Brad Neely is the face of comedy in the internet age. His deadpan sense of humor and penchant for beefy irony spurred the creation of the legendary festival-short-gone-viral “Cox & Combes’ Washington,” which led to a contract with Adult Swim for a passel of similar online mini-cartoons. He also worked as a consultant for the second half of Season 11 of South Park, runs the comedy website Creased Comics, and is currently shopping some ideas around for a television show of his own.
His magnum opus, however, predates this impressive CV: the web sensation Wizard People, Dear Reader. The self-professed cinephile (he’s maxed out the 500-movie limit to his Netflix queue) recorded a totally unauthorized redubbing of the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the vein of Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? Neely acts as Wizard People’s main, and only, character: a gravel-throated, overeager book-on-tape narrator prone to grandiose prose and bombastic similes. J.K. Rowling’s young wizards are transformed into burgeoning alcoholics, and Neely frequently uses riotous non-sequiturs magnified by their lack of resemblance to the events on-screen.
The well-documented legal skirmishes with Warner Bros. over Wizard People left Neely a little tired of discussing the project, but he agreed to talk with Paste about his inspiration for the parody, and his take on the need for effective cultural satire. Neely says that Wizard People isn’t an ode to the Harry Potter books or mythos (though he enjoys the movies). Rather, it’s a commentary on our obsession with what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. “Here’s another one of those stories we keep telling ourselves,” Neely says. “I felt like it would be really fun to satirize our love and acceptance of them by playing a character who loved it a whole lot more than he should.”
For Neely, Harry Potter is another retelling of the rags-to-riches fantasy, given biblical flavor by virtue of Harry’s demigodlike power. “It’s like if Pip in Great Expectations found out that he was the second coming of Christ,” Neely elaborates. “Surprise, Pip, it’s you! Here’s a lot of money, and you can save everyone. It jumps right over ‘You’re going to be OK, you’re going to have a job’ to ‘You’re going to decide whether people live or die.’ That’s hilarious, and that’s everywhere.”
Wizard People’s iconic moment, Neely’s description of the “destroyer of worlds” bellowing “I am Harry fucking Potter,” is funny for reasons that run deeper than the ironic profanity. The movie’s (and thus, the book’s) tropes and clichés are so obvious, so omnipresent that we have to laugh when the not-so-subtle subtext is exaggerated and blown up in our faces. It’s the bedrock mythology of America, a fable that needs far more consideration than it’s given. That’s Neely’s hope anyway, that we “can be aware of it while being entertained by it. The fear is that people might just be laughing at the ‘fuck’ words. The irreverence, or the weirdness of the project. You hope that people are like, ‘OK, you got me!’”
At issue is the need to recognize where the dividing line lies between fantasy and reality, a distinction increasingly blurred by an entertainment-saturated society. “Nothing, no art, is a good comparison to life,” Neely says. “Life is so huge that art, even good art, is a stupid little shadow-puppet show. If you think that 2001 is on the same level as 1941, then it’s all silly business and everything’s up for grabs.
“Deconstruction, that’s my favorite process, tearing things apart. There’s nothing more fearful than erroneously sound architecture. It’s very dangerous, because that shit can crash down on top of you.”
And like any good post-modernist, Neely knows when to turn his critical eye inward. “After we’ve talked all this big talk, I want people to remember I am just making a bunch of yuk-yuks and dick jokes and stuff,” he says. “I’m definitely part of the plane I’m trying to shoot down.”