In 2015, writers Brad Evans (who is a former editor of this website) and Nick Ciarelli created a stage show at the UCB in Los Angeles called “Death Valley Tween Fest.” Self-described as being targeted towards “teens (ages 13-18), tweens (ages 10-12), pre-teens (ages 10-12), and post-tweens (ages 13-18),” the show did so well that Funny or Die contacted Brad and Nick to gauge their interest in adapting it for the internet, and that’s how “Tween Fest” came to be on Verizon’s streaming service go90 this summer.
Starring John Michael Higgins, Drew Tarver, Jane Lynch, Tim Meadows, David Koechner, Arden Cho, Joey King, JJ Totah, and many of Brad and Nick’s long-time collaborators at the UCB such as Lou Wilson, Will Hines, and Kale Hills, Tween Fest consists of eight episodes that are roughly 12 minutes apiece, basically making it a made-for-digital movie about a dad trying to impress his daughter, a famous online pimple-popper. (Not a euphemism for a teen, she’s literally famous for videos of herself popping zits.)
The writing duo, along with series director Scott Gairdner, hit on just about every tween trope imaginable, such as vaping, Buzzfeed, Family Guy impressions, swag, and being a Venmo star.
What was the original inspiration for the Tween Fest stage production?
Brad: There was a trailer for this actual event called “Teen Roast” but I think it’s been taken off the internet.
Nick: Yeah, it was passed around Twitter and there was an ad for all the “acts” of it, with all these dopey internet stars with goofy stupid names.
Brad: Who clearly had never performed in public before. Some of them were just singing but had never sung without autotune. I think it failed and got shut down.
Nick: It was run by some aspiring YouTube personality and it got shut down like after that first one. Then we find out that now he does those drone–
Brad: He flies drones to take videos of people’s houses to sell their houses. These large sweeping drone shots of their mansions.
Nick: He had this YouTube channel with like two songs so it was this thing where he was clearly like putting all these internet people together to maybe help his career out and it didn’t take. It’ll be like a cute 18-year-old boy who comes on the stage and he takes his shirt off and there’s a bunch of 13-year-olds just screaming. Just losing their minds.
Brad: So we were just trying to figure out an idea for a stage show based on that with Drew Tarver, who is on our sketch team Nephew. He knows that world because his sister is a pop singer named Katelyn Tarver. So he’d been to a lot of events and concerts like that. His dad managed his sister’s music career so he would tag along to all these outdoor festivals that she performed at.
How did the process start of it becoming a web show?
Nick: Funny or Die saw Death Valley Tween Fest at the UCB and then we met up with them and they said they had a deal with go90 to produce a couple of original series and thought it would be a great fit for it. They said that if they greenlighted it that it would just get made, which was great.
Brad: Rather than write a script for somebody else and it sits on a shelf and never even gets turned into a single pilot. In this case we can make essentially a whole 90-minute movie.
That’s what it feels like if you watch it all at once: A movie with maybe more side-stories than you’d typically see. Is that how you approached it?
Nick: I think the earlier ones are more episodic. I think we kind of stumbled upon that as we were writing it that it was telling a more complete story.
Were the stories and characters similar to the stage production when turning it into a streaming show?
Brad: No, the stage show was totally different. The stage show was just a bunch of different sketches with little videos in between. There was no narrative to it, just self-contained pieces with a few callbacks. But we wanted to do something with more arcs and more of a sitcom-type thing for the show.
JJ Totah has recently been making some waves with a scene-stealing performance in another UCB-related film, Other People. What was it like to work with him here as tween reporter “Stop the Preston”?
Brad: He’s a real pro and wise beyond his years.
Nick: Super gung-ho and took it really seriously. He threw out so many funny improvised lines that ended up being great.
Brad: Funny or Die put on a screening where we played all of them back-to-back at The Vista theater and a line that he improvised got one of the biggest laughs of the whole night.
Nick: He was talking to a couple of girls and they say, “Oh you’re so bad” and he says, “Oh I am. I’m a naughty child.” He improvised that and we were both losing our minds watching it on set.
Lou Wilson plays “Dusty DelGrosso,” who is only famous for doing Family Guy impressions and he goes through perhaps the biggest transformation during the series. Are tweens really getting famous by doing impressions of already-famous cartoons?
Brad: His character is loosely based on this guy Mikey Bolts who is a YouTube star who does Family Guy voices and impressions of other cartoon characters. I think that’s a big YouTube thing but Mikey Bolts is our favorite. He’s our guy.
How much improv was actually involved in the final product?
Brad: There was a good amount. We would always shoot what was written and then people would add little touches. We spent a lot of time writing it and we knew “these are the jokes we want” but getting into shooting with like John Michael Higgins, he’s adding all this great stuff, we know it’s good.
Nick: There were so many skilled improvisers.
Brad: So many people from the UCB world and Christopher Guest world and people from Chicago like David Koechner and Tim Meadows and then even JJ Totah knows how to be so funny off the cuff.
Did you find it more restrictive or more freeing to work in these 10-12 minute increments per episode?
Brad: It was kind of nice. We were trying to get all of our lead characters into every episode but when you have to whittle it down to 10 pages, it’s like “do you really need this and this.”
Nick: I thought it was nice to keep it so restrictive.
Brad: It forces you to be a little pickier with stuff.
It’s not a major part of the series, but Dem Watercup Boyz really stood out and you included a full music video for their song “I Don’t Give a F*%K” How did that come together?
Brad: Funny or Die rented out a restaurant and we just shot that. Scott Gairdner directed that and he’s the funniest. Nathan Davis Jr, who is one of Dem Watercup Boyz, is like an actual musician. The other guy is Bill Kottkamp, he’s in a bunch of Funny or Die stuff. That was based on this duo called These White Kids.
Nick: They released a song called “I GIVE NO FUCKS.” Which is what we based the song on. It’s a video of them going into USC lecture halls during class and flicking off everyone, playing their song, dancing around.
Brad: I don’t know whether to root for them or against them.
Is it a little weird that you have a show making fun of Tweens on go90, which has a lot of programming specifically targeted at Tweens in the advertisements attached to Tween Fest?
Brad: Yeah, the app is a little bit catering to what we were making fun of but I think that’s what’s fun about it; it’s a bit of a Beavis and Butthead type thing where they were on MTV in the back of the class shooting spitballs.
How was it researching a bunch of Tween videos and sensations for this show?
Nick: Even before we started the show we’d been watching dumb bullshit videos a lot of the time.
Plans for a follow-up if given the chance?
Brad: It was a little tongue-in-cheek but there’s a hint at a potential sequel series at the end of it. We’d love to get a lot of those folks back.
Brad: It was great. We were very excited and felt very lucky the entire time.
Nick: We’re just sort of two guys. This is our first actual thing so it’s cool that opportunities like this exist now.
Brad: That’s the great thing about this era that we’re in. There’s all these different little things. The audience of the biggest shows on TV has gone down so much that it’s moving towards people being on this level playing field.