The mysterious minds behind the cult video blog Everything Is Terrible! are once again taking to the streets of America, touring across the country and pressing the “Play” button on their own hilarious brand of pop cultural commentary. Since their inception, the VHS-obsessed amateur sociologists behind EIT! have spent thousands of hours combing through thrift stores, garage sales and closeout bins digging up the weirdest, lamest, most mind-boggling films, TV commercials, music videos, exercise tapes and motivational speeches for the edification and bafflement of future generations. In the process, they’ve produced several DVDs of their own, created bizarro media celebrities (like Maryjean Ballner, creator of the instructional clip “So Your Cat Wants a Massage?”) and amassed the largest single collection of Jerry Maguire tapes on the planet (5,607 and counting).
The Chicago-born group will hit Albuquerque’s Guild Cinema on Monday, Sept. 16, to show off their latest finds and perform a live show as part of the “Two Head-Cleaners and a Microphone” tour. The tour is built around two new compilation films. Comic Relief Zero highlights the stupidest, weakest, most cringeworthy collection of stand-up comedians ever recorded—including lowlights from famous faces like Jay Leno. (Who could forget his deft acting turn in the 1989 buddy cop comedy Collision Course? Not the people behind Everything Is Terrible!) EIT! Does the Hip-Hop, on the other hand, exposes audiences to the real birth of hip-hop culture (extremely white people rapping about reasonably priced hamburgers and other rightfully repressed moments from the ’80s and ’90s).
The seeds of what would become Everything Is Terrible! were first planted in 2000 amid a group of students at Ohio University, all of whom shared a love for bad movies. “It didn’t really get started until I moved to LA,” recalls founding member Ghoul Skool (who, like all EIT! members hides behind a secret media personality). Separated from his friends (and soon to be cohorts), Ghoul Skool started sending crazed movie clips back and forth. The activity snowballed, and the group began posting their video mixtapes to “this new thing called YouTube.” The competition to find weirder and more obscure clips became intense. “After a while, with the help of all our friends and all the other members who joined in, it became this daily thing,” says Ghoul Skool. “We realized, oh my god, we’re getting a lot of attention for these videos. There’s this whole world of insanity out there, and we just started tapping into it.” EIT! now has nearly 15,000 regular subscribers on YouTube, has been featured on Huffington Post, NPR and Boing Boing, and was named one of Time magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2013.
The goal of Everything Is Terrible!, Ghoul Skool explains, was always to create a DVD compilation and to produce a live show. But what would that consist of, the members mused. “We obviously don’t want to talk over the clips,” says Ghoul Skool. “It’s not really about us, it’s really about the clips and how we manipulate those clips. The thing I always say is, in simplest form, we take thousands of other movies and instructional tapes and home videos and whatever—this giant collection of found footage—and turn it into one movie. And we’ve been getting more and more experimental with what that means.” No doubt. The last film EIT! assembled was the mind-boggling Doggie Woggiez! Poochie Woochiez!, an epic recreation of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s psychedelic 1973 film The Holy Mountain using nothing but found-footage dog clips.
So how does EIT! decide to tackle a subject like comedy or hip-hop or dog movies? What motivates them to assemble a collection of clips and then head out on the road with it? “We have ideas in our heads that we joke about for a long time,” explains EIT!’s Commodore Gilgamesh. “And then we don’t even notice the transition when it becomes a real project—when we stop joking about it and are spending all our time sifting through awful, awful stand-up comedy.”
Though the group is famous on the internet, Ghoul Skool, Commodore Gilgamesh and their comrades regularly answer the call of the open road. “For us now, the movies and the live show are sort of one and the same. When we make a movie, we—at the very beginning—go ‘What’s the live show gonna be?’ That isn’t to say you can’t watch it on your own later. But we have a certain type of love for being at the theater presenting the movie. And beyond that not just saying, ‘Hello.’ We wanna make the live experience as immersive as humanly possible.”
So what sort of immersion can viewers look forward to on the Two Head-Cleaners and a Microphone tour? Ghoul Skool breaks it down: “We have two movies that we shortened for the purposes of the live show [Comic Relief Zero and EIT! Does the Hip-Hop]. We realized the only way to combine the two is to bring the audience into a seminar known as Everything Is Seminar! where you, the audience member, are now a shareholder of EIT! Incorporated. We have a new CEO who comes in and explains the whole situation. The simplest way to describe this show is it is a corporate retreat, and this is the entertainment that’s playing. This is the stuff you’re dealing with in between trust fall exercises and family picnics and stuff.” Among the non-film sights on this outing are a talking brick wall, giant stand-up comedian puppets and some rapping boomboxes. “Kid Robot [another EIT! member] and I play our version of what corporate hip-hop is,” explains Ghoul Skool. “We built these giant robot boombox heads, and we’re going to be live VJing. This is probably our most involved live show.” For EIT!, showing the film “is just as much fun for us as making the film—in fact, it’s more fun because we get to actually get out into the world rather than just sit at our computers editing all day.”
Commodore Gilgamesh, who assembled much of the comedy-related footage for this tour, is particularly looking forward to the group’s stop in Albuquerque—a place he called home for a brief, five-month stint. With its semiannual appearances, the group has been steadily building a fanbase at the Guild Cinema. “It’s been growing really nicely. This is, what, our fourth time coming to town? Every time it’s gotten bigger and just more enthusiastic. It feels like another home base, which is great.”
So do the EIT! folks ever get tired of playing media archaeologists, digging through the trash heap of popular culture looking for hidden gems? “If we didn’t want to stare at this stuff all day, we wouldn’t,” says Ghoul Skool. “We wouldn’t be obsessed with it. It really is sort of the garbage culture that surrounds us. Instead of hiding from it, which you can’t do—you can try, but it’s gonna find you in the end—we’re gonna cut it off at the pass and rip it apart in our own way and say, ‘OK here’s how we see what you gave to us all our lives. Here’s how we see all the garbage you spewed our way.’ And hopefully it keeps us sane a little bit longer.”