Practically every article about Human Giant mentions two things: the Internet, and the possibility that the show's hilarious, well-crafted sketches might save MTV from its current state of Date-My-Mom-ification. The Internet comes into play because the show's bite-sized skits seem tailor-made for YouTube, though Human Giant troupe members Aziz Ansari, Paul Scheer, and Rob Huebel and show director Jason Woliner are quick to point out that they were never an Internet sensation. The second thing still remains to be seen, though Human Giant's sharp, absurd sketch comedy is promising enough to suggest that there's still hope for MTV. Human Giant's members come from different backgrounds: Woliner is a former child actor, Scheer and Huebel are veteran improv and sketch performers, and Ansari is a stand-up comic with a voice pitched somewhere between nerdy confidence and hip-hop swagger. The A.V. Club recently sat down with all four men to talk about their history, their methods, and whether they're really going to be MTV's salvation.
The A.V. Club: How did you all meet?
Paul Scheer: We connected through the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. Rob and I performed improv for the last 10 years, and Aziz is this new stand-up dude that everyone was talking about.
Aziz Ansari: When we shot our skit "Shutterbugs" as a short film, we met Jason. And then Paul was in the second "Shutterbugs" short. And then a couple of months later, when me and Paul lived together, we came up with an idea for "The Illusionators," and we shot that with Jason and Rob.
AVC: MTV approached you about the show, not the other way around.
Rob Huebel: Yeah, we were lucky. We've all pitched shows before to other people. But I think because our stuff is on the Internet, they had a taste of it and saw that it had been fairly popular virally.
PS: When they approached us, it was weird , because no one pitches sketch shows anymore. It's that weird thing where it's like you have to come up with a crazy premise.
Jason Woliner: Like "You guys live in the belly of a giant who eats different things that you make sketches out of." We talked for months about if there was a framework, and ultimately, we just wanted to make these little videos.
PS: It was our dream come true, actually. All we want to do is make short, funny films and not have them connected, just have fun stuff all together in one episode.
RH: We just have the animation, the little bumpers, to get to the next thing. We don't ever introduce a sketch or explain what's about to happen.
AVC: Were you shocked that MTV would let you be all over the place?
RH: It was really crazy. When we did the pilot, we were like, "Great. They're gonna pay for it, and we get to go shoot more stuff that we think is funny." So we went and did that. We didn't really expect to get picked up.
PS: I think we were all kind of pessimists. It was great, but you go into everything thinking it's never gonna pan out the way you want it to. We have so many friends who're like, "Oh, yeah. I got a sitcom, and it's about this." And you see it, and it's not about that at all. Everything is watered down. I think the one cool thing about our show is that for the most part, we were able to keep a lot of it.
RH: They didn't give us too many parameters. They just let us pitch the funniest concepts. And they generally let us do what we want. That never, ever happens. Most of the time, it's like "We think our age group would be…" No, we didn't have to write for high-school kids. We just did whatever we think is funny.
AVC: What's your writing process like? Do you write together?
JW: We didn't have a writing process before the show, because we never wrote, the four of us together.
PS: We didn't write with discipline.
JW: We would write scripts, like for "Shutterbugs." Then when we shot it, everyone just came up with new stuff. We've definitely learned how to do it better as we've gotten along. So basically, that's how it went. We just go in with ideas and try to figure out funny stuff while we're there.
PS: I think the process itself became us in a room, and we'd all come up with a bunch of ideas. And if we all laugh at one idea, we roundtable a little to see if it has some legs.
RH: And someone would write that up, and then we would get the green light to go do it. And then we would try to build off that and make it better.
AA: Use it as a framework.
PS: But for every one idea that we got, there are hundreds that just died a painful death. One of us would come in on a Monday, like, "Oh! You guys, listen to this!"
AA: Anytime you were super-psyched about an idea, that was just a deathblow.
JW: There was one time when Aziz and I were driving around in L.A. and we had an idea that we thought was so funny: The World's Strongest Ghost.
AA: [Laughing.] Oh my God, we almost got into a car accident.
JW: We almost died, we were laughing so hard, and we came in on Monday and told them the idea, and it was basically nothing. No reaction.
RH: I figured out toward the end of the season, it depends on when and what time of the day you pitch it, and whether people had anything to eat. It's very specific.
PS: Also, if you came in very high-energy on an idea, it was immediately suspect.
JW: We all learned to undersell.
AA: And also, we didn't have, like, a writing staff, but we had consultants that would come in. Amazing people came and helped us out. Jon Glaser was really great. This guy Dan Mintz in L.A. And Brian Posehn. Those three were like our staff consultants that came in the most. The other guys would just come in every now and then for a day or two, like Patton Oswalt. He acted in the show too. We're just really flattered.
JW: Some of the people who helped us out [writing], we gave little cameos to, like Patton. Uh, we got a bunch of Mr. Show people…
AVC: Ghostface Killah?
PS: Yeah. The only thing about Ghostface is that when you see him on the episode, he's on a green screen. You can't tell. It's kind of hidden. But we never got to meet him.
RH: We shot the thing separately, and they superimposed Aziz in there.
PS: But we got Mary Lynn Rajskub from 24, and some of our good friends, like Rob Riggle from The Daily Show, Brian Posehn, Nick Swardson.
JW: Big comedy guys like Tony Hawk and Kelly Slater.
PS: Linda Cardellini. We tried to go after people we really liked.
JW: Like Bobb'e J. Thompson.
PS: Yeah! Bobb'e J. We're all addicted to this show called America's Most Talented Kid, hosted by Dave Coulier. This little kid, Bobb'e J., he's one of the judges. He was the best improviser, the best actor, the best physical comedian…
JW: He's the funniest person I've ever met.
AA: Honestly, he's the most talented kid. We thought he was just like a funny little kid, but he came there, and he was like… I've never seen a mind work like that, the stuff he was improvising. He's in the season finale of "Shutterbugs." He was making fun of me and Huebel, 'cause we kept breaking [character]. I was watching some behind-the-scenes we have from that day, and he kept making Huebel and me laugh when he did this one thing, and he was like, "Come on, guys. Get it together!"
AVC: He's a pro. How old is he?
RH: He's like 10. He's little.
PS: The cool thing is, you always approach people that you really like. And we got turned down by some people too, like Mr. Tom Selleck. He didn't want to be a part of our show. We had a great idea for Tom Selleck, it was gonna be he started his own vanity band—you know, like Jim Belushi has his vanity band, and Russell Crowe has his own vanity band. It was called Magnum and the P.I.s. They all wear mustaches and Hawaiian shirts. And the only song they play is the Magnum P.I. theme, but the end would be like "party tonight." And we sent him that script, and he turned it down 'cause he has to do some editing on his new show.
AA: He watched our pilot, though.
PS: He was interested to a point. But I think the mustaches and the Magnum references pushed him. We went to Alex Trebek, and he rejected us too.
AVC: So you couldn't get any mustached guys.
PS: But I hope Tom Selleck's new show is a success. And I hope our show is a success, and in the second season, he'll want to do it.
JW: After he reads us bash him.
PS: We're not bashing him. We want him. He's awesome. He just turned us down.
AVC: Did you hesitate at all about being on MTV, since it isn't really known for comedy now?
RH: It's certainly not the first place you think of when you think of comedy. But I think we got that great opportunity. What they do have is a gajillion eyeballs of kids that love comedy also.
AA: They were also really psyched about what we had done, and were just ready to go ahead and shoot this. It wasn't like, "Okay, so we'll develop this for a year. You guys can write a script." They're like, "No, we really want you guys to do this." And the other thing is, MTV does have these shows every now and then that are anomalies for the network, like Jackass or Beavis And Butt-head. And there's a chance that something like that could work, you know?
PS: When I was growing up, some of my favorite shows were on MTV, like Beavis And Butt-head and The State and Liquid Television. I think every network goes cyclically, too. Now, it's like The Hills and Laguna Beach. But I watched an hour of Parental Control this morning, and I loved it. Parental Control is amazing.
AVC: There's nothing like getting cuckolded in front of your parents.
PS: I know. Those kids. Man, they're hardcore! I would never think to talk to my girlfriend's parents like that.
JW: MTV is sorta really good at what they do. We put on MTV when we were in L.A. and Next was on. We couldn't turn it off for, like, four hours.
PS: It's unbelievable. There're so many Saturday afternoons I've spent watching MTV.
AA: They repeat the shit out of their programming, too, so hopefully they'll repeat our show a lot so people can catch it.
RH: I think we're just hoping to do something totally different on the channel. We feel like the show we've done is completely different and almost reminiscent of something they used to take a chance on a long time ago, before they became reality-driven. So that's our approach.
AVC: News stories about Human Giant always seem to say you were or are going to become a viral Internet sensation. But would you consider any of the Human Giant videos viral in that way?
AA: I think "The Illusionators" got 500,000 hits. But that doesn't compare to "Ask A Ninja," or Lonelygirl, which get millions, you know? I think it's just lazy to say "Oh, they got a couple of videos that are really big, and now they got a TV show."
JW: It was never "Lazy Sunday." We made "Shutterbugs" and "The Illusionators" to play live at UCB. It wasn't like we made it only because we were on the Internet and then we got the show. These guys have been performing forever in that theater. [Aziz] had already won in Aspen and done really well doing stand-up. I was in video for years. [The Internet] thing is just a really convenient story right now.
AVC: It does seem like you're more a live-performance-to-TV thing than Internet-to-television.
PS: To MTV's credit, they were just very proactive in finding those videos on the Internet after they'd seen us in live performances. One of the executives came to see us when we debuted our 12-minute version of "The Illusionators."
JW: But we gave Tony a DVD. It wasn't like… We weren't discovered on YouTube.
RH: That sort of moniker does make it sound like we're just these guys with a video camera out in, like, Nebraska.
JW: Or the "Numa Numa" guy.
PS: Or that girl who made a bunch of videos and got hired on MADtv. I think we've definitely used the Internet to get our videos out there. But we were never an Internet sensation.
RH: People in the New York comedy scene probably knew who we were.
AA: Me and Rob, when we walk around in this area together, we always get stopped for being the Shutterbugs. It's so crazy. We were in this bar the other night and got stopped. That's crazy. But outside of New York, it's not. It's kind of a niche thing. We go to South By Southwest, where it's a lot of indie-rock people, and the kind of people that are in the underground comedy scene—those people may have seen it, but in general, no.
AVC: What do you hope will happen with the show?
RH: We just really want to get endorsement deals. [Laughs.] With Reebok, with…
JW: I don't know. If we had a second season with a little more time to do it, that would be awesome.
PS: A little more time, a little more money. [Laughs.]
AA: I want people just to see the videos and enjoy them.
JW: We want people to like our stuff. It would be great if people thought of us like, "Oh, that was a good show." I think that's all we want.
AA: Yeah, that's really all it is.
PS: The one cool thing, too, is that I think we all want what's next. Yeah, we'd love to do a second season, but if not that, then, well, how could we do this in a longer form, whether it's a film or something like that? We like working together.
AVC: Do you think your show could possibly usher in the new wave of MTV programming, like all comedy all the time?
JW: [Laughs.] I'd have to say "no" on that.
PS: I think right now the landscape is a bit changed. People don't watch TV any more. It's like, you know, you download stuff. Like our première episode, you can download on Amazon, Xbox, and iTunes, you know? People are now getting TV in all kinds of different ways.
AVC: So you want to become viral?
PS: I want to be very viral.
JW: Yeah, one day we hope to get a short up on YouTube. [Laughs.]
AA: [Laughs.] We just hope that people watch our stuff on the Internet.
RH: That's the final irony, it's like, "This show will air on MTV, but then hopefully get passed around a lot on the Internet." But I think personally, I just want a show that our friends think is funny. If comedy nerds think we're funny, then we did our job.
PS: I want to be proud of our eight episodes, or at least seven of our eight episodes. [Laughs.]