My first exposure to Brad Neely was freshman year of college during my Chemical Engineering bachelor’s.
I ended up living (well, it was mandatory so it wasn’t exactly a choice) in an all guy’s hall. At University of Rochester, we had the equivalent of two RA’s. One was an actual RA, who was charged with keeping about eighteen guys confined to small, overpacked rooms from killing themselves or each other. The other was the D’Lion (short for dandelion), who was basically the morale officer. They’d plan events, keep spirits high (so we wouldn’t murder ourselves with alcohol and bong hits), and generally be a positive person.
My D’Lion was, by definition, the fucking worst at his job…but the best person. He didn’t schedule events, he didn’t maintain a “professional” attitude. He smoked a lot of weed, played a lot of loud electronic music, had a flatscreen and blacklights in his room, and generally just let us get away with everything shy of homicide…all in the name of fun. He’d often yell out to the hall at 1:30 AM on a Saturday, drunk and stoned out of his mind, for us to assemble in his room to watch, a decidedly new thing, videos on the internet. And it was he that showed me Brad Neely’s “Washington”, far before Brad Neely was “Brad Neely, champion of Adult Swim.”
When I first watched it, I thought it was dumb. The next morning, I woke up humming the song to myself. I hummed it all day. That night, I drank a lot of bourbon with friends and we screamed it into the inky abyss at midnight in the fraternity quad. It grew on me and I began to follow Brad’s work.
After this I discovered the mp3 files for Wizard People, Dear Reader. Wizard People, Dear Reader is a project Brad did that is essentially a re-dubbing of the original Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone movie. You synced the DVD with the audio track, killed the movie msound, and let Brad lull you into a world of magic, mystery, and surrealist shit. I think that Wizard People, Dear Readers has had the biggest impact on my sense of humor and style of writing out of everything. I would listen to it like a podcast during trips, use it as background music while I studied. It became everything I was for a short time.
As Brad worked with SuperDeluxe and, eventually, began releasing his stuff on Youtube, I followed along with it. Baby Cakes, Professor Brothers, America, Now… all comic staples. I have a tradition where I listen to Neely’s “Prisoner Christmas” every year on the 22nd of December as a tribute to when I fell asleep listening to it on the train ride home for the holidays one year. I had a kidney infection that started showing symptoms on the train and I spent the entire time feverish, sweating, and enshrouded by all that was Neely. That sounds like a fucking nightmare on paper but in reality it was almost akin to a life-transforming peyote trip.
And then came China, IL. It was the first work Neely had done to be aired on Adult Swim. It was a combination of the Professor Brothers and Baby Cakes themes Brad had been doing and the precursor to the identically titled show on Adult Swim. It was the perfect amalgamation of everything Neely did. It was glorious. And when Adult Swim commissioned three seasons of China, IL, I was ecstatic. Giving Brad the money and resources to grow and nurture his children created some of the FINEST animated television this decade has seen.
I was crushed when I heard that China, IL was to end on the third season. I didn’t hear about it until about six months after it had been announced and all my “fatted calf”-esque dreams of a fourth season withered and died. It was, however, bolstered upon hearing that Brad was making a new show, along the lines of the Tim and Eric Show: short skits, musical numbers, guest stars. It wasn’t China, IL…but it was Brad Neely and that was okay. Finally, the first episode came and I consumed it like some sort of Neely alcoholic.
And I didn’t like it.
I kept trying. “For Knowles”, “For Aretha”, and “For Blanchett”…I watched them with the highest hopes…and then despaired.
I didn’t “not like it.”
I HATED it.
Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio lacked everything that I loved about Brad. I couldn’t put my finger on it for a long time. I rewatched them again and again, trying to find the mojo in them that I so dearly craved…but it wasn’t there. After watching it again today and talking about it on Twitter, I figured out what it is that it lacked that all his other works provided.
Brad Neely’s style, for the most part (now), fits into the category of comedy that I define as “experienced.” Experienced comedy is taking things that you’ve lived, warping how you look at it or how it appears, and deriving comedy from that. It’s not juxtaposition comedy (using irony or coincidental comparison for humor), shock comedy (looking at you Eric Andre), or observational comedy that gives Brad’s work the punch I like. It is the fact that the vast majority of his work has hard, unalienable truths buried deep in its core that are coated in surrealist comedy like some sort of fucked up Kinder Egg. You eat the Kinder Egg not for the chocolate, but the prize you wrest from inside. For most of Neely’s work, it’s the same. Take for example this Baby Cakes video:
“And there is always some poor kid who has a sucky life. But then he’s visited by someone from a hidden world of awesomeness who explains to the kid that the kid is the chosen kid and everyone is waiting for him. To fight…and to win…and to accept treasure..and to accept love. And to rule the hidden world of awesomeness like the handsome little asshole that he is.
Happens all the time, right?
I guess every one of us is just hopin’ to turn out to be one of those forgotten chosen ones…right?” – Brad Neely, Baby Cakes – Coffee Line
You can laugh all you want at “ditch wizards” and “honky muffs” and “hand to foot spell”…but if you don’t find a small nugget of soul-crushing realism in that, then you may be either blissfully ignorant or already dead inside. Neely’s capability to show the audience those tiny truths through the distorted eyes of his characters is what endears me so much to his work.
“I was perfect. I was important, and funny, and seemingly rich, and I had the body of a heavy lifter. It was like the part in the movies where the hero shows up in the end to get his hard-earned medal and all his enemies in the crowd start to shrug off their grudges as they crack slow smiles, clapping their asses off for him. But right then…a fat hippy broke into a blistering James Taylor cover…and I felt, down in my brain’s heart, that evening was about to shift into shittiness.” – Brad Neely, The Professor Brothers – Fliff Night Part 1
The relationships between characters, their views on the world, and their all too real thoughts filtered through Neely’s weird world view and humor is what makes Neely’s work great. But HNSP doesn’t have that. It peeks out frightfully during certain sections of the show but quickly recedes in the face of absurdist humor. It is all of the potatoes of Brad’s style but none of the meat.
I can’t blame him, honestly. I know it’s not for me and I’m sure there’s people out there that love it. I can’t begrudge him for swinging for the fences and hoping to land some hits into every part of the crowd. But I can’t watch Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin Sclopio Peepio, as much as it pains me to say it. I recommend that you watch it, or any other works of his, however. While my fires have been banked, I encourage you to stoke yours with the choicest of fuels Neely provides. The world is dark and full of fear…and we need as many bonfires lit to stave away the encroaching night.