In which a freshly laid off freelance dirt freak memorializes Super Deluxe, the corporate-owned niche content factory that was shut down last week.
Employees of the Super Deluxe channel went to work last Friday morning expecting the usual deadlines, and left less than three hours later with no job, no warning, and a single final post across the channel: a short video proclaiming “Nothing was ever real.”
Have you ever been to a house party where everyone just lost their job without any notice? It’s actually more fun than you’d think.
So for fans who are asking themselves why the channel shut down—“It seemed like so and so series was doing so well!” some said, “Four million subscribers!”—to my knowledge, it’s a frustratingly simple reason.
“My goal at the beginning was to make online videos for people who hate online videos, and we never pandered to our audience or treated them like idiots,” former short-form video head Dimitri Simakis wrote in an Instragram post eulogizing the company. “Of course that meant the old white men at the top never quite understood what we were doing, but in a way—that was the point.”
That’s more or less it—late motherfucking capitalism and a Christmas bonus for some asshat executive. I know. I wish the answer were more interesting, or more conspiratorial, or that I could write one long piece about how a single person ruined a small corner of the internet that felt like a place where experimental ideas could be realized and young creatives could find their voice with a little (and I mean a little) funding from Time Warner (later acquired by AT&T). To take down the thing that killed Super Deluxe would be to kill the reason it existed in the first place—some asshole’s money.
Okay, I’m depressed, let’s talk about something nice. Have you seen Dimitri’s work with Everything is Terrible? It’s the best. Okay, moving right along.
I worked at Super Deluxe as a cast member and writer for over a year, met my two creative partners, sometimes struggled within the bureaucracy (“Jamie’s face just isn’t right for looking at, can we have her write jokes for the Fat Jew instead?” will be ringing in my ears forever), and found comfort in the creative team that protected us and the hardcore fans that always tuned in. They worked with people they liked, and it showed in the work. Director Stephanie Ward (who would go on to create Thrift Haul and the vagina turkey and is the truest friend) saw me eating dog food onstage in east LA once and asked me if I wanted a job. We were shooting two days later, and my job was to get an onscreen blood facial for a small day rate. A little dystopian? For sure. But a little dystopia feels all right in good company.
SD was the sort of place you could get eight leeches thrown on your body onscreen one day, then still have a blood-absorbent diaper taped to your torso the next day while buttchugging a gallon of milk on a livestream. No, I was not paid very well to do this, but yes, they were my ideas and ones that I was proud of. Ideas that would have been rejected for being too dumb or dangerous or experimental happened there constantly, even in the face of constant shutdown speculation. There was a legal department, and they stayed busy. It was exciting.
“There was a really cool stretch in early 2017 where it was basically a purely experimental Wild West,” says Michaela McEttrick, writer and creator of the platform’s most popular character, Tabasko Sweet. Her show Cheap Thrills, a DIY series showing viewers how to make streetwear knockoffs, built out an impressive mythos and amassed hundreds of millions of views. “I was learning so much and making a living off of making freak shit with my freak friends.”
And while there was a lot at Super Deluxe to love—Vic Berger’s political videos that virtually shaped the media landscape of the 2016 election, the psychotic livestreams (the telenovela in particular), a full-blown reality show made for only a few thousand dollars with Thrift Haul, the Joanne the Scammer series, Ben Seeger shows, a beautifully shot sex ed show that should be shown in every middle school called Sex Stuff from director Megan Lovallo—Tabasko Sweet and Cheap Thrills is the perfect example of how a channel like Super Deluxe can go extremely right when creatives are given a chance to try shit out and find their voice.
“Cheap Thrills started as an internet joke to create a conversation about materialism and exclusion and grew into the sweetest, most wholesome community I have ever been part of,” McEttrick continues. “I think Tabasko Sweet connected to audiences in a major way because he demystifies clout and internet elitism through humor and positivity.”
McEttrick and her friend and collaborator Nate Contreras (both of whom, the author should note, are my frickin boys) built the character from nothing and managed to speak not only to Super Deluxe’s existing fanbase, but a group that far exceeded it—mostly kids, and grew the company along with it. Tabasko’s character was gentle, encouraged his viewers to accept each other and reject the price tags of what most companies would try to sell them in favor of making their own, and made people feel good without choosing a target. For the majority of the project, the company didn’t interfere with where Michaela and Nate wanted to take it, leaving us with true cursed classics like the Vetements sneakers episode and the god-level Gucci flip flop truck. That’s a pretty fucking extraordinary thing to have done, and not something that happens through the audience testing and guesswork that most short form companies employ.
So before we bury Super Deluxe in the grave that it was excavated from only three years ago, allow me to paint a picture of how a conglomerate can kill a beautiful thing using Tabasko as an example. From the bottom upward:
1. A young, othered legion of fans found comfort and community around…
2. a character that was a joint effort between two young creatives…
3. which was managed and monetized by the elder millennials of the company who were managed by…
4. their elder Gen X’ers that served as Super Deluxe corporate and the middlemen for…
5. the execs at Turner, who were employed by…
6. the execs at AT&T, who aspire to..
7. overturn net neutrality and decide who gets to see what on the internet.
Selfish people are, on occasion, able to fund the creation of something beautiful that makes a kid feel less alone, but only by accident. Once they find out that making a person feel less alone doesn’t guarantee a financial kickback, it’ll go away.
That’s the bitch motherfucker thing about the internet, and the world by extension. Even places of “free expression” are owned by someone, and that someone is usually more interested in a Christmas bonus than the jobs of nearly seventy-five creatives and a small legion of underpaid freelancers. Super Deluxe is hardly the first of its kind to go die at the whim of experimental content not being profitable enough to justify its worth to its financier, but it’s still painful. And, not for nothing, it is the only experimental platform that has been killed twice.
Here’s the reason Turner gave for shutting down Super Deluxe last Friday morning in Deadline, less than an hour after its whole staff was given the news:
“Turner is proud of the unique brand Super Deluxe has built over the past three years, and the cutting-edge content and innovations this incredible group of very talented people has made,” the company said in a statement. “However, there are now massive changes in the social and mobile-first ecosystem and duplication with other business units in our new WarnerMedia portfolio. Super Deluxe found inspiring ways of connecting with a new generation and many of their best practices will be adopted by other Turner properties as we redirect this investment back into our portfolio.”
This, of course, is bullshit. There is no “duplication” in the WarnerMedia portfolio. There’s someone’s bonus, and they’ll have it. But Super Deluxe lived for a short time, and that’s something. I’m happy it existed, and that I got to be a small part of it.
Now I don’t know what I’ll do to be a dirt freak on the internet—maybe I will take the suggestion of the executive who will never want for work, cut my own face off and write jokes for The Fat Jew. God.
Nothing was ever real.
Postscript // The Super Deluxe Directory
For fans of Super Deluxe who don’t know where to find the creators, writers and talent of your favorite series that were still active now that they’re shuttered, here’s a quick director. See who made what you like and continue to support their work—at least, until AT&T chips our brains or whatever the fuck. Find more at firstchristmaswithoutsuperdeluxe.com.
Dimitri Simakis (short form head)
LSD (Live Super Deluxe): Cyrus Ghahremani (executive producer, creative head)
Cheap Thrills: Michaela McEttrick (creator, writer)
Nate Contreras (Tabasko Sweet)
Thrift Haul: Stephanie Ward (creator, writer)
Fat Tony (host, incredible musician)
Sex Stuff: Megan Lovallo (creator)
Zoe Ligon (host)
Robot Takeover: Rich Dorato (director)
Jamie Loftus (writer and host, also hello)
On Blast with b3nj@m: Ben Seeger (creator, writer, host)
Taylor Merillion (co-host)
Memesplaining: Emma de Valle (writer)
Cat Frazier (host, also meme artiste of note at @itsanimatedtext)
Turnt Beauty: Michaela McEttrick (creator)
David Steifel (host)
Foodland: Allen Cordell (creator and writer)
Kiera Please (host)
Director alums: Cal Hanlon (directed Joanne the Scammer), Rill Causey, Scott Ross, Dillon Hayes
Jamie Loftus is a comedian, writer and social media victim of the International Olympic Committee. She’s the creator and star of the Comedy Central online original series Irrational Fears. You can find her some of the time, most days at @jamieloftusHELP or jamieloftusisinnocent.com.