Blog 32 – Rip Off

Originally Posted 5.17.10

Much has been made in my comments on the last few episodes of Franks and Beans on the subject of parody and just where it fits in with the concept of comedy.  While I’ll qualify my claim by saying that when it comes to parody, there can certainly be too much of a good thing, but as a general rule, I’m comfortable with making the assertion that all good comedies have at least an element of parody in them.  Really, I defy anyone to name a good comedy that doesn’t have some parodic content to it.

Let’s take a recent example and look at last year’s comedy smash “The Hangover”.  While certainly laying its own groundwork, where would it be without its nods to “Rain Man” and “Three Men and a Baby?”  Going back 20 years to one of my favorite movies, “UHF” is chock full of parodies, musical and otherwise.  If you really want to go back to the early days of film, all you have to do is look to the Three Stooges – lost among the eye pokes and face slaps is a parody of the social class structure that 1930s and ’40s America was struggling to break free from.  I don’t claim that Franks and Beans holds much of a candle to any of these cinematic gems; I merely want to point out how important a concept such as parody is to comedy in general.  When used properly, it’s a tool that really can’t be matched, because parodies are built on information we’ve already assimilated into our own cultural lexicon.

Self-parody is just another form of this type of comedy, and our wonderfully self-referential 30th episode, “Rip Off”, plays right into this concept.  What separates self-parody from regular forms of parody, though, is devotion.  Self-parody doesn’t come along without a substantial store of very specific material.  While parody lives off of the never ending supply of popular culture, self-parody relies completely on the singular body of work it parodies.  Franks and Beans could have its ever popular “No!” endings from the first episode, and we did, because we’re mocking overplayed cliffhangers and those have been around as long as there have been cliffs to hang from, but for us to use self-parody, we had to have enough material to serve as a solid foundation.  Thirty episodes in, the result is “Rip Off”, an ambitious and context-laden episode that, in many ways, highlights some of our better moments while making fun of everything we do.

“Rip Off” welcomes back old friend of the show “Hardcore” Mark Moncheck, who is getting sincerely less hardcore the longer I know him.  Seriously, the guy’s married, has a steady job, gets regular haircuts…it’s a misnomer, I tell you.  The perfect role for Mark in any episode of Franks and Beans is that of the obsessed fan, because it’s not much of a stretch from who he is in real life.  Sometimes I think that Mark, Larry and I are the only ones who watch Franks and Beans – perhaps I’m not too far from the truth with that thought – but even if that were the case, Mark has the enthusiasm to simulate dozens and dozens of viewers.  Hell, it got him a recurring role on the show, so I guess it’s working out for him, too.

Joe Kromer is new to the show and, at ten years younger than both Larry and myself, newer to life in general.  Another fan of the show who was granted entrance in through our golden gates, Joe has since disappeared from the face of Brownsville, never to be seen again.  Seriously, I have no idea where to find this guy.  For a one-time character, though, he sure picked a memorable episode, and did a decent job with the “next time on Kielbasa and Kraut” line.  It probably took us all of five minutes to come up with that new title.

One of my great joys in working of Franks and Beans is writing lines that other people – of their own free will, mind you! – speak and act out.  Recreating the episode “The Sandwich” scene for scene, as short as it is, was great fun, even more so because we were using different actors.  Mark’s take on the “No!” ending was especially fun, because Mark couldn’t – for the life of him – not burst through the door of the room without looking really excited.  He was just playing it natural, I guess.

The premise for this episode is fairly simple – Larry and I find people stealing our ideas, and we decide to kill them, but then we end up doing the same thing they did in the first place.  Violence, another great comedic element, certainly has its part in Franks and Beans the series, and perhaps never is that more evident than in this episode.  I’m not sure how effective our out-and-out “I’m gonna kill them!” lines were – you’re supposed to show, not tell, after all – but even those served as means to an end.

Speaking of killing, Larry’s poor, wounded Jeep has finally been put out to pasture, though it still has a few more appearances before we give it its proper sendoff.  One of the reasons for its demise, however, might have come from the filming of this episode.  If you look for it, you’ll see it – as Larry is frantically backing up out of his driveway, the car makes a grinding sound, a thin waft of smoke can be seen, and then it kicks into gear.  I’m not saying that the Jeep wasn’t on its last legs as it was, but…oh, how we suffer for our craft.

The house Larry and I eventually burst into, breaking up the beginning of the famous “Mustache” sketch (keep an eye our for fake F&B’s crappy camera in the background…because they’re filming another rip off episode, not just going about their daily lives in a way that just happens to synch up with an episode of Franks and Beans), is actually Larry’s grandmother’s house.  We knew that we couldn’t film their scenes in Larry’s house (“the studio”), and our other options were fairly dim, and I think this new setting worked out really well.  It didn’t look like a house an 80-something-year-old woman lives in, did it?  That’s the magic of Hollywood, baby.

The fight scene that ensues was fun to do – so much fun, in fact, that I apparently had a hard time not smiling the entire time I’m physically assaulting Joe.  You can look at this in two ways: either I am a sadistic bastard who takes joy in causing others physical pain, or I should really be more aware of what I’m doing as I’m acting out a scene.  Pick your favorite!  It’s like a “Choose Your Own Ending” tale where one choice covers up my mental lapses.  The ‘punching’ sound effects make their return in this episode – they’re favorites of mine, and, for better or worse, I use them in a good handful of upcoming episodes.  There’s just something about them.

Tearing up a comic book is something I never thought I’d do – I’m more of the bag and board type – but I have to admit, tearing up the Punisher 2099 issue I bought for, oh, 15 cents or something ridiculous, was lots of fun.  It was like eating the forbidden fruit, only you weren’t REALLY eating it, because it was just for a show.  I hope that Stan Lee doesn’t revoke my Merry Marvel Marching Society card.  Yes, those exist.

The real humor in this episode takes place after the big fight scene, which is unusual for us.  Usually the punch in the face IS the joke, but this time it’s in turning the tables and doing exactly what we got so mad about in the first place.  I think it works, and even the line “I can’t find the Internet!” is pretty amusing.  We’ve set up the possibility for future conflict as Mark, nursing his black eye with a frozen bag of peas (a popular television remedy), expresses his hate for us.  Perhaps we’ll look back in on this theme one day, if only we could find Joe to make it happen.

Big props go out to Larry for all of the design work he did this episode, most notably the Funny or Die website parody “Laf or Perish”, which he created from electrons in the air.  It got me thinking that we should buy the domain name, but that’d be foolish.  Unless it’s be a BRILLIANT MARKETING TOOL!  Hmmm…

How could we top this blow-out-the-walls episode?  Why, it’s simple – with nudity.  Really, it had to happen.  Ever since iChat and its level of success (it continues to be the one episode everyone remembers), it was only a matter of time before we brought the big square censor bar back, and its effect is obvious.  Seriously, you didn’t think we’d do it eventually?  Well, here it is.

Blog 22 – The Slip

Originally Published 12.22.08

(This retro blog talks a lot about the Funny or Die website, which is a great site if you happen to be a celebrity.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t as kind to those of us who didn’t have a network presence.  Not to dump on FoD, as they don’t owe anything to anyone not named Will Ferrel, but being lost in the crowd was frustrating at times.  On the bright side, it did give us the ‘oomph’ we might have needed to start our own site, TO ASTOUNDINGLY SUCCESSFUL RESULTS!  So there’s that.)

This should come as no surprise to the vast number of you who follow this show on a regular basis, but as our magical 20th episode “The Slip” proves, Franks and Beans continues to hang precipitously on the forefront of new technological advances on the Funny or Die website.  You may have noticed the upgrade in aspect ratio over the last few weeks – most evident in the black bars on the sides of most videos that shamelessly plug the very website you’re visiting.  That’s because Funny or Die now broadcasts in widescreen, and Franks and Beans was the first to usher in this new change with the debut of “The Slip”.

To think, Will Ferrel, Will Arnett or even Will Rogers could have started the show with one of their own videos of babies cursing or something equally funny, but no – they chose us.  And what an honor it is!  At least it is in my fantasy world where I am friends with Mr. Ferrel and we hang out to trade ideas on great new comedy sketches and he even lets me drive his car.  But really – Funny or Die broadcasts in widescreen now, and so does Franks and Beans.  Who did it first is unimportant.  But it might have been us.

You also might notice an improvement in the picture quality beyond the new 16×9 screen image, and that’s simply because the new format was preceded by a hefty boost in the file size we’re allowed to upload.  This has been in effect for a little while longer, if I’m remembering correctly, but you might just be noticing it now…because I’m telling you about it.  Check it out, really!  It looks nicer than before.  So we’re shooting in widescreen to accommodate the new parameters, and the quality is sharper because of the resolution we’re allowed to keep.  What’s next for us – high definition?  NO!!!  But not because we couldn’t – oh, no.  The ability and the desire is there, but unfortunately the file size that would create is still over the website’s limits.  Maybe one day, though…if we all pray hard enough. (People!  Your prayers have been answered!!)

“The Slip” is more than just a technological breakthrough that we will all be benefiting from well into the next century, though – it’s also chock full of interesting back-story that you, the discerning viewer, crave so ravenously.

The ideas behind most Franks and Beans episodes generate spontaneously, which I’m sure comes as little surprise, but “The Slip” was really a 4th-quarter miracle, and it owes its creations to the fact that I was hungry for breakfast this chilly morning.  Running out the door toward another full and enriching day of filming, I managed to grab a banana that was about one or two days from being too brown to eat (unless you like to eat bananas with a straw).  I needed to eat it, as I feel sad if one lonely banana has to get thrown away rather than fulfill its destiny of becoming nutrients for my insides.

Now, despite what any cartoon of a man falling into a trash dumpster may tell you, I don’t think that banana peels are inherently funny.  What we have here is an idea that has its moment, what, 200 years ago?, and ever since we’ve been beating the same horse to death over and over.  Yes, the inside of a banana peel is relatively slick.  Yes, given the ABSOLUTE IDEAL CONDITIONS, a well-placed banana peel might cause someone to slip a bit.  So what we’re playing with here is not the idea that banana peels are funny, but society’s unnatural preoccupation with this simple sight gag and what might really happen if anyone actually tried to pull the stunt in real life.

What we’re left with is at least a variation of the trick of misdirection – instead of going for the obvious skull-busting slip, we’re hopefully making the more mundane ending funnier because of that.  There’s the anticipation, the build up, the waiting, and then…! nothing.  And I love it.

This isn’t to say that something like this is new or original to Franks and Beans, as it harkens back to the ultra-short “An Old Joke” episode, where we basically did the same thing but in verbal form.  What’s funny about the feedback I received is that some people actually expected Larry to say “He didn’t say!” in that particular episode, and I got some of the same reactions with this newer episode – a few called it beforehand – “oh, you’ll slip on the banana peel.”  It’s hard for me to believe comments like this, because really, why would that be funny?  In any remote way?  Is Franks and Beans that unimaginative that we’d do the equivalent of reading a knock-knock joke online?  Oh Lord, I hope not.  If anything, people should get bored by saying “oh, you’ll do something other than slip on the banana peel.”  I mean, I guess that leaves someone disappointed either way, but at least this way I can live with.

If you didn’t quite enjoy the ending to this particular episode, take heart!  For your deliverance is at hand.  Or at any rate, there’s a second chance for this one to be funny, as I had two endings in mind when I thought of the basics to “The Slip”.  Rather than pick the strongest ending like a serious filmmaker, Larry and I decided to film both – the second of which will be released with the much-ballyhooed alternate ending!  See, Hollywood is rubbing off on us more and more every day.  Which will you prefer?  Think of it like one of those “Choose Your Own Ending” books that were popular 20 years back, except there’s no chance of you falling into a snake pit this time around.

Lastly, I’ll admit that coming up with 19 different “NO!” sequences for the end of episodes has been challenging, even if the first five or so were just the same thing over and over (what was with those?!).  That’s why I’m always dumbfounded when something as brilliantly simple as Larry gargling takes me this long to figure out before we use it.  We did two takes of this ending, and between them Larry had to change shirts because he got water all over the first one.  What I’m saying is, I didn’t want to give the impression that he was lactating or anything if we went with the second shot, which we did during the editing stage.

That was inappropriate.  I shouldn’t have insinuated that Larry has the mammary glands of a woman, which release a milky fluid in times of stress or extreme concentration.  Why would I put something out there like that?  It could lead to the spread of vicious, hurtful rumors that probably aren’t true, and I don’t want that to happen.  Not even a little.

Blog 21 – Is It Cold in Here?

Originally Published 12.14.08

Franks and Beans makes its glorious return with episode 19, “Is it Cold in Here?”, the first of what hopefully will be a long, universe-altering sting of episodes over the next few months (or whatever).  As you might have noticed, we do tend to go through phases where certain blocks of episodes share a particular theme, and this is no different.  This is in no ways intentional – I guess I like to come up with different variations of similar topics.  Whereas previous episodes centered around singing and music, these new episodes have food as a main prop.  And where terrible violence plays an important role in episodes past, the current batch features…well, more violence.  I guess that says something about me and my writing style.  Or just about me.  Hey, did I mention that this episode has an oven in it?

Speaking of things that generate relative amounts of heat, we begin this episode with the image of a sleeping Jeff, only – and get this – I’m NOT sleeping: I’m only PRETENDING to sleep.  I only mention this because of my award-worthy performance as “guy sleeping on the couch”.  Did you see that sudden jerking as I fake-awake?  The sleep-induced rubbing of the face?  The stumbling throughout the living room, as if I was truly groggy from an impromptu nap?  That’s called acting, folks, and it’s not something you can learn.  You either have it or you don’t.

What I’m saying is, I tried.

Moving along, I’d like to take a moment and talk about the writing process on Franks and Beans for a few seconds, and what Larry and I each bring to the process.  I find, the longer that we work together on this project, that we are both comfortable with different aspects of the production as a whole, and that includes the writing portion.  I am the type of person who needs a quiet room with no distractions, time to prepare, think, write and rewrite.  This is when, I think, I am at my funniest.  I have my moments, but as a whole I’m not a spontaneously funny guy.  Larry, on the other hand, doesn’t add much to the initial scripting process, but he always manages to catch things during the filming process that I’d never think of, and this episode is a good example of that.

In any given episode – at least after we had gotten a few of them under our belts – you’ll find obvious and not-so-obvious nods to previous jokes.  I’m a fan of these, whether they work well in the context of the next episode or not, as long as they don’t ruin the show we’re working on at the moment.  Larry, as he enters the house after I’ve managed to crawl into the oven, takes his jacket off and throws it over the railing that leads downstairs, a fairly obvious reference to our very first episode, “High School”.  This gem of an easter egg was added at the last moment at the behest of Larry – it’s something that I’m often too absorbed to think of during filming, but it’s a testament to what Larry always seems to catch.

Larry can also be seen putting on a sweater as he comes to check on his ill-fated pizza a little later on – he thought that this would be “the obvious thing to do” if he were cold.  The distinction between this calm rationale and my character’s deadly impulsiveness is one of the factors that drives this episode, and was also a brainchild of Larry’s, for which I must respond…have more children, Larry.  In your brain.

In regards to the visual effect of me putting myself in a warm oven (one of my mother’s worst nightmares, let me tell you), I’m reminded of the DVD commentary on “The Weird Al Show”.  If you don’t remember this program, don’t worry – it was a one season, 13-episode bust, but as I am a collector of everything “Weird Al” Yankovic, I own it and love it (the commentary is, in all seriousness, worth buying the box set for, though).  During the commentary, Al and his various guests discuss the problems they had with CBS during filming, especially when it came down to “imitateable behavior” on the show.  That is, they were strongly discouraged from showing things like someone smashing plates on their head or shaving their eyebrows, as children watching the program (this was Saturday-morning fare) might be encouraged to duplicate the stunts.  This served as an endless headache for those working on the show, though they usually managed to find a way to sneak a few undesirable clips in during any given episode.

It is with this mindset that I watch “Is it Cold in Here?”.  Though Franks and Beans is listed under “clean comedy” in the Funny or Die rank and file, and I generally feel that it lives up to that billing, I don’t intend it for a younger audience – if nothing else, I can imagine my parents catching me watching sometime similar 15 years ago and taking away my internet privileges (did we have the internet back then?).  But even so, I still chuckle to imagine the reaction we’d get if this episode were played on television with children anywhere in a 50-foot radius.  I sometimes fret about playing the “Milkshake” song or wearing Steelers gear in an episode, but showing me willingly entering an oven would probably get us sued faster than either of those infringements.

This episode – 19 episodes in, at that – features a first here on Franks and Beans: we actually have our first production-inspired purchase on display.  If you couldn’t guess, it’s the sad-looking pizza that Larry so gracefully slides out onto the oven tray.  On my way to Larry’s house – er, the studio – in the morning, I get a call.  “You should go ahead and buy a pizza,” Larry suggested, as it was an integral prop for the upcoming episode.  If the pizza looks like it cost a dollar fifty, that’s because it did – I bought the cheapest pizza that I possibly could.  We ate the pizza (surprisingly good, all things considered) but saved the box, knowing that a moment such as that should be saved for posterity.  We’re thinking of putting it up on eBay.  Really.  Eventually.

Another exciting feature to this episode hasn’t actually been seen yet.  That’s because in just another week or so from this posting, we’ll release the special, extra-featureish EXTENDED EDITION for your viewing pleasure.  The ending you see here is exactly what we had in mind for “Is it Cold in Here?”, but this new addition just adds a little more oomph, I think.  Look for that soon.

Finally, we come to the ever-present “NO!” ending, in which we see Larry dressed up as a character from the best movie I’ve ever seen EVER, The Dark Knight.  Rest assured, Larry didn’t concoct this getup just for F&B, but it certainly serves its purpose.  Here’s a fun fact for you fans out there – Larry is a maniac when it comes to Halloween costumes and costume parties (hence the earlier Hulk Hogan ending), and this selection stacks up there with the best of them…though He-Man might still be my favorite.

Blog 16 – Sandwich

First published 8.24.08

Oh, man.  This blog takes some context to understand.  I’m not sure how to cut it down without taking out too much.  Let’s go with this: here are the things you need to know about Franks and Beans 2012 so you can understand this Franks and Beans 2008 blog:

– This was written after a fairly long break between website updates.  Anyone who knows us know realizes that I always update my websites in a reasonable period of time (cough).

– We decided to make 24 episode “season” instead of 13.  That’s really immaterial in general, though.

– Mark Moncheck would comment on every one of our episodes when they were uploaded to the Funny or Die website.  Now, we only wish he would comment.  C’mon, Mark.

– Rick Rolls aren’t as funny as they used to be.

– I often wrote (and, well, write) without a clear end in mind, and so these things can go on and on and on well beyond the point of interest for anyone in existence.  One day I’ll realize that the Internet doesn’t give you more, uh, Internet points for writing more words.  Perhaps I’ll even take my advice at some point.  Not likely though!  Enjoy this blog, Earth!

SCENE: A bleak and desolate landscape, where the sun beats down mercilessly on the desert sand.  The light shines overwhelmingly, bleaching an already preserved skeleton of an unfortunate steer.  Overhead, two similarly emaciated buzzards circle nervously in the clear, hot, bright, blue sky.  The sand seems to stretch on forever, uninterrupted except for the large boulders strewn haphazardly over the area and a few patches of withered and browned grass.

Off in the faraway distance, the figure of a man reaches the apex of a small hill, feeling as insignificant as he looks as he staggers forward toward some unseen goal.  We advance to the wispy visage, a shadow of his former self.  His shirt is tied around his head in a sense of futility; the sun treats him no less harshly.  His sunken eyes are bleak and his lips are as parched and cracked as the earth around him.  He ambles on, making no sound, simply mouthing the words to an indistinguishable phrase.  His arms hang dead at his side; his feet, covered in worn-through soles, drag through the grainy sand.

But then, on the horizon, something catches the man’s view.  He stops in his tracks and lifts his head.  Was he seeing something?  Perhaps he had been in this situation a hundred times before – distracted by a mirage or a flicker of cruel imagination.  A trick of light?  Another nothing to compliment all the other nothings?  But no – there it was again.

The man stands straighter than perhaps he has in all of his life.  He opens his mouth to speak, but the words devolve into a raspy unintelligence.  He clears his throat once, and again, and again, and he reaches up with his newly living hands to touch his face – a face into which hope now flows once more.

Walking forward with a purpose as never before, the man begins to speak, first barely an inaudible whisper, but soon he is shouting at the top of his lungs: “It’s back!  Franks and Beans is back!”


And after weeks of waiting, Franks and Beans is back with a (theoretically) highly anticipated season two.  (WHAT DID I JUST SAY?!?) Our first episode of this new undertaking is none other than “Sandwich,” named after one of the basic food groups.

Having returned to southwestern Pennsylvania after a lengthy hiatus, Larry and I got right to work and managed to punch out five episodes of Franks and Beans, the first of which is on display before you.  It’s a short episode, one without much plot and really only one joke, but an appropriate one, I think.  It calls back previous shorts such as “The Change” and “You’ll Never See It Coming”, and it continues a theme of quick, timing-based jokes that I think are so underrated.  The pause between “Is that my sandwich?” and the inevitable “…no” really determines if this works or fails, in my opinion, and I think that we hit it pretty well this time around.

How obvious is the joke from the beginning or the episode?  I don’t think that’s really an issue here, as the timing is probably more important.  But not knowing what Larry is looking for until I magically appear on the armchair does hold with it some risks.  When I think back to it, there probably should have been a shot of me sitting down with the sandwich after Larry walks into the room and before he asks his question, but hindsight and a limited list of filmed takes keeps us honest this way.  At any rate, our almost comical sandwich, complete with olive and toothpick (Larry’s idea) shows up and probably steals the show.  It was a good sandwich, and I had to keep from eating parts of it during filming.

This episode is significant probably more so than any plot point in that it introduces a new character, and this more than anything else precipitated the episode’s production order.  Mark Moncheck (who also comments on, like, EVERY episode as username hardcoremarkie18) was gracious enough to fill in as an extra character in several of our upcoming episodes, and I wanted to first introduce him in our loving homage to the Rick Roll.

In this scene, I wanted Mark to seemingly come out of nowhere, making viewers say “wait…who is this guy?!”, and airing another episode with him in it first would have really taken some of the humor out of that…even if I’m the only one who might find that funny.  Filming this batch of episodes actually served as the first time I’ve ever met Mark, who had to leave soon afterwards in order to fulfill his obsessive haircut fixation, and I have to say that it was a real treat to meet someone who uses the phrase “Mustache Buddy” in his everyday language.  There now arises the challenge of giving him a proper character name for the inevitable IMDB entry (HOW DO I GET THAT LISTED?!  COME ON, INTERNETS!!).  It will probably have to be Hardcore Mark: not very original on my part, but it just seems to fit.

Back to our previously mentioned Rick Roll – this internet sensation continues to astound me.  Well, honestly, the internet as a whole is a rather fascinating contraption, but you get what I mean.  Why anyone would choose Rick Astley to prank their friends is beyond me, but I can at least appreciate the humor.  Before this inevitably fades away into cultural yesteryear, Larry and I both agreed that we’d have to do something with it, and we wanted to sooner rather than later.  Having us all dance on screen was something of a last resort, but really – what else were we supposed to do?  It was worth it just to get a little extra mileage out of our ever-expanding collection of “NO!” endings.

Blog 12 – Message Board

Originally posted 6.06.08

Why is episode 11, “Message Board”, so much longer than any of our previous Franks and Beans offerings?  Perhaps it is because both Larry and I now love you THAT MUCH MORE…but then again, it could be because of our new approach to scripting (which, honestly, didn’t last long).  As I mentioned previously, we’ve both found it a lot easier to work from a much looser script, and hopefully the difference shows in this and subsequent episodes.  Speaking for myself, it’s a much more natural process, and although there are some hiccups involved (Larry says “You’ve got to get some bed”; I use “logo” instead of “lingo” and I say “um” WAY too much), I think that the payoff shows up in the overall flow of the episode.

Naturally, we are getting our inspiration for this episode from real life, from which all humor springs.  I find it particularly hilarious that we’ve taken a technological advance such as the internet – one that could literally serve as a means to unite all of humanity in the bonds of friendship and love – and we use it for porn and to yell at each other about last night’s episode of “Dancing with the Stars.”  I mean, the porn I get…but message boards?  Holy crap, shouldn’t we be beyond that?

This is not to say that I am above any of this nonsense, as I enjoy reading about things like Spider-Man’s dissolved marriage and the Pirates’ continual misery from my fellow fan and as such, some of the topics we lampoon in this episode come from actual conversations found on online message boards.  Let’s take a walk through, shall we?

When Larry and I begin our first internet-related conversation (right after the very funny second appearance of the character we like to call…Larry’s Mom), the message board you see on the computer screen is none other than our very own Funny or Die message board, opened to a random page that had a good number of replies.  The idea of a “welcome to the internet!” topic is culled from any number of similar sources, and are, in my opinion, a good way to size up your electronic opponents on a given board.

We then move on to our sports conversation.  The gist of the rant I talk about comes from an amalgamation of two messages from the ever-popular Pittsburgh Steelers message board.  I love the Steelers, Larry loves the Steelers, and you, discerning reader, love the Steelers as well, but apparently affection doesn’t stop one from blowing things way out of proportion when it comes to such a topic.  The Steelers drafted an injured quarterback in the 5th round, which caused some debate to begin with, but when you mix in the possibility that this player might be considered for some “trick” plays, a la Kordell “Slash” Stewart of ten years ago, and people lose their minds.  I improvised the rebuttal with the “you have a disease that makes you pee in your pants” line, and I am particularly proud of it.

The idea of a Captain America movie (which ended up being pretty good!) apparently gives people fits.  I understand that the United States is not the most popular country on the international stage at the moment, regardless of whether that notion is deserved or not.  But wow, the boards over at explode every time the whereabouts of such a film is discussed.  The tragic part about all of this is that with this topic we’re given such an opportunity to open an actual dialogue on America’s electronic image, but instead we say things like what I mention in this episode.  I suppose that tragedy can be funny at times, too.

Without a doubt the best part about internet slap fights is when someone challenges someone else to a physical fight beyond the boundaries of their keyboards.  It’s like, yeah, fella…I’m going to take a plane to Arizona just so I can beat you senseless.  Such brave words; I can just imagine people tearing their hair out over some witless fool’s egregious comments about their collective mothers.

In short, what (hopefully) makes this episode succeed is our ability to relate to it.  Everyone knows what I’m talking about…and if you don’t, feel free to leave scathing comments right here at the bottom.  I’ll be sure to send you my address so I can knock your brains out…and the brains of your mom, too.  Ha!

Blog 07 – Mustache

Originally posted 7.09.08

Mustaches.  You never can trust ‘em, and that’s the subject of this entry’s look back at our illustrious seventh episode, titled…well, “Mustache.”

There are flaws to this episode, and I know it.  But the underlying hilarity of mustaches was just too much for me to pass up, and I’m glad that Franks and Beans was able to cover this controversial subject with tact and tasteful detachment.  Or whatever.

The joke behind this episode stems from my theory about men who have mustaches – but only have mustaches: no beard, no muttonchops, no deluxe van dyke – just mustaches.  To test out this theory of mine, go ahead and turn on the news.  It doesn’t matter which channel, just find a devoted news program and watch until the inevitable piece on child molestation sees the air.  Note the particular features of the perpetrator, keeping in mind that this is almost always a “he.”  Does this criminal have any distinguishing characteristics?  Any…facial hair?  Like a mustache?  Of course he does.  That’s because while not every man who only wears a mustache is a child molester, every child molester wears only a mustache.  It’s like that whole square-rectangle rule, and it is 100 percent accurate.  It is!  I mean it.

Regardless of my libelous allegations, the mustache-only look just has something creepy about it, like someone is trying a little too hard to either A) catch some soup from falling out of his mouth, or B) look like a porn star straight out of the 1970s.  And in either case, you don’t want this guy to be shoveling out your popcorn at the movie theater.  Have you seen Jason Giambi’s new ‘stache?  I rest my case.

Because of my feelings on this subject, I naturally didn’t want to have to walk around for two weeks trying to grow my own version of Dr. Strange’s mustache (look it up) for what would amount to a two-minute episode, no matter how funny the end product would be.  Thankfully, being lazy has many benefits, one of which being a wonderful-looking beard every now and then.  And since Larry and I were going for different looks in the previous episode (“Commentary”), which was filmed on the same day, I had the perfect hiding place for the mustache you see in this episode.

Obviously, to pull this stunt off, we filmed this episode back to front – that is, I shaved to the point where all I had was a mustache, filmed the ending “Hey mustache buddy!” scenes, and then shaved the rest of my face and filmed the first kitchen scene.  It’s an easy trick that I’m sure everyone picked up on.

I am the type of filmmaker who loves opening a scene with an extreme close up (you’ll notice that the episode “Grapes” has a similar opening).  Larry is the type of filmmaker who likes to incorporate his ravenous appetite into anything he can think of, and so our opening shot was born.  Oddly enough, we had trouble getting it exactly how we wanted it, and by the time we figured out the best angle on which to shoot, Larry had taken his tiny tomatoes to the other side of this sink.  Because of this, he’s seen picking up his snack with one hand in the first shot, but when we cut to the second shot he’s holding it with the opposite hand.  I reconcile this gaffe by thinking that he somehow flipped the tomato from one hand to the other in the picosecond it took to go from an extreme close up to the medium/wide shot of the two of us.  If anyone else can come up with a better excuse (THAT FITS IN CONTINUTIY!), I’m open to hearing it.

The tomatoes, by the way, were stuffed with some kind of (I think) tuna mix.  Or was it crab?  Either way, it was delicious.

I am a big fan of Michael Cera and pretty much anything he does.  I first saw him on Arrested Development and couldn’t get over how this kid who’s eight years younger than me could be so funny, and he hasn’t disappointed me since, from SuperBad to Juno to some of the videos he has uploaded to this random website called Funny or Die.  So I’m doing my best to channel his nonchalant, whimsical attitude in this opening “Did you ever think about growing a mustache?” scene.

I tried to go back to that awkward time in high school when the prospect of growing facial hair was seen as a way to solve all of your problems.  If I could only find a way to separate myself from the rest of this pack of losers, you’d think, I could finally stand out to that girl in the back with the huge breasts and I’d be HOME FREE!  Ah, youth.  What if you took that 15- or 16-year-old version of yourself and took him ten years into the future – what would he think was cool?  Well, waking up with the scratchy stubble of a beard would probably be on that list.

Larry deserves a lot of credit for editing the next scene together, if for nothing else than in meshing the mustache close up in with the rest of the mix.  I don’t know if anyone else picked up on this, but he’s using the audio from one take and overlapping it onto another, and I think it is all quite seamless.

The beginning of the second scene is the payoff, the funniest part and probably where we should have stopped.  The mustache itself fills our quotient for physical comedy, and we throw in the tossing of the stack of papers (which were actually finals for my Communications 101 course that I had been avoiding grading to that point) for good measure.

To drive the point home, we have our first appearance of the character known as “Larry’s Mom,” who must be deaf if she didn’t hear me screaming the phrase “I look like a child molester!” just seconds before.  I had originally intended to have someone come in the door from outside – to presumably help people understand that this person would not have heard my earlier rant – but instead we have someone walking in from around the corner.  Why?  I’m not sure, I think it’s just because she didn’t want to go outside (I’m pretty sure it was raining or had just stopped), and when it comes down to it, sometimes you just have to give in to an actor’s demands.  We were running short on available extras that day, anyway, heh. (Seriously, why doesn’t EVERYONE want to be in Franks and Beans?!?)

So in the end, this was not a perfect episode, if there even is such a thing, and much of that blame lies with me.  But it was a good episode with a funny premise, and it’s something that I think we built upon in later episodes.  It’s good to see progress, and there is some here.

If nothing else, the “No!” ending with this episode is one of my favorite variations and also one of the simplest…maybe because it’s one of the simplest.  I was hoping for an even more drawn out display by Larry, but you’ll notice that he runs out of steam with about a second left to go, which, in and of itself, is also pretty funny.

Blog 06 – Commentary

Originally posted 7.19.08

Episode six, “Commentary”, is the start of a theme in Franks and Beans that I love but perhaps no one else does.  This is evident by the fact that “Commentary” and similar episodes (such as “Mailbag/Bloopers”) are viewed only half as much as episodes uploaded in a similar timeframe.  Does this mean that we’ll stop making episodes like these?  NEVER!  Does this mean you’ll have to deal with it again and again?  We’ll, kind of, but not as much as you, our faithful viewing audience, apparently fears.  Let me explain.

Franks and Beans follows a very loose set of rules.  The show is loyal to the joke above all else, but beyond that there are only a few simple themes that we try to keep in place.  The show has continuity – not a very strong sense of it, but it is there.  It deals with Larry and me in a very “third person” kind of way, in that we both inhabit our own “universe” when the camera is rolling, where characters can return and leave between episodes and there is some notion of the passing of time.

When we break the “fourth wall,” then, is in episodes where we talk directly to the camera, such as in “Commentary”.  Because I don’t want this style of episode leaking over into the “real” Franks and Beans universe, and because I don’t want to bore everyone with every single episode, I made the unbreakable rule that Larry and I must create five “regular” episodes for every one that plays out like episode six.

This has become more difficult to keep with than I had anticipated, but we’re sticking to it because of our strong moral upbringings.

The idea behind this episode came from the many DVDs I’ve bought.  I admit that I’m something of a sucker for bonus features on movies and TV shows; I’ll watch featurettes and listen to episode commentaries even if they are boring or have nothing to say.  Maybe I’m trying to get my money’s worth, I don’t know.  One thing that always catches me by surprise, though, is when actors providing commentary are so obviously completely different than the characters they portray.  This should seem apparent because this is what actors do…they create an illusion and memorize scripts they had no hand in writing.  Of course Nathan Fillion will be different than Mal Reynolds.  Of course the cast of Entourage won’t be as cool as they are when the cameras are rolling.  But I still get caught off guard when something like this happens.

Larry and I tried to create something like this in “Commentary,” and because we didn’t do any actual speaking (other than a quick introduction and conclusion), and because you had to actually see us during the entire episode, we had to get that across in the way we looked.  All Larry had to do to change his entire appearance was pull his hair back in a ponytail – which worked better than I could have ever imagined.  When one sees Larry with a ponytail, the obvious question of why he doesn’t do that all the time is raised, because he instantly becomes more intimidating.  Larry’s answers to this have all been shallow and unsatisfactory, so we may never know for real.  My own looks were altered with two methods: the first was a turtleneck sweater, the second was a beard.  The turtleneck, I think, makes me look oddly intellectual, but the beard just looks awesome.  I had been growing it for episode seven, “Mustache”, but it served a great purpose here.

The difficulty in editing this episode is in the double shot we employ for most of the running time.  Because of Funny of Die’s size restrictions on files, Larry had to cut down on the picture quality more than he would have for other episodes, as playing the “High School” episode on top of the screen took up more space than either of us had anticipated.  There’s not much we can do to prevent this, except maybe lobby FoD for more space, but that might be like looking a gift horse in the mouth (or, perhaps, beating a dead horse, to use another horse metaphor.  Man, I love horse metaphors).  Still, Larry did a great job with the overlap.

The sheer length of this episode is probably to its detriment, but commenting on any episode other than the first just didn’t make a lot of sense to us.  This is not saying that four and a half minutes is a long time, but when the two of us say absolutely nothing for three and a half of those, it does tend to run on.  Even so, I really do hope that people got the joke – the episode is titled “Commentary”, the whole point of the episode is for us to comment, we SAY that we’re going to discuss it, but in the end we don’t say a thing (yeah…I bet that wasn’t lost on anyone).  Not one word while the episode is playing.  There’s something – at least to me – inherently funny about that, and if you look up the definition of irony in the dictionary, well, we followed it pretty closely (as opposed to that Alanis Morissette song…which doesn’t).

So, like it or hate it, this episode remains a part of Franks and Beans.  I, for one, like it, and that’s why we’ve got episode twelve, “Mailbag/Bloopers” and why episode eighteen will again follow in this direction.  It’s already written, as a matter of fact!  Be afraid.

Blog 05 – Grapes

Originally posted 7.31.08

In many ways, episode five, “Grapes”, is quintessential Franks and Beans.  It has (attempts at) singing, a lesson to be learned, seemingly unrelated asides, uh…the word “ass”…

Our fifth episode takes us back to the beginnings of Franks and Beans.  I’ll probably get all retrospective when we finally get to talking about episode one, but it bears at least some mentioning now because the first five episodes were filmed over the same several days.  You can tell, I think, that there are a lot of similar themes being played out over these first few shows, culminating with “Grapes.”

The first shot we see in this episode is a rather ingenious one.  I’m sure it’s been done before, but I like at least the idea of unconventional camera shots and angles, and having the camera sitting in a refrigerator along with the leftovers certainly qualifies.  If there’s one thing that bugs me, though, it’s that due to some file size restrictions, viewers are never going to see how well this shot actually turned out.  We are, in reality, filming this show with a very nice camera (not in Hollywood terms, I’m sure, but relative to other shows with zero budget we’re ahead of the game), one that records digitally and has the capability to shoot in HD, but Larry has to decrease the signal quality in the editing process to make it fit under the 256 megabyte limit enforced by the Funny or Die team (oh, how we grew to hate Funny or Die.  HATE I TELL YOU!).  How this first shot looked to us and how viewers can see it really illustrates the difference.

For us, it was like we were the grapes – born and raised on some sunny California grapevine, plucked by underpaid migrant workers and shipped to the extra-moist shelves of the local Foodland.  For you, loyal viewers, it’s merely like you’re the grapes’ socially ostracized cousins, seeing some of the glimmer but not getting any of the communal benefits (and do you even have a Foodland?).  The metaphor is weak, I know, but seriously – we could see individual drops of moisture on the playback after shooting.  To see the opening shot dulled, regardless of the necessity of the matter, is a little disappointing.

As we move a little further through the episode, we come across what just may be my favorite line of the entire series – “They’re good for my libido; don’t worry about it.”  For a while, this was going to be the title of the episode, but we went with something a little shorter in the end.  There is no meaning to this phrase at all, at least in connection to the overall joke in this episode, and yet it still sticks out in part because of that randomness.  As Larry and I were rehearsing for the conversation in this scene (we actually do practice…sometimes), it just seemed to show up unannounced.  It had to be kept.  I’d like to point out the nice editing work Larry did at this point, as he added in a zoom where there was none originally.  It saved us from having two shots placed back-to-back that were too similar to be of any use.

Singing in Franks and Beans is nothing new, and mocking Larry for his freakishly large head in real life is likewise rather commonplace, so it felt natural to combine those two elements into this next overall joke.  It should be pointed out, however, that Larry does still have all of his hair, while mine is becoming precariously thinner by the day, so I guess that’s one for ol’ Lar, and good for him.  Saying that no one will ever love Larry does come off rather mean, I suppose, but – and I might just be falling for my character’s own line of thinking in saying this – I think it is easier to handle just by the fact that I’m singing the bad news.  I could be wrong.

We have in this episode the first appearance of the character “Lauren”, named for a friend from grad school.  This just might end up being her only appearance, as Larry’s sister (if you didn’t notice the resemblance you should probably be shot) isn’t necessarily the biggest proponent of acting in some random internet television show (for whatever reason); I had planned on using her in the episode “Mustache”, but she backed out and has turned down any subsequent requests to reprise her role.  This is a shame because it limits Franks and Beans in the jokes we can tell.  Well, I guess it only limits us in one area – I had planned on using Lauren as my character’s source of unrequited love, a big subplot where I would get humiliated and rejected time and time again.  There’s really nothing funnier than a guy getting his hopes crushed, in my opinion, and let’s face it – we’re kind of limited with our pool of available extras as it is.

“Bring that sweet ass over here” is bound to be on a t-shirt one day…if it isn’t already, and ‘Lauren’s’ responding distain is perfect.  We had to shoot this scene about thirty times before we got it right, delaying dinner at Larry’s house…and if you’ve ever been to Larry’s house, you know just how serious they take their early evening meal.  Even though I ate all the spaghetti I could stuff down my gullet that night, I did so with a wary eye to those around me.

When we had finished filming this entire sequence, I thought that “Grapes” was the best episode we’d ever done.  I have other favorites now, but this episode, to me, shows a lot of the promise of Franks and Beans.  I really think that we’re getting better at what we do, and this episode was a step in that direction.

(Retro) Blog 01 – High School

It’s a good thing that I save my blogs as Word files, because this marks the third time that I’ve posted blogs for various episodes, and I wouldn’t want to have to do MORE WORK and write new things each time these were reposted (and besides, I’ve got about 20 more to write before I’m all caught up, anyway).

In any case, below is a behind-the-scenes look at our very first episode, “High School”, as it originally appeared on the old Franks and Beans website.  If I have anything new to add, i.e. if I can’t just leave well enough alone, I’ll type it in bold italics.  You know…for reference.

Originally posted 08.12.09

“Begin at the beginning.”  “You gotta start somewhere.”  “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  These are all really important quotes from tremendously famous people who are all dead (the middle one might just be a general colloquialism, but…just go with me here).  As these quote-makers are all dead, and have been for some time, there’s no chance any of them were thinking of Franks and Beans when they were laying down their words of wisdom.  In fact, if you had shown Lewis Carroll episode 1, “High School”, he might have responded to it by asking “what is this fancy magic screen showing me the lives of tiny men?”  The lesson here is this: screw those dead jerks.

As you may have read in the blogs I posted on the Funny or Die website (I admit, I blogged out of order), I had plans for Franks and Beans the series to take on a different life than what actually came about.  Initially, there was to be a more sequential feel to subsequent episodes, with plot lines and characters springing from this pilot.  When I think back to it, Larry and I might have been able to actually pull it off – perhaps we could have overcome the limitations of not having a regular cast beyond the two of us and a regular shooting location beyond the living room in Larry’s house – but in retrospect, I’m much happier with the freedom that a loose continuity affords us.  If we feel like filming an episode where I dream about having no pants, then we film an episode in which I have no pants with no need to squeeze it into an existing plotline.

The first seedlings of ideas for this series came about in late 2007, after I had moved roughly 600 miles from home and was looking for a way to tether myself to the place and the people I had left behind.  It might seem odd that I would try and develop an Internet skit show after moving away from the locations, actors and equipment, but to me, it made perfect sense.  In early 2008 Larry and I began filming, and though our schedules afford us very few hours of filming, I’m happy to say that we’ve kept up with it for over a year and a half.  (Ironically, we filmed more quickly before I eventually moved back home in 2011.)

“High School”, then, is our first shot at finding out just what we were about – the episode you look back on and say “oh, that character’s hair is way too big” or “they really didn’t have the back-and-forth down at all yet”.  It’s a beginning, with all that brings with it.

We begin this episode with the “Jeff” character (perhaps based off a literary character or some such noise) running down the street for what ends up being a big portion of the entire pilot.  As I’ve explained before (I’ll repost my earlier FoD blogs here with their corresponding episodes), this wasn’t just a random sprint down the road.  When I look back on this episode, I see the potential for two possibilities here: either I was so eager to tell Larry my new plan that I couldn’t wait to get in my car (or at least walk at a more leisurely rate), or I entered every episode this way.  As it turned out, it was a one-time gag, though we revisited it in a later episode, which might end up more confusing than funny, though just the sight of me straining and trying not to fall has a certain amount of humor to it right away.  I generally consider myself to be in fair shape, but the few times I tried to run – actually run – up and down these inclines, I thought my heart was going burst through the top of my head.

In similar fashion, we planted some seeds for Larry’s character (perhaps named for Lawrence Fishburne) as we show him sleeping in his clothes due to recurring nightmares.  Logistically, this also solved the problem of waiting for Larry to change into real clothes after waking up to hear my desperate pleadings, but when I think about it, I wonder how we would have dealt with this newfound character point.  Would Larry be afraid of changing clothes?  Would he wear the same outfit forever, as if he were a cartoon character?  Maybe we could have had an episode where he rips his shirt and goes into a panic-induced coma.  I suppose there were a limited amount of ways in which we could have taken this particular development, but the what-could-have-been still remains.

What stuck from this episode and was carried forward into the series once it got under way in earnest does more than justify the existence of this episode, which may stand out as strangely plot-heavy when compared to later ones.  The loose continuity and the reliance on sight gags, word play and a singular, driving joke is what Franks and Beans evolved into, and the beginnings of that are certainly present in “High School”.  Larry’s Action Jeep speeding out of frame becomes a staple, as does the oh-so-subtle tossing of the jacket over the downstairs railing, but the basic plot, one where, most of the time, my character comes up with a head-scratching scheme and Larry’s character, the skeptic that he is, decides to see it though, is this episode’s greatest gift to the rest of the series.  Certainly, we parody ourselves and this episode in particular a good bit, but this is where we learned what Franks and Beans was about.  This continues to be one of my favorite episodes even though overall our best work is yet to come.

Our first episode also marks the beginning of our long running “NO!” ending.  This is, for all intents and purposes, a simple parody of a generic cliffhanger.  We’re taking a serious plot – one character opens a door and is shocked by what he sees! – and shooting it over and over (and over…) again.  At first, the idea was to do basically the same thing every time – Larry opens the door, yells “No!” and that’s it; no mention is ever made when the next episode rolls around.  Soon after, we realized that we could tweak the ending just a bit so we could preserve the spirit of the cliffhanger parody while still leaving room for a little creativity.  Keeping the same ending new and funny has since, after 36 episodes as of this writing, become one of the most challenging parts of Franks and Beans.  But dammit, we keep trying.

“High School” the episode is, in a few ways at least, like high school the four-year institution.  It’s awkward at times and there’s no chance of girls going out with me (seriously, it’s not like I was a leper or anything), but there’s greatness waiting to come out.  Hopefully, as we continue to release these episodes on our BRAND! NEW! WEBSITE!, that will prove itself.

As always, both Larry and I thank you from the bottom of our blood-rich hearts for taking the time to watch our stupid videos and browsing the still-in-construction site (some things never change…).  If you like something, please, leave a comment.  If you hate it, leave a comment.  If you hate it and want to fight me, leave a comment with your address and I’ll be around sooner or later to beat your ass.  In any case, we do appreciate the views and the support.  Lots more to come.  Stay tuned!