What kind of monsters would dress a child up like Adolf Hitler?
Luckily, such monsters do exist and even better, they've been given the opportunity to demonstrate their wicked brand of humor on TV with a program called Wonder Showzen. An evil parody of a PBS-style children's show, Wonder Showzen takes elements from Sesame Street, Teletubbies and Zoom and grinds them into a mean-spirited comedy sausage that makes fun of government, consumerism and religion.
In fact, the subversion of Wonder Showzen runs so deep, most TV viewers have never heard of it. Too hot for MTV, it remains tucked away on MTV2, where it has gained only a smidgen of press, ultimately depending on word of mouth and the occasional crackpot TV critic who discovers it totally by accident to champion its cause. And though the wit of this fast-as-lightning show cuts modern culture to the bone, it will never, ever, NEVER become as popular as its fans would like it to be.
Why? Let's take dressing a child like Hitler, for example. In a regular segment titled "Beat Kids," a 9-year-old reporter named Trevor (this time dressed like the German dictator) interviews unknowing adults on the street, asking them, "What do you think is wrong with the youth of today?" Shockingly, barely any of the adults acknowledge they're talking to a 4-foot-tall Hitler.
Wonder Showzen also interviews the kids themselves, asking questions like "What is love?" A typical response: "Love is something special between my dog's butt and the carpet." Old educational films of a child's visit to a farm are given the Wonder Showzen treatment as well, with children pointing to a pig and exclaiming, "Look! Hindu kryptonite!" Or pointing to a cow's udder being milked and saying, "I've seen my daddy do that in the bathroom!"
Regular segments also include a Muppet-esque cast of characters, including Chauncey, a fuzzy yellow puppet who regularly gets into a host of politically incorrect situations, including coercing oral sex, instigating race riots between the numbers "2" and "8" (a Jew and an Arab respectively), and flying to heaven in a spaceship to murder God. Horrifyingly enough, a cute-as-a-button child is almost always along for the dirty, filthy ride.
Yes, Wonder Showzen is the most morally corrupt, subversive and hilarious show on television. For those of you who don't have access to MTV2, the men behind the show hope to release all eight episodes on DVD later this year. For now, let's talk to the creators of Wonder Showzen, New Yorkers John Lee and Vernon Chatman self-proclaimed artists, rock musicians, television executives and sex-collective members for a little background on how a show this deeply disturbing could ever make it on the air.
Warning: Don't expect many serious answers.
How did Wonder Showzen get its start?
Vernon: You mean the most hated show in television? We made this eight-minute tape a few years back and shopped it around. Eventually the USA Network gave us money and told us to come back in six months with a pilot episode. So we did, and within five minutes maybe less USA canceled their comedy division as well as our jobs.
John: It didn't help that we tried to make it a heavy drama. But it really tackled some serious issues!
So how did MTV2 come to pick up the show?
Vernon: They're the most annoying network on television, and we're the most annoying people in television.
John: A marriage made in hell.
Vernon: Basically, we shoved it down their throats. Kind of a combination of shoving and charming.
John: It was a charming shove but even now, it's a struggle to get what we want on the air. The show we really want to make that has 100 percent of what we want would never make it on TV. It would be so raw, even we wouldn't want to watch it.
The raw style of Wonder Showzen seems to come straight out of public access.
Vernon: Well, thank you for that insult. Thanks for shitting on our hearts. And our baby!
John: Yeah, you just threw our baby in a Dumpster. How do you feel now, prom mom? We actually try really hard!
Vernon: People are always like, "If you shot the show using better cameras it would look nicer." True, but that would make our bad comedy less funny.
John: I think the analogy is that of kids finger painting. You're just happy that kids can throw something on paper. But if they're doing the same thing after going to art school, you'd be like, "Oh my god, that's horrible." So while our show may look like crap, we like to think of it as a simple pleasure.
Do you have any background in television?
Vernon: I'm one-quarter television on my father's side.
John: He can open a casino if he wants to.
Vernon: We've worked on various TV shows. We did Doggy Fizzle Televizzle [an MTV sketch-comedy show starring Snoop Dogg], and that's where we learned that puppets are much easier to control than Snoop.
John: A stoner puppet is always easier to deal with than a stoner dude. But children bleed more when you stick them.
Which of the following do you guys like to satirize most: religion, politicians or meat-eaters?
Vernon: They're all the same thing.
John: Jesus was the most carnivorous politician.
Vernon: It's all in good fun. We just make jokes and Jesus comes out.
John: You got to aim high for the low blow.
What amazes me is the controversial things that come out of the mouths of these kids. Do they have any idea what they're saying?
Vernon: What people don't realize is that these kids all have terminal diseases, and saying these things on television is their last dying wish. They're like, "You're the one who gave me cancer, so let us do this," and we're like, "OK" and whoopsy! We have a show. Sadly most of the kids don't live to see themselves on the air. But … there's always another season.
John: And there's always more invalid kids.
So that's how you find the kids? Trolling the cancer wards?
Vernon: Hey! It's fun to kid around and everything, but cancer is no joke. I don't know what kind of paper you write for, but cancer is never funny.
John: Actually, if cancer fell off a donkey while carrying a birthday cake, or if there was a giant man-size tumor that slipped and fell in some mud, then yeah … that would be pretty funny.
Vernon: Fine. Cancer is funny.
Do you guys ever get any hassles from the kids' parents?
Vernon: We have to jump through a lot of legal hoops.
John: We made all the parents watch the show. And when they told us they didn't want their children anywhere near us, we ended up going down to Guatemala and buying a bunch of kids.
Vernon: From a cigarette factory. Now we own 'em.
John: But they also end up owning us, in a way. Emotionally.
One of my favorite parts of the show is "Beat Kids."
Vernon: Well, we're just doing our best to try and get the message out there … you know, to beat kids.
Are there any topics you would refuse to bring up in front of the children?
Vernon: Like what?
I don't know … like donkey sex?
John: I'll have you know that donkey sex is one of the most beautiful things in nature.
Vernon: Why would you want to keep that from a child?
John: How do you think children are born, anyway?
Vernon: Luckily, we're taking advantage of the fact that kids are dumb. Except kids like Trevor; he's a superstar.
John: He doesn't have any legs or eyes, but he has a lot of heart. He's actually a giant, 38-pound heart.
Vernon: The kids have no context for what they're saying. And if they start to catch on, we use distraction. For example, we'll feed Trevor a line, taking it out of context, and when he starts to go, "Wait a second …" we'll start yelling, "Hamburger! Hot dog! Hamburger! Hot dog!" Then we throw a bunch of kittens on him. Before you know it, he's forgotten that joke about taking a dump on a nun's chest.
John: Our goal is to rip "context" a new a-hole and "situationalism" a new b-hole.
Where does the show go from here? Are you afraid of running out of sacred cows to slaughter?
Vernon: Yeah, I just realized that we have no future. We've shot our wad. Which is interesting, because not many people will admit it. We shot our wad, we're dead, we got nothing.
So you guys are a lot like M*A*S*H* in that way.
John: One good season, and then 12 to 15 years of riding the glory.
Vernon: Alan Alda's going to be the star next season.
John: He's going to be Grandfather Time.
(Wm. Steven Humphrey writes the syndicated column I Love Television; you can e-mail him at [email protected])