The Brunswickan Interview - 4 Apr 2003

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On April 4th, 2003, Patrick Reinartz, of The Brunswickan conducted an interview with Mike and Matt Chapman. The following is not the complete interview, but the article based upon it.

[edit] Transcript

Offensive content Warning: Language that may be considered offensive by some readers follows.
To view a censored version of this page, see The Brunswickan Interview - 4 Apr 2003 (censored).

Mike and Matt Chapman are the brothers responsible for what may well be one of the funniest cartoons since Matt Groening brought the Simpson family to television.

Homestar Runner is an on-line Flash cartoon, a medium that has become incredibly popular over the last several years. However, something about Homestar Runner truly sets it apart from the crowd. Not only are the writing and voice acting top notch, but the site is also entirely ad-free, and the characters themselves are just irresistable.

Homestar himself is an armless, marshmallow-loving simpleton whose group of friends includes Strongbad, a giant-headed loud-mouth who always wears a wrestling mask and boxing gloves, and Marzipan who is Homestar's tofu-loving hippy girlfriend.

And where did it all begin?

Mike Chapman told The Brunswickan by phone about how he and his brother Matt were taking a break from design work for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when they made a simple picture book with some funny characters they had created.

"We didn't really do anything with it for three or four years," Mike recalled, "and then when we discovered Flash and the internet, we realized that our current career paths in photography and film probably weren't going to be as lucrative as a computer career."

Homestarrunner.com was born when the pair needed a project to practice their new skills. However, the site soon became much more popular than expected and the brothers found themselves with new jobs: cartoonists.

"Once we had a few cartoons finished, we started to get a good response. For the first two and a half years or so it was kind of a spare-time deal, but for the past three or four months it's been pretty much full-time."

The site now pays for itself, receiving approximately 150,000 hits daily. It's peak day, however, is Monday when the site is updated with a weekly Strongbad e-mail, where the obnoxious, but nevertheless loveable, character answers fan mail. Mike revealed that Strongbad currently receives an incredible 3,000 e-mails daily.

But what is it exactly that finds entire families huddling around the computer on Monday mornings. Aside from Strongbad, there is of course, the site's namesake, Homestar Runner.

"There's something to be said for just being clueless and innocent in a world that spins around you and you don't really have any idea what's going on. Homestar's in his own little world."

Both characters, as well as almost every other one, are brought to life by the voice of Matt Chapman.

"I think Matt did a really good job with the voices, which I think people like to begin with," Mike suggested.

Mike's girlfriend Melissa also adds her talents to the mix for Marzipan's voice.

On top of the great voices, anyone checking out Strongbad's e-mails (or any other cartoons on the site, for that matter) will also notice that the writing is as sharp and original as the characters.

"We try to remember that what got the fans there in the first place was that we were just writing this pretty much for the benefit of ourselves and our friends, just doing stuff that we thought would be funny."

The cartoons also come together surprisingly fast, resulting in humour that is far more spontaneous than anything on television.

Mike pointed out that the average Strongbad e-mail comes together in less than 20 hours.

"A lot of the real gold, or what we think is gold, comes from when I sit down to record the stuff and I'm just messing around, talking like Strongbad," Matt added.

Of course, this quick turn-over time and the added pressure of an ever-increasing fanbase also has the potential of backfiring.

"We definitely hear about it if a Strongbad e-mail is sub-par," Mike jokingly noted.

Nevertheless, the brothers were determined from the beginning to never rely on cheap laughs. Not only did they want to avoid the distracting advertising of other sites, but also the shock humour that so many of them are known for.

"When we first started doing Flash three years ago, the only thing you could find on the web were South Park rip-offs," Matt explained. "I like shock humour as much as the next guy, but it's just so easy."

That is not to say, however, that Homestar Runner is completely without edge. Matt cites Ren and Stimpy and The Simpsons as examples of writing that inspired them.

"It forces you to be funnier and make the characters cooler. If Strongbad just told everybody to 'fuck off' all the time, it would be way less funny than the stuff we've had to come up with for him to say to people. It's just kind of a cool by-product that it was family-friendly."

Now that the Chapman brothers have the format down, what's next for homestarrunner.com?

"I think the goal over the next year is to do some more features, maybe featuring some of the other characters, and more of the longer four or five minute cartoons, to give a little glimpse into some of the other characters in the world in a not so Strongbad-centric kind of way," Mike said.

Check out the Chapman brothers' work at www.homestarrunner.com.

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