Interview: Liam Lynch, Co-Creator of “The Sifl and Olly Show”
Older fans of MTV will remember that in addition to actually playing music videos, the station used to be home to some of the most subversively hilarious alternative programming ever to be brought into the mainstream. It was a time rich with shows like cult favorites “The Head,” “The Maxx,” “Daria,” and later “Clone High.” And it was there, nestled sweetly between Jesse Camp and reruns of Liquid Television, that Liam Lynch sat with his sock puppet creation, “The Sifl and Olly Show.”
Born out of a childhood friendship between two music-loving co-creators, Lynch and partner Matt Crocco, “The Sifl and Olly Show” operated as an oddball talking head show with two puppets engaged in hawking fake products, having absurd conversations, and singing grotesquely catchy songs seemingly written via Madlibs. And now Lynch is back, having relaunched the duo on Machinima’s YouTube channel as a review show for games that don’t exist.
This is not Lynch’s nostalgic bid for internet fame. He’s been more than busy over the years, writing for comedy friends Sarah Silverman and Tenacious D, as well as producing his own material. He just thinks the world is finally ready his weird brand of sock puppet humor. See what all the fuss is about at Machinima‘s YouTube channel.
You’ve been very busy since “The Sifl and Olly Show” left the air, but your fans are pretty vocal about their need for more episodes. Why’d it take so long to return? Were there any weird legal issues we should be outraged about?
Well, Sifl and Olly reverted back to me three years after they went off the air on MTV. I own the characters, so there were no legal issues of any kind, but MTV still owns the episodes they paid me to make. So I can do whatever I want with the characters, like create new shows. I know it may sound dumb, but it just never felt like the time until now. It just felt right, and I really wanted to make some new “Sifl and Olly” episodes. This was a fun way to baby-step them back into the world again.
Since you basically got started in comedy by swapping funny recordings with your friend and partner Matt Crocco, how gratifying does it feel now that podcasting has come into its own as a legitimate medium for self-expression, specifically for comedy?
It’s great. I love podcasting and YouTube and the spirit of it. I like that anyone can publish a book, or a movie, or a song, or a drawing, or a photo. It turned all industries upside down and they still don’t know how to deal, but it makes things exciting. There are no rules yet. Things are fluid. TV is trying to be the internet — or be a part of it — and the internet is starting to become TV, but they haven’t merged into one thing yet. I wanted Sifl and Olly on YouTube because it is a legitimate medium and way of broadcasting. With Machinima, I could reach just as many people as I would with cable TV, so that’s why I went to them and pitched them the idea.
Since you’re so passionate about music, I assume you’re the one who introduced most of the musical sections into past episodes of “The Sifl and Olly Show.” What was your process for creating most of the songs, specifically favorites like “United States of Whatever” and “Llama School” ?
Well, Matt is a great musician too, and we would write songs together and separately, or come up with parts and then write a song together. What a lot of people don’t know is that when we would make [episodes of] “Sifl and Olly,” we’d do the whole thing as a radio show first. So, we’d record 40 shows worth of talking and then we had only nine days in the schedule to write and record all the songs. It was crazy. Forty songs in nine days. Because it was so impossible, some songs became slaphappy and minimal. Just a drum machine going and us delirious.
“United States of Whatever” was a song I wrote for my comedy album after season one. We were waiting to see if there would be a season two, so I was writing songs for a solo comedy album, Fake Songs. When we got picked up for season two, we ran out of time and didn’t have enough songs done after the nine days, so we borrowed three songs from my Fake Songs album to make up those missing tracks. Those songs were “Fake David Bowie Song,” “Fake Dylan Melody,” and then “United States of Whatever.” None of those were intended to be “Sifl and Olly” songs, and that’s why Sifl isn’t even singing on them.
“Llama School” was written by Matt and me in the car the first time we ever came to California. We were driving and just singing. We were lost trying to find the MTV building. The song basically happened in real life, word for word, exactly like it was on the show, but it was me and Matt in the car, lost and late for our first meeting with MTV America.
I have to ask: what was it like creating songs for “Clone High,” another underrated MTV original series?
It was great fun. I loved making those songs and wished the show got the following and respect it deserved. It was really funny. Those few people who saw it, loved it. I still have no idea why it didn’t blow up into a huge show. I think they got screwed by scheduling and their slot moving around too much or something. I don’t think the whole season even aired, and it was so good.
What were your musical and comedic influences when you were younger?
Growing up, a kid in the ’70s, Steve Martin had a huge influence on me. My parents had his concert album and I would listen to it over and over. He was one of the first American comedians that had “weird” humor and it just clicked with me. Also, I was so mesmerized by the idea that he was a musician and that music could be fun or funny. Another huge influence was Monty Python. I would watch on them on PBS. Again, it mixed weird absurdist humor with music and it just blew my mind. It still does to this day.
Is it easy to stay in shape comedically, or does it help that you’re often surrounded by or collaborating with other comedic talents like Sarah Silverman and Tenacious D?
My friends are funny. There’s no doubt about it. Oddly, I’ve found my friends who are musicians are, on average, way funnier than my friends who are comedians, and my friends who are comedians are way more into music than my friends who are musicians.
When you’re around really funny people it may rub off, I’m not really sure. Often, really what keeps you in shape is just writing stuff down. You usually don’t feel funny all the time, but if you write down all those little funny thoughts and save them up, you start building it up and spawn new ideas. I know Sarah is so good at that. She constantly takes notes and writes down ideas. I always save every idea no matter how unfunny or half thought out it is. Those little seeds of ideas will often spawn something better when you look at them on another day.
Cell phones are great ways to do that too. iPhones have a recorder built right into them, and you can just dictate little ideas when they come to you. I use mine all the time. In fact, I could play you a recording of me making up the song from the “Sifl and Olly” promo, “Mother f’n Pie,” while in the shower! I made the whole song up in the shower, and I knew I’d forget it so I leaned out of the shower with wet hands and recorded myself singing it into my phone. It was ridiculous.
One of the show’s strengths is that it manages to take what feel like inside jokes and somehow makes them inclusive for an audience. For example, there’s no reason why the term you made up, “crescent fresh,” should have so much staying power. How much of the show is purely built from private jokes between you two, and what’s your favorite joke from the show?
Some things did spawn from inside jokes, but most of it just spawned from knowing each other since we were 10 years old. Just chemistry. When we were 10, our main thing to do was to make tapes and talk and do little fake shows and stuff together, so our chemistry is just such a natural thing. We didn’t realize it as kids, but we were really rehearsing for the future.
Most everything on the show was scripted. We came up with “crescent fresh” just to see if we could get a word to enter the vernacular. Kind of a TV media experiment. So we decided to have anyone that seemed like they might be a cool character to use “crescent fresh”or just “cres” like it was totally normal. We never said that phrase or ever heard it used before. We just wanted to see if it would catch on. We often just tried to be funny the way friends are funny with each other, and I think the fact that the show was so low-fi and used puppets made it approachable. You knew it wasn’t taking itself seriously and it was okay to just chill out with the characters. You feel more like you’re hanging out with them than watching them put on a show for you.
What are your expectations with this new Sifl and Olly show? Are you angling for a path off of the internet?
I’m not really angling for anything, and if I wanted a path off of the internet, I would have pitched them to networks first. I have no intentions of them being on a TV network, which is why I wanted to do these through Machinima. They are the largest YouTube entertainment channel. They have the reach in viewers that some cable TV networks have. People don’t need to be in their living room, in front of a TV, fed things from TV networks anymore. It’s in cars and iPads and at work and on computers and on cell phones…anywhere you go. YouTube is in all of those places, and now built into most TVs and game consoles.
Of course, network television has bigger budgets and set standards, but that’s all changing. TV hasn’t realized it’s in a state of slow-motion suicide. TV is trying to take part in the internet and be a part of the internet, but that’s just because the internet is consuming it. Honestly, TV can’t exist without the internet now. It’s exciting though, because things are fluid at the moment, and there aren’t any rules. I love that. Some kid’s cell phone video of his sister falling down the stairs can get as much attention as some TV network’s $40 million ad campaign, but it does it for free. I wanted Sifl and Olly to be a part of the internet because they share that spirit.
Can we expect fan service and cameos in the new show, or are you looking to build a new base of supporting characters and songs?
Well, there were over 200 characters per season in “Sifl and Olly.” Lots of characters come through the studio, so that is just part of the “show.” But there are some standard characters, like Chester, Precious Roy, and a few others that are always around. So we’ll see familiar faces, characters that just show up for one segment, and also some new repeating characters. There will also be some new characters that will become repeat characters, like Sifl and Olly’s good friend, “Cozy Bishop.”
Why tackle fake video games in this new format?
I can’t think of why I wouldn’t!
Once this run of the show is over, are you hoping to produce another “season,” or will you be moving on to other projects?
I’m hoping to keep making more “Sifl and Olly” episodes. It would be great if I could actually make some money with it to do full half-hour episodes while keeping it out of the hands of TV networks. Hopefully, if enough people watch them online, then Machinima will want to do another season and I can make more. I’m hoping to do lots of them, and in the future maybe start another series that might be a different segment theme.
Since the show always worked as several different vignettes, or segments, those can all stand on their own as little series to make. For instance, there could be “Sifl and Olly Game Reviews” episodes, and then there could be another series of “Sifl and Olly How To” videos. Something like if we had split the old show up into its individual pieces. Who knows? Maybe a series of new “Precious Roy’s Home Shopping Network”? It just depends if people really want that or if they are watching the videos. If there is interest, then I think it would be fun to make a bunch of them.