Human Giant on Peter, Bjorn and John, MTV, and Heroin


Rob Huebel and Aziz Ansari: The ones with hair.

“One time, we were doing a festival, and we were supposed to open up for Peter Bjorn and John. And Peter Bjorn and John got really mad at us. And they beat up Paul [Scheer], and then they raped him — in their tour bus.”

This whole comedy mixing with music scenes is pretty new to me. You used to have your two-drink-minimum comedy clubs and Lollapalooza ’92, which had Ministry. And Ministry; well, they’re no laughing matter. If memory serves me correctly, LP92 was the first time I saw a young girl with black eyeliner spit on someone, then laugh about it — clearly not “comedy” as we’ve come to think of it. The point is they were separate worlds.

In the Eugene Mirman-era, the funny ha-ha thing is regular on music bills, with sketch comedy troupe Human Giant — Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer — having had success working music angles into their repertoire, most notably with last May’s 24-Hour MTV Marathon.

I sat down with Aziz and Rob earlier this month in Austin, where they were largely unimpressed with my ‘revelation’ that music and comedy are mixing so well. They were also largely unimpressed with my Lollapalooza recollection, but I didn’t mention anything about goth-girl spitting, so maybe it’s my fault. Presentation is everything.

I’ve been really interested in your careers over the last few years.

Rob Huebel: Are you being sarcastic?

No. This music crossover you’re having success with is very interesting; when I was in high school, and went to festivals, there would be no comedic acts.

Aziz Ansari: Well, I think Rob and I can both agree, for the past couple years there’s a huge crossover in comedy and bluegrass music.

Rob: That’s all we care about. Merging bluegrass with hilarious comedy.

Aziz: So many people who listen to bluegrass, like our comedy.

It makes sense.

Aziz: No, all these festivals — South by Southwest, Bonnaroo, Pitchfork, it’s so fun for us to go do comedy there, because there’s a lot of people that are into comedy, that are listening to indie rock music, or whatever.

Rob: Well, I don’t think that’s new… I mean I think that it’s new, that they figured it out.

Aziz: Yeah.

Rob: Of course, that makes sense. It’s like these are young, smart, hip people that like this band… might they also like smart comedy?

Aziz: It’s good, and a little break from seeing music. Maybe you know us from Human Giant, but you don’t know any of the other comedians. It’s easier to get into comedy that you’re not familiar with, more so than music even. A comedian will start making you laugh, and you’re immediately like, “I like this guy, a lot. Already I’ve seen him for two minutes, and I know I like this guy.” That’s how we kind of came up too; I’d do a show with someone like David Cross, and it would be a great way for me to be introduced to people.

Rob: There is a bit of a… comedy definitely has its place at a music festival.

What is that place?

Aziz: A separate place. “This is a comedy thing, you want to see that, go see that.” What’s hard is, when it’s “Here’s a couple of bands, and before we bring on the headliner, here’s this guy, who a lot of you probably don’t even know who he is, he’s going to come and waste your time.”

Rob: Last year, here at this Fader Fort, we were hosting this party. And they were like basically you guys are going to introduce bands, and be funny, and come out and be funny some more.

Was that in the contract: “Be funny”?

Rob: Yeah [laughs]. So we went out, and for some reason they had given the audience a bunch of ping pong balls — here, where we are right now — they started pelting us with ping-pong balls. We were like “what are we doing?” Just have us do comedy, at a place where they are expecting comedy. It should be a little bit segregated.

Aziz: We’re pro-segregation, as far as comedy and music.

Rob: An hour ago, we were supposed to introduce this band, and they were doing their soundcheck right up until their set was about to start.

Aziz: Yeah, at that Pitchfork thing.

Rob: So, we were like “Do you want us to this bit? It’s like five minutes, and it’s really funny.” And they were like, “Well, its going to eat into our set.”

Aziz: And we were like “we don’t want to eat into you set time, when there are industry people here to see you. Of course we’re not going to come and do our dumb thing with a T-shirt gun.

Which I saw today. Which was pretty funny.

Aziz: We just fired them; you got see us do the bit!

Rob: We actually do a bit where we shoot out a bunch of T-shirts, then we end up putting pantyhose over our heads and end up robbing the audience of their T-shirts, and then we turn on each other and kill each other with T-shirts.

Aziz: It becomes a really dumb bank robbery situation. It’s like Point Break meets T-Shirt guns.

Those things flew.

Aziz: Oh, man, so hard. But you can’t wedge that in right before some band everyone is wanting to see goes on. One time, we were doing a festival, and we were supposed to open up for Peter Bjorn and John. And Peter Bjorn and John got really mad at us. And they beat up Paul, and then they raped him, in their tour bus.

Rob: Which I always felt was excessive.

Aziz: And they whistled “Young Folks” the whole time, while they were raping him.

[Rob whistles “Young Folks”]

Aziz: I was like, that’s not cool.

It’s not.

Rob: As Paul was being raped!

Aziz: By Peter Bjorn and John. Those guys, oh my god, they’re brutal.

I saw him [Peter Morén] last night, he looked smug, like he’d done something.

Rob: All rapists look smug.

Did you guys see your profile really raise after the MTV Human Giant 24 Hour thing, where you had bands integrated; it was a lot of good press after, as a “return to form.”

Rob: What it is really, is two separate worlds; it’s the people who watch MTV, and then there’s the people…

Aziz: Who probably hate MTV.

Rob: Yeah, that hate MTV, but watch our show. So it’s two types of people; people who normally watch MTV, probably don’t get our show. We don’t write stuff for that demographic, whatever that is. We just don’t try to appeal to them. We just try to write stuff that’s funny, what college kids would think is funny, that sort of…

Aziz: It would be impossible for us to cater to their audience.

Rob: It’s really mainstream. Gone are the days where they do a lot of cool stuff; they’ve just had so much success with really broad reality shows; more power to them.

Aziz: It’s like “Here’s a kid in high school. He’s going to prom. Let’s put that on TV.” We can’t do that; we just don’t know how to film a kids’ high school prom. And then edit into a television show.

Rob: For them to do this weird comedy show, it’s like…

Aziz: To MTV’s credit, it’s like them saying “It might not be fitting their corporate culture at our channel right now, but we think it’s good, and we’re putting it on.” To their credit, they let us do whatever we want, and the creative freedom we have is a lot.

Rob: They literally have let us do whatever we want, which is crazy, because the show does not blend in with the channel at all.

Aziz: The deal we made with them was basically like: “Okay, you guys can have complete creative control here, as long as you film this season of Life of Ryan.” And we were like, “Okay, we’ll film this kid skateboarding.”

Rob: And I don’t even like skateboarding. You know, this kid goes to high school, he goes to his prom, and we’re there with him, 24-7.

Aziz: Filming it. It was easy. Rob actually hooked up with a girl at his prom…

Rob: And I’m way too old to be hooking up with a high school girl… but I did, because I needed work.

Aziz: And now she watches Human Giant.

That’s good that they give you that freedom. Honestly, nothing ever good is written about [MTV], besides what you did…

Aziz: We think they may like hate us for that reason… they’re like let’s not give press to those guys, because it’s always like “They’re awesome… but!”

Rob: People will write, “I love your show, but I hate that channel. But I love your show.” To their credit, as we said, they’re smart enough to know that there are different audiences out there and not everything has to be straight up the middle. They can do stuff that appeals to the audience that they used to get; the audience that used to watch The State and Beavis and Butthead. Cool, weirder stuff. They know that those kids still exist out there; they’ve also figured out that more of those kids, like dumb stuff.

I was thinking earlier today…

Aziz: [Occupied] Sorry, my girlfriend is asking me where…

Rob: Let the record show that Aziz is texting his girlfriend too…

Aziz: I was sending her a PIN, if you really want to have it on the record…

Rob: He’s sending her a PIN for his ATM card, so she can get out money, to buy heroin.

It seems kind of randomly, that your tastes in music have helped your careers in ways.

Aziz: I think anytime someone has something in common with a performer, that makes you a little bit more likely to be into them. Take a look at Brian Posehn — he has a huge metal fanbase, cause he’s clearly a guy who loves heavy-metal music, and talks about it in his act. So those guys are going to be into that, there’s nothing wrong with that.

What’s the scene like at Bonnaroo? I’ve never been, but the YouTube clips I’ve seen of David Cross, he’ll just roll out there and start to rip on hippies… and it’s funny to me.

Aziz: Yeah, everyone goes there and shits on hippies.

Rob: It’s in the woods, in Tennessee, on this farm, and it’s a million degrees. But they do have good bands there; Radiohead’s been there.

Aziz: It’s like two festivals going on: there’s the indie rock kids and the hippie kids. I think at Bonnaroo, they have a separate comedy tent. So they’re at least coming there…

Rob: They’re there to see comedy, but also it’s the only air-conditioned place.

Aziz: At the same time, the lines now are so long for the comedy tent. You really have to want to see it bad…

Are these things are good gigs — are they financially rewarding in your worlds?

Aziz: Yeah, I think so. Being able to come out to South by Southwest or Bonnaroo, you can’t ask for a better deal than that. See all these bands, they treat you well, we never take it seriously. Like when we go to the artist thing, we never think we’re artists.

Rob: We’re the last people to be like “What the fuck man, where’s my VIP pass?” The truth of the matter is, most people don’t know who we are.

Human Giant will appear tonight Tuesday, April 1st at the Paley Center For Media at 6pm for a measly $10.00.

PREVIOUSLY: Ben Westhoff hangs out at last May’s 24-Hour Human Giant MTV Marathon