If you haven't seen Pure Pwnage yet, - and frankly you have very little excuse at this stage - stop reading this right now, head over to the site, and come back and resume once you've watched all fourteen episodes. Go on. You'll thank me I promise, for within PP resides some of the finest crafted, best observed, and downright funniest gamer-based comedy you're ever going to find on these or any other internets.
Since its first episode just over three years ago, the show has evolved from its starting point of 11 minutes and 39 seconds of gamer satire to now take in professional-quality episodes of closer to an hour in length, as it follows the epic and multi-layered story of cocky aspiring pro-gamer Jeremy in his quest for supremacy, happiness and often his own survival.
Now attracting viewers by their millions, Pure Pwnage has become a bone fide internet phenomenon and a much-loved part of gaming culture. Such is its success that the show's cast and production team have for some time now been premiering new episodes for live audiences in cinemas world-wide. Locations so far have ranged from their native Canada to the USA and UK, and the beginning of November sees then making the flight to Australia for the screening of episode fifteen in Melbourne.
The premier of episode fourteen took place in London, and the UK contingent of Destructoid was there. After the showing, myself, Jim and Lauren spent an enjoyable few hours in the company of Jarett Cale (Jeremy), Geoff Lapaire (Kyle) and Miranda Plant (Anastasia) and amongst other things talked about the production and evolution of the show, the challenges of producing successful internet TV in a world ruled by the mainstream media, scary friends, insulting viewers, and how a gamer deals with finding out that he's apparently a celebrity overnight. Also, cocks (Literally. Wait 'til about halfway through the interview.)
It's an article fairly epic in length, even by my standards, but already a favorite of mine, so hit that little jump button below, dive in and enjoy.
Destructoid: Given the state of things now, the show has become a pretty epic phenomenon compared to how things were when you started. What was your vision for the show when it first started? What did you want it to be? Did you have any idea it was going to turn into something as big as it is?
Jarett: No idea at all. It couldn't possibly have been predicted. Our expectations were just to gain experience that we could put towards creating a “real” television show. We had plans for a different show and to pitch it to a network, we only made Pure Pwnage to... Well, it was a sort of an accident. It was test footage that we'd shot, but we looked at it and we thought, “That's kind of funny. Let's put it online”. We put it on cncreplays.com, which doesn't exist any more but which was a Command & Conquer community, and 250 people downloaded the first episode, which is an equivalent audience to a nice sized comedy club. I was doing stand-up comedy at the time, and thought “Well, that's a decent audience”, you know? And it was a fake preview. It was like "Coming soon... Pure Pwnage: The Show".
Geoff: And we had no intentions of making an actual show. It was just "Haha! Imagine if this was a real show.”
Jarett: Part of the joke was the idea that this could be a show that people would actually watch. “Yeah right, it's the life of a gamer...” And then all of a sudden the preview starts going viral and all these e-mails start flooding in going [Frantic fan-boy voice] "When's episode one!? When's the first episode!? Arrrrrgh! Oh my God I'm so excited!" And we were like "Holy sh*t!”
So we took one afternoon, literally, and made episode one, and then that was downloaded eight hundred times. And then we made another one and that was downloaded three thousand times. It was still really small compared to what we do now, but the growth was exponential. So we kept running with it. Every episode we put out, the audience still doubled, doubled, doubled, doubled, right up to episode ten, and ten was up to three million. It was completely mental!
And now it's levelled off. We still grow, but not like before. You can't keep on doubling, there are only so many people. But yeah, we never advertised. It was just word of mouth. People just dug the show on its merit and it got around.
Geoff: People ask me all the time, in fact I've been asked five times tonight alone, "Do you have any advice for film makers or people who want to get into Internet television?" The first thing I say is that you've got to make something that no-one's ever seen before, and the second thing you've got to do is make something that a person will watch and say "My friends have to see that." It's got to be something that can go out virally.
Jarett: That's the beauty of the Internet right? It's so easy to get the word out. All it takes is a few keystrokes and an e-mail to a buddy, and the show just grows. Completely organically. It's amazing.
Destructoid: Yeah, that's part of the way things work at Destructoid. Obviously we're a news site, but we're also all about the community as well...
Jarett: Exactly! But you know, Destructoid keeps on growing based on their merit. If you've got quality content it'll grow. If it's not quality content it'll sink, which is how it should be.
What I'm excited to see is twenty years from now, when all shows are delivered on a medium like this.
Destructoid: The audience will actually have real control over what they watch for the first time.
Jarett: Imagine that!
Geoff: It also has something to do with the fact that on television, most of the content is really totally generic. Bland, general audience. "Oh, I live in an apartment and have next door neighbours. I can relate to that." But on the Internet you can have niche markets. You can do stuff for gamers. They don't do that sort of stuff on television.
A good example is the show Arrested Development. Quality show, amazing content, huge on the Internet, huge fan-base. They were cancelled because they didn't find a general audience. They were multi-award winning, they won every kind of award for television, Emmys, you know? And they were cancelled. It was the highest quality show but it wasn't general enough. It wasn't there for everyone and their Moms to enjoy with all the family and they just cancelled it, and that's really too bad. That's really what the Internet's for, for shows like that to survive. I think that if someone had marketed it properly as an online show, there's enough people watching Internet television now that it would have survived.
Destructoid: Do you think the Internet's a definite viable alternative to television in the future?
Geoff: I think it's growing. The business of Internet television is definitely growing, and it's just a question of some big broadcasters getting on board and making a structure that works. Right now everyone's trying to build Internet television in their own vision. No one has got the way. My prediction is that the one that takes off hasn't been invented yet. The one that everyone is watching, and the one that's the real success and really brings the “golden age” of Internet television, is yet to come.
So we're just doing our own thing now. We've got the cameras, our own Web site, our own videos, our own stuff, and we're just trying to make it work.
Destructoid: On a related note, I have to ask, in episode 12 when Kyle gets invited to the meeting with the television company, there's a lot in the boardroom scene that seems to smack of bitter experience. Have you actually had any similar dealings?
Geoff: We have talked to a lot of different television companies. We've talked to a huge broadcaster based in Toronto. They know us, and we've met with the highest level of management there, we've met with all kinds of people. And they don't know what to do with us because we don't fit into the mold of their machinery. They take a show, they put it through the works, they have floors of people. The fifth floor's dedicated to that, the eighth floor's dedicated to this, there's marketing, there's web development...
We just don't fit into the cogs. It's a show about gamers, it's on the Internet, we don't have a fixed show length, we shoot on cameras that the satellites can't approve... It's just problem after problem of us just not fitting into the mold.
Not that we're bitter about the industry. We understand why they work the way they work. It's very established. It's a large company. I've worked for large companies and I know how difficult it is to get new things done in a quick manner. So that episode is based on our experience, certainly. Obviously Jarett didn't show anyone his balls... [Laughter]
Destructoid: A lot of people I know actually say they don't even watch television any more.
Geoff: Jarett, do you have a television in your house that actually has broadcast television on it?
Jarett: No, I’ve been televisionless for eight years. Most of my friends don't have a TV. I download The Sopranos.
Geoff: When I watch commercials I'm amazed. I'm like "Wow, people actually take time out of their day to watch these things?"
Jarett: I understand that advertising is the blood of the industry. They need to make money, it's a business. But nine minutes every thirty is going to an extreme.
Destructoid: One of the biggest strengths of the show is the incredibly well-observed characters. Every character in the show is someone who every gamer knows. How did that come about? Did you have concepts for the characters then fit them to the cast, or did the characters come out of the cast themselves?
Jarett: We had a pretty clear idea of the characters that we wanted. I did actually play Command & Conquer: Zero Hour competitively and when you play at a really high level, part of that is being involved in a community, and so you're unavoidably exposed to these guys like Jeremy. You try your best to ignore them, of course, but they would boil my blood, so Pure Pwnage initially was me venting.
The understanding of the culture comes from the fact that I was just doing stand-up comedy back then, which is a job that takes very little actual time, and what do you do with the rest of your time? You play games, you do whatever. So all I was doing was hanging on forums and playing games all day, and my life was dealing with people like Jeremy and it was making me insane! So when Geoff and I got together to film the test footage, the first thing that came out was me just venting my anger out on the f*cking “Jeremys” of the world.
And what was amazing about all this is that when people watched it they thought it was real. To me, and to anyone in Canada who realizes that that accent doesn't exist, it's obvious, but the audience is so global...
Geoff: We would read the feedback from the preview on the forums, and I kid you not, there was a man writing a message that said "That is the dumbest man I have ever seen in my entire life." And the irony there is that, "Well, you are inherently dumb if you didn't pick up that that was an actor." [Laughter] And then a few episodes later he went on to say "I just watched episode four, and I kind of think that maybe he's an actor". [Laughter] You watched four episodes and you started to suspect that the man is an actor?
Jarett: It was an amazing compliment really, being told “I want to kill you”...
We knew Joel [Gardiner, who plays FPS Doug] from back in Calgary when we used to mess around with some video projects. Joel has this amazing look. FPS is this enormous genre. In North America it’s the biggest genre. We knew we wanted to break the show out of the Command & Conquer community, so we thought "Let's bring in a Counter-Strike player who's off the wall" What kind of a human being can play an FPS for twelve hours a day?
We play FPS ourselves, but Geoff and I were more into RTS because it's the kind of game that you can go out to lunch and talk about for two hours. You can imagine strategies and put them into effect the next day. But FPS is a little more straightforward.
So we wanted to bring in a character who was simpler, hyperactive on top of his simplicity, and of course aggressive, because CS is about shooting people in the head. And we knew Joel, who has the perfect look.
Geoff: He looks so evil. I remember when Joel was at my house one time and my sister was there. We were hanging out and laughing, and my sister was like "That guy is the scariest man I've ever seen". And he is so nice, he's the kindest man ever. But if he relaxes his face, his facial structure makes him look like he's going to kick your f*cking ass. [Laughter]
Destructoid: We met one of our community members earlier on today at the premier. He told us his girlfriend came down to the screening in case Joel was there, purely so that she could see his skull in real life.
Miranda: I came into the series in episode six and at that point I'd never met Joel because he was in Calgary. And I was extremely scared, because I'd watched him in the other episodes. He'd jumped around, and he's screaming, and he's saying these graphically violent things, and truly, I thought he was going to punch me in the face or something.
**The pub we're conducting the interview in suddenly explodes into chaos and disbelieving screams, as the big flat screen TV in the corner starts showing some kind of avant garde porn over the end credits of a documentary**
Jarett [Leaning into the dictaphone]: I would like to point out that the interview was just derailed by a man on the TV with his cock hanging out, being pulled by another man, who was speaking into it like a microphone.
Destructoid: What's the actual writing process for the show? Is there lot of it improvisation, or do you sit down and actually hammer out a structured script?
Jarett: We operate on what we call a skeleton script. It's evolved over time. Now it's a lot more precise than it used to be.
Originally it was, "Okay now the camera's on! Do something!" It's pretty obvious that's how it started. Now we have a skeleton script, so what we do is we have a series of scenes and a general story arc and a plot-line for the episode, and then for the season, and then for the series. But we like to keep a lot of the content topical, so a lot of the dialogue isn't filled in until we're shooting an episode, based on what's relevant at the time.
When you're doing something like this, where it's “hyper-realistic”, if everything's scripted then the best actors in the world can't pull it off in a way that's convincing. But if you work on a system of concepts and jokes, and you allow the actors to do what they're best at, then you get what we've managed to do, which is this more realistic format.
Geoff: The best example of that I think is episode five, when we had Jeremy giving a monologue in his room before Kyle storms out. We had in the script "Pro Vs. noobs". That's all we had, and I think he spoke for a minute and a half in the show.
Jarett: I think if you looked at the script you'd laugh. "Pro Vs. noobs. Next scene!" [Laughter]
Geoff: A concept is written down and Jarett will improvise along that, and it's great. Jarett and myself, we're the writers, directors, we're the meat of the show, so if we're working together, we can pretty much go "Roll!" and good stuff comes out. If we were the producers and we were working with actors and separate writers, we'd really have to have a script that was word for word. In this case we can just roll with a concept and it works really well. I think you get stuff that you couldn't get otherwise.
Jarett: We refer to those as the glory days. Geoff and I, we'd have some fun, we'd have some drinks, we'd write as we'd go. We didn't have to put much effort into it.
Destructoid: How has the fan reaction changed has the show has got bigger? Have any of them ever got scary?
Miranda: You know what, if I told you, I'm sure that they'd look up this article and be like "I'm going to kill her!"[Laughter] It gets very creepy, yeah. I've heard all kinds of terrible things. But nothing has ever been terrible enough to make me not love doing the show and not love working with Geoff and Jarett.
Destructoid: Jarett, with you being the main character, how do you deal with the popularity?
Jarett: I love it. No, it's great. I think for anyone who does stand-up comedy or peruses acting as a career, there's no denying that some part of your motivation is for the attention that comes along with it. Anyone that denies that, well, they're a liar. And so it's amazing, because I was doing stand-up for three years, and I was doing relatively well as far as stand-up goes, but Pure Pwnage has allowed me to circumvent the traditional process and make a jump.
And here I am, I get this attention, and I have this avenue to communicate with all these people and create this art and get it out there. It’s all about the audience. Most comics spend their lives performing for almost no money. So the opportunity to create content for millions of people to see, for millions of people to be entertained by, that gets all this recognition, to me is the best paycheck ever. Man, I was eating tuna sandwiches, every day, because it costs a dollar...
Geoff: Yeah, he'd come over and we'd make tuna sandwiches.
Jarett: Every f*cking day. [Laughter]
Geoff: Because it was cheap and we couldn't afford to eat out in the early days.
Jarett: But we weren't unhappy. We were doing what we wanted to do. You can't ask for more. The fact that we now make an okay living, - hardly lavish, but now I can eat more than tuna sandwiches - it's all butter. Everything on top of the tuna sandwiches is like "Thank you for giving us this opportunity!"
Destructoid: The money is only ever worth it if you've got the rest.
Jarett: It's a bonus, and if you have our personality type it's really nothing. It's like "Yeah yeah yeah, now I can afford a TV, that's cool", but really the biggest paycheck is that we make people laugh for a living. It's unbelievable, it's surreal, and every day I think I'm going to wake up in the hospital and be told that I was struck by a car three years ago and that this was all a dream. Because what is the f*cking chance of this?
Destructoid: I completely agree. It's a completely different medium, being writers, but because we keep Destructoid very community-based we get exactly the same kind of feedback and feeling from doing it.
Destructoid [Jim]: Actually, earlier one when you guys were signing, one guy came up to me and said "Excuse me, are you Jim Sterling?", and I was like "YES!" [Beams]
Destructoid: We'd been waiting for that to happen all weekend!
Destructoid [David: You do get some incredible reactions from people though. I saw a guy on Myspace the other day who'd put myself, Jim, and our community manager in his "Would most like to meet" section. It was crazy. We're just guys who write about games, but to get reactions like that from it is just mind-blowing.
Destructoid [Jim]: It's crazy to comprehend that millions are looking at your work and saying "I like this stuff."
Jarett: Absolutely. You have Web traffic, and it's one thing to imagine what that represents in terms of a real audience, - we make shows, they get downloaded a hundred thousand times or whatever, it's a number on a screen - but then we had the first premier. It was episode nine in Toronto, and we thought fifty, maybe a hundred people would show up. Come on, who's going to pay ten dollars to see an episode of Pure Pwnage? So we're hanging in a pub down the street and the show's going to start in an hour. We leave the pub and walk down the street, and there's this line around the corner. And that was a life-changing experience.
Geoff [Deadpan]: We had logistical problems.
It was like "What do you do? How do you get all the tickets to all the people? How do you...?" And the merchandise table was crazy! And it seemed bigger than the Web traffic. We'd done episode eight, put it on the Internet, millions of people had seen it, and we'd just said, "Okay, it's a number of hits in a Web traffic tracker." But to see people in person, that was incredible. It's totally different to Web traffic.
Jarett: To be nobody, walking into that and seeing all those people...
And leaving! We tried to get out of the theater and we got swarmed in the streets! There were four hundred people surrounding us, because we had no plan. We just walked out into the street! And there's cars that can't get past! People running around, and us going "What the fuck!? What the fuck!?" There's all these people and I'm just standing there like I'm Brad f*cking Pitt, going "Holy shit! Holy shit!"
I was awake for two days. I couldn't sleep. I was so high! Pure adrenalin...
Geoff: It's like today. If people come up to you, they want to take your picture, and then they're like "Okay, can I take your picture with my friend?" And they hold the camera and they're like [Mimes shaky hands]. And it's like, "I'm a regular guy."
Jarett: One girl, I touched her and her whole body was shaking. I'm like "Woooooooooah! What the hell is happening?"
Geoff: Everybody who's famous is a regular guy, right? I'm like "Dude, why are you shaking? If I'd met you in the street you wouldn't have given me the time of day two years ago."
Destructoid [Lauren]: I'll admit, when I first saw you guys it was like [squeaky excited voice] "Oooooooooooh, it's so coooool!" [Laughter]
Jarett: Isn't that just weird?
Destructoid [David]: Working in PR before getting into journalism, I worked with a few people who's work was fairly well known, but you do just realise that everyone famous person is just someone doing a job.
Jarett: Yeah, it's changed my perspective on celebrity. Celebrity as a status and celebrities themselves.
Destructoid [To Miranda]: Related to how you deal with the success of the show, as a lead character you must get a lot of attention. A lot of females in the gaming community get a lot of problems. How do you deal with that and how you feel about gaming being a male-dominated arena?
Miranda: Honestly, whenever I see a female gamer I try to encourage her, and obviously I'll give her entire precedence over any other male fan. I think there's a reason why it is a male-dominated activity. It's obviously something that does appeal to men more than women, but I think that in time we'll see a change in that demographic.
Destructoid: Yeah, in online games, things like WoW, the majority of gamers are actually female...
Miranda: Yeah, and certainly it's grown. Even on our forums, the amount of women that have joined is unbelievable. I think that the women find that when they join, because there are so few of them, when they're recognized as a female gamer they are like sex icons. They become e-famous. So I suppose that there is an incentive for female gamers to start, but I hope it becomes more equal.
Destructoid: The flip side is that it often seems harder for a male to get anywhere in the games industry than for a female.
Jarett: I think there are more females gaming than people think. My girlfriend is a hardcore gamer, but she doesn't go around saying "Hey, I'm a girl. Look at me." She just plays the game as anyone else plays the game and she gets the same amount of respect as anyone with her level of skill would get. And I think there's a lot more of her out there.
They might be a little shy, because again they get this super-attention. I don't want to talk poorly of gamers, but I have witnessed it myself - there are a lot of people who are in situations where I guess they don't communicate with females often, and they go a little overboard online.
Miranda: And perhaps I could equate it to sports of any kind. Women play soccer too, women play football, but how many people actually watch women's football?
Destructoid [Lauren]: I've recently had a weird situation. I've been in the Championship Gaming Series, playing Dead Or Alive 4. My friend actually asked me to do that. He said "Can you apply, because we've got no females?"
Jarett: Because every team needs a female, yeah.
Destructoid [Lauren]: I mean I can play it, but I'm not that great. But I passed every round just because I'm female and they wanted someone to qualify. Sometimes when I go on forums I say I'm male just to avoid the attention and hassle.
Miranda: Can I ask you, is the character that you play male or female?
Destructoid [Lauren]: In DOA I play Kasumi. Only character I can really play.
Jarett: It's all about who's best!
Destructoid [Lauren]: I've played female characters in MMOs, and the amount of free stuff I got was just ridiculous.
Jarett: Which is why the MMO character in Pure Pwnage is female. It was the perfect genre for a female character. I have a lot of experience with MMOs, and if there's a female hardcore gamer who can put in hours a day, she will dominate. They get on Vent with their sweet little voices and they're all [Squeaky English accent] "Oooh. I kinda want that sword...", and the sword is coming to them! [Laughter] And it's like, "But I played four times as long...!"
The ultimate MMO player, theoretically, has to be a female.
Miranda: But a sweet, quiet female, like a little flower.
Jarett [Squeaky English accent]: "Oh I don't really need that shield, but if you want to hand it to me I'll take it"
Miranda: Ever so politely.
Destructoid: Oh it's a system that does work.
Jarett: Oh, it works! I've been f*cked by it, it works!