Weird is wonderful at Everything Is Terrible!
In what might be the ultimate statement on his fascination with pop-culture trash and treasures, Dimitri Simakis has a dream. That dream involves a certain Vancouver celebrity interviewer who’s famous for unearthing obscure facts and trivia from the past.
“I always get excited when I see a number from Vancouver because I figure Nardwuar might be calling me,” Simakis says, on the line from Cleveland, where he was raised. “I kept tweeting at him during our last tour, going, ‘You gotta come! You gotta come, Nardwuar! You’re going to enjoy this!’ ”
By “this” Simakis means his painstakingly assembled mashup work with Everything Is Terrible!, a video-blogging collective that got its start in Chicago and has since become an Internet phenomenon. Launched in 2007, watch.everythingisterrible.com/ was initially buzzed about for spotlighting fascinatingly awful clips from ’80s and ’90s VHS tapes that Simakis and his friends would unearth at garage sales and thrift stores.
Daily posts feature the worst infomercials, public-service announcements, and educational programs they’ve found cut up into rapid-fire videos. Think Girl Talk if Gregg Gillis worked with VHS tapes instead of vinyl and MP3s. For a good example of Everything Is Terrible!’s brilliance, take “We Will Fix You Tomorrow!”, which has an evangelical Christian preacher discussing a stash of her son’s gay porn magazines. As the clip cuts back and forth between some of the craziest ’80s bouffants ever assembled in one place, a middle-aged lunatic delivers lines like, “You will turn or burn,” “This is just a phase,” and “a nice white world where there are no homosexuals”.
Everything Is Terrible! has only become more ambitious over the years, cutting clips up to form full-length movies, which Simakis and collective members, including group cofounder Josh Olson, take on the road as part of theatrical productions. The latest, coming to Vancouver as the Two Head-Cleaners and a Microphone Tour!, are titled Comic Relief Zero! and Everything Is Terrible! Does the Hip-Hop! The latter splices together footage of hip-hop “artists” pimping products for infomercials. The former features comedy-special footage from over the years in which an endless army of standups (Jerry Seinfeld, Carrot Top, Don Rickles, Sinbad) explore weirdly similar comedy topics in five-second bursts.
“It’s actually a celebration of hate,” Simakis says with a laugh. “When you watch it, it becomes obvious that’s what most standup is: all about disenfranchising someone, whether they are black or Asian or whatever.”
Gathering the source material for such endeavours is half the battle, Simakis notes. And that battle is getting more difficult with each year. It used to be you could hit thrift stores and find home-recorded tapes of television specials sitting there in small towers. Not anymore.
“If you go to a thrift store that’s franchised, like Salvation Army or Goodwill, I don’t know this for sure, but it’s like they have a policy where it’s just store-bought VHS tapes. There’s less and less of the stuff home-taped off TV, almost like that stuff is filtered out and thrown away. And that is what’s happening—we’ve talked to people on the road who work in thrift-store warehouses, and they are like, ‘We throw out hundreds of tapes every day.’ ”
It’s touring, he suggests, that makes the work of sourcing material seem worthwhile.
“You spend months and months in your bedroom, editing room, office, or whatever, mostly by yourself,” Simakis says. “It’s not exactly a collaborative process, and normally, when you’re done, you don’t know if you ever want to see it again. But then you take it out on the road, watch people watch it, and it becomes really gratifying. Tours are like a celebration of all the hard work.”
He’s happy to reveal what Vancouver can expect from the Two Head-Cleaners and a Microphone Tour!
“The question was ‘How do we make these two movies seem combined?’ ” Simakis notes. “Finally, we were like, ‘We’ll make it into a seminar where it’s a corporate retreat and everyone in the audience is a shareholder in Everything Is Terrible! Incorporated. This is your entertainment while you’re waiting for the trust-fall exercises. I’ve been to those retreats, and they are a fucking nightmare, so I’ve always wanted to celebrate that. We have a whole story line where there’s a talking brick wall, a giant puppet comedian, and Josh and I playing versions of ourselves in suits that are wired to light up in the dark with giant foam boom-box heads that also light up.”
And what does Everything Is Terrible! hope to get back from Vancouver during its stop here? That’s easy: Nardwuar the Human Serviette, your presence has officially been requested.