We’ve all been at that party, the one a friend drags you to on a night you’d planned to stay in, guzzle OJ right out of the carton, and re-watch The Sopranos for the fourth time. You don’t know a soul and, though he’s got the best intentions, your pal won’t really help you integrate. A quick introduction or two when you first get there, maybe, but, within minutes, you’ll be left alone and forced to decide whether you’ll go out on a limb and start conversation with a stranger who could hate you, or stay safe and fade into uninvited guest oblivion. Talking to someone might be cool, but what would you say? It’s a hard call, and one that I bet the pioneers behind Long Haired Businessmen (LHB) would have no trouble making. If their ability to forge inroads into unfamiliar comedic territory is any indication of their fearlessness, George Kareman, Pat O’Brien, and Ben Wietmarschen might take off their shirts and say something like “I know our nipples are bigger than normal, but are they side show big…and would you mind licking them?” Created by and starring Kareman, O’Brien, and Wietmarschen, shot by Tom Levin, and brought to life by the inimitable stylings of Hana El Assad, Long Haired Businessmen is a lesson in middle fingering norms and jumping in with both feet.
Tell me about your comedy background and those of your co-creators before the show.
George Kareman: I started as a regular actor doing dramatic stuff. My parents were both actors so I grew up in that world and, because of that, I wasn’t into it as a kid. I first got the bug in college. Then, a year or two after college, I found UCB and got on the improv track. As I started doing comedy more seriously, it became my focus. My first sketch was my Interview with R.L. Stein and it’s crazy because when I made that video I got jobs from it. It didn’t blow up or anything, but directors would see it and random casting directors would see it and, all of a sudden, I started getting auditions. That’s was then I realized that making your own shit is definitely where it’s at. From there I co-wrote my one-man show. That show ran at the UCB Theatre and right around then is when I got on Harold night and Maude night so that all happened within the last year, year and a half. Pat O’Brien, who’s another one of the LHB creators, was on a Harold team called Deckard with me, and we thought each other was hilarious so once Deckard got broken up we knew we had to collaborate together.
Where’d the idea for LHB come from?
Pat, Ben Wietmarschen, and I started pitching ideas and the title came up during the pitch session. We didn’t really know what it was, but it made us laugh. It was one of those things where you say the title and you go “Oh that’s funny” but you don’t have anything to back it up. At first we dismissed the whole idea, but then we decided it was funny enough to commit to, so we built out the concept and made it work.
How’s the show written? It seems like a lot is improvised, is that the case?
Yeah. Ben, Pat, and I wrote like 30 scenarios, the set up, the situation, and then we would just riff. We had a couple of trigger lines that we had scripted and made sure got in there to move each sketch along but, more or less, the method was: script the scenario and improvise the dialogue.
So like a retro-scripting, Curb Your Enthusiasm kind of deal?
Yeah, basically. For instance, one of the first episodes where the copy machine doesn’t work came from our thinking “That’s a basic scenario for an office setting and let’s just have these guys with long hair have it get in the way as they fix the copy machine.” And we would beat it out a little bit once we knew what the situation was, but once we were filming it was follow the improv, follow the fun.
What other web series are you excited about right now?
I think Rejected Pitches is probably the best web series out right now. Dan Klein and Kelly, those guys are just killing it. Pretty much anything Dan Klein does. I loved the fruit reviews that he did. Anything that feels a little bit weirder like that is interesting to me. Not that it’s weird, just a little bit off. I dig I’m Too Fragile For This in terms of just a straight conversational kind of series. And all the shorts, like the stuff Tom Levin is putting out. His stuff’s more short film than web series, but he drops new ones like every month or so and they’re always great.
Do you have any wisdom to impart to new online content creators?
Well I would start off by saying Long Haired has done well for what it is and for not having any promotional things behind it, but it’s not like it’s blowing up or anything. This might sound obvious, but I would say you gotta really be true to your idea, you’ve gotta do what you think is funny. I think a lot of times people make the mistake of trying to make something that will blow up as opposed to making something that they like. Audiences have an innate ability to pick up on that. Long Haired Businessmen might not be for everyone but I think most people can recognize that we’re having fun doing it and they respond to that. That’s the first step. The second step is keeping them short and easy to produce. For Long Haired, we shot the entire thing in one day and, from a logistical standpoint, that worked really well. Some people make the mistake of saying, “I’m gonna make this web series and it’s all about New York City and we’re going to all these different places in New York” and it’s like, “Okay, cool man, but you need five grand and two weeks to do that.” I think that gets in people’s way. Go in with a simple idea that has one location or something that you can just do in a weekend or a day. As far as getting hits, I don’t know. Try to reach out to places like Splitsider or CollegeHumor if you can. Not being bashful is another thing — just pimp it out. I didn’t just think you’d call and put me on Splitsider, I chased it. You have to put yourself out there for those things.
Do you think there’s something about the artist’s personality that’s not as enterprising as somebody in a different, traditional business?
In some cases, yes. There are definitely people hustling though, so I don’t think it’s a universal truth. I think it’s less of a screw missing and more of people just being scared. That insecurity that comes with making shit and putting stuff out there, which is just part of the game. It’s not like you or I feel any less fearful when we’re like hey look at our thing, we’re just willing to do it. It’s just part of the process — you made this thing, people might shit on it, but you’ve gotta put it out there. You’re not gonna spend all this time making something and then not try and get people to see it.
A lot of it is just sacking up and taking the criticism when it comes.
Exactly. And I also think once you do it once, you realize that it’s not as complicated and daunting as you thought it would be.
Here are your three reasons to watch (and skip all haircuts for the next 18 months):
The combination of long hair and suits is shocking enough. LHB creators were shrewd in downplaying the humor surrounding this tireless sight gag. Anything more animated would’ve taken away from the underlying brilliance of a simple, offbeat idea.
Every beat feels authentic because of the actors’ improv adeptness. From pauses to facial expressions, the realism comes as much from intangibles as it does from eerily accurate corporate dialogue.
3. Absurd physicality
Less experimental creators might’ve worried about the staying power of a series oriented around one jarring visual. Thank God they realized the expansive realm of longhaired possibilities.