Nirvana the Band the Show may be a bit of an unusual name for a web series, but then again, it’s not your usual show. Episodes run a long ten to eleven minutes each, but the wandering journey following two guys endlessly pursuing stardom for their haphazard band is well worth it. (Think the a super-indie version of The All-for-Nots, that let it all hang out all the time.)
The honesty between the characters who continuously find themselves in ridiculous situations pings of The Office or The Gary Shadling Show. But the guys are in that joyous state between web anonymity and stardom, allowing them to pull of such stunts as Matt playing a blind man, getting hit by a car, and the Toronto public buying into it.
The show stars Jay McCarrol and Matt Johnson, lifelong friends in real life, and on the show, they have been making each other laugh, and messing around on the piano since the age of nine.
Tubefilter caught up with the Canuck natives via phone to talk about the show, the band, and fame in Canada.
Tubefilter: What is your background?
Matt: You mean our ethnic background, or what we did before this?
Tubefilter: (laughing) What you did before this?
Matt: Well, we all just pretty much got out school, like right before we started the show. Jay and I, we’re from Mississauga, and we met when we were really young, like about nine. We did a bunch of stupid projects together as kids, and then he went to school in America, and I went to school in Canada, and then when we were both out of school we moved in together, and thought it would be funny to make a show like this. And then Jared, our producer, he went to the same film school as me, and saw the first few episodes of our show, and was like, man, “you guys are the best, you guys are the best,” and he came on to produce the rest of the series. But in terms of what we did before this, nothing really… we worked on small projects.
Jay: But when we did work on small projects, when we were writing we always had this piano performance thing with me just joking around on the piano, and Matt just being silly. We’ve always done that since we were really young, but we’ve never done anything like this before.
Tubefilter: So what inspired you to do it?
Jay: It sort of dawned up that we should take some of our half-written ideas and do something with them, and we thought, we could do it all if we had a series with an ending in site, we could do it all.
Jared Raab (producer): I sort of had the impression with you guys that you sort of just turned a camera on yourselves, and then suddenly it became clear that this was something entertaining to watch.
Matt: Yeah, maybe a plot could match this insanity.
Matt: Ten. Yeah, ten in total. The show started in December 2007, so we’ll probably have our last episode in December of 2008.
Jay: That’s sort of like tentative, I guess.
Matt: The fact of the matter is we take way more time to finish these than we plan for… every deadline we’ve ever had, we’ve missed. The fact is we probably won’t have it all done until mid-February.
Jay: Since we’ve gotten pretty popular in Toronto there’s now a demand for these, but it actually takes us some time to put them out.
Matt: The thing is, we all have day jobs, and we do this in our free time. But we do update every Wednesday with new stuff.
Tubefilter: So did you guys study film, or acting? You’ve got some pretty wicked awesome improv skills.
Matt: Jared and I went to York film school in Canada.
Jay: I went to Berkeley School of Music to study film scoring.
Matt: None of us studied acting or anything like that. We didn’t ever take film that seriously either.
Jared: We’ve always said that Jay’s the talented one.
Jay: I dropped out of Berkeley too.
Tubefilter: How much of the show is written versus improvised?
Matt: Well… it’s all scripted, pretty much. We have up to episode ten scripted to a “T.”
Jay: Here’s the thing. We improvise the writing, in a sense. But because of the way the show is edited, in the end we painstakingly go through every line in a very scripted process, I guess.
Matt: It’s the same as any other show. It’s the same as Curb Your Enthusiasm, or like The Factory on SpikeTV. It’s the same as any of these new shows, where you just know they’re making up every single line because nobody in the world could act like that. It’s ridiculous…. I think what Jay was saying before, I think we maybe do what nobody else is doing. We sort of improvise scenes, and we have tons, and tons of dialogue, and then in the editing we basically re-write the episode. And 99 percent of the time when you see me say something, and you see Jay say something in response to that, that almost never happens in real life.
Jared: They say that TV is written three times. In writing, in shooting, and then again in editing. I think Nirvana the Band is written ten times. Once in the planning. Once in the shooting… a couple times in the shooting. And then like eight times in the editing.
Jay: We go through a million different incarnations, until we find the one that makes us laugh.
Tubefilter: Where did the name of the band come from?
Jay: We have a different answer for that in every interview. It came about in some wild improvising, I guess.
Matt: During the 90s, Nirvana was sort of the biggest band, and we liked the idea of these characters really showing their history, their life on their sleeve. It would be kind of funny if these guys knew everything about the 90s, everything, except who the biggest band was.
Jay: They didn’t realize that there was any problem with using the name Nirvana. But that’s never addressed in the show.
Matt: But we didn’t want people to confuse it with the other type of nirvana, so to drive it home we decided, Nirvana the Band so that it was clear that it was a band.
Tubefilter: What would be the US equivalent of The Rivoli?
Matt: That’s impossible… The Rivoli is a small club in Toronto that is famous for bringing in really famous acts. And a lot of stand-up comedians really get their start there. For stand-up, your gig at the Rivoli is really big deal. The Rolling Stones did a lot of shows there.
Jared: I think Nirvana did a show there.
Jay: It’s a popular club, and a very cool club. They’re respected for what they do, but by no means is it one of the biggest venues in the city.
Matt: But at the same time, your question is interesting because in Toronto there is like nothing that has an equivalent in America.
Jay: There’s like no place in Toronto where everyone is like, oh yeah, that’s the place.
Matt: So people hear The Rivoli, and they go, oh yeah, I guess that place is pretty cool.
Jared: At the same time, I think it’s the arbitrary nature of the place that makes it so funny.
Matt: When I was growing up I was obsessed with having a stand-up comedy show at The Rivoli. I would tell everyone I knew that one day, I was going to have a show there. And I think just a total ignorance of what it means to be famous is what’s important about these guys.
Tubefilter: So is The Rivoli in on the joke?
Matt: We’ve sort of gotten popular enough in Toronto that they’ve definitely heard about it. I am sure a lot of people that go to The Rivoli now mention it to them. So it’s at a point now that we can shoot outside The Rivoli, and we can see the staff all whispering to one another, and then they will come out and line up, just to check out what’s going on. It’s sort of like rival gangs.
Jay: So we live pretty much a hundred feet away from The Rivoli, and so we walk by it all the time, and sometimes when they recognize us, they all look for the cameras, because they know it’s a hidden camera show, even when we’re out in the real world.
Matt: But I don’t think they’re mad about it. I know one of the staff members is a really big fan of the show. They’ve all gotten t-shirts from us. It’s a point of pride for them. They just randomly work at this place, and we’ve made this place sort of mildly famous on the internet.
Jay: And we hope that they don’t mind if we use some of their faces, and figures in the show without their permission, or knowledge that they’re in the show at all…but they’re really being good sports about it… I actually walked by one of the waiters, and I was really scared he was going to give me some sh*t, but he just recognized me, and he said, “oh you a–holes, you a–holes,” but he’s kind of being sarcastic, and he looked at me and he said, “it’s funny, it’s really, really funny.” And he walked away, and it was cool.
Matt: That was actually the same waiter that served me in episode five, and ran after me when I got hit by that car. To this day, he still thinks I got hit by that car. He thinks that that was a real car!
Tubefilter: How did Matt get to be in this band in the first place without any musical talent to speak of?
Matt: I think in the reality of the show, I think Jay is the guy who thinks he’s lucky to be in the band.
Jay: Yeah, within the reality of the show, I sort of look up to Matt. He has the higher status.
Matt: So even though I know nothing about the band, I can say to him, “I’m going to start this band, and you can be in it,” and he’ll be like, “okay, sure.” You’ve just got to follow me with the piano, and so whenever something goes badly, I can just blame him. Whenever something musically screws up, it’s never my fault. It would never, ever be Matt’s fault, it will be because Jay played the wrong note.
Jay: And Jay’s character has no idea how good he is at the piano, because Matt will just cut him on a dime.
Matt: But the answer is, I started the band. I’m in the band because I started the band.
Jay: I started the band, actually.
Matt: In real life, I started the band.
Jay: You can print that I started the band.
Tubefilter: So are you guys super famous in Toronto?
Matt: In Toronto, definitely, basically, a lot of our age know about the show. Like, if me, and Jay leave the house together, and walk around Queens Street long enough, someone will eventually recognize us, and be like, “hey, Nirvana The Band,” and yell at us. But, because of the nature of Toronto, even like our biggest celebrities don’t get asked for autographs. Not to say we’re like celebrities. We’re only like celebrities with people under 22. But no, no one has asked us for our autograph.
Jay: But we are getting a good following.
Jared: The other thing about fame in Toronto is, our absolute biggest rock stars serve you drinks at night. So making it in Toronto, and being famous in Toronto, probably has a different connotation that in LA.
Matt: Yeah, the people in Toronto go crazy when the Jonas Brothers come by, or when Paris Hilton came by… those are the celebrities they care about it… (laughing) But yeah, yeah, we’re famous in Toronto, definitely… We’re also the only people doing this kind of stuff in Toronto. We might be the only people doing this kind of stuff in all of Canada…. well, that we’ve heard of. But it’s not like the phase where it seems like a lot of people are starting web shows.
Tubefilter: What kind of budget do you work with for the show?
Matt: Oh, nothing. Every single episode is made with a crew of four people. The only thing we spend money on is like, food, and tapes.
Tubefilter: I love your homages to various TV shows in your openings. How did that start?
Matt: It kind of goes back to that 90s things.
Jay: We do like the idea of things being nostalgic for people. That’s where the piano sessions stem from too. We like to say, “look, we’re not doing this for a joke, but Jurassic Park was a really good movie, and you should remember how good it is.” I am such a huge film music and video game music appreciator. And I originally wanted to have a section of the site that was just music. So I can just play these songs for people, and show all the video game scores I love. And then we had the idea to add clips, and it really, I think, reminded people how cool some of these things are.
Matt: It also informs are characters. I mean we love Frasier. We love those shows.
Tubefilter: Is the girl in the show actually Matt’s sister?
Matt: (laughing) No, it’s not. I mean, my sister is totally cool. And she likes the show, but she was like, “Matt, people who watch the show are going to actually think that that really is me. They’re going to think that I really am a stripper.” And she had a really good argument for it too, she said, “Matt, everything in the show is real. You’re real, Jay’s real, our brother in the show is real, but to have the one thing in the show that is not real be me, as a stripper, is really, really confusing for people.” I was like, “you’re right, you’re right Em. I’ll change it. I’ll change it.” So that character has a different name in a later episode.
Tubefilter: So, will Nirvana the Band ever get to play The Rivoli?
Jay: You’ll have to watch and find out!
Matt: The answer is yes… in after all their wheeling and dealing, if they don’t wind up going to jail, they will wind up convincing the bailiff to let them play at The Rivoli…
Jay: We hope.
Matt: But on that note, bars in Toronto all the time will try to get in touch with us, and they say, “guys, listen, you can play at our bar whenever you want!” And it’s hard to explain to them that that would end the show if all of a sudden they got a gig.
Tubefilter: So what’s next for you guys?
Jay: We’re in the middle of putting some pitches together for TV that are a little more TV friendly.
Matt: At the same time, we’re pretty proud to have done this, and to finish it.
New behind the scenes features are added to nirvanathebandtheshow.com every Wednesday.