Penthouse Retrospective

by Paul Provenza Originally Published: june, 2010

With All Disrespect | 10 Years Ago This Month

There is something cruel to it, but the larger point of it being funny and somewhat interesting makes  it okay in our world. I feel fine with it because I do think it’s funny and it was interesting to show that contrast.

CHATMAN: We put our Clarence puppet on the street to provoke people, just to get people mad at a puppet. It is a shitty thing to do, that if they get angry, you’ve got a good shot. And I see people I fucked with walking down the street, too. I saw this crazy hippie we had harassed, and he recognized me and punched me two years later. He’s like a gnome with a blanket and he flipped it on me. I inhaled all of those germs.

LEE: Ewww, hippie dust.

In his defense, when Clarence provoked, it was from a heady place. Harassing joggers in the park with “What are you running from, your fears?” and “You can’t run away from the truth.” Pretty big ideas for a puppet.

CHATMAN: That’s inevitable with a show that’s “cute” on the surface. For the contrast, you go to the darkest place· possible and put the brightest colors on it. That’s sort of our personality. Thematically, we don’t really talk about the big things. We just focus on the joke. People who are thinking about “the grand statement” are probably working at Kinko’s right now.

Have you had much resistance?

CHATMAN: Yeah, we got canceled. And it took six years to even get Wonder Showzen on the air.

On your “Beat Kids” segment, this cute little kid was obviously being fed lines, but the adults he was screwing with never seemed to register that. It’s amazing.

CHATMAN: We’d go right up to him and whisper stuff right in his ear! Everyone always saw it.

LEE: They’d be arguing with the kid, we’d whisper right into the kid’s ear, the kid would say it, and they’d literally go, “Where’d you get this kid? It’s incredible what this kid says!”

CHATMAN: Weird psychological trick. Very strange. We’d have the kid say something offensive and then we’d go, “Trevor! How could you?!” clearly acknowledging the obvious charade, but people still seemed to buy it. They don’t seem to notice the camera, the whispering, anything.

Have you had any dealings with —

CHATMAN: Death threats? Have I had dealings with death threats? I’ve had a death threat. White supremacists, wasn’t it?

LEE: Yeah. But it seemed like some kind of a prank.

CHATMAN: I hope it was real. That’d be comedy cred, right?

LEE: That’s cool. Like getting raped in prison.

CHATMAN: We did this thing celebrating white culture: “This episode of Wonder Showzen is brought to you by … white people.” And we guess someone saw that and said, “You’re making fun of white people? That’s not right.”

LEE: There were on line debates where people liked certain points of the racism. “I like that racism, but are they making fun of white people in this bit?” I guess people like that get easily duped.

CHATMAN: We’d have a joke that’s ironically racist, but then you’d see people who are —

LEE:  — really racist.

CHATMAN: — happy there’s racism there. There’s a lot of paranoia that we have the wrong people with us sometimes.

LEE: But you can’t let stupid people stop you from doing stuff.

CHATMAN: People who misinterpret your jokes, that’s their problem. We had a little kid dressed up like Hitler, asking people, “What’s wrong with the youth of today?” And that only came up because we wrote another bit we thought would never get through, so we thought, What’s the craziest, stupidest thing we could come up with?

LEE: We’ll put that in the script, and they’ll say, “You can’t do this and that,” and we’d go, “Okay, we won’t do that, we’ll just do this.”

CHATMAN: But they went, “Oh. Okay.”

LEE: “Can’t wait to see the kid in the Hitler outfit.”

CHATMAN: We were like, “Holy shit.” We were legitimately like, “Is this right?”

From the book iSatiristas! Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians by Paul Provenza and Dan Dion. Copyright© 2010 by Paul Provenza. Photographs by Dan Dion. Reprinted by permission of It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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