we gotta make this thing good. But I think that we will, I think that the heavy lifting is the writing and that’s done already.
It’s been a crazy year. We have a pandemic and protests and it’s an election year on top of all of that. What would you say to somebody who thinks that nothing in the world is funny right now?
I totally hear you. I think, you know, there is so much room for despair (laughs). People are just so disappointed in the state of, at least the United States, and the catastrophic leadership, and the catastrophic climate events and obviously, there’s a plague upon us. I kind of feel like in a weird way, when things are so serious, it makes these little outlets that we have for ridiculousness so much more important. And in a strange way, and maybe this is gonna sound psychotic, but it’s almost easier to laugh in these moments — briefly. When you’ve just been through a trauma, something that’s not that funny can occasionally just like, spark the relief of laughter. And I do think that if you can’t laugh at something horrible then what the hell can you laugh at? Some of those things need to be laughed at. I do think that it’s a very natural and necessary human response to [want to] vent in a positive way. Hopefully we’re creating a space for people to do that. I think I’m particularly sensitive in 2020 to our name.
I’m glad you brought that up, I didn’t know if you wanted to get into that or not.
I do think it’s worth mentioning. You know, when we started in 2001, the Whitest Kids U’ Know was so obviously self-deprecation that it didn’t need any caveat or explanation. It was like, “Oh, they’re clearly saying they’re the nerdiest kids you know.” And now in 2020, where there’s a very real white supremacist presence in the United States, it suddenly feels like we have to be like, “Hey, just so you guys know, our name, Whitest Kids, that’s just us making fun of ourselves.” Our name is now a little bit more of a raw nerve than it ever could have been when we started. We’ve never loved the name in the first place and it’s like, God, maybe we need to jettison it. But then how do we reach our existing audience? It’s a difficult, difficult conundrum. It’s kind of so sad that we have to consider that in this day and age.
I know it’s lame to ask your thoughts on, “the state of comedy” but as we move through the end of the year, what does comedy in 2021 look like to you?
I think it’s a question that everyone is asking and I don’t know if anyone really has the answer. Comedians can’t travel and do stand up [right now] so I think places like Twitch and YouTube Live are just gonna become a bigger and bigger part of the menu. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s pretty cool that you get to interact with your audience in real time. It’s like…making a television show, putting it on the air and then waiting for a reviewer to tell you how good it is…now you get to just do it with chat. I’m trying to think of any other sort of Renaissance that’s taken place in the past. So we went from vaudeville, right? We went from vaudeville where everyone was entertained by traveling theatre troupes. That’s how everyone took in comedy and drama and all these things so it was a very intimate, small sort of a space. And then with technology and television, everyone watched the same three channels for decades. And then that started to fracture into cable. And that fractured into now where everyone has their own YouTube channel, whether you’re a 13-year-old kid or a movie star. It’s just continually splitting. It’s kinda trippy.
Back when you guys were filming the show, is there a sketch that you remember everyone really enjoying? One where you guys couldn’t get through and had to do multiple takes?
Trevor out of all of us is the one that would crack up the least. Except for one sketch that he just couldn’t get through. It took us fifteen takes — it’s not even one of our popular sketches. In fact, I think it’s pretty obscure, but it’s called the Huggins Family Auto Dealership and it’s about a kind of loser, middle aged man who’s forcing his two bitter, teenage sons into appearing in a local car dealership commercial. Trevor and Darren played the teenage boys and Sam plays the goofy dad and there’s this one scene where Sam (laughs) — I’m gonna laugh even doing this — where Sam is singing this jingle that he’s clearly written that’s terrible. The jingle is like, (sings) “Because here at Huggin’s Family, we treat you like…family!” Trevor laughing was putting us way over schedule and we were starting to have to plan, “Are we going to have to cut the next sketch? Like, we’re going to have to start chopping scenes here.” Now I look back and it’s one of my fondest memories of the whole show. But at the time it’s like, “We’re in a war here against the sun and you’re killing us dude, come on!”
Was there a specific moment when you guys felt like the hard work had paid off? Was it when you landed the show or when you saw it air for the first time? Something else?
The moment comes but it’s always so anticipated that you never have that, “jump for joy” feeling. You know what I mean? And it’s daunting [that] as soon as you kind of get a win, it’s immediately accompanied by another new terrifying hurdle that you have to leap. It’s a little bit of a cynical, depressing way to describe a career in show business but nevertheless, the case for many people is that you never have that moment of unbridled joy that you, “did it.” And if you do, it lasts about ten minutes and then you realize the awesome responsibility that comes with that moment. You get a TV show and then it’s like, “Are we going to be canceled?” And then we get renewed and then it’s like, “Can we pull it off?” And then you’re right back into the, “Are we being cancelled?” until eventually you are. No show goes forever. We did have the good fortune of doing that show as five, pretty much best friends that liked being around each other. We were really blessed.