On Thursday night, people tuned in to watch the epic climax built over seasons of gods and monsters battling it out. It all came down to a creative conflict; fighting at the crux of a once familiar reality with two very different universes being forged before our very eyes. Supernatural was also on but instead I tuned into the (rather abrupt) series finale of Fan Fiction Showdown, a comedic live-stream created and hosted by Wham City Comedy.
Wham City is a Baltimore collective that ‘s done live shows, musical performances, and experimental comedy, from that came Wham City Comedy, or sometimes AB Video Solutions, and if you’ve seen some of the weirdest, wildest, and most creative shit that’s come out of Adult Swim in the last decade then you may already know Alan Resnick, Ben O’Brien, Robby Rackleff, and Cricket Arrison.
Adult Swim had a double doozy in 2016 with the viral shock Too Many Cooks and then the engrossing labyrinthine found-footage project This House Has People In It. While both of them found near equal success in people sharing it and going what-the-fuck, This House was hiding far more secrets than the 12-minute domestic horror short let on. Wham had actually recorded around two hours of incredibly dread-inducing surveillance footage and built a website daring viewers to piece together the mystery of just what-the-fuck actually happened.
I could write pages and pages of how insanely fascinating the whole endevour is and how it literally gave me nightmares from drawing me into a Lynchian world of fictional diseases and otherwordly threats, but the internet already went wild on this one. Just look it up and find the hours of written and video content trying to decipher their work, and this is what Wham City Comedy thrive on; interacting with the audience.
After the double-bill of terror with This House and Unedited Footage of a Bear, the gang have produced a number of live performance pieces edging far closer to straight (but still weird) comedy. There was Ultimate Mortal Kombat III: The Play which parodied the bizarre Mortal Kombat live-show and subsequent promotions that actually happened, dovetailing into Robby’s other gaming passion project Electronic Game Information. Then there was The Weather challenging phone-in viewers to improv with them in scenes rarely related to the weather. Their other call-in show Cry of Mann and Call of Warr drew into the investigative element as viewers could talk to the characters of these esoteric soap operas and try to convince or persuade them down different paths. It was like a choose-your-own adventure book except you were on the phone with a bunch of lunatics in control of the pages.
Their most recent project was back on Adult Swim with the live-streamed Fan Fiction Showdown. A simple enough conceit in which Robby and Cricket would each write a 10-page fan-fiction script on a different fandom each week, act them out with host Ben and a special guest and then we, the audience, got to vote for the winner. I’ve watched pretty much every project listed and this was the first I gave a chance with interacting in. It was absolutely worth it.
The joy of the show is that you truly never know what you’re going to get, even with them announcing what each fandom is going to be. Robby might write a Clive Barker inspired delve into the sewers of New York and mutate the women of Sex in the City into horrific aberrations, or Cricket could write a Star Trek: The Next Generation piece on Beverley Crusher and her many clones in the holodeck which Robby denounces as pornography. You see they have to be insane because we always have the rules as dictated by Ben; the Titanic episode insisted that the Titanic itself must shout “oh fuck!” when hitting the iceberg. That was one of the tamer ‘restrictions’.
But so much of the humour came from outside the rules and even the scripts. If there was ever a bald character, like X-Men’s Professor X, then Ben would automatically be cast (he begrudgingly takes those roles after always asking for lines other than the action). Robby is about as illiterate as he is imaginative causing near-constant stumbling and pauses just to decode his work (punctuated by Robby himself failing the hardest to keep up). Cricket delivers her roles with an absolute passion and gusto and yet regularly tries to circumvent rules with artistic subtleties (usually leading to arguments over artistic interpretation).
And of course with such a simple concept, their comedy comes from de-oiling the machine as it were. Complicating things in trying to one-up each other and vying for credit from an increasingly badgered Ben who just wants to keep the runtime within the allotted hour. They introduce the drawing segment (which has NO effect on the voting process) where Robby hashes together MSPaint works right before the stream starts and Cricket sneaks in mixed-media performance art. They promote personal works in their webcam backgrounds such as Robby’s What If Cricket Died? and Cricket’s reactionary What If Robby Truly Lived? But the interactive segment is where I became a “friend of the show” and a “beautiful bald man”.
Some people celebrate fandom with words, others clothes. The costume contest each week invited us to rummage through whatever we had at hand and have our own little showdown. This is where, like Robby and Cricket, I developed my own feud with another fan. While I recreated iconic moments for each girl in Sex and the City, he wore bin bags. While I made up my mattress to resemble Spongebob Squarepants, he wore a bin bag. While I crafted a X-Men poster out of cardboard and stuck my head through it, he wore a bin bag. And the best part is that the guests, who chose the winner, were often seemingly choosing at random and always chose him. But I can’t be mad because honestly just wearing a bin bag as a costume is pretty funny, so congrats, Joe.
Really though, that time I spent each week thinking about the fandoms, looking up inspiration, finding the right clothes, and doing arts and crafts was an incredibly exciting part of my otherwise unending days of quarantine. I looked forward to seeing how complicated I could get with just a pile of clothes, the teensy bit of dread when it was something I hadn’t seen (or one of their more abstract topics like WWI or Amtrak), and hearing the live on air reactions of guests who typically didn’t get the completely obscure reference I was going for.
I’m going to miss Fan Fiction Showdown because it was a really funny show and it kept me creatively active despite political, medical, and personal disaster. So I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next though from what I understand their finale is due to Adult Swim streaming being drastically laid off so wherever else they may end up I hope they nurture this chaotic bunch of comic geniuses.
Lastly I’m going to give proper credit to Cricket on this project. Though it never opens up with her name above the title or anything like that, she’s been the quiet MVP that the others have credited throughout; creating the concept, handling the costume entries, and interacting with us all online. It’s a shining example that entertainment isn’t this give or take thing, we’re all experiencing something new and fun together and they want creator and spectator in that same space.
They may return to their intricately pre-produced mystery projects but personally I liked the stripped-down personal nature of this show. They often let slip whatever loose ‘character’ they had, took and gave compliments with the audience (bald solidarity, Ben), and allowed themselves to laugh at the absurdity along with us. Above all, as the least horror thing they’ve done, it was overwhelmingly positive, it made me feel like I could write, or stream, or be as creative as they are, because as they always said “we’re all worthy of love”.