There is a particular fear for some interviewers when it comes to getting time alone with Adult Swim personalities. As a place for experimental comedy (and occasionally experimental… experiments) it is not uncommon to wind up try to hold a serious conversation with the star of a show only to find you’re only going to wind up trapped in the dialogue equivalent of a hostage situation with the character they play. That hostage situation can be fun if you’re willing to play, most of the time. A bad back and forth is a rarity, but it happens, and that is obviously what happens when you roll the dice on talking to an antagonistic concept that hates formal structure. So, before this interview, there was a tightening in my stomach, because Derrick Beckles is nothing if not an antagonistic concept.
Beckles has a bizarre history, stretching back to the mid ‘90s when he created TV Carnage. It was the first experimental visual torture long-form essay comedy of my generation, and Beckles is often off-handedly credited with inventing YouTube; an assessment he mostly accepts. Since then, he’s worked at Vice and helped create Vice TV, where he did incredibly dangerous journalism. Over the years, he’s also had smaller shows and a failed pilot at Adult Swim, which he led with very character based brutalist satire. And that hits its pinnacle with his new show Mostly 4 Millennials, which premieres Sunday, July 1 at Midnight on Adult Swim.
Derrick Beckles, playing an only slightly heightened version of himself, takes on a nightmarish god-like TV host role in a show produced by Eric Andre and sharing much of Andre’s signature “go big or go home and then go much bigger” style humor. There’s a studio audience foaming at the mouth and bits that feed on the talent as if they were bloody meat in a lion’s den. And butt-stuff. So, of course, there was something to fear in my blood, when I thought I was going to wind up interviewing that Derrick Beckles. Instead, we had a down to earth back and forth where we got into the weeds about corporations, Nazis, unqualified guests and being on a show that couldn’t happen if Beckles wasn’t his own greatest influence.
Paste: What do you consider a Millennial to be?
Derrick Beckles: Uhhhh. The greatest generation.
Paste: What industries are Millennials actually destroying?
Beckles: The beef industry. And the porn industry; no one buys porn anymore because it is free.
Paste: What industries do you hope your show will encourage other Millennials to destroy?
Beckles: Probably any generation that is non-Millennial. Any non-Millennial generation is its own industry and I’d like to see that destroyed.
Paste: What was the process of developing this new show?
Beckles: Eric Andre and I have a lot of demons. We like to exorcise them. We sit down in a room together and make each other laugh while channeling energy and then we write it all down. It comes naturally. For one or two people, the entire season will be incredibly dark, but I personally don’t think the show has any dark moments. It’s a really funny and important show, I think. We don’t go out of our way to be dark. We do like to comment on things that are already dark, and we harness the energy of that darkness, and you can mistake that for being in allegiance with something dark but it is quite the opposite.
Paste: Are you at any loss for dark material in this, the year of our Lord, 2018?
Beckles: There’s a lot going on. We were kinda asking for it, and we got it. It’s kind of like a spanking. We just turned our brains off for a long time, and that’s what happens. Somebody comes to visit. And now we have a visitor.
Paste: That sounds incredibly dark. You have this history of doing journalism based in—so in high school you were interviewing local white nationalists and then at Vice you were profiling Nazis and you had this multi-decade arc where you were pointing at America and saying “Look, these assholes are still here and they’re consistently feeling more empowered.” Do you feel any sense of “I told you so” about where we are now? Any resentment that no one was listening to you?
Beckles: Part of me knows that people gravitate to certain things because they’re desperate and part of me knows that this kind of thing could happen to anyone. A psychological directive can start in anybody if the stars align properly and I wanted to kick the demon out of the closet a bit? Just to show that this can happen to anybody. Actually, these people are more average than not, and I wanted to pull the boogeyman out of them but more importantly, my interacting with them was meant to hold a mirror up to that boogeyman and show them—look, nothing was going to be a magic bullet here. People become—god, I’m going super serious but okay—I think people assume because they don’t hear about something that people don’t have those issues. If you’re a guy and you don’t hear about women’s issues you don’t assume that they’re having a hard time until, you know, you’re better informed. And so many people can presume that kind of thing about race or gender or sexuality because if you’re cut off from what’s happening it is very easy to say “Oh come on, we’re better than that. We’re beyond all that now.” You have to work at being better. Assuming anything about people, including people you don’t agree with, becomes dangerous.
Paste: Do you think the Millennial generation will shut down Nazis once and for all or do you think that we’re losing a big chunk to places like 4chan?
Beckles: It’s like being at a bus stop. Everyone is just yelling their opinions at each other. But no, I don’t think we’re going to wipe out an entire way of thinking. I think when people are on the internet, no one understands that it’s a lot of people blowing off steam and being weird and trolling them.
Paste: How far is your character of Derrick away from who you are?
Beckles: For us, the show is how about desperate corporations get. This is about throwing Millennials into this misguided corporate attempt to use them to make products cool. My character is like a dictator and my audience is my kingdom and that’s how I treat them. I’m an Overlord of Cool but the Emperor wears no clothes, obviously, and I’m just insane. It’s just desperation.
Paste: Your history of programming at Adult Swim has been very much based in skewering the fake corporate cool of the time. Totally For Teens was a twisted Total Request Live and Hot Package was a weird Entertainment Tonight. Do you think it’s important to come out and attack the concept of marketable cool every few years when something new is at its peak?
Beckles: As a teenager I started making TV Carnage and I would boil down hundreds of hours of TV in a visual critical essay. The thing that I always found interesting is that, as humans—look at actors. There are so many actors who are not good at acting and there are so many people in media who have programs who are bad at that job. When you boil it down, what makes this so interesting to me, is that they’re simply bad at portraying humans. And they are humans. We just generate so much garbage and I find it fascinating. Entertainment shows are insane, because I thought people like that are stalkers. “As you know, Brad Pitt hates having toast in the morning and the color purple makes him nauseous.” How do you know that, unless you’re an insane stalker? And our new show is an extension of that because everyone wants to make wild generalizations about what Millennials are. It’s obsessive.
Paste: In my freshman year of college, my friend Ross had TV Carnage DVDs and it was mind blowing to me because you were doing hour long video essays on a theme but you had to absorb the entirety of this unpleasant experience to put that essay together. How did you put those together, just technically? How did you organize all of that footage?
Beckles: I had hundreds of hours of VHS footage that I transferred directly and just learned the footage. I would have these pillar ideas that I could build the compilation around to fill in the gaps. Some of it was planned and some of it was serendipitous. I’d do a sketch before I did a painting. Each one was a bizarre journey; an acid trip where I took myself there.
Paste: Via TV Carnage you built the visual language on which Adult Swim was based. So they built a lot of that off of you and then they bring you in from time to time now. Is it ever weird to you that what you made in your bedroom in the mid ‘90s now defines what an entire generation thinks comedy looks like?
Beckles: I thought we were headed in this direction but I had no idea how fast or how pervasive it would be. In the last ten years it ramped up. I see TV Carnage online now in ways that people don’t know that it is TV Carnage. People use it as memes and stuff. I love it, but people also don’t know where anything comes from anymore.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.