Mixing five average college students, $700, and a liberal amount of fine Kentucky bourbon could make an interesting episode of Cops—or in the case of the Whitest Kids U'Know, one killer sketch comedy group. The troupe's self-titled TV show, premiering March 20 at 11 p.m. on the Fuse network, showcases its members' hilarious minimalist humor.
For the Whitest Kids U'Know, dubbed WKUK by its online fan base, nothing is off-limits. The quintet of 20-somethings from Middle America—Trevor Moore, Darren Trumeter, Sam Brown, Zach Cregger, and Timmy Williams—has become one of New York's most buzz-worthy sketch comedy troupes, performing in the coveted Sunday-night spot at Pianos. Its avant-garde style of comedy knows no boundaries, taking on such hot-button issues as race, sex, and politics. The five have amassed a collection of more than 200 skits—including "Hitler Rap," a tongue-in-cheek gangsta-rap music video featuring Adolf Hitler; "Pregnancy Test," in which a happy couple is waiting for the results of a pregnancy test when the husband discovers his wife has urinated on his superslim iPod Shuffle; and "Dear Black People," in which a young boy writes a letter to black people to get back his dad's lawn mower. Skits can be viewed on their website, www.whitestkids.com.
Brown says the key to WKUK's success is simplicity: "Stuff like 'Pregnancy Test' and 'Dear Black People' come from, 'Let's take 30 seconds and tell the biggest, most absurd story that you can.'" Absurd indeed: In the sketch "Race War," one troupe member stands on a Bronx street swinging a baseball bat, yelling into an upper floor apartment, "Hey, Bill! Come on, man! Let's go! Race war!" "That was a tricky one to shoot because we were out on the street yelling that," Moore recalls, laughing. "We were kind of looking around trying to find moments where there wasn't that many people out on the street; that way we wouldn't get shot or anything."
WKUK draws inspiration from British comedy groups, such as Monty Python, and Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson. "People don't like to laugh at someone who's got it all together, who is good-looking and has a successful job—that's not funny," Cregger says. "What's funny is failure. You have to totally be able to flaunt your flaws and your failures for people to laugh at it."
WKUK began humbly in a Brooklyn residence hall of the School of Visual Arts in 2000 after Moore and Brown recognized each other from the comedy club circuit. The pair became partying buddies, trading comedic riffs over many late nights. "We all went to college in the spillover dorm in Brooklyn. Basically, if you missed your entrance for any of the colleges in New York, they would dump you in this dorm in Brooklyn. It was all of these, like, lazy kids living together," says Moore. "We ended up getting [WKUK] as a school club so that we could get funding from the school. So we could get, like, $700 a semester to buy beer and cigarettes and stuff."
Partnership is important to the troupe members, so as they added new members and played new venues, they were able to fall back on their initial friendship. "We're immensely comfortable with each other because we've known each other for so long and we've been so close," Cregger says. "We kind of, like, fight and bicker the way brothers do and get along the way brothers do."
Williams notes that much of the group's minimalist style wasn't so much intentional as it was necessary. "[In college] every show that we did, we bought a lot of costumes and props. We were a bunch of dumb college kids, and so we often found a lot of the stuff we bought didn't work; we'd have too many lighting and music cues, or the costumes would be too awkward to wear," recalls Williams, adding that they phased out most of that. "That came from the fact that after we graduated from school, we didn't have that budget to use anymore. We were all poor."
Moore explains that the group's name is just another way that they are able to poke fun at themselves. "We were walking around, and one of us was doing something really stupid. I think it was pretending to rap [while] walking down the street, and then somebody else turned and was saying, 'You guys are, like, the whitest guys I know.' And that was basically the name: a self-deprecating [way of saying] we know we're nerdy idiots," he says. "Everyone probably has different versions of how the name came about, because we got the name really early on, and a lot of the time while we were doing those meetings we were very much drinking, so there's no real consensus of how the name came about."
Self-deprecation is a recurring theme in their work. Williams has no problem baring it all for comedy; indeed, he enjoys it. He recalls many a time when he went "nipples out" for a laugh. "Maybe...their intent for asking me to join the troupe the whole time was just that they wanted to see me naked. I don't know," he says jokingly. Cregger offers up a good explanation: "Why wouldn't we want to see him naked? He just has such a ridiculous body. He's shaped like one in a million. The way his body is built is like God designed a little teddy-bear toy. It was hysterical. We'd be fools not to use it." Adds Brown with a laugh, "It's only natural, right?"
Cregger says working as a group has helped him foster his talents as an actor. "I think it's made me a better actor because I'm not playing the typical roles I'd be playing on television and film," he says. "Any given Sunday, I'll have to play an old man, a baby, someone with schizophrenia, a surfer dude, a woman, a housewife—I play everything in the troupe, and that's great because it's so challenging. I have to be able to just shed my skin instantly six times in a row within 25 minutes. I think that's a powerful boot camp. I get to stretch muscles that I would never have stretched before. That helps when I go into an audition room."
Trumeter, who is also a screenwriter, enjoys being able to collaborate with other performers. "Usually the creative process is something that you work on by yourself," he says. "What's really made me stronger is when you're writing with the troupe, we're all writing together. It's stuff that's coming off the top of your head, and then somebody else is spinning it around, and you're just going back and forth. You're basically playing off each other."
The five are convinced that the sky's the limit for the Whitest Kids U'Know. Beyond its new television show, the group has turned in a script to Paramount Pictures for a Whitest Kids movie. Says Moore, "What we'd like to do is follow the Monty Python structure—do a TV show for a little while and then just do movies, but like every couple of years come back, get together, and do, like, a Whitest Kids movie."