Inkhole Interview

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In July 2004, Matt Chapman was interviewed by The Inkhole.

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Offensive content Warning: Language that may be considered offensive by some readers follows.
To view a censored version of this page, see Inkhole Interview (censored).

The internet used to be a pretty uneventful place. A guy who dressed up in Peter Pan costumes gave viewers a half chuckle before thinking, "I wonder if that CBS sitcom with the laugh track is new tonight." And let's not forget the dancing .GIF baby that caused the world to collectively smash their computers and go back to handwritten letters. Fortunately, Mike and Matt Chapman (aka The Brothers Chaps) stepped into the web ring and declared, "Let's try to not be crappy." Their animated site, Homestar Runner, has proven to be one of the internet's shining pit stops since its debut in 2001. The site's popularity continues to grow as millions of adults (perhaps while they should be working) and kids (perhaps while they should be mowing my lawn) flock to the site daily for a weird and wacky dose of an armless simpleton, Homestar Runner, and his shirtless antagonist, Strong Bad. Consistently funny, fresh, and (f)entertaining, the Brothers Chaps are here to stay, simply by showing us what amuses them. I caught up with half of the duo, Matt Chapman, at a bar for some insight into their whirlwind fame. Matt drank cola. I had sweet tea with lemon in it.

INKHOLE: What did you order?

MATT: Onion straws.

INKHOLE: And they're actually like straws?

MATT: Sort of. They're not rings. They're fried onions, but not in ring shape, so... Dismantled Awesome Blossoms.

INKHOLE: Alright, are you ready?

MATT: Yeah.

INKHOLE: This is my first time.

MATT: Mine, too.

INKHOLE: Okay. Your name is?

MATT: Matt Chapman.

INKHOLE: And you are?

MATT: Uh, feeling pretty good.

INKHOLE: Good. You do a site called Homestar Runner.

MATT: That's true.

INKHOLE: And what do you do there?

MATT: I do a voice and I draw.

INKHOLE: I haven't actually seen the site, but someone told me it's pretty good.

MATT: Yeah, I hope so.

INKHOLE: Can you give me the gist of it?

MATT: A bunch of crazy animal characters run around and make fun of each other.

INKHOLE: Like squirrels?

MATT: Ah, no. Not so much squirrels.

INKHOLE: It probably makes the kids pretty happy, I bet.

MATT: I hope so. It makes them buy hooded sweatshirts sometimes.

INKHOLE: Those jerks. Do you do push ups?

MATT: Not regularly. I've done them.

INKHOLE: How many push ups do you think you can do in one sitting?

MATT: Uh, I don't know. A couple hundred maybe.

INKHOLE: Really?

MATT: I don't know. Drop down and give me twenty is standard, right? Seems like twenty is easy. Definitely a hundred.

INKHOLE: Honestly, I could probably do eighteen before stopping.

MATT: That's not true. You could do more than eighteen. Push ups, right? Not pull ups.

INKHOLE: Right. I dare you to give me twenty push ups.

MATT: Right now? {gets on the bar floor and proceeds to do push ups}

INKHOLE: Okay. One, two... How many is that?

MATT: Sixteen... Eighteen... That's twenty. {stands up and sits at table} On second thought, I think I could do maybe forty or fifty at the most. The very most.

INKHOLE: My turn. {gets on the bar floor and proceeds to do push ups} Nine. So pathetic.

MATT: That was great, though.

INKHOLE: I've been working on a website at work and my boss says to me, "Hey, I've got this magazine. Maybe it'll help you do the website." He gives me How Magazine and I'm looking through it. This is, like, two years ago and there's an interview with you and Mike in there. I was like, "What the hell is this?"

MATT: Yeah, that was very cool, because it's neat whenever we hear from designing people. It's awesome to hear from anybody, but it's validating to hear from the hipster design-y super artsy people. It's cool.

INKHOLE: That wasn't a question. I was just telling you what I saw.

MATT: I know. I was just telling you.

INKHOLE: Thanks for answering my non-question.

MATT: {laughs} Sorry.

INKHOLE: Anyway, my point is that there are a lot of Homestar interviews out there. You probably get the same questions all the time.

MATT: It's pretty standard. They ask us how it started and this and that.

INKHOLE: Is there anything people have never asked you, but you've always wanted to talk about?

MATT: I don't know. I guess I like telling stories about how I made salt and cheese sandwiches when I was a kid, and I threw up. And then slid in my own puke.

INKHOLE: You really did that?

MATT: Yeah. I was, like, seven or something. But that's the sort of thing where if they ask, "Oh, did you ever get into any mischief as a kid?" I'd be like, Oh, great great. I get to tell them the salt and cheese story. So maybe that's one. Occasionally people will ask, "Do you and your brother fight?" And we just say, "No." They don't really go into that enough. There's some good Mike and Matt childhood stories. Nobody really asks us about being kids so much. I think that's more interesting than anything you could ask about my adult life.

INKHOLE: He probably beat the shit out of you all the time.

MATT: There's a good one where I accidentally clocked him in the eye. It was full on. He was on top of me, choking me or something. And I've never really punched him in the face, and I just reared back. Gzshhhh. I sort of stunned him, because I think he never believed I'd actually do that, and at the same time, I had totally cold cocked him. I mean, I remember I stunned him just long enough that I ran out the front door and kept running halfway through the neighborhood. I never looked back. I was terrified he would be there.

INKHOLE: How old were you?

MATT: I was probably ten or twelve and he's three years older than me. So he would have been fifteen or something. I remember thinking that I'd have to lay low for a while and let things cool off, because Mike's gonna beat the shit out of me whenever I go home.

INKHOLE: Has anyone ever asked you something completely inappropriate during an interview?

MATT: Um. No. Would you like to?

INKHOLE: No. I was wondering if anyone caught you off guard and asked something, like, when you lost your virginity.

MATT: Yeah. I've never been asked that.

INKHOLE: So when did you?

MATT: Oh. Uh, like a couple weeks ago.

INKHOLE: {laughs} So the site, which is what we're here to talk about. The site is Homestar Runner, but obviously Strong Bad became the focus.

MATT: He became the most popular. Yeah. He became the thing we updated constantly with any regularity.

INKHOLE: Do you have any plans for a spin off site, or perhaps another site unrelated to Homestar?

MATT: We have ideas. Nothing that we'd be ready to go with. As far as spin off, we've got ideas.

INKHOLE: I could picture something like Teen Girl Squad. It's voiced by Strong Bad, but other than that, it's unrelated.

MATT: That could have its own. Right. You could do that and not have anything to do with Homestar Runner. Same with the new Cheat Commandos. It has nothing to do with Homestar. It looks like the Cheat, but it's not his normal personality. That could make its own weird thing.

INKHOLE: Are there many outtakes that exist?

MATT: There's outtakes. We rarely will get through an entire scene and say, "Let's not do that." We'll write stuff. We'll record voices. We did one where we recorded it all and then I went out of town, so Mike ended up doing the bulk of the animation. I guess when we were recording it, it was hard to tell, but Mike starts animating it and says, "This is going to be an eight minute Strong Bad email. That's inexcusable." And so he cut out scenes. It's not like on The Simpsons and there's outtakes cut because of censors or whatever. For the most part, our outtakes are just recorded audio. Usually if there is something like that, we'll put it up later as a Quote of the Day thing or fit it into another cartoon. The jokes on the site can pretty much be in any configuration. You can take a joke from one cartoon and put it into any other, pretty much.

INKHOLE: So you record the audio first and animate to that. Do you sometimes animate and then do voice over?

MATT: No. It's much easier to do the audio first and then listen to it frame by frame and animate it.

INKHOLE: What are your favorite moments on the site?

MATT: It changes all the time. The Cheat made a cartoon recently and there's a part where Strong Bad and The Cheat give each other high fives in space. And then an alien floats up. (laughs) And then when it leaves, the alien gets all sad and it plays this generic '80s space noise. And he turns old. That cracked me up to no end. I could watch Nebulon crying and moping away forever. Mike just did that. That's something you wouldn't see in a script or whatever we wrote for it. That's definitely up there. What else? It's all the shit Mike does. There's one where The Cheat guest animates a Strong Bad email. Oh! It's when Strong Bad is cartwheeling and he cartwheels over a bunch of buses. And then Bubs pops up and it's Mike doing a terrible Bubs impression. He's like, "Hey Strong Bad. You jumped over some of my buses." He sounds kind of like Fat Albert. It was the sound of Bubs if he weighed eight hundred pounds. That was great. So pretty much any of Mike's stuff cracks me up.

INKHOLE: Do you two write actual scripts?

MATT: We write stuff out, but it's ideas more. Sometimes we will write dialogue if there is one particular thing we don't want to forget. When I'm recording it, we'll usually deviate in some way. I was watching this one early Strong Bad email from back in the day, and the entire email was one .WAV file, one piece of audio with no stops and no editing. Obviously we changed. The format has evolved and gotten more complex as we go on. We turned [Strong Bad emails] into mini-cartoons, whereas before it was much more of an advice column. It's pretty funny to watch those where we'd have no script and Mike would be like, "Here, pick an email," and I'd just sit down and record it.

INKHOLE: That raises another question. How many emails does Strong Bad get a day?

MATT: We get between two and five thousand a day. Because of the web server people that we use, we had to start keeping only three days at a time, and then it just dumps them. There's a lot of spam on there obviously, too. There was definitely a peak maybe last summer where there was eight thousand a day, which was ridiculous. We usually look through a hundred at a time and just try to find something that strikes us. It's funny, though, because occasionally we want to make a Strong Bad email about this, and we'll just do a search on our email program for that. We'll just be like, "Shit! We've got this great idea for a Strong Bad email. Look up one about ghosts." And of course, there's ten emails about ghosts. We get emails from people that say, "How can I get my Strong Bad email picked?" It's totally luck of the draw. But even in that case, if you wrote about Dangeresque, there's a hundred other people that address it, too, and we're still going to pick at random. It's everyday hilarious and ridiculous to think that that many people are emailing this cartoon character.

INKHOLE: If you're finding an email at random, what catches your interest? Do you go by the subject line?

MATT: No. We actually will read the emails. Occasionally if a subject line seems funny, we'll read that one because of the subject line. But for the most part we just arbitrarily go through and we'll read a set of twenty, then scroll down and read another twenty. It's just sort of in your brain. You read it in Strong Bad's voice, and if he starts talking after it, then it's the email we'll pick. We have a "good ones" folder. It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to do that email, but it seems like it could go somewhere. We try to keep it pretty recent where we pick one written within the past three days or whatever, so that dude's going to see his email up there, which we want. We do still have emails from years ago, but those people probably don't even like us anymore and are never going to see it, so...

INKHOLE: How far in advance do you work? If we see a Strong Bad email this week, how long ago was it created?

MATT: If you see one this week, we're going to do it tomorrow. {laughs}

INKHOLE: So you work week to week?

MATT: We try. Definitely.

INKHOLE: You don't stockpile.

MATT: No, no, no. We've never been able to get any kind of backlog going. We try and start looking on Tuesday for an email, and then hopefully have it written and recorded by Thursday or Friday so then we're just animating all weekend. Fifty percent of the time we do that. The other fifty percent, we just pull an all-nighter and put it up Monday afternoon or something.

INKHOLE: How much drinking goes on when you're making the website?

MATT: Not as much as it used to. We used get a six pack of High Life and that was how we did the emails and stuff. But we've got an office space now that we go to.

INKHOLE: I thought you worked out of home.

MATT: We did for a long time. Now we're in an office. There's no windows, so it's good to lock ourselves in when there's twelve hours of animation to do. We just go in there and don't leave. That's a good point; we need more alcohol. When we were working from the apartment, we'd always have the TV on. We'd be watching Match Game or the old Batman TV show or Saved By The Bell. We'd also have a couple of beers and we'd be in the same room. It was easy to come up with stuff. There's no stimulus or stimuli in the office, which is unfortunate.

INKHOLE: I'm going to stop a second and eat some onion straws.

MATT: I just had a couple.

INKHOLE: These are good.

MATT: It's good batter.

Inkhole: On a scale of one to two, how often do you get recognized on the street?

MATT: Zero. The first time ever that I was recognized by sight was last weekend. I was in the Mexican restaurant right there. {points across the street} Lucky Yates (a local theater talk show host) had me and Mike come on his show, and this guy happened to be at that show. This is really weird, because like I'm saying, this is the first time it's ever happened to me. I go and sit down to eat and this guy just walks up and holds his phone up to me, and it's got a little Homestar Runner wallpaper on it. He was like, "I love what you do," and went and sat down. He didn't really say anything, and I just started eating. It wasn't until after I got done eating that he came back over. Other than that, unless you live in Atlanta and have seen us, then there's no reason to recognize us.

INKHOLE: That's good, though. I think.

MATT: Oh, definitely. The few times we've talked to fans in person, it's cool because we usually just get emails and we don't get to meet a lot of people. But at the same time, it's weird, too.

INKHOLE: You're giving back to the community.

MATT: Right. Exactly. We were going to do a thing with Mike and the Homestar puppet. Mike is the perfect straight man to the Homestar puppet, but he doesn't want to be on the site, because he doesn't want to be recognized. I don't know. Not that he assumes that would happen, but he doesn't even want to take that chance because he's really weird about that sort of stuff. Mike and the Homestar puppet just hanging out is the funniest shit ever. It's great. Mike's amazing. I think we've been able to remain fairly anonymous. I did get woken up at eight o'clock in the morning. Some guy found my cell phone number somehow. He makes pillow cases and wanted to make Homestar pillow cases or something. I was just like, "It's eight in the morning and my wife is trying to sleep." I tried to lay it on as thick as possible and make him feel guilty. It's funny because he got my number, and this is impossible, from the alumni association. I thought back, and I never gave them my current cell phone number. I go, "Well they're not getting any of my money." He was like, "No! I don't want any of your money. I'm not like that." I was like, "No, no, no. The alumni association is not getting any money." He was like "Ha, ha yeah," and then went back into his pitch. I was like, "No, no, no. I'm going back to bed." It just seems to me that even if he was just a business man and had a business proposition, what businesses open at 8 a.m.?

INKHOLE: Maybe he was in England.

MATT: {laughs} I keep going on tangents.

INKHOLE: No you don't. This is good stuff. Let's never leave.

MATT: Let's do more push ups.

INKHOLE: Have you been hounded by TV people?

MATT: Not hounded. We've had lots of offers.

INKHOLE: You're not interested?

MATT: It's not for what we're doing. Like you said, if one day we decide that Teen Girl Squad would make its own funny little short, then we'd do that. But right now, the fact that we do this for a living is insane. I'd just like to ride this out as long as possible. And at the end, if it's falling apart, I still wouldn't be like, "Okay, let's sell it to Nickelodeon." We probably would never do Homestar Runner in that respect. We talk to a lot of people that would potentially be good to work with, but it's just not for us. Hopefully if we're doing something else, those people will like that, too, and we'll get in touch with them then. I know people are probably like, "You're stupid. You should do it. It's a huge opportunity." But for us, like I keep saying, the problem is that if I was doing nothing and still working at Earthlink, yes, okay, that would make sense. But we're making a living making a stupid cartoon website, which is ridiculous. I don't want to rock the boat.

INKHOLE: I think you definitely have longevity. It's not the kind of site people get tired of. Because, you know what, it's in such small doses.

MATT: I would think not being on TV would help that. We're not ramming it down people's throats. There's still millions of people that could find our website for the first time every day.

INKHOLE: So Univision and Telemundo haven't contact you?

MATT: No, but that's the kind of thing we're waiting for.

INKHOLE: Have you ever thought about translating your site into other languages?

MATT: Our friend, Rusty, taught in Korea for a year and said that when Americans acknowledge Koreans in any way shape or form, they go nuts. He said, "If you started putting Korean subtitles on your cartoons, you'd be the most popular website in Korea within a week." And so we seriously thought about it. It's just the sort of thing that would take a long time. We still want to do it. We just never got around to doing it. I have cousins that are Argentine, and we want to do a Strong Bad email entirely in Spanish. Just one week put it up. No English. No subtitles. We'd still like to do that. I think we might do one of the main homepages that's all in Spanish. We have considered it. I think it has unlimited potential.

INKHOLE: Take me through a typical day. You wake up. Eat Raisin Bran, I don't know. What goes on?

MATT: Lately it's been good. Like I said, we haven't been working in the office as much. I wake up between nine and ten, walk over to Mike's [house], and Mike has been making breakfast. It's been great. So I get over there and Mike's got, like, eggs and bacon and coffee ready. So I have a little of that. Check email for a while, you know, whatever. Then we would look for a Strong Bad email. Let's say we find one. We start writing it. We'll go for a walk or go out in the back and play with his dog and talk over stuff until something starts getting funny. Then independently, we'll each write the same thing. We both write it and it's always an amalgamation of the two things. Once we've got it pretty much written, I'll go in and record voices at the office, and Mike will start making whatever new graphics we need. Once we're done recording, we split up the scenes. I'll start at the beginning and Mike will start at the end and we work toward the middle.

INKHOLE: Wow.

MATT: We'd love it if we could get efficient enough to where we, like, had a stockpile of Strong Bad emails done. We could take a couple of weeks off to do something else. But so far, we haven't gotten to that level.

INKHOLE: What does happen when you go on vacation? Do you make sure not to take vacations at the same time?

MATT: So far that's been the way we've done it. When Mike goes out of town, it's easier, obviously, because I do all of the voices. Whereas when I go out of town, I've got to make sure any voices that we're going to do are recorded before I leave. We could always use Mike's wife, who is the voice of Marzipan, and make a Marzipan solo cartoon. That would be pretty hilarious.

INKHOLE: Is Mike not interested in doing voices?

MATT: He's the voice whenever The Cheat makes a cartoon. That's Mike doing bad impressions of me.

INKHOLE: Oh-h-h, no shit.

MATT: The Cheat doing the other characters is Mike.

INKHOLE: That's pretty amazing. I thought that was you.

MATT: No, that's him. He's done it a few times. He's substituted for me before. If I hang out at a bar or something and it's smoky, the first voice I lose is Strong Sad. If my voice is hoarse, he just sounds terrible. It doesn't sound like him at all. With Strong Bad, I could have emphysema and still sound like Strong Bad. There's one email where Strong Bad is trying to get The Cheat to say the word 'Douglas'. So later on, he punches Strong Sad or hits him with a keyboard and Strong Sad says, "Douglas." It's Mike saying "Douglas," doing a pretty damn good Strong Sad. Nobody has ever picked up on it and been like, "Oh, what's wrong with Strong Sad's voice?" If we made a new character, maybe Mike would be the voice. He's always working on his chops. The Cheat stuff's been good, because if I do go out of town, Mike could technically do his own whole thing.

INKHOLE: Do you even record new Cheat sounds?

MATT: You know what? I do! Which is ridiculous. There are probably thousands of Cheat sounds and it's me pretty much doing the same thing. I've never even thought of that. I record new lines for The Cheat every cartoon. Maybe once in a while, if it's just one line and he gets kicked or something, we'll grab it from something else. But yeah, when we're recording, he's scripted in there like everybody else. I want to put out a CD that's all the Cheat's lines that tell you what he's saying. Usually from context, you can tell what he's saying. That's hilarious. I'm going to keep doing it though, just because...

INKHOLE: It's what you do. It's tradition. Do you or Mike see an end in sight?

MATT: No.

INKHOLE: The creative juices are still flowing?

MATT: Yeah.

INKHOLE: Good. Then I'm done. {sips iced tea}

MATT: These are very nice questions. You're a very nice young man.

INKHOLE: Thank you, but don't forget handsome.

MATT: Handsome definitely.

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