The In-Your-Face Friendship of ‘Power Violence’

We like watching friends be funny together.

We want to feel like we’re apart of that group of friends. That we’re in they’re clique, too, and by watching comedians with long histories together be insular and banter can be a surprisingly cathartic experience.

“Power Violence” is a group that specializes in such a dynamic. The comedy collective includes Whit Thomas, Clay Tatum, Budd Diaz, and you can watch their intimate, explosive performances every third Sunday at the Satelitte in Los Angeles. This monthly event also now happens to feature their pseudo house band, Snake Plisskin and the I Thought You Were Deads, featuring the musical talents of Whit along with Jonah Ray and Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus. But whether you’re familiar with “Power Violence” or not, they’ve arguably experienced their biggest year yet and are heading towards important things. They will be on your radar if they aren’t already, and then they’ll be smashing said radar into a million pieces.

“Power Violence” assaults audiences with a mixed sensory experience, providing you with a truly unique show, but this year, they’ve also been apart of FXX’s bizarre animated series, Stone Quackers (along with Ben Jones), depicting duck-like approximates for the members of the group, as they get into similar hijinks.

Beyond the live comedy and the animated series, these guys are just friends and that’s more clear than anything in all the work that they do. Their chemistry is effortless and always feels genuine. I had a chance to talk to Whit and Clay of the group about the ins and outs of “extreme friendship” and just why they’ve made the path for themselves that they have.

“Power Violence” has certainly seen a sort of atypical journey. You guys have been catapulted from anonymous skateboarder out of Golf Shores and Santa Maria into an institution of comedy in California, with a weird animated series under your belt now, too. Are you ever just like, “What is happening!”

Whit: Not really. I mean, I think that it’s certainly pretty cool. We’ve been in LA now – me and Clay have been in LA now – for nine years jut trying to make stuff happen, you know? So to maybe a lot of people it seems like we just started up and then immediately got a cartoon on TV, but no, to me it’s been a really slow development.

Clay: I mean, we did get that show [Stone Quackers] kind of early in, but it was such a weird, odd way of getting into a show.

Whit: Yeah, it was really weird.

Sure, and not many ongoing attractions are capable of going on for 25 years, let alone a friendship like you guys have. So how do you think that this long-lasting friendship that you two have fostered has affected your comedy or “Power Violence” as a whole?

Whit: I think the key to a really long-lasting friendship is to just be really antisocial and bad at making other friends.

Clay: Yeah, that’s the big thing. It kind of sucked for a little big; like starting. We were all such tight friends – really close. And other people were like, “I don’t know if I can – I’ve already got some other friends.” It was weird. But that’s the only way that we made it last so long.

Whit: It was in high school, I remember. It was senior year of high school. You know me and Clay kind of just played music and hung out all the time with a few of our other friends.

Sure.

Whit: I remember a bunch of people came up to me about going out somewhere, and I remember at the time I was trying to hang out more and mix with some other groups, but it just didn’t work.

Clay: Yeah, and it sort of followed us into comedy. At least when we started. I mean honestly, there probably isn’t better friends for either of us to have than each other. We’re just too lazy to go find other friends, but we just know each other so well, too. And then when we met Buddy [Budd Diaz], it was like immediate, too.

So you’ve said in the past that the theme to your show is “extreme friendship.” Could you talk a bit about what that is and how that sort of friendship can just rub itself in all other friendships’ faces?

Whit: I think it’s just like, we’re more sensitive about sticking together than most groups, maybe? I don’t want to say sketch groups, because we don’t even know what’s like – we’re not really a traditional sketch group, but when we say “extreme friendship” we just mean that we know every single fucking thing about each other. We’ve lived with each other up until recently. It’s just like we know as much about each other as we do about ourselves. And it gives us that kind of dynamic on stage, which can be hard to come by because there’s not a lot of groups out there that feel that way about each other.

You know what it actually came from? I think us on stage doing banter – eventually we stopped doing bits; we stopped writing stuff. I feel we started getting really self-conscious about it so we just hammered out the fact that we’re friends, on stage, rather than having this well-crafted joke or something. It just came out of knowing that the audience was like, “Why don’t you go write something?” Or friends being like, “Write a fucking joke! Write a sketch!” It didn’t feel good though. And we say it right at the top of our show, that our show is just us being friends, and if you’re not into that then this show isn’t for you. We maybe started saying that as a defense mechanism, but something great came out of it.

Clay: But we also celebrate stupidity. So, it just all comes out of buds being buds.

Stone Quackers also has that same loose sort of feel. Were you sort of excited to just be friends in an animated show as well? Do you want to explore that further?

Whit: Oh yeah, I mean I can’t remember – It was a few months ago, we were doing something with the Quackers and I realized that Clay and I cannot not be friends. It’s hard for us to be other characters rather than just bantering back and forth with each other.

So then why not just be yourselves, right?

Clay: Yeah! We don’t know what’d we say to each other otherwise…I’m not sure what episode we were on, but it just hit us. I think everything we’ve ever written together – every movie or TV script – we’ve always decided, “Okay, we’re just two best friends doing this,” you know? There’s never an origin story because we have no idea how to do it. We’ve known each our entire lives. And it’s not hard in Stone Quackers because that show is loosely based on our own experiences from our own hometown, so that’s how we connect there. Especially Buddy’s character.

Of course.

Whit: Yeah, that’s pretty much who Budd is…

Clay: A child.

So kind of keeping with this extremeness, there’s been a bit more of destructive comedy entering the mainstream now, like The Eric Andre Show, for example. Do you think this is a particularly golden age for sort of weirder routines? Do you see more of this happening? Would you be interested in a setup like his, or do you prefer to approximate yourself through a cartoon or some other vehicle?

Whit: I don’t know. I think The Eric Andre Show is one of the funniest things on TV, personally, but I think that where all of this is coming from is that we’re the Jackass generation. You know, we grew up watching Jackass and The Tom Green Show… Even Blink 182. Everything was so silly and extreme. Of course if you’re twelve-years old you’re going to watch Jackass, and of course if you move to Hollywood and want to make it you’re going to make a show like that where you’re destroying things and yourself.

Naturally.

Clay: Well I think it’s kind of a nostalgia thing. I think Eric Andre is a big Tom Green. Everyone kind of watched the same TV growing up, and even stuff like Andy Milonakis and other shows…It makes sense that all of these people from a younger generation are going in that direction. And it just becomes a natural thing. It’s just what we know.

Well your live shows specifically have also had a mix of stage, video, and musical elements, and even integrating the audience to a large degree. Do you think that juggling these aesthetics is kind of necessary now to maintain an audience’s attention or can something more traditional still work?

Whit: I think traditional works. I think it depends on how much the audience likes you. If you let the audience in they’ll let you get away with anything.

Clay: When you get on stage you just need to have the audience like you from the get-go and once you move past that you can kind of experiment and do whatever you want as long as – I don’t know, that’s something we had to learn. We had to learn how to be super nice and super likable.

Whit: We probably learned maybe a year too late, that if you just pay attention to the audience and what they’re liking, then your show will flow a whole lot better.

You guys have an interesting history too with some of your video shorts, like the “Captain Planet” stuff or “Cold Dead Head with Jim Carrey.” Would you like to get back into doing more of that stuff again?

Clay: Well those videos were directed by our friend Nick [Nick Corirossi], who asked us to play a part in them. But lately we’ve been doing stuff with Funny or Die. None of its come out yet. We shot a couple of things that should come out on some sort of platform soon. I’m sure they’ll come out in two years maybe. (laughs) But I think they’re the greatest things we’ve done.

Wow, well hopefully not two years!

Whit: We’d be in these situations where we’d have to come up with the video idea, shoot it, and do it live all in the same day. So now that we do this show monthly at the Satellite we really want to make more of an effort to give a 100 percent. We’ve kind of been feeling that we’ve been giving like 40 percent. And now, with Funny or Die too, we really have the proper time to make stuff that’s closer to what we want.

That’s great! Stone Quackers as well has turned out some exceptionally weird instalments in its first season, like the Blue Velvet episode was a highlight, and a favorite of mine. Are you two big Blue Velvet fans? Do you like David Lynch?

Whit: Yeah, we loved it, but that was Ben Jones, 100 percent. The one thing he wanted to make was the Blue Velvet episode. Like right when we sat down to start working on it, even. People always talk about that one. They like that one a whole lot. My favorite ones haven’t aired yet.

Really? That’s exciting.

Whit: Yeah, I really liked the way the season went, but there’s one called “Chaos” where it’s me, and Clay, and John C. Reilly. Me and Clay are teaching John C. Reilly how to make fun of people and it’s really funny. I mean, it was kind of a game changer. It was the first time in the whole making of the show that we got to sit in the booth with John.

Oh, great!

Whit: I mean, we would watch him, but we had a lot of dialogue together, so me and Clay would have to do a lot of the lines in the booth with him. We improvised a lot and it’s probably one of the funniest things that I’ve ever been apart of in my whole life.

Ultimately, where do you want to take “Power Violence” and where do you see yourself at the end of the year? You’re arguably at your widest appeal yet, do you want to mix things up? Keep doing what you’re doing? What are you thinking?

Whit: I mean, we just want to make really good videos and have really cool, really different live shows. And now that we have the Satellite once a month, we can really plan out what we want to do. Really make it a special show that people talk about. Because when we first started the show, it might not have been a great show, but people were still talking about it. We’ve strayed a little bit, but we want to get back to our roots. But really, we just want to make really good, well produced videos.

Clay: Yeah, which would be a first for us since we’ve had to do them all in a die. (laughs) We’re also three gay brothers now, which has been a big change in our live show.

Whit: Oh yeah, we’re brothers now. Clay and I are all brothers now.

Stone Quackers’ first season is currently streaming on Hulu, with new episodes returning this summer on FXX’s Animation Domination Hi-Def block.

The In-Your-Face Friendship of ‘Power Violence’