A nervous boy fastens half a loaf of bread to his face so another boy can deck him, creating an explosion of carbs. A young man dressed like an elder PGA pro putts around the inside of a Laundromat, slicing golf balls into open dryers. One dude surfs an ironing board down a flight of stairs, falling giddily on his ass. If the TV-friendly version of Odd Future sounds like a lost episode of Jackass, there’s a good reason why.
In the past two years, the California hip-hop collective whose cumbersome full moniker is Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All has managed to incite a thousand think pieces about lyrical violence. If rock and roll is whatever music scares parents the most, Odd Future is the epitome of rock and roll now. On March 25, however, a show called Loiter Squad will debut on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, presenting the barely-out-of-their-teens group as a band of merry pranksters. Who better to handle this coming out party than the guys behind the standard-bearing stunt show, Jackass?
“Normally we find our own stuff, but this was brought to us,” says Jeff Tremaine, president of Dickhouse Entertainment and director of the Jackass series.
In 2010, Adult Swim producer Nick Weidenfeld inked a deal with Odd Future’s divisive driving force, Tyler, the Creator for what would eventually become Loiter Squad. Soon after, when Weidenfeld was deciding what to do with the property, he reached out to Tremaine and convinced him of OF’s potential by bringing him to one of the group’s raucous live shows.
“We were into Odd Future from a music standpoint pretty early on as they started to explode,” says Walter Newman, senior manager of comedy development at Adult Swim. “They were putting up crazy, funny videos, and we tried to find someone who could match their energy. That turned out to be Dickhouse.”
Once his company was on board, Tremaine put a lot of the old behind-the-scenes crew from Jackass on the show, including documentarian Lance Bangs and director of photography Dimitry Elyashkevich, who both serve as executive producers on Loiter Squad. Together, they set about the unenviable task of figuring out Odd Future at a core level and translating the group’s sensibilities into an original comedic vision.
“If you hang out with these kids at all, you know they love to go out and fuck with people,” Tremaine says. “So as we started filming with them, that was sort of a natural gravitation. It’s not really a follow show or a documentary, but just like Jackass, you get an idea of what they’re into and not into, and we take advantage of every bit of that.”
There are upwards of 10 members in Odd Future, and while they all sporadically appear on Loiter Squad, the bulk of the show consists of Tyler and three non-musical mascots of the group inflicting mayhem on each other and the outside world. About half of the show features heavily improvised pranks and man-on-the-street interviews, and the other half is all twisted sketches and character bits.
“The show was intended to feel like these guys were just given a slot of programming and were filling it with whatever they thought was funny or interesting,” says Lance Bangs, who first encountered members of the group while filming a documentary in Los Angeles four years ago, when some of the boys were still in high school. “Most of the ideas came from meetings between the cast and the Dickhouse staff, and the guys would quickly kill any ideas they didn’t connect with.”
Adult Swim and Dickhouse brought in writers so they could have a structure to refer to, but most of what worked best occurred when they just dropped the cast into scenarios and let them be themselves, rather than deliver scripted lines.
“They Odd Future’d any idea we threw at them,” Newman says.
Although the show shares some obvious DNA with Jackass, there are a lot of differences. Tyler may be a skateboarder with the typical skater’s share of injuries, but he and his cohorts do not consistently test each other’s pain thresholds the way the Jackass crew does. Several members of the Jackass gang were trained in some way or another, including Steve-O, who was literally a professional clown.
“There was often a competitive desire to get good footage among the Jackass cast that would lead to people putting themselves in harm or humiliation’s way,” Bangs says. “The Loiter Squad cast aren’t as interested in getting wrecked or mortifyingly disgraced, perhaps because they have so much going on outside of the show.”
Another big difference between the two shows is that this time around, the creators are way, way out of the talent’s peer group. At one point, Tremaine oversaw a scene involving the father of cast member Jasper Dolphin, only to discover that the man was four years his junior. Later, the performer who goes by the name Taco played E.T. in a sketch, even though he had never heard of E.T.
“These guys think I’m an unfunny old man,” Tremaine says. “They don’t trust me at all. As I spend more time with them, though, I figure out how to push their buttons. We’ve gotten pretty good at putting them in the right place at the right time, and a lot of times it’s just luck. You shoot way too much and then figure it all out in the edit bay.”
The most significant difference between Jackass and Loiter Squad, though, is probably that the former started off with an unknown cast who later became very famous, while the latter’s star is already selling out venues around the world. Luckily, there’s a certain kind of fame in the digital age where a large swath of the listening public can be exhausted from constantly hearing about a musician, while at the same time a much larger swath has no idea who the hell that person is. This is definitely the case with Tyler, the Creator.
“He’s gotten busted a couple of times, which makes hidden camera more tricky, but you can take him out and still get away with stuff,” Tremaine says. “Once the show starts airing and it gets popular, then it will be a problem. But you just adapt and do stuff with that.”
Indeed, the producers have already been able to use Odd Future’s fame to their advantage. When the group went out on tour, the producers came along and filmed material for the show. A lot of scenes were the direct result of being in a particular city, which would inform what Tyler and his costars were going to do. Being on tour helped in other ways as well.
“We also wanted it to feel like you were hanging out with these guys and sharing in their world,” Bangs says, “so we incorporated live performances and stretches of footage reflecting what they are up to day to day.” In addition to Loiter Squad, Bangs has been shooting short documentaries profiling the individuals who make up Odd Future, such as lone female member Syd tha Kyd.
The show’s creators have to be wary of the group’s particular kind of fame, though. The legend of Odd Future encompasses more than just its admirable DIY ethos (they self-released several free albums until they got a record deal); it also includes a heavy violent streak exemplified by the mantra “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school,” and rampant rape fantasies. Odd Future’s apocalyptic lyrical content is something far removed from the playfully transgressive antics of Loiter Squad. This was a distinction the show’s creators actively sought to enforce.
“I’m conscious of keeping the music separate from the show,” Tremaine says. Newman echoes the sentiment. “What you see on the show is definitely not their music,” he says. “We were interested in them as personalities. We’re fans of their music too, but the two are definitely different things.”
To a certain extent, the members of Odd Future have an existence as personalities that dwarfs their existence as musicians. They’ve demonstrated a multi-platform savvy that’s helped steadily grow their fan base. They share their lives online in 140-character bursts, rife with the kind of juvenile humor and exuberance that couldn’t possibly be ghost-tweeted by so-called social media experts. Now the audience knows Odd Future almost as well as Odd Future knows its audience.
In fact, Tyler’s awareness of how fans respond to content seems to have informed the creation of said content. “In the edit room, it often felt like certain visual moments were going to be immediately turned into GIFs and spread across the Internet,” Bangs says.
When Jackass was on TV 10 years ago, there was no such thing as social media yet. Watching the show was the only access viewers had into the lives of its stars, and there was no access into their interior lives. It was not yet a common custom to casually share personal information about one’s self online. Of course, we now live in an age where a guy who’s about to go on stage and spit dark, masochistic nightmares to thousands of fans can cop to feeling nervous about it on Twitter; heightening the separation between artist and art.
There’s at least one thing, however, that a show like Loiter Squad provides and that individual Twitter accounts cannot: a glimpse at the special kind of alchemy created when funny childhood friends hang out together. “There’s a world there, or a family, and it is similar to Jackass. These guys grew up together, and in watching them, you’re definitely part of a group dynamic,” Tremaine says. “Each of them has a role and you’ll figure it out more and more as the show goes on.”