UMFM Interview - 20 May 2003
From Homestar Runner Wiki
 Kevin's Introduction
|Warning: Language that may be considered offensive by some readers follows.|
To view a censored version of this page, see UMFM Interview - 20 May 2003 (censored).
Homestar Runner...it's one of those phrases that will elicit either a blank stare or a huge smile of recognition and enthusiasm. The latter is starting to overtake the former, and, knowing a phenomenon when I see one, I sent an email out into oblivion asking if I could talk to the gentlemen behind it, figuring I had the same chance as a snowball in hell. But you never know with these things, and the chances of chatting were probably decreasing as the popularity skyrocketed. Act quick, in other words.
But, being the Music Director with UMFM - our beloved campus and community radio station - I thought might at least give me a little bit of clout. I had already cleared a hurdle of sorts a couple of months before, when Matt Chapman gladly emailed me a couple of voices promoting one of my radio shows. But, I thought, surely he's done enough for me now? God knows these guys must spend as much time deleting wide-eyed fan mail as they do creating their little masterpieces. But then I got the go-ahead, as well as the privilege of finding out what makes these guys tick. Which was an amazingly gracious gesture from amazingly gracious (not to mention hilarious and inventive) people.
My addiction to this site began in approximately June of 2002, with a chance clicking on the "Office Dullard" link on Fark.com, during a slow day at work. And I just went from there, during the slow days at work and even the days when I should have been earning my wage. Explored every little nook and cranny of the site. Now I understand better the mind of the Trekkie who can recite whole scripts (whom I used to be a little freaked out by), because I now find myself quoting Homestar and Strong Bad (although I don't do it in public for fear of freaking OTHERS out). Sewiously.
The interview was conducted by phone on May 20th, 2003, with both Chaps, and was originally broadcast on UMFM (CJUM 101.5 FM in Winnipeg) on June 5th. It's better you read it than hear it, though...I come across as less of a fawning, drooling lackey this way.
Thanks to Mike and Matt Chapman for the time, the insight, and the fun.
KEVIN: I'm talking to Mike Chapman, one of the Brothers Chaps.
MIKE: That's correct.
KEVIN: "Chaps" being plural for Chapman.
MIKE: That's right.
KEVIN: Or would it be "Chapmen"? (laughs)
MIKE: Uh, Chapmen. Yes.
KEVIN: But they go by the name "The Brothers Chaps," and they are responsible for the Homestarrunner.com site. Now, how would you describe what it is? I always think of it as an online cartoon site, but it's more than that, isn't it? How do you describe it to people?
MIKE: Yeah, the way I sum it up best is sort of an online experience akin to finding secrets in video games, that sort of a feel, that lots of fans have told us that they feel about the site. There's lots of secrets in the site. The sort of feeling you get when in the original Mario Brothers game, getting into the negative world, or finding the 40 extra men secret, and things like that.
KEVIN: What was the genesis of the whole site? Obviously it didn't start off as a website, did it? It was probably just a couple of characters?
MIKE: Yeah, a friend of ours, Craig Zobel and I, wrote a story in 1996 that's got most of the main characters – Strong Bad, Homestar, Pom Pom and the Cheat I think are the main ones. Just a story we made one afternoon, went to Kinko's, made about ten or fifteen copies of it, and kind of gave it to our friends, and that was it, really, for several years. We just did that in summer. We were in college, and did it in a bored afternoon.
KEVIN: Such humble beginnings. The voices came later on then?
MIKE: Yeah, and then when we discovered Flash, or wanted to learn Flash as something that we thought was cool but also something that we were interested in doing as a career, making money doing graphic design and web design and things like that, so we were learning Photoshop and Illustrator and Flash and all the different applications for that stuff. And as we learned Flash we just used Homestar Runner and the guys pretty much as a way to learn Flash, and it took off on its own.
KEVIN: So Flash has pretty much sped up the whole process of preparing the stuff on the site obviously.
KEVIN: Can you give me some kind of example of how the site's popularity has increased since you started doing it? When did you start the site?
MIKE: We started in January of 2000. We've never done any advertising, or anything like that, so back then there was probably two or three people checking it a day – probably Matt and I and our dad, or something like that. It's been pretty gradual growth. It's all been word of mouth, lots of links on people's personal pages, and stuff like that. There's been a few spikes in viewership, like last summer we were in Yahoo Magazine and Internet Life magazine.
KEVIN: Yeah, it's kind of like the internet equivalent of a hit TV show now, isn't it? I mean it's really grown a lot.
KEVIN: One of the most surprising things about the website is the way it exists with no advertising of any kind which is really rare on the internet, and it's become a day job for you both, correct?
MIKE: Yep. Right.
KEVIN: And I know you probably get this question a lot, but has it reached a point where doing the site is profitable, or self- sufficient, at least?
MIKE: Yeah, it's self-sufficient. We're able to pay for the hosting and support Matt and I.
KEVIN: And that's through T-shirt sales?
MIKE: Yes, just through T-shirts, pretty much. We also sell stickers and some other stuff but mostly just T-shirts and sweatshirts.
KEVIN: With all you have to do, though, I don't imagine you're stuffing envelopes with T-shirts yourself, right?
MIKE: We were for a long time. In February of this year we got a fulfillment company to do that for us, but up until then it was at our parents' house. Our parents did it and were able to handle it pretty much by themselves when it was only a few orders a day. And then this Christmas it got pretty crazy, so for most of November and December there was any number of people from the neighborhood – family, friends, neighbors that were home from college and whatever – and they're stuffing envelopes, and it was fun. We had the ping pong table covered with stuff, and shelves up.
KEVIN: Does the site ever get overloaded with visitors? Does it get bogged down?
MIKE: Yeah, in late December last year it got pretty slow. We were still on shared hosting at the time and it actually went down for a few days at the beginning of January, which was when we made that "The System is Down" short.
KEVIN: One of my favorites, actually.
MIKE: Yeah. (laughs)
KEVIN: I understand you pitched the idea quite a while ago to The Cartoon Network?
MIKE: Yes, that was VERY early on, I mean we had only been doing the site for, I think, two or three months.
KEVIN: Yeah, but your credentials are probably a lot more strong now than they would have been then, so have you considered going back and pitching the idea a second time?
MIKE: Yeah, not really. We kind of like what we're doing now on the web. We think that our attention is best spent continuing work on the website and not thinking about TV or switching over to other formats.
KEVIN: Yeah, and I agree with you, because I think one of the things that would keep the site from being as unique as it is if it ever got television interest is losing the interactive nature of it.
MIKE: Yeah, exactly. There are so many things. Just the way we write stuff now – the Strong Bad emails, for instance, are written within a few hours of when they're put up, and I think that for TV, having to write something six months in advance, or however much in advance, and writing a whole season's worth all at once – it would just sort of change the way we write and we create. There's a spontaneity and a freshness to it that I think you might not see if it was on TV.
KEVIN: Definitely. It's sort of like a cartoon that you can play.
KEVIN: It's so full! It's a very rich site, and that's the thing that constantly impresses me about it is how full it is of little secret areas and Easter eggs and things like that.
MIKE: Exactly. We hope that it's something that when people discover it they like it, but then as they like it more they just find more and more areas to dig into.
KEVIN: So what is a typical work week like for you in terms of the site? Do you work on it as the mood strikes, or do give yourself office hours?
MIKE: Let's see. We'll start with Sunday. We are looking through Strong Bad emails for several hours on Saturday and Sunday, trying to find the one that we're gonna do, and generally we start working anywhere from 4 pm until 10 pm on Sunday night. And we've been pretty bad about procrastinating lately. And then once we get started on it we work pretty much non-stop; usually Sunday nights we're up until six or seven in the morning, working straight through. They generally take, like, twelve to fifteen hours, depending.
KEVIN: That's interesting, because the humour in it doesn't seem forced, or strained, like it was tied down to any kind of time limit.
MIKE: Well good! (laughs) I'm glad, because there's definitely times when…like, the Trogdor one I don't think we put up until Monday evening. I think it was close to 8 o'clock before we finally put that one up.
KEVIN: Yeah, and sometimes there's a little dig in the ribs – like, Strong Bad will say "Boy, is it ever Monday!"
MIKE: Exactly! That one actually came out on a Tuesday. I forget, I think one of us was actually out of town or something like that. We try to get them up on Monday, but I like to think we get it done the way we'd like to get it done before we put it up, you know.
KEVIN: There does seem to be an intergenerational appeal to the whole website too, probably because it's never topical or overly crude or off-putting, just sort of pleasantly strange. Is that a conscious thing?
MIKE: Yeah, definitely, I mean it's still this way, but especially two or three years ago when Flash cartoons first were on the scene, you know, in '99 and 2000, it seemed like everyone was trying to rip off South Park, or doing some parody of Star Wars, or the Budweiser "Wazzap" guys, so we didn't want to resort to the crude.
KEVIN: And you're talking to somebody who never really got South Park in the first place, I mean a bunch of foul-mouthed little kids never struck me as really funny, although I know some people love it.
MIKE: Yeah, exactly. I was intrigued by it in the first season and haven't really watched it too much since. The notion of these little cartoon characters being able to say bad words and stuff like that really got overplayed back then, because it was the first time when you could distribute and make these little cartoons, and distribute them over the web and get a decent audience.
KEVIN: It's sort of a lowest common denominator thing to do really. You can be so much more interesting.
MIKE: Right, exactly. Right.
KEVIN: Where's the best place, do you think, for a Homestar Runner newcomer to start? For example, "Teen Girl Squad" might not seem so funny to a first timer, but it's only when you know the character Strong Bad and how he's created these characters which he has nothing but contempt for –
KEVIN: - only as a way for abusing them, that it gets really funny. My own introduction was via a Strong Bad email link to the Office Dullard cartoon, which I could certainly relate to because we have one of those –
MIKE: (laughs) It seems like everyone does.
KEVIN: Yeah. And I found it funny on its own terms without knowing anything about the characters on the site, and I just explored it and went from there, but that's me, I mean I got lucky I guess.
MIKE: Yeah, I think it's different with everyone, you know. There's a "first time here" cartoon that we tried to make to sort of introduce Homestar and Strong Bad and they sort of point you at the end to a few of the Strong Bad emails, and I forget what else, a couple of the cartoons.
KEVIN: You write all the stuff, right? You and Matt?
MIKE: Yeah. We both do.
KEVIN: Is there one other person involved too?
MIKE: Not creatively. Our friend Craig, like I said initially, helped out with the children's story book.
KEVIN: Which had a total circulation of approximately ten, you said.
MIKE: Right, exactly.
KEVIN: Your website has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon, almost like the internet version of a hit TV show – I can't really believe I'm talking to you in some ways because you must get inundated with [interview] requests all the time. You must get an awful lot of email and things like that.
MIKE: Yeah, it's all good, it's fantastic, you know, people just telling us what they think, people requesting interviews, a lot of personal requests for personalized Strong Bad or Homestar messages, which unfortunately we can't do all of.
KEVIN: I was lucky enough to get one of those from Matt, he emailed a couple for my radio show. I always get comments.
MIKE: Oh, nice.
KEVIN: It's reached a point where one little catchphrase in one of the Strong Bad emails will catch on, and then something that comes up flippantly will end up on a T-shirt! And after listening to Homestar Runner talk, I find I do it too, like talking about "pumpakins" and things like that.
MIKE: Oh, yeah, right! (laughs)
KEVIN: You know - "Why come he didn't" –
MIKE: "- why come he didn't carve his pump-a-kin." (laughs) Yeah, it's crazy, but, it's hard for us to tell sometimes what is gonna catch on and what's not, like the Trogdor email we were really unsure about. And that one took the longest. We didn't even think to come up with the song until about 6 pm on Monday. We had pretty much finished the rest of the email, and Matt just started singing that song. And it's like, "oh, well, now we gotta MAKE it," so then we had to write the song, record the guitar and vocals and then do all the new drawings and make the little video that sits at the end.
KEVIN: You're doing very well, you've just answered two of my questions in one go, because I was going to say, do you wait to see what's catching on in terms of catchphrases, or do you have an idea in advance of what you're going to develop?
MIKE: Yeah, sometimes we like to think we know what's funny, but like I said, with Trogdor we had no idea. Actually, tonight on the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer they mentioned Trogdor.
KEVIN: Did they really??
KEVIN: You must be on cloud nine.
MIKE: It was pretty crazy, yeah. The creator, Joss Whedon, I guess is a fan. In one of his publicity shots he's wearing a Strong Bad shirt in the USA Today and the L.A. times and stuff.
KEVIN: But what I was saying earlier is that what I like about the site is that there seems to be a conscious decision to not focus on potty humour and poo-poo jokes, which is a huge plus as far as I'm concerned because it's just something I don't find funny. But there IS the Poopsmith –
MIKE: Yes, who's that whole sort of whole, everything wrapped up into just that one character.
KEVIN: Exactly, and that, to me, is like taking all the potty humour in one huge enormous mound of crap –
MIKE: (laughs) Yeah, right!
KEVIN: - and saying, "here it is, have your cheap laugh and we'll get on with the rest of the site." Almost like you're making a joke ABOUT potty humour.
MIKE: Well yeah. Exactly.
KEVIN: I'm glad I picked up on that. (laughs) He's kind of a strange character.
MIKE: Yeah, I mean, he originally was just going to be a one-off joke in the King of Town cartoon, where it says the Blacksmith and then the Poopsmith. And that was going to be it, but then people liked him, and we actually had him appear in a few other cartoons here and there, so we went back and added him to the yearbook and he's sort of become a recurring character, although even Homsar I think has appeared in more. And Marshie might even have more screen time.
KEVIN: It's almost like… I mean, he didn't even get a voice.
KEVIN: Maybe Matt ran out, I don't know.
KEVIN: People that owned Atari video games and Atari 400 computers, as I did, find a lot of fun in the video game references. What did you guys own as kids in those terms?
MIKE: Yeah, well obviously the Atari 2600, and then we stepped up to ColecoVision, and regular Nintendo, and then we had, I don't even know what model it was, just an IBM. Giant, big. It was like Strong Bad's original computer. Big monitor with the green text and giant flashing cursor. We played all the King's Quest games, Lode Runner…
KEVIN: Right, yeah. I spent hours playing those things. Your keen attention to detail in copying some of those things in those games makes me think you probably spent a lot of time gaming and so on.
MIKE: (laughs) Yeah.
KEVIN: Even the Atari font, which is pretty distinctive to my eyes crops up from time to time.
KEVIN: You mentioned music earlier. Who does the musical stuff, like the guitar power chords you sometimes hear in Strong Bad's mails?
MIKE: We both do. I generally do most of the guitar stuff that's on there. We both played in college bands. Neither of us are expert musicians but we both dabble, and we just have a few keyboards laying around that we mess around with, and then guitars and bass, and stuff like that.
KEVIN: Ah, well you've brought up a question I didn't even have down here, but maybe it's a good one to ask since this is a college radio station – I've heard that you've had some college bands that you've endorsed, or had some kind of involvement with.
MIKE: Let's see. There's lots of bands, what all have we done? We're friends with Of Montreal – their drummer Jamey we've known since 1980 and he's one of our best friends.
KEVIN: Ah yes, one of the Kindercore bands.
MIKE: So we're involved with them. We actually haven't done anything specifically with them, although it's been in the works. We've been talking about it for years and years. We did a video for the Folk Implosion which is Lou Barlow's current band, and that was pretty cool because we're huge Sebadoh fans and Folk Imposion fans, so they contacted us, and it's not anything to do with Homestar, it's just an animated video with some of Lou's drawings.
KEVIN: You're in Atlanta, right?
KEVIN: So, you know, of course, Athens, Georgia being like the Mecca in terms of college radio –
MIKE: Right. That's where I went to school, was Athens.
KEVIN: Well, getting back to the site here…which is www.homestarrunner.com…
KEVIN: You can say it if you want, Mike, anytime you want, just throw it in there…
MIKE: Nah, I uh… (laughs)
KEVIN: (laughs) You feel funny about self-promotion, do you?
MIKE: Yeah, sorry.
KEVIN: I know the most popular question that Strong Bad gets is, "How can you type with boxing gloves on…"
KEVIN: But a more obvious question to me is how Homestar and Marzipan can do anything at all with no arms!
MIKE: (laughs) Right!
KEVIN: But I guess a lot of that falls into the category of "why ask why," doesn't it?
MIKE: Exactly. I'm surprised how infrequently we get that question. We get it, but it's like, most people just accept it and move on. It's things like "how does Strong Bad type" and things that are much more feasible, than how Homestar and Marzipan can pick things up.
KEVIN: It's hilarious to watch though, because they just kind of hover in front of them.
MIKE: (laughs) Right. I always wondered early on -- I sort of thought, I wonder if at some point we're going to have to give Homestar arms, if it's just gonna be too weird and if we're gonna be able to really come up with stories and have this character do the things that he'll be required to do for the stories, without arms.
KEVIN: He's doing very well without them so far.
KEVIN: A lot of things like that…I mean, I think of the Brothers Strong – you've got Strong Bad with a Mexican accent –
MIKE: Strong Sad with elephant feet…
KEVIN: Things like that. So it's like, just accept what you see and enjoy it for the absurdity that it is.
MIKE: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, a lot of people ask what their parents look like and why they look so different and stuff, but yeah, exactly. Just, like, let it go.
KEVIN: Yeah. (laughs) The character interaction is the thing that keeps me coming back. There's a sort of fascination with these characters that seems to grow as you see how they relate to one another. Strong Bad is obviously irritated badly by Homestar Runner, probably because he's so unflappable – and it seems to me that you have endless possibilities with that alone.
MIKE: Yeah, I think the characters change, which helps. Homestar has obviously gotten a little dumber.
MIKE: But, like, Strong Sad, for instance – I think Strong Sad is probably the smartest of the bunch…
KEVIN: Yeah, that comes through for sure.
MIKE: There are times when it seems like he is sort of, you know, above Strong Bad making fun of him or whatever, so Strong Sad, I think, has come into his own, and actually developed beyond just the generic sad, depressing character.
KEVIN: Yeah, you're interested in Strong Sad now in a way that maybe you weren't before.
MIKE: Did you ever find his web journal?
KEVIN: Yes, I did actually! (laughs)
MIKE: Yeah, so like, things like that it's fun to use, other ways of developing the characters, you know. If you read his web journal you sort of get insight into his life beyond what he says on-screen.
KEVIN: Fark.com is obviously a big proponent of your site. Do you follow the discussion on there pretty closely after your site is updated?
MIKE: No, I used to, but I haven't been lately.
KEVIN: Oh. It's kind of interesting what goes on.
MIKE: Yeah, I just found that it was the same exact discussion every time.
KEVIN: Yeah, exactly.
MIKE: It just becomes a flame war. It just becomes, sort of, "you've got a bad sense of humour." "If you don't find Homestar funny, you've got a bad sense of humour." "If you find Homestar funny, then you've got a bad sense of humour." (laughs)
KEVIN: Yeah, it is the same every week, and even the people that are proponents of the site seem to sort of make that observation every time, like, "why do you keep showing up to put down this site?"
MIKE: Yeah, exactly. So for a while it was good to see the fan feedback on an episode, but after a while, they're not really talking about the new Strong Bad email, they list the Easter eggs and then whoever just comes in and says "Homestar sucks."
KEVIN: But you must be glad that the vast majority of people who show up just love it, if the feedback is anything to go by, at least. The naysayers are very few.
MIKE: Yeah, I mean it's encouraging.
KEVIN: It's a shame Matt's not there, I had some good questions for him…
MIKE: Oh, Matt's here.
KEVIN: I just had questions about the characters themselves.
MIKE: Matt's more interesting.
KEVIN: Yeah? Is he more interesting? You've been fine!
MIKE: Oh, well thanks.
KEVIN: OK, well maybe pass me off to Matt then. It was great talking to you, Mike. Thank you very much.
MIKE: Thanks, Kevin.
MIKE: (in background) College radio station.
MATT: (in background) Awesome.
MIKE: Matt's making an egg salad with bacon in it. (laughs)
KEVIN: Oh is he?
MIKE: Yeah, egg salad sandwiches for dinner here. Um, here he is.
KEVIN: Hi Matt.
MATT: Hey, how's it going?
KEVIN: Good! Thanks for talking to me tonight.
MATT: Oh, no sweat.
KEVIN: I'm sorry to interrupt your egg salad there.
MATT: Oh no, no. I'm pleased to have you interrupt it. Hang on one second, let me get to where I can hear you better.
KEVIN: I had this whole huge list of stuff to ask, and Mike did a lot of it. I didn't think you were there, so I thought he'd have to answer all the questions!
MATT: Oh! (laughs)
KEVIN: This is a big question, I've always wanted to ask you this: Do you get asked to do voices everywhere you go? Do people go, "Hey Matt! Do Strong Bad!" Or, "Matt! Do Homestar Runner!" Do you get plagued with that?
MATT: No, I mean definitely not from my friends, 'cause they're probably sick of it. But people have been pretty cool, actually, like, 'cause only fairly recently have we started meeting people that like the site – "fans" – face to face. And so far they've all been really cool. We did a little signing at a comic book store – we didn't know it was a signing, we were just appearing at this comic book store, but I guess they kind of expect you to sign stuff. We had no idea, we're just like, "You want us to SIGN things? Oh, OK, I guess…" And it was cool 'cause they all were like, anybody that asked me to do a voice would always put a big disclaimer. They were like, "I know you probably hate this," and blah blah, and so I mean, so far it hasn't plagued me at all, and I'm always happy to do it. It's still cool to meet people who even know about the site.
KEVIN: It just strikes me as such a party piece kind of thing to do, you know, because I played the piano as a kid, and getting your parents to parade you in and play all the songs they wanted to hear and not the ones you wanted to play, that kind of thing. I figured it was that kind of equivalent.
MATT: Right. Yeah. So far it hasn't turned into that, which is good. It's not like we go out to eat somewhere and people recognize us, or anything like that. I don't know if it'll EVER reach that! Fortunately when you make a cartoon, they know what the cartoon looks like and not you, really, so…
KEVIN: It's kind of impressive, because I listen to Strong Bad obviously, and I listen to Homestar Runner, and I would NEVER guess that the same voice is behind both of those voices.
MATT: Thank you very much!
KEVIN: (laughs) And that's the truth, I just figured there were two or three people doing voices. Obviously you don't do Marzipan, I mean I knew that—
MATT: Right, that's one of the only ones.
KEVIN: Does the voice come on after the cartoon is complete, or does it go on first?
MATT: We'll usually write it, and then we can kind of place stuff in scenes, just 'cause we know what scene is gonna happen. But then the animation and talking and stuff, really, you kind of have to do – syncing up the mouth you kind of have to do as you're animating the rest of the characters. So Strong Bad's gonna be, like, kicking The Cheat while he's saying whatever. So yeah, so we always record the voices first before we really start doing the actual detailed animation.
KEVIN: Is that kind of a laborious part of the whole process then?
MATT: Well, sometimes it's one of those things where you wish it could just be over so you could just start animating if you know it's going to be something that's really fun to actually animate. But for the Strong Bad emails, that's sometimes the funnest part. Because we write scripts, we'll write it down, but I mean, nine times out of ten what ends up coming out of my mouth is usually a little different. And sometimes just through me screwing up we'll come up with funnier ideas.
KEVIN: But you'll write your part with Mike, and then you'll record it, and then you're basically done, and he gets all the work, right? Then you can go make egg salad sandwiches?
MATT: (laughs) No, it's actually pretty much 50/50 on the animation.
KEVIN: Oh! OK, I didn't know that.
MATT: I'm not just the voices, yeah. We do everything, pretty much - the only thing that is lopsided is that Mike only does occasional voices. While I'm recording, Mike will be on another computer doing the graphics for the next cartoon or whatever, but then once it's recorded we both just split up whatever scenes are in that email or cartoon and each of us will just take half the cartoon and animate it.
KEVIN: Yeah. OK. I'm gonna put you on the spot a little bit here. I'm gonna run through the characters and talk a little bit about them, and I might ask for one little sample. Is that do- able?
MATT: All right!
KEVIN: You can do that?
MATT: Yeah. I have a sore throat, so if a voice sounds half-assed, don't hold it against me.
KEVIN: OK. Well I'll tell everybody who's listening, we're talking about www.homestarrunner.com, and the main character Homestar Runner – do you want to give us an example?
MATT (as Homestar Runner): Oh, hello! Where are we at – Winnipeg?
KEVIN: This is Winnipeg, yes.
MATT (as Homestar Runner): Hello Winnipeg. This is Homestar Runner. Um, you guys have a funny name for your town.
KEVIN: We do, yes. It means "muddy water," apparently.
MATT (as Homestar Runner): That's gross.
KEVIN: I know.
MATT (as Homestar Runner): You gotta get that out of the bathtub.
KEVIN: (laughs) Oh, God. This is the reason I didn't want to talk to the characters – 'cause I'd find myself cracking up and not knowing what to say.
KEVIN: But it all sort of begins and ends with Homestar Runner as far as I'm concerned. He's obviously not the sharpest tack in the box.
KEVIN: And he's more than a little bit naïve. But that is the appeal of him, isn't it?
KEVIN: So what are your thoughts on Homestar Runner, and how has he changed since the whole thing began?
MATT: Um, he's definitely gotten a little dumber. Which has made him more endearing, I think. He started off a little more like, kind of, the head of the football team. That's how we kind of originally envisioned him, you know. And then just through that we sort of were like, "Well, you know, what's funnier about him is that, like, he is just so nice that it makes him oblivious to everything else."
KEVIN: And how can you not like somebody like that.
MATT: Yeah, exactly. And I went to school with a guy that was like that, where even when he was so annoying and you just want to punch him in the face and get him out and, you know, never hear his voice again, but he's just like, he's so well-meaning and nice, and kind, and you can't ever hold anything against him.
KEVIN: And the beauty of that is that tends to make Strong Bad even more angry at him.
MATT: Right! Exactly. Well see, it also came to that through kind of, like, developing Strong Bad more and kind of getting into his character more, it made Homestar such a better foil for him.
KEVIN: Oh yeah. They play off each other beautifully. So where does the name Homestar Runner come from?
MATT: It actually comes from a friend of ours. There was an old local grocery store commercial, and we live in Atlanta, and it advertised the Atlanta Braves. It was like, "the Atlanta Braves hit home runs, and you can hit a home run with savings here!" And so there was this player named Mark Lemke, and they said something like "All star second baseman for the Braves." And our friend knows nothing about sports, and so he would always do his old timey radio impression of this guy, and not knowing any positions in baseball or whatever, he'd just be like, "Homestar Runner for the Braves." And we were just like, "Homestar Runner? That's the best thing we've ever heard!"
KEVIN: Yeah! And you actually made him a runner in the early days, right? He was such an athlete.
MATT: Yeah, that was also one of the things that's kind of changed. I mean, we still occasionally go back to that sort of thing, but originally, before we really knew, kind of, what we were doing, every episode was gonna be a contest or a sports event of some kind…
KEVIN: He's damn athletic for a guy with no arms.
MATT: Yeah, exactly. He makes up for it.
KEVIN: I guess now we'll come to Strong Bad. Let's have a sample of Strong Bad.
MATT (as Strong Bad): Hello there Winnipeg. I got you guys pegged as not as cool as me.
KEVIN: Nobody's as cool as Strong Bad.
MATT (as Strong Bad): That's right.
KEVIN: (laughs) OK, now Strong Bad has sort of become the highlight of the whole thing because of his weekly emails, right?
MATT: Right. To our chagrin for Homestar.
KEVIN: Was he originally conceived as the obvious villain?
MATT: Oh yeah. Definitely. We just figured, we had to make a bad guy, so I mean, obviously the embodiment of evil is the masked wrestlers from our childhood, and so we had to make him a masked wrestler. He's more of a masked wrestling creature. It's not like he's actually got a face under that mask, that's basically his head.
KEVIN: And he's a little bit – inept, too, isn't he?
MATT: Yeah, well that's his whole point, exactly. He talks an enormous game and doesn't have a whole lot to back it up.
KEVIN: And he's a stickler for correct grammar and spelling, too, interestingly. Is that something that bugs you guys personally, or is it more just an excuse to get Strong Bad to be abusive?
MATT: No, whatever, I'm sure my emails have just as many mistakes. It is one of those things we look at as, you know, it's just going to be funny watching how the internet changes to where, like, grammar, or at least correspondence between people is just going to become like where there's no standards (laughs) – you can just write crap and it just doesn't make sense and it's all slang and whatever. But – yeah, we thought it would just be a funny thing for, like, this big bad evil guy that thinks he's so bad, like, to be a real stickler for grammar. He's also got an affinity for baking, so we thought that would be kind of funny.
KEVIN: Yeah. (laughs) I was struck by something that Mike said in an interview I read once, he said something about how you could have Homestar Runner and Strong Bad having a conversation about absolutely nothing and it would still be funny, and I think he's right!
KEVIN: You know, just based on their personalities. You know, just the way one grates on the other.
KEVIN: Now we come to Strong Mad. I don't know if you can imitate him!
MATT: Oh, sure I can!
KEVIN: OK, sure. Go ahead.
MATT (as Strong Mad): Hey! Get off the phone!
KEVIN: (laughs) Not one of your more difficult voices to do, in other words.
MATT: No, he's pretty easy. We originally messed around with slowing my voice down, but then I was just able to get somehow into that deeper register.
KEVIN: OK, now here you have a character, who kind of takes every aspect of the violence that is supposedly such a concern in kids' cartoons these days, and multiplies it by, like, ten.
KEVIN: He's pure blind aggression, isn't he? That's the whole reason he exists, isn't it?
MATT: Well, right, but then the way I always liken him is, he's like, in the original Frankenstein movie, he's like Frankenstein – except, you know, there's that scene where he goes up to that little girl, and she's throwing the flowers into the lake- she's throwing this really pretty thing into the lake, and so Frankenstein's kind of confused, and he's like, "Oh, we throw pretty things in the lake, right?" So he picks up the little girl and chucks her in the lake, you know. And everybody thinks he's trying to murder this girl. That's kind of Strong Mad, you know, he's kind of like – he's got this ridiculous brute strength, but usually the aggression part of it comes more from Strong Bad telling him what to do. And then, obviously, you can see that Strong Bad, Strong Mad and The Cheat are best buds and they kind of sometimes find solace in each other when Strong Bad is just that much of a jerk.
KEVIN: Yeah, and Strong Mad does have that soft side – sometimes you'll see him shedding a tear over The Cheat…
MATT: Yes, exactly. That's his little friend. They're like Blaster and Master in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
KEVIN: And, I guess, the third of the Strong Brothers, Strong Sad – all right, let's hear Strong Sad.
MATT (as Strong Sad): Uh, I don't really listen to the radio so much anymore, because the DJs are always really depressing, and there's a lot of dead air, and it sounds like they don't know what they're doing.
MATT (as Strong Sad): I play DJ in my own room by myself - in the dark.
KEVIN: With lots of Cure, I imagine.
MATT (as Strong Sad): Oh, yeah, a lot of Cure, a lot of Bauhaus…
KEVIN: (laughs) There's a touch of tragedy to Strong Sad. He kind of reminds me of Charlie Brown because I always thought the creator of Charlie Brown went a bit overboard in making him the perennial loser.
MATT: Oh, yeah! Especially in the feature film they did, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, I mean, there's just some rough, rough moments, where you're just, like, MAN!
KEVIN: Yeah. It's too much, almost.
MATT: But, it's like, that's about as accurate as it gets to how mean… I mean, my favorite kind of thing to liken it to is my friend Neil, when he was in kindergarten…it was the last day of school, and the teacher is going around saying, "OK, now who's going to be back next year?" And each kid would raise their hand, and the class would go "Yaaaaay!" And Neil raised his hand, and he actually ended up not coming back to the same school the next year, but he thought he was, so she's like, "Neil, are you coming back?" and Neil raised his hand, and he was the only one, and the class just goes like, "Booooooo!" And at that point, he didn't even know that he was all that unpopular until that moment, so anyways, that's definitely some of the inspiration for Strong Sad, is moments like that in childhood where it's just, like, "Oh my God, that's the meanest thing I've ever heard!"
KEVIN: (laughs) And Charles Schulz – I thought he was a bit of a sadist for a while.
MATT: (laughs) Yeah, for real!
KEVIN: How can you create this character and hate it so much, you know? So there's something similar going on here with Strong Sad, I think anyway. You almost feel some compassion for this character. Even Strong Bad seems to draw the line on picking on him sometimes.
MATT: Right. We get emails sometimes from fans that are just like, "Man, take it easy on Strong Sad!" (laughs) They ask us to, you know, like start pulling some punches.
KEVIN: You've got to wonder if he doesn't thrive on it in some way.
MATT: Well exactly, that's part of it. I mean, we've made a couple of allusions to the fact that he wouldn't mind going blind. It's like his bread and butter. He's like Eeyore. Yeah, he thrives on it, exactly.
KEVIN: We'll go onto Bubs now.
KEVIN: Let's hear Bubs.
MATT (as Bubs): OK, I got this great deal! I tore up this bush in my backyard because it was creeping into my house. The roots was getting all into my pipes. I'm gonna give it to you. It's somewhat dead, but I'm'a give it to you for thirty five dollars!
KEVIN: (laughs) Now, who's the inspiration for Bubs, voice-wise?
MATT: Oh, hands down, it's basically just me doing my best Redd Foxx impression.
KEVIN: I was going to say. It sounded something like one of those 70s sitcoms.
MATT: Yeah exactly. He's Fred Sanford. Now he's definitely sort of fleshed out a bit, but if we had thought more, because we gave him the voice early on before we really had too much of a direction for the site, we may have thought a little more about making him a little less like a celebrity impression. But, at the same time, I kind of like the way it's turned out, because we've given him a little bit of depth, too, you know.
KEVIN: He's come into his own a little bit. He's one of the only characters who seems to have a job. And on the games page you can get him doing some pretty wild dancing.
MATT: Yeah, exactly. That was one of the other things, exactly. He can cut a rug for real.
KEVIN: Yeah. Is there anything else you can say about Bubs?
MATT: Well, you know, we've always kind of thought of him as this entrepreneur guy. He's probably got some money problems. He's maybe a divorcee, which we've never really alluded to in the cartoon, but that's kind of the way we think of him. He's definitely the most streetwise of anybody there.
KEVIN: Except maybe for Coach Z, he's pretty streetwise.
MATT: Yeah, Coach Z as well. Those two, right there – them, and the King of Town to a lesser degree, are like the adults of the world, if you want to pin that on them.
KEVIN: Speaking of Coach Z – let's hear Coach Z.
MATT (as Coach Z): Oh, hey there! You guys up there in the great white north sound a lot like me!
KEVIN: We do, actually. But we don't say "eh" nearly as much.
MATT (as Coach Z): No, neither do I, that's a stereotype I'd like to stay away from, there. I would like to wish you a good day though.
KEVIN: Good day to you as well, Coach Z. What is that accent? Sounds a bit like Fargo-slash-Minnesota crossed with speech impediment crossed with…
MATT: Yeah, that's kind of where it came from, a depressing Midwesterner voice that me and some friends would do in college. That was sort of the idea.
KEVIN: With rapper lingo thrown in for good measure.
MATT: Yeah, well we thought that was the funniest part, is that OK, well here's this guy that's just this very white bread, sort of blue collar sounding dude, but he's down with old school hip hop, and up on the latest in hip hop and everything.
KEVIN: (laughs) I'll give you a break from the imitations for a sec while we talk about Marzipan.
MATT: All right!
KEVIN: That's voiced by Missy, right?
KEVIN: Yeah. Now, she was conceived as Homestar Runner's girlfriend, is that right?
KEVIN: And you've made her sort of extremely socially conscious, and, as Strong Bad says, "a dirty hippie without the dirt."
MATT: (laughs) Right, exactly.
KEVIN: So she's one of the more, quote-unquote, normal characters. Is she there largely to play the role of straight man (or should I say, straight woman)?
MATT: Yeah, to an extent. I mean, that's definitely one of the ones that I think we could tap for much more and kind of flesh her out a little more. She's fairly one-dimensional, you know. We don't mean to seem sexist with all that, obviously because we only have one girl character we do catch some flak once in a while.
KEVIN: She's a brilliant stereotype, though. I mean, I do know people like her.
MATT: Well, right. That's one of the things. But at the same time we think she can also kind of branch out a little bit from the sort of mold we've put her in. So we've got some stuff in store for Marzipan, for sure.
KEVIN: I just love Marzipan because everybody knows a Marzipan. Everybody. Doesn't matter who you are, you know a Marzipan.
MATT: Yeah, exactly.
KEVIN: We've got a couple left, here. The King of Town…
KEVIN: Let's hear the King.
MATT: OK. There's not a whole lot for him to say.
KEVIN: Say "doo hoo hoo hoo."
MATT: Yeah, exactly. (as King of Town) Doo hoo hoo!
MATT (as King of Town): I need somebody to slather me with pig lard. That's what I bathe in.
KEVIN: So in this weird and wonderful world you've created for all your characters, you have this king of it all who commands no respect from everybody, and he just eats everything.
MATT: Right. Well, we never really say his origins. He's almost of one of those guys who just shows up and says "Hey, I'm the King of Town," and everybody's like, "OK man, sure, you're the King of Town, great." And originally he was conceived as being Marzipan's dad, because I made him up, and again it was in the early days. He's one of the characters that we've kind of, by virtue of giving him this role as the least popular character within the cartoon, not in terms of actual popular opinion, because he's actually gaining much more popularity these days...
KEVIN: Well, you've put him in little – like, Super Kingio Brothers, and things like that…
MATT: Right, exactly. So, he's this character that probably wouldn't have otherwise survived if we hadn't sort of branched out and given him these other odd things. Like, he's the least popular character, and he knows it, so he's always trying to, kind of, be cool and stuff.
KEVIN: (laughs) Oh, boy. Well, in terms of the speaking characters, all that's really left is Homsar. I love this character.
KEVIN: I love him to death. I love him not only because of his strangeness, and the way he makes everyone around him vaguely uncomfortable –
KEVIN: But what I love is the way he shows up, and the first thing out of his mouth is not a word, but this great incomprehensible "AaAaAaAaA…." So…
KEVIN: Let's hear your version!
MATT: OK. (as Homsar): AaAaAaAaA…bury me deep, I'm cold and clammy!
KEVIN: (laughs) That was worth about a million dollars, thank you. Now he came about because of a typo in an email message to Strong Bad, didn't he?
MATT: Yes, exactly. He was totally meant as…actually I was living in New York and Mike was still in Atlanta at the time, and so right when we were starting to do, I think it was, the second Strong Bad email, I found that email where the kid misspells "Homestar," and I was like, "Oh, Mike, this'll be great, we should just make up this guy that just has "Homsar" written across his chest, and then Strong Bad kills him, drops a big weight on him." And so at that point I was just sending Mike voices and he was animating them, because it was long distance, and so Mike uploads it, and I get to see this hilarious little dumpy guy with a derby on. Originally he was going to have spats on, like, patent leather old-timey spats. So anyway, we did that, and then just a couple of other times we thought it'd be funny to sort of bring back that little guy that we killed off in that one episode, and then, I don't know, he just kept getting more and more interesting the more he would pop up. He's kind of become, like, the Easter egg of the entire site, you know, like he just shows up. And we just gave him his own shirt last month because of fan appeal, like, enough people have demanded that we pay more attention to him. The only thing is, it's one of those things that I call the Ralph Wiggum syndrome, where, you know…it's possible for there to be too much Ralph Wiggum, and I think he's a character that maybe got paid a little too much attention to him. People will demand, "Hey, you should make a full seven minute cartoon with just Homsar!" And like, there would be no reason to do Homsar ever again.
KEVIN: Well, you mentioned earlier that Strong Sad was kind of reminiscent of Eeyore. Homsar is almost reminiscent of…I think of Wimpy, from Popeye.
MATT: (laughs) Well yeah, we had him dress as Wimpy for Halloween for that very reason.
KEVIN: Yeah, but even before that cartoon, I thought, "That looks kind of like Wimpy!"
MATT: Yeah, exactly, he just shows up, and he never helps Popeye out at all, and he never really hurts anything, but yeah, he just shows up and wants to eat hamburgers.
KEVIN: In terms of the non-speaking characters, you've got the Poopsmith…I mean, what on earth is this character about? In terms of weirding people out, you've got Homsar, but this guy is even more disturbing.
MATT: (laughs) Yeah!
KEVIN: And I was talking to Mike about this a little bit…he's more the keeper of that huge mound of crap for people that want the poo poo jokes.
MATT: Right, exactly. I mean, obviously Strong Bad says "crap" a lot, and we make jokes that you could call fart jokes or toilet humour or whatever you want to call it. But – for the most part, if we need to make a lowbrow toilet humour/bathroom joke, or whatever, he's got 'em all. He's just waiting.
KEVIN: I'm going to give you a break now. I'm going to do an imitation, OK?
MATT: (laughs) All right!
KEVIN: Tell me what you think of this. This is my imitation of Pom Pom.
KEVIN: (blows through straw into mug of water)
MATT: Whoa, that was pretty good! What was that?
KEVIN: Well, you know, if you ever need a fill-in, I'm happy to come down and do Pom Pom…
MATT: (laughs) You know, actually, we've been using the same noise for Pom Pom talking since we started. There's just one whole string of the bubble noise that we recorded almost four years ago now, and we just use little pieces of that. We've been using that same sound throughout this whole time.
KEVIN: This is a beer stein, it's about half full of water…
MATT: Ah, nice!
KEVIN: So I'm not sure what you use. I always like the way everyone understands him. We can't, but everyone else…
MATT: Right, it's like Chewbacca from Star Wars, where it's just these growls, where you can just be, like, "There's no language in there!" But Han Solo knows what he's talking about.
KEVIN: He's Chewbacca – he's kind of also, like, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, and what else…he sort of reminds me of a bunch of things.
MATT: Yeah, he's just this big, bubbly, you know, kind of cute guy we've made. He's a ladies' man back in his home country.
KEVIN: Right. Or home world.
MATT: Oh, yeah, exactly, wherever he comes from.
KEVIN: Right. Well, the only other one left is The Cheat. I've got him as non-speaking – I suppose, technically, he speaks something.
MATT: Oh, yeah. (laughs) He's got his own language.
KEVIN: He's earned his name from, I guess, one of the earliest cartoons where he cheated in a contest, or something? Is that right?
MATT: Yeah, officially it was in the book that Mike and our friend Craig made that kind of started the whole thing, a fake children's book, I mean we just made it at Kinko's. But yeah, in that one, I don't even think we formally call him The Cheat. I think at some point somebody says "I will expose that cheat" or something like that. But at that point, it wasn't even his name, and then when the time came to sort of name him, we were like yeah, just use "The Cheat" – it's perfect.
KEVIN: (laughs) And is he a pet? I sometimes think he's a pet but then I see him doing things like music videos and web design and stuff.
MATT: Well no, Strong Bad and Strong Mad have sort of adopted him as their mascot. But he's not a pet, I mean he's got his own place. He lives in the King of Town's grill, and he's got his own agenda. He's trying to learn Flash, web design…he's done some music videos for people, he's got clients, so yeah, he's a full three-dimensional character. He's looking out for himself as well.
KEVIN: So, I guess I've wrapped up all the characters. Your job's nearly done. Can you tell me, just in closing, what's up for the site for the next little while? It's obviously doing much, much more business than it ever did before.
MATT: Yeah, which is awesome, and very surprising. Hopefully in the next month or less, little toys, little figurines – like smurf- style – not pose-able, or anything…we've got those coming over from Hong Kong, and the people that did them made them look really good. We may make a little commercial for that on the site where the characters are looking at their little renditions of themselves. And then, hopefully…our goal has always been to try and make other features that we update every week, not just Strong Bad email. The problem has just been that as we have moved more into the business aspect of this, and trying to sustain a living off of it…every week it just seems like there's all this other stuff to do other than cartoons, unfortunately. But, that's still the goal, so hopefully look out for non-Strong Bad email things. We're working on a full-length cartoon, not just a short, but hopefully a five- or six- minute big old cartoon.
KEVIN: Beautiful. How many T-shirts do you sell, approximately? I'm just curious. That must be the big thing that you sell, right, is the shirts?
MATT: Yeah, that's mainly what we offer. We're looking into getting other stuff. We're working on a DVD, and a CD of some of the music from the site. But right now…I don't know the exact numbers, because we've got the business types that worry about that so that me and Mike don't have to think about that sort of thing. But like I said, it's enough to support the site, and to support me and Mike and a couple of our partners that are helping us out. So we're making a living, which is really cool. We're amazed. We had no idea – there was a time I remember over Christmas – this was when we were running the store out of my parents' basement, and there was a period where there was this huge stack of orders in the IN box, and I just remember Mike at one point just going, "Are there this many people, like, in the WORLD?"
MATT: We were just amazed that that many people, like, way more people than I could ever even know or meet, and they're all somehow buying T-shirts from our site. So it's really, really cool.
KEVIN: Well, you know, I even wondered whether an interview like this would be possible. I figured you'd be so inundated with requests and things. But I can tell you that I bought a Strong Bad t-shirt ages ago—
MATT: Oh, thank you so much.
KEVIN: I was stopped in the street! We're pretty close to the US border, so I'd go to Fargo or Grand Forks, North Dakota…
MATT: OK, gotcha.
KEVIN: …and be stopped: "Where did you get that?" It's like, where else would you get it, you know?
MATT: Wow! That's awesome.
KEVIN: Yeah. So that sort of gave me some idea of the magnitude of the site. I described it to Mike as an internet version of a hit TV show, is what it seems like.
MATT: (laughs) Yeah, well that's what's cool. It's cool because we feel like we've got our own viewership and it's like we've got our own little network, sort of, without having to operate within the confines of all the crap and ads that are on TV.
KEVIN: Oh, and that's so refreshing, too, to have a site where you don't get hit with windows you have to close…
MATT: Yeah, that was a decision we made early on. That's stuff that we hate about the internet, and we were like, I don't care how many pennies we make off each person, we're never gonna do that, so…
KEVIN: Might make a good prank, actually, on your site, to create some of those pop-up windows of your own design…
MATT: Yeah, I think there's actually been some Strong Bad emails that have addressed that, and we've thought about doing that, where Strong Bad actually makes his own pop-up ads and puts them on the site!
KEVIN: How many of the questions that Strong Bad gets are the ones asking how he can type with boxing gloves?
MATT: A couple of weeks ago, it was around 3000 emails a day. It seems like it's recently jumped up again.
KEVIN: What, just that question?
MATT: Uh, no no no…total. A day. And I would say there's probably between 300 and 500 that say something, if not exactly, how do you type with boxing gloves on, that say something…because I think that somebody's hoping that we'll make fun of that joke again, and stick it in the email, so…
KEVIN: Are there any other sites of this kind that you know of? It does seem that you have the only site like this.
MATT: Now? Yeah, I guess…I mean, that's one of the things is that the more we've kind of gotten into this, the less web savvy we've become, I guess. We used to just surf around the web all the time, but now we just don't have as much time. Not to be all Matt- and-Mike-centric, but…so yeah, I mean at this point, anyways, I'm sure there's definitely other web series out there – there's one that high school kids are doing, and they're updating them every week, which is pretty cool. I don't know if anybody else is making a living off of it like we do, without ads, and all that stuff. We pride ourselves in that, at least, being kind of unique. Because there used to be, like, icebox.com years ago, a big one, and that folded because there was just so much bloated Hollywood money in it, and crap like that, so…yeah, I mean it'd be really cool if we're fairly unique in that. Hopefully it'd encourage other people to do the same thing.
KEVIN: And I talked to Mike earlier about the fact that if you took this to a TV show it wouldn't be quite the same because you wouldn't have that interactive aspect.
MATT: Right, exactly, and that's why we're not pursuing that. Just because, it's like, it'd have to be a totally different thing. It'd be Homestar the TV Show. It'd have to be its own separate entity because yeah, there's so much on the web – there's that interactivity with the fans, and clicking around and finding the secret stuff, and on TV you can't make Strong Bad's Web Page that you can go and visit, and we can do that on the site, so there's lots of advantages. It's pretty cool. Mike always says that it's cool to be part of the internet in its infancy, and it's cool to be doing this, making it work for us in kind of the pioneering days of whatever the web's going to become. It's kind of cool.
KEVIN: Definitely. And this is a really good opportunity to thank you for recording the sound bites for my [radio] show!
MATT: Oh, sure!
KEVIN: You did one of Strong Bad and you did one of Homestar, and they get played every week, and people are always, like, "How did you get that? How did you get that?" It's a real privilege to speak to you. It's really great. I'm glad you had the time to speak to us.
MATT: Oh, of course.
KEVIN: So I wish you all the best for the site, and thank Mike for me as well.
MATT: I will. Thanks so much for having us on, and taking the time.