COVER- Is America ready for Moore? Trevor sure hopes so
For a second, it looks like a typical rap music video: spinning chrome rims on a sleek sports car, beautiful women fawning over a rapper sporting "bling" and sipping Cristal. The only difference is this rapper also happens to be one of the worst mass murderers of all time.
"What I bet y'all didn't know is now I'm down with the Jews / The gypsies, homosexuals, and retards, too / Because I stopped burning people, started burning CDs / Stopped battling the world, started battling MCs / Just started busting rhymes, now I found my groove / Now the SS on my jacket stands for Super Smooth."
That's right, apparently Adolph Hitler is a rapper now, and these days he's committing "lyrical genocide." When the show's over, he raps, "There's a party up at Schindler's, and I'm on his A-list."
That scene about describes the shock awaiting channel surfers who happen to flip to cable music channel Fuse around 11pm on an upcoming Tuesday, part of the new sketch comedy series, The Whitest Kids U' Know. For many Charlottesvillians who recognize the young man behind the mustache, the outrageous content will come as no surprise. They saw this same impish glee in his eyes when he was a teenager, as he dialed Shiffletts, blew up bunnies, and won an unprecedented cult following for his Charlottesville cable access show.
Ten years later, 25-year-old Trevor Moore is all grown up and ready to become the next big thing in American comedy. But is America ready for Trevor Moore?
The Letterman of Louisa
Moore has traveled the figurative long road to get to this moment, but his journey began on a literal road, touring the country with his parents, Mickey and Becki, as they performed and recorded original evangelical music.
"We had a home in Louisa County, but we basically lived on a bus until I was 8 or 10," Trevor says. "When you're in a new town every night, you have to make friends fast, so you try to be funny."
When the Moores finally settled down in Louisa, Trevor was 12, and his mind for comedy was his best friend.
"I was bored a lot," he recalls, "and I started writing jokes because there was really nothing else to do."
But his sense of humor soon developed into something more than a coping mechanism: he wanted to be funny for a living. Moore began by penning Cuddy, a weekly comic strip for the Observer and then the Daily Progress that he continued to draw until a few months ago. By the age of 15, Moore had curried favor with some of his biggest comic heroes after compiling his early work in a book called Scraps.
"I was a huge 'Weird Al' Yankovic fan," he says, "so I sent him a copy. A few weeks later, he sent me a note back saying, 'Loved the book! Such a warped mind at such a young age!' Then he sent me the same note again weeks later. So either I got on some list twice or he really liked the book."
Moore apparently captured famed cartoonist Gary Larson's attention, too. Not long after he sent him a copy of Scraps, one of Larson's Far Side cartoons was a drawing of "Letterman Falls," a row of rocks with water gushing through a gap in the middle, like the gap between the talk show host's teeth. The panel looked so much like one of Moore's cartoons, "David Letterman Dam," that the media got interested.
"I don't really want to sue," Moore told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot in 1995. "In a way, I guess it's flattering."
Twelve years later, Kathie Kerr, spokesperson for Far Side distributor United Press Syndicate says it's unlikely Larson stole Moore's idea.
"We usually don't pass on books to our cartoonists for that very reason, so I doubt what he sent actually got to [Larson]," she says, "but if he wants to pursue that with our legal department, he's free to do so."
Moore notes today that Letterman always represented more to him than an early lesson in intellectual property rights.
"I was a huge David Letterman fan, even going back to when he was on NBC," says Moore. "My parents would only let me watch a half hour of television a day, so I would record Letterman the night before and then watch it when I came home from school. That's what made me want to do a TV show."
In 1997, at the age of 15, Moore strode into the office of Charlottesville Public Access Television, took a class, got some friends together, and began working on the show that became possibly the biggest cable access hit in Charlottesville– and that made the creator of The Trevor Moore Show something of a household name– even if the humor often walked the fuzzy line between good and bad taste.
The show provided equal parts social observation (such as Trevor going door to door in Charlottesville's lowest income neighborhoods singing Kwanzaa carols) and unabashed silliness (such as a faux documentary about a previously undiscovered colony of people who blow up when exposed to a camera). Moore attributes the bizarre brand of tomfoolery in part to his attempt to balance the frenetic production schedule with school and a social life.
"With every sketch, our attitude was 'I think this is funny right now,'" he says. "You throw it all against the wall, and the stuff that stuck made for a great repertoire."
Moore's go-from-the-gut attitude about content and his tireless efforts to execute it soon won him a loyal local following.
"I started getting a lot e-mails from UVA students saying they watched the show every week and inviting me to parties," he recalls. "I was 16, and I'd show up at school with an e-mail, 'UVA girls invited me to a sorority party!' I couldn't go, though. I didn't even have my learner's permit."
But not everybody was laughing. Moore says he heard from critics as often as from fans, especially in response to a recurring sketch, "Dialing Shiffletts," in which he singled out folks with a name predominant in rural areas.
"We would call one of the hundreds of Shiffletts in the phone book," explains Moore, "and, for example, I'd tell them I was from a gay pride organization, thanking them for their donation, and saying I wanted to get the spelling of their name right because there was going to be a big color ad in the Daily Progress. They'd get furious and say, 'I'm gonna sue you!'"
Considering that the sketch was showing on public access TV, Moore never expected the deluge of letters and e-mails that poured in.
"I got a lot of hate mail for that," he recalls. "People said that it was mean, offensive, that I was making blanket statements, which I was. But most people got that it was a joke."
Long before a straight-faced Stephen Colbert began personifying boorish stupidity, this Charlottesville teen couldn't help but be encouraged.
"I loved it, because it meant people were watching," says Moore. "If you got more than one letter from somebody who said they hated you, it meant they kept watching.
"With anything you put out there, you're going to offend somebody," he says, "but most people get that it's a joke, that I'm playing a character, and that I'm actually making fun of what I'm saying by saying it."
In the case of The Trevor Moore Show, so many people got the joke that Pax-TV (now Ion Television) sat up and took notice. In 1998, the network began paying Moore $1,500 per episode to broadcast the weekly show on its affiliates throughout Virginia. The trouble was, the sometimes edgy comedy didn't exactly fit with Pax's otherwise family friendly fare.
"The first complaints we got were for a sketch about a game show called 'What's in the Bag?' where people would have to guess what was in the bag by hitting it with a hockey stick," Moore explains. "Of course, when they hit it, you'd hear an animal sound, and then we'd reveal that it was a very endangered animal like a panda."
That led Pax to refuse to air some sketches and even whole episodes with content that ranged from re-enacting scenes from Hamlet using roadkill to standing next to a homeless man with a sign that said, "Will work for less food than this guy." After 11 months, Moore and Pax parted company.
"Pax was family oriented, but we were making this for a late-night audience," Moore says. "About halfway through our run, I found out that they had been re-airing the show at 9am on Saturday morning. So it was a perfect storm of problems."
Off camera, Moore was still the same wisecracking student at the Covenant School. However, his Algebra II teacher, Debra Douglas, recalls that Moore was far from the typical class clown.
"He'd sit in class and come out with some of the wittiest stuff. But I'd be the only one laughing because most of the students wouldn't get it," she says. "He wasn't funny in a boisterous, show-off way. He would just lean back and say something very cerebral, and I'd die laughing."
According to Moore, not everyone on the faculty was so amused.
"Most of my teachers didn't like me," he says. "I didn't get good grades because I pretty much lived at the public access studio. I tried to be the class clown, so I spent a lot of time in detention."
Still, Douglas says she recognized early on that Moore's wisecracks were not a distraction, but a gift.
"He never succumbed to the peer pressure to become a cookie cutter kid, and he took a lot of heat for that," she says. "But he never made fun of anybody, and you could see that once he got out of high school, he was going to blossom."
In fact, classmate Kyle Stewart remembers Moore embracing his outsider status with his knack for a visual gag.
"At Covenant, all the athletes put these cardboard cutouts on their lockers that said something like '#14, Varsity Soccer,' with a little soccer ball," Stewart recalls. "So Trevor made one of his own that looked just like all the others except it said, '#12, Varsity Tag' with a little stick figure chasing after another stick figure."
Stewart so enjoyed Moore's off-kilter sense of humor that he soon became his partner in comedy, often serving as cameraman, co-starring in many sketches, and sitting in on late-night editing sessions.
"On Friday night he'd start editing," Stewart remembers, "and other than naps every once in a while, he'd keep going through Sunday night. We'd turn in the final version Monday morning, and that afternoon we'd go to Taco Bell and start talking about ideas for the next show."
Stewart says most of their classmates didn't realize how far Moore would go for a joke.
"Once we were filming a scene where Trevor had to jump from on top of a car onto a deer carcass," Stewart explains. "Trevor actually called up the DMV, and they said one had just gotten hit and he could have it."
"By the time we shot the scene," says Moore, "we'd had the deer for a few days, and the temperature had been in the 90s, so it was pretty ripe."
"We saved that shot for the end of the day," Stewart recalls, "and originally we had Trevor grab on to a pole so his full weight wasn't coming down on the deer. But he looked at the footage and said it didn't look right."
That left him with only one option.
"Jumping from a car onto a dead animal turned out to be a very squeamish thing to do," Moore says. "We were really lucky that thing didn't pop."
Start spreading the news
When he graduated from Covenant, Moore's determination to go the extra mile for the laugh in filmmaking led him 350 miles north to the School of Visual Arts in New York. By 2002, he had landed many a young comedian's dream gig: personal intern to Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of Saturday Night Live.
"My job was basically to make popcorn and stay out of the way," he says, "but there were always a lot of scripts flying around, so I would secretly grab one when I wasn't busy. I was fascinated with the writing process and seeing the evolution of a sketch and how it would change up to the minute before it went on the air. I could see the creative process, and everybody was very nice, so it was like a little school."
By then, Moore had already formed his own sketch comedy troupe, The Whitest Kids U Know, a group that went on to become one of the hottest acts in New York's comedy scene thanks in large part to the power of the Internet.
Downloadable videos have included "Super-Size Me (With Whiskey!)" (a Jameson's-fueled parody of Morgan Spurlock's fast-food documentary), "Pregnancy Test" (a wife mistakes an expensive electronic device for the little blue strip kit), and "Timmy Poops His Pants" (a business meeting takes an unexpected turn).
The Hitler rap, "Triumph of the Ill," has already been viewed over 650,000 times on YouTube. These days, whitestkids.com, the group's official site, is logging 3 million unique visits per month.
"It used to be that in comedy you had to play the clubs and work your way up," says Moore, "but now, before you do the clubs, you can put something up on the Internet. It's public access times a million."
All the blogosphere buzz led to an invitation to last year's HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. The Whitest Kids did not disappoint, winning the award for Best Sketch and attracting the attention of many Hollywood executives.
"Sundance, MTV, and Comedy Central were all talking to us about doing a pilot," Moore explains, "but Fuse was gung-ho about getting it started. They bought up a whole season's worth of 10 episodes."
Moore says the group is also working with Paramount on a potential Whitest Kids movie about the last 24 hours on earth "and we play a basketball team trying to circumvent armageddon." He says a concept that caught 20th Century Fox's interest is a road movie about "two guys driving cross country to go to the Playboy Mansion."
But, just as was the case for Moore's TV show 10 years ago, the Whitest Kids' rise has not been without some controversy. In an eerie reprise of the comic strip incident, Moore felt he'd been robbed after the Whitest Kids uploaded a sketch called "The New Thing" in which a group of friends demonstrate to their hapless buddy that slapping someone in the face every time they end a question with a one-syllable word is "the new thing."
Sound familiar? It should– a Bud Light ad that aired during this year's Super Bowl had a group of friends explaining to their hapless buddy that slapping someone's face has replaced bumping fists as the new way of greeting.
The day after the game aired, the Whitest Kids put out a press release: "Budweiser representatives recently requested materials from the Whitest Kids for their Bud TV campaign; its members view this as more than a coincidence."
Bloggers everywhere noticed the similarity, and the next day an editor at MySpace.com put the Whitest Kids' original on the popular social-networking website's homepage. But now, a month and a half after the Super Bowl, Moore downplays the controversy.
"You do get ripped off sometimes, and we felt like this was pretty blatant," he says. "But when MySpace put our clip up, we got 280,000 downloads."
Anheuser-Busch representatives declined to comment for this story, and their ad agency, DDB Chicago, did not return a request for comment.
Spats with beer companies and their ad agencies aside, this may be Moore's make-or-break moment. Fuse's decision about a second season of The Whitest Kids U' Know and final decisions from the feature film companies are expected in May.
"We've been performing this stuff for years, and we've worked on making it for TV for months," says Moore. "It's like waiting for the bomb to go off, hoping people like it."
But whether the show propels the Whitest Kids to the upper reaches of stardom or is consigned to the dustbins of TV history, it will have happened on their terms. Moore reports that his wildest material has slid by the network execs. "They pretty much let us do what we want as long as it's funny," he says.
That rule is one by which Moore can certainly abide. He's been following it all his life.
Moore's turn as a rapping Adolph Hitler has been viewed over 650,000 times on YouTube.
COURTESY OF THE WHITEST KIDS U' KNOW
Moore (center) and the rest of his troupe, The Whitest Kids U Know, are now literally larger than life on billboards in New York and Los Angeles.
COURTESY OF THE WHITEST KIDS U' KNOW
The Trevor Moore Show won the teenage Moore hoards of fans and some offered occasional invitations to UVA parties.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
Moore credits Saturday Night Live creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels for part of his comic education.
"He would just lean back and say something very cerebral, and I'd die laughing," says Covenant math teacher Debra Douglas.
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER
"Most people get that it's a joke, that I'm playing a character," says Moore (second from right), seen here with the rest of the Whitest Kids U' Know.
COURTESY OF FUSE NETWORKS