I interviewed Sam Brown of the Whitest Kids U Know the day after the Super Bowl. Knowing he is a Cape Cod native and hardcore Patriots fan–and that people tend to drink more with disappointment– I was surprised to find him less hungover than I that following morning. One of the founding members of the W.K.U.K. comedy troupe, I met Brown a few years back during his time hosting a monthly comedy night at the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge before moving to LA.
Though the Whitest Kids’ IFC television sketch comedy show has come to an end, the troupe is taking their comedic stylings on the road. The following is the unedited interview, (parts of which appeared in the Boston Metro) previewing their recent Boston show and film premiere later that night.
A big thanks to Sam’s brother, Nate Brown, a comedian in his own right, and a friend who gave me some “in the know” questions as we tried to get dredge up some real dirt on the comedic troupe.
Nolan Gawron: So how is everything?
Sam Brown: I’m doing pretty shitty considering.
NG: Were you guys all hoping for the same outcome in the game?
SB: Ah, no. I was rooting for the Pats. Darren’s from all over and he’s the only other sports fan, so he was rooting for the Giants. I’m pretty sure Zach was rooting for the Giants just because it would get me mad. Part of it was that he lived in New York for a while, but I think it’s because he knew it actually mattered to me.
NG: What does a W.K.U.K. Super Bowl Party consist of?
SB: Well, you know, this one was pretty mellow. We went over to Trevor’s place and we watched the Patriots’ game. We got really, really high.
NG: So, your brother is my boss now., He’s running me ragged, so I’m a little out of it.
SB: I’m sorry, that dude’s a dick.
NG: Can you give us a brief history of how the gang got together?
SB: Yeah, I met Trevor in college by going to comedy shows and talking to him at our dorm. Then Trevor kept telling me we should start a comedy troupe and I said, yeah okay. So when we were looking for members, Zach was a guy I knew who lived two doors down from me, and he noted that he acted. For a couple of years we were a school club and had 11 people and we did a couple of shows. About that time we met Timmy on 9/11, he also lived in the same dorm as us. We were all getting out of college and we wondered what we should do as a troupe. At that time it was the four of us. Once we were out of college, we got a residency at Piano’s in New York. That’s where we went from being a college troupe to having the tone we have now.
NG: When did you officially become the Whitest Kids?
SB: That was when we were in college. We probably would have changed the name, but we’re pretty lazy. We’re not huge fans of the name and people often ask us where we got our name and we all have different memories of how it came to be, but it’s not a great story. It’s like when you’re a dude named Engelbert. You wish you could have changed it. After some point you get successful, so your name is Engelbert.
NG: How have the amount of cast members expanded or contrasted since the beginning?
SB: Not recently. When we had our college group it was 11 people. After college we shrunk it to four and then added the fifth. It’s been that five ever since.
NG: How has moving to LA changed the dynamic of writing?
SB: LA’s a good place to write. New York is a good place to grow and to do shows. I don’t think we’d be the same troupe if we were doing weekly shows in LA. New York is more about going out. LA’s a bit more about having room. A lot of people have couches out here. It’s good for writing and clearing yourself of all distractions. It’s nice to hunker down and get working.
NG: What do you see yourselves more as? Sketch writers for TV, or standup comedians or has your focus changed over time?
SB: Well, we’re doing sketch and we’re trying to adapt our humor into longer forms like movies. We’re doing more live shows now, which we haven’t done in awhile and that’s how we started out. We had to shift from that to the TV mentality for a while and now we’re shifting back to our roots.
NG: What does the live show consist of?
SB: The tour is sketch comedy. It’s like our early shows. They’re really raw and very little props and costumes. If we’re a woman in a sketch, the audience has to just buy us as a woman. But that being said, one of our strong points is we use the stage really interestingly. Many times our sketches are spilling out into the audience. A lot of the times, the thing that’s on the stage is not what you’re paying attention to. We challenge the audience a little bit, but I think that’s what people are really looking for. They’re looking to be a part of it all.
NG: What’s the writing process for you guys? Do you write alone and bring it to the table or do you write as a group?
SB: Together definitely. That’s what we’re about to do right now. I’m actually driving over to Trevor’s place right now. We sit around and we brainstorm. A lot of times, the sketch ideas that we come up with start with someone who has an idea with a certain premise and then someone else will take that idea and take it to a new level. We build off of each other.
NG: You don’t have any outside writers like most TV comedy shows, right?
SB: No, we’ve been really bad with working with outside writers. We’re like ‘we have to do this ourselves, we figured this out’. We might start doing that, and there are two sketches in the live show written by other people, but that’s about it. We’ve worked with other writers before who have written funny sketches, but they just weren’t our thing.
NG: Would you say that the group has a leader?
SB: Yes and no. Trevor does a lot for the group, but he doesn’t necessarily have more of a say. Trevor directs, but so does Zach. Trevor’s in the center of all the pictures, but he’s also the tallest. I think the reason he’s seen as the leader is of his own doing. He’s written a bunch of his own sketches. All in all though, it’s a committee thing.
NG: Is hanging out with a group full of comedians actually fun or do you get sick of each other?
SB: We totally get sick of each other, but yeah, it’s fun. It’s good to hang out with people and know what their comedic sensibility is, and don’t have to worry about offending them. I think we’ve created a safe environment for us to be comfortable and funny. You have to do that in the writing world as well. You have to know when you’re taking something too far and know what the line is. A lot of times we say some inappropriate stuff, but we’re surrounded by people who know there are no bad intentions and know where you’re coming from.
NG: You’ve said you’ve never seen the movie you put out. Is that true?
SB: Which movie?
NG: Well, how many are there?
The guys have seen Miss March. And we’ve seen Civil War on Drugs, which we’ll be screening at the Brattle on Friday at midnight after the show. It’s around 90 minutes. It’s something we shot as part of the show during the last season and edited it into the end of each show. It’s one story. Miss March is not a Whitest Kids movie. It’s something Trevor and Zach wrote. Timmy, Darren and I did some promo stuff for it and we were specifically not in it because we wanted to hold onto what a Whitest Kids Movie would be. Civil War on Drugs is a Whitest Kids Movie. It’s a story about two guys in the Civil War who think the Civil War is about legalizing pot. We think that’s what the battles are over. So we’re trying to make our way to President Lincoln to legalize it. It’s fun. It’s a weird history comedy.
NG: What was the deal with Miss March as far as how it was conceptualized and how it was perceived?
SB: I say that Trevor and Zach wrote it, but it was actually a script that got brought to them and that studios were interested in. Their attitude going into it was that it was a challenge and see if we can do this brosef comedy thing. They made it their own. It got a lot of crap– and no it’s not the best movie, but it’s not as bad as everyone said it was. It’s a hard R comedy and a lot better than a lot of this other stuff that’s out there like Hall Pass. Those movies are awful. But I think there are some genuinely funny things in Miss March.
NG: Is the IFC show over?
SB: Yeah, but we are trying to write new stuff and come up with new ideas for new shows. Sketch comedy is exhausting. You have to come up with so many sketches for each show. I think IFC and the Whitest Kids both agreed it might be a good time to stop.
NG: Your brother Nate had a couple of questions as well….
Nate Brown: Do you guys prank or play practical jokes on each other?
SB: No comment.
NB: Why are you guys so mean to Timmy?
SB: Because he’s from South Dakota.
NB: Does having a TV show make you millions and are you rich?
SB: No, not at all. In fact, every once in awhile, I’ll get invited to a screening at an agency. I went to one of these for Cedar Rapids. I remember walking out and there were valets bringing everyone’s cars out. There was a black BMW, black Porsche, black Mazerati, and then my white 2000 Jetta with a huge yellow dent running up the side. I feel bad for the valet for having to pull that one out.
NB: Do you have any regrets about the TV Show?
SB: Yes, being late for doing our own DVD commentary. I forgot to set my alarm on my phone and woke up exactly when I was supposed to be there and woke up to messages by everyone asking if I was there. When I got there they had just finished doing the first season.
Nolan Gawron: Who is the most important person you made laugh?
SB: Dustin Hoffman. I think he laughed. We were at the Spirit Awards and I made a joke and mentioned Phillip Seymour Hoffman and his father Dustin Hoffman and he referenced it later on in the show. That was one of the coolest moments ever. Fucking Dustin Hoffman!
NG: Who has the best laugh in the group?
SB: Timmy has the most distinct laugh. That’s the one I can pick out in a crowd.
NG: So you’re doing the tour and you said you have other shows in the works?
SB: They’re all in early stages so if we’re lucky maybe one will get made. Me and Trevor are working on something for the SciFy Network. Me, Trevor and Zach are writing things that we’re shopping around and we’re trying to make movies, low budget movies.
NG: Was it your decision of IFC’s to end the show?
SB: It was ultimately their choice to not re-sign us for another season, but at that point we were ready to take a break from doing a sketch show. Whenever you write sketches it’s inevitable that you’ll think of an idea that you think is really funny and then you realize that “The State” did it or “Kids in the Hall” did it. It sucks but you just throw out your work and go back to the drawing board. There are so many sketches out there and you try to write so many that it’s bound to happen. Eventually though it got to the point where I would find myself pitching ideas that I would realize we already did. I don’t know about the other guys, but for me that was big part of wanting a change. We’re going to keep writing sketches for our live stuff and hopefully be writing movies and other tv shows. But for me, I needed a break from writing 100+ sketches every year to put on TV.
NG: How did you enjoy your experience with IFC? And how did it differ from your experience with FUSE tv?
SB: IFC was cool. Having it be uncensored definitely helped and when we went from Fuse to IFC it felt kind of like we were graduating. None of our friends watched Fuse when we were on it, but when we moved to IFC it was cool because it was like we weren’t just a show for teenagers. When you do fart jokes it’s hard to get taken seriously and being IFC really helped. Also it was fun to be the show before they show Reservoir Dogs.