Casper Kelly, the creator of the biggest thing on the internet last week, "Too Many Cooks," says that when devising the wide-ranging parody's twisted plot, he aimed to break patterns. As soon as you got used to the video's repetitive nature, he wanted to throw at you something you weren't expecting.
"Too Many Cooks" broke many more patterns than intended when it went viral with supposedly no prompting from Adult Swim—it aired there at 4 a.m. on Oct. 31 and the following week, a third party uploaded it to YouTube. It defied conventional wisdom regarding short attention spans, managing to rack up millions of views with a runtime of over 11 minutes. Also, it's a smart piece of work that appealed to a wide range of people. How often does that happen on the internet?
I talked to Kelly yesterday about his reaction to the reaction, art, and the disgustingly watchable '80s sitcom Small Wonder. (For a more nuts-and-bolts conversation about the making of "Too Many Cooks," Vulture and Rolling Stone have you covered.) A condensed and edited transcript of our conversation is below.
Gawker: Besides its length, the unique thing about the success of "Too Many Cooks" is that it happened organically — it wasn't the product of a press release from Adult Swim, but from someone seeing something on TV and uploading it to YouTube.
Casper Kelly: I gave big props on my blog to the person that originally posted it. I think it's sort of the modern equivalent of when you'd pass around weird video tapes in the old days that you'd found somewhere. It's really exciting, and you're right, it was not designed to go viral. It was meant to sneak by at 4 a.m. and befuddle a few people who happened to stumble on it. It's thrilling, all this extra attention.
When did you realize that "Too Many Cooks" had become an event?
When it aired, we got like 20 tweets or something, which was awesome. I felt satisfied that our work had paid off. And then, I think that next Monday [it was Thursday, actually], A.V. Club [posted it], which was like, "Wow!" Then later that night, one of my producers Alex Orr said, "It's on Gawker, you're going to get a million views by tomorrow," and I'm like, "What!" And he was right. So, A.V. Club, Gawker, and then when Rian Johnson tweeted about it, that definitely got my attention. And Edgar Wright.
It's particularly exciting when something like this extends beyond its reach. At 4 a.m., there's a chance that "Too Many Cooks" could have gone ignored and unappreciated had that person not uploaded it on YouTube.
There is stuff I love that doesn't go huge, but it seems like usually it's available somewhere. So I wonder now if there's as much as that barrier. Honestly, it's over my head. I don't know why some stuff goes that way and some stuff doesn't, and I don't know if it's always because there was a link or not. It seems like usually there ends up being a link to most everything. It is a mystery to me. I don't know. What's your theory?
I don't know either. It's very well done, it explores sitcom tropes we don't see anymore, it uses repetition to the point of absurdity and then it goes crazy...I just think it's brilliant, actually. I think that's my theory.
Thank you, that means a lot.
"Too Many Cooks" deviates from sitcom tropes to incorporate other forms, like slasher movies. Why did you mix media like that?
It was pushing myself beyond my normal zone. I think this is something a lot of Adult Swim shows are good at: As soon as there was a pattern, I would break the pattern. Even when I shift genres, I could have gone farther than that. But you'd get tired of that. So that's when I went into a movie, which is a little weird. And I really love that middle with the credits following her as she's running for her life and when it gets really meta. You get to a pattern and break it: when the science fiction comes back, that goes back to the old pattern, breaking the pattern again.
I like the idea of taking cheese and making it art. I don't think this is a low art to high art conversion, but I do think you've taken something that is among the least artful audio-visual media imaginable—the vintage sitcom intro—and you made it into art. Do you see it that way?
I'm a fan of art and I'm afraid to say I see it that way, but the fact that you're asking this question is meeting my wildest dreams, yeah. I'm a big fan of Damien Hirst and installation artists and video artists and I'm very flattered. There have been some highbrow outlets that have been appreciating it, which is super flattering. I don't know if that was a good answer...
I know it's a hard question to answer because you don't want to sound pretentious or that you're taking yourself too seriously regarding something that is meant to be purely enjoyable. I see this as criticism, as well: you cite and explore tropes and then play with our expectations by deviating from them.
For my life...I think there's a component of somebody on the outside looking in and wanting to be on the inside and can't and that making them angry. Of wanting to fit in, in a way. I think that's something appealing to me, as well.
So, this is a wish fulfillment of yours to be playing with these tropes?
The killer is something outside trying to fit in in a way, and not able to. I don't know. I hate to talk about it too much.
There's clues in there that don't quite matchup. There's a lot you have to infer, which is maddening. I don't know if you listen to The Serial podcast. I'm obsessed with it, but they dole out the clues and you can't make it into a coherent story, but it's almost there and it drives you mad to try to fit it together.
That's the Lynch component, too, right? You have referenced him as an influence.
Yes, yes. And also, I think of [Shane Carruth's] Primer where he intentionally made some of it where the protagonists are in over their head and the audience is in over their head and it's not explained.
Regarding the intellectualization of Too Many Cooks, here's a comment from Know Your Meme that I want your opinion on: "The best part about this is that it was created by Adult Swim to air in the middle of their 4 a.m. Infomercials scheduling block just to mess with the sleep-deprived minds of anyone unfortunate enough to tune in at that time. They also created a few infomercial parodies (including the amazing "Broomshakalaka"), but whereas those were simply meant to be a bit of unexpected comedic relief, Too Many Cooks was created to make people question their sanity."
It's super high praise, but yes, I love it.
You're actually trying to fuck with people, right?
Yes, and... I worked intuitively, so I don't have it as intellectualized as maybe I need to. I tried to work on a feeling. I know David Lynch is a very big proponent of that, where he doesn't think about theme, but he just works intuitively on a feeling. Not to compare myself to him, but I admire him.
It is a strange, strange show. It's almost like aliens who observed earth tried to make a sitcom to appeal to earthlings and they made that show. Or it's like the guy in Men in Black who was made of cockroaches. It's like that guy is to a human being as Small Wonder is to a sitcom.
When they released it on DVD a few years ago, I watched the entire first season in awe. It's disgustingly bad, but it feels really good.
One other thing about it, which was a weird choice, was that they made the robot girl emotionless, which just sucks the air out of the whole show. They could have made her a robot with emotions or like Data on Star Trek. He's charming. What they did with her was a crazy choice. You'd think that would have changed after the pilot.
Were you disappointed at all that you couldn't see the full view count of "Too Many Cooks" after the video that was initially passed around was taken down for copyright infringement?
I have the middle number in my head. I guess it would be nice if they slid the numbers together, but I'm still happy. What am I going to say?
I know that you've done a lot within your career, but so far, it seems like "Too Many Cooks" is your defining work. Do you think you'll be satisfied if this remains the biggest thing you've ever done?
Yes, as long as it's not the only thing that I've ever done. I want to make a lot of stuff, but if that's the most successful thing, I'm happy with that. It'll be weird, but I'm happy with it.
[Image via Cartoon Network]