In this seasonal series, the good people of Crossfader detail what they want pop culture to get them for Crossmas this year. This time around, it’s . . .
Wham City Comedy Getting a Blank Check
With the popularity of TOO MANY COOKS, many audiences became aware of Adult Swim’s 4 AM INFOMERCIALS time slot. This is where the Baltimore-based comedy, filmmaking, and art collective Wham City Comedy gained visibility for their Tim and Eric-meets David Lynch-meets-H.P. Lovecraft oeuvre. The collective, made up of Alan Resnick, Robby Rackleff, Ben O’Brien, Cricket Arrison, and Dina Kelberman, makes avant-garde, visceral satires on topics like technology, Americana, philosophy, futurism, and cults of personality. Through demented and tricky editing, deeply reflexive and creepy filmmaking, and aggressive blurring of the lines between horror and comedy, Wham City’s brand is proving consistent, effective, and growing in technique. No matter how alienating it would be, Wham City Comedy seems ready and eager for an even bigger break, and a grander scale from which to confuse audiences into terror and laughter.
I’d love to see what Wham City would do with a feature film or ongoing television show. Their reflexive, transgressive approach to cinematic storytelling has been staggering in the online arena. From the moment they held a YouTube “skip ad” button in UNEDITED FOOTAGE OF A BEAR’s allergy medication commercial until it morphs into a horrifying, violent psychological thriller observing the psychosis of overworked parents, it became clear that they’re thinking on a level ready to subvert zeitgeist through a strained smile and with gritted teeth. Look at the glitchy omniscience of the security cameras in THIS HOUSE HAS PEOPLE IN IT, and the subsequent existential domestic terror it captures with sickly indifference. It’s this kind of metaphysical, creative ambition that deserves, and even justifies, the likes of Blumhouse’s micro-budget horror format, or Viceland’s inherently explorative platform.
At the very least, get something like this in as a Neon short film
On the other hand, to funnel them into making a feature film or a television show feels cruelly limiting to their collective imagination. Consider the deeper efforts attached to their most popular short films, including augmented reality experiences that expand to multiple hours of interactive, mixed-media storytelling. Websites attached to UNEDITED FOOTAGE OF A BEAR and THIS HOUSE HAS PEOPLE IN IT lead to expanded narrative exploration, the former playing out like a horror flash game, complete with an inventory system. The latter, meanwhile, calls to mind the mystery box tension of early-LOST lore, providing hundreds of additional in-universe footage, audio clips, images, and even a literal flash game. Even the web design tracks aesthetically to the short film’s tone, keeping the prolonged journey within the same, unnerving milieu as the short films they spawned from.
Video essayist Night Mind has made exhaustive, detailed analysis videos for Wham City’s biggest projects, calling out the massive level of creative consideration taken into what are on the surface traditional short films and web series. These aren’t necessities for proving the worth of Wham City Comedy’s work, but they play like informational museum supplements helping detail the art itself.
I’d pay this guy to analyze my death at my funeral
Outside of the video realm, Wham City Comedy’s live performances are specific, absurd, and deliriously enjoyable. This past year, I saw them perform with vigor and confidence to a half-full dive bar. They ripped the attention of patrons in their directions with spirited bits about sentient video game characters, overzealous Best Buy advocates, and hokey cinephile bullies who are acting out only because their wives left them. Ben O’Brien put a hat that said “I am a Fucking Idiot” on my head, then sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” directly into my face. And they got laughs! It’s playful, giddily ridiculous performance that doesn’t feel desperate for its interaction, but rather impressive and daring. Alan Resnick’s happy-go-lucky clumsiness juxtaposed with body horror (freakishly long arms, face bandages, a whole lot of blood, etc.), Robby Rackleff’s sweaty, boisterous pontification skills that make Alex Jones look like a coward, and Ben O’Brien’s impeccable oddball pride are merely tips of the iceberg that house their even weirder media-based art. Like an Internet age The State, Wham City Comedy is a strong performance curio in both pure humor and comedy rooted in something much darker and scarier.
Here’s a snack-sized look at the kind of stuff they do live. It’s joyously strange
Ultimately, I’d love to see what Wham City Comedy would do with a budget. Let them go wild! Comedy’s most interesting voices today are shoving tradition and familiarity into a belt sander, and Wham City Comedy deserves to be near the front of that pack. They’re around on the fringes in ways people don’t even realize, from their collaborations with Super Deluxe to their involvement with Everything is Terrible’s Jerry Maguire Video Store exhibit. Similar to how Tim and Eric infected the waters of their field before they even became popular in the shallow end, Wham City seems destined to being indie darlings that will get even better, slow and steady, while inspiring the scene around them. But this Crossmas, I whisper into the independent, online culture magazine gods’ ears, asking to give them a chance. Whether it’s making a film or show, or some sort of website/video game hybrid, or even funding more live shows, these are the kinds of minds that deserve to prove themselves, and see their experiments get noticed, no matter how bizarre they get. But hey, I’m of the mind that FREDDY GOT FINGERED was a successful and admirable suicide bombing of sorts, so maybe I just want to see mainstream comedy and horror burn a little. Wham City ought to light the spark.