Every group of friends has that one guy. You know who I’m talking about – the one who sits quietly, nods politely and waits for a lull in the conversation before blurting out “have y’all seen that YouTube clip of Angela Lansbury touching herself in a bathtub?”
I’m that one guy.
Lansbury probably forgot she’d made the instructional tape (called Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moods) but I haven’t, thanks to the weirdos behind Everything Is Terrible! Everything Is Terrible!, or EIT! (the exclamation point is mandatory) is a group of video editors based in Chicago who run a website devoted to all things awesomely awful. I’ve forced many a friend to endure marathon viewing sessions of their clips, after plying them with copious amounts of booze and baked goodies of course.
For seven years, the EIT! gang have scoured thrift shops and flea markets for celebrity workout tapes, B-level kid movies and bad Christmas specials – the kind of stuff you’d find in a serial killer’s basement. The videos are then spliced and diced into three-minute nuggets of comedic gold and uploaded to the group’s official YouTube page.
EIT! compile their best clips into feature-length films (six so far) and tour North America in a creepy white van to promote them. Their latest live extravaganza, “Everything Is Terrible! Legends”, hits Vancouver’s Rickshaw Theatre on May 31.
The group counts Conan O’Brien, Snoop Dogg and Time magazine among their fans, and they’ve made celebrities out of some very unlikely people. Maryjean Ballner unknowingly became EIT!’s first viral star when they got ahold of her Your Cat Wants A Massage! instructional videocassette.
Ballner offers sage advice like “if you’re right-handed use your right hand, left-handers use left. Or, if you’re right-handed, try using your left and vice-versa. Good for you!” while her cat Champ stares down the camera in silent terror. The trippy clip has racked up more than four million views online and earned the kooky cat lady a spot on Late Show With David Letterman.
And then there’s the “Jerry Project”.
While digging through bargain bins for terrible VHS tapes, the collective would always stumble across multiple copies of Jerry Maguire. The 1996 chick flick was released on tape six months before digital killed the video star, and fans quickly replaced their VHS Jerrys with DVD copies of the film.
Out of pity, the EIT! gang started buying up the homeless Jerry tapes in bulk, and what started as a minor hobby evolved into a major obsession. They’ve accumulated more than 8,000 copies so far, and every stop on the group’s live tour has a Jerry donation box.
As one EIT! staffer puts it, Maguire “is the one movie every white person in America has owned a copy of at some point”. Apparently every white Canadian has owned a copy too, as my pals and I have collected almost 200 Jerrys to gift to the initiative (thanks, Value Village!).
I had a chance to chat with the group via email about their upcoming Vancouver show, their selection process and, of course, Jerry Maguire. Please note – the exclamation points are all theirs.
Your latest tour and DVD compilation is called Everything Is Terrible! Legends. What is the criteria to be an EIT! Legend?
We all have the potential to be a Legend! It is inside us all, but most don’t know how to tap into it! That’s where EIT! comes in! We’ll show each and every one of you how YOU too can be a Legend just like us and all of the awesome celebrities in our videos! There are so many descriptors that could be applied to a Legend, but they all fall short! Come to our show and feel it, that’s the only way to truly know!
Can you take me through the EIT! process? How long does it take to finish a three-minute clip, from yard sale to YouTube?
An EIT! video isn’t made like a normal VHS re-edit! That’s super boring! You know, some dweeb buys a tape from a thrift store, digitises it, edits it on a Mac brand computer, exports it, and uploads it to YouTube!?!?! Well, not us! Each of our videos are sourced from a magic spring in the Mojave Desert. Every single one of our tapes comes from that one source!
Then we load the tapes onto a “monotour”, which is similar but VERY different from a Minotaur. The beast hauls the tapes to our lair. Then we have our child slaves disassemble all the tapes into one pile of unorganised magnetic tape.
Then, when the moon is full, we eat seven doses of the spirit molecule and barricade ourselves in the cave of sorrows with seven birch twigs, seven virgin hairs, one stick of nag champa, and all the magnetic tape. We sit in silence, eyes closed, without motion, for seven days.
When we return from our journey, all of our videos for the next month are online. I don’t really get it but it seems to work!!!!!
Are you guys pot smokers by any chance?
You’ve made celebrities out of some very unlikely folk. Have any of them contacted you to say “ummm, thanks”? Or has anyone asked you to kindly knock it off?
We get a wide array of responses! We get a lot less negative feedback than we used to, as people are getting used to how the internet works! But yeah, we take down probably 5-10 videos a year when people ask us to. Some, like the cat massage lady, love it and start hanging around!
I’m guessing a lot of the footage you’ve used in past compilations is copyrighted. How do you get around that?
Copywhated? Never heard of it.
Videocassettes are virtually extinct – any plans to switch from terrible VHS tapes to terrible DVDs?
We love the aesthetic of VHS because that’s what we grew up with! And it has been the best insane source material but man, YouTube is the future! There’s so much wonderful junk on there! But yeah, we’ll use anything!
What’s with the exclamation marks, by the way?
We use exclamation points because we’re very excited and scared!!!!!
Yeah, same. Anyway, my parents can’t wrap their heads around the fact that I collect Jerrys to pass on to you guys. How do you guys explain what it is you do to your parents?
Hahaha yeah, parents just don’t get it man! My parents definitely don’t understand what we do, even after seven years of explaining it! It seems so simple to me! We need all of the world’s VHS copies of Jerry Maguire – what’s so hard to get about that? I really don’t see the difference between that and a bank that wants all of the world’s money.
I’d read that Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire‘s director) had planned to donate his personal copies of the film to put you over the 8,000 threshold. Did he make good on his offer?
He has not made good on his offer but we haven’t asked, so yeah, that’s probably our fault.
What happens when you hit 10,000?
When we hit 10,000, we wait for 10,001. Our plan right now is to buy a plot of land in the desert and build a pyramid out of them.
Your website is fantastic but your live shows are a whole ‘nother level of crazy. What can we expect on Sunday?
Legends! is our best show to date! It is fully interactive! We’re calling it “Choose Your Own Destiny”! Audience members actually do control what videos are played each night. We’ve had some really incredible audience reactions to the concept! Also, our costumes this time will literally kill your eyes! They are that good!
You’ve visited Vancouver several times over the years. What makes our city so special?
We love Vancouver! After our first time doing a show there, I think it was 2011, we were standing out front of the theater talking to the manager/owner. He was an older gentleman who I think was a little confused by what he’d invited into his venue that night. As we were wrapping up our niceties, a woman walked up and screamed “YOU TOTALLY FUCKED MY BRAIN TONIGHT!” It made us all very happy.
Tickets are still available for Everything Is Terrible! Legends at the Rickshaw Theatre on May 31. More information here.