Interview: Cassetteboy

Interview: James Walker
Friday 05 February 2010
reading time: min, words

"We’re pretty much only going to work in video from now on, partly because we’ve run out of ideas for albums"


Internet phenomenon Cassetteboy is actually a duo - Michael Bollen and Steve Warlin. Their formula is simple: they find a well known public figure, take everything they have ever said out of context and mash it back together again in video or song format so that they look like an incompetent, egotistical, sexual deviant. Then stick it on albums and YouTube for all to see. We like their style, so we had a chat to Michael...

How did this all start?
Fifteen years ago we made a compilation tape for our friends. Between the music we put funny little snippets of TV and radio shows. As we did more tapes, gradually the funny snippets took over from the music. We looped certain words or sentences and constructed our own jokes from phrases. This was all done on old ghettoblaster tape decks and we broke quite a few through overuse of the record, play and pause buttons. Eventually we started using computers which allowed us to do much more complicated editing, making words from individual syllables, and to write our own music to go between the jokes. We released three albums and two compilations during the noughties, and have now moved on to video editing.

You’ve recently come out and revealed your identities. Why?
We kept our identities secret for fear of getting sued. Our entire act is based on copyright
infringement and slander. All of our source material is stolen from films, TV and radio and we make celebrities say things about sex and drugs that they would never normally say. Then I wrote a comedy novel, so we decided to reveal the link with Cassetteboy, in case our fans were interested in the book. Of course, there’s no guaranteeing that any of the names we have released are our actual names, so we could still be undercover.

What’s the book about?
Earth Inc is a sci-fi comedy romp, set in the not too distant future, about the power of corporations, loss of privacy and the growing gap between rich and poor. I’m not making it sound very funny, am I? It’s absolutely packed full of jokes though. I’ve read supposedly funny books that just have a host of characters running around for 200 pages, but no actual gags, and I didn’t want to write one of those. I like to think there’s at least one proper joke on every page.

How long did it take to write?
For some reason I thought writing a book would be easy… boy was I wrong! It took bloody ages. But finishing it definitely gave me the confidence to attempt more ambitious things with Cassetteboy. I probably would have been too daunted to start a massive project like The Bloody Apprentice video, had I not finally finished the book.

How long did it take to do that video?
I don’t know how many hours, but I was working on it on and off for two months. I think I watched around 45 episodes and most of those two or three times. After a while I actually started to talk like Sir Alan! The Bloody Apprentice works really well because of the visual element.

Can you see yourself  making more visual recordings or is this an editorial nightmare?
We’re pretty much only going to work in video from now on, partly because we’ve run out of ideas for albums. Video is more limiting if you’re worried about the visual element being seamless, but obviously we’re not bothered about that. The success of that video shows that if the jokes are funny, people don’t mind if the picture jumps around all over the place. In many ways video is less limiting, because it gives you a whole other way to do jokes – some of the funniest bits in that are the reaction shots.

What’s the most difficult part of editing?
To be honest the whole process is a massive pain in the arse. One of the worst parts is when you’ve nearly finished, you just need a word like “because” or “but” to finish one last sentence. So you have to sit and watch an hour-long programme yet again hoping to find that one word. Then you don’t find it, so you have to re-work the final sentence and then watch the whole programme again looking for a different word.

The Nick Griffin vs Question Time video came out really quickly. Did you have any reservations about targeting people like him for fear of retribution?
I didn’t even think about it at the time, but I have had some rather nasty threatening messages since posting it online. I do have another Nick Griffin piece ready that I haven’t released yet, but I don’t think a few threats are going to stop me.

What do you hope to achieve by your work?
With an election coming up I suppose there is a point to be made with the political pieces.
Anything that makes people think twice about voting for the BNP has got to be a good thing, although I think our videos will probably just be preaching to the converted. That said, I think we’re more likely to release David Cameron videos this year than Gordon Brown ones. The other pieces are just entertainment really. You could look at something like The Bloody Apprentice and say that it’s striking a blow for people who are fed up with shallow reality TV, but fans of the show enjoy it just as much, if not more. Our aim has always been just to make people laugh. The British public always like a bit of smut and innuendo.

Your work seems to be kind of political slapstick. Is humour necessary for making serious points today and, if so, is there a danger that this trivialises serious debate?
If you look at American TV shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, you can see that comedy doesn’t have to trivialise serious debate. Those programmes are very funny, but they also make complex political points. The jokes attract viewers who probably wouldn’t watch a straight political show, so yes I do think humour can be an effective means of communication.

How would you like to be remembered?
I guess it would be nice to be remembered for Cassetteboy, because it’s so silly. It’s just a couple of friends who made some funny tapes once, and the tapes got more and more complicated until the whole thing got way out of hand. Suddenly Charlie Brooker and Jonathan Ross were tweeting about us, we were appearing at the Victoria and Albert Museum dressed as Posh and Becks and were invited on stage at Glastonbury, drunk out of our minds and hitting each other with inflatable hammers.

Any particular favourite moments?
The best times have probably been on stage, when you can actually hear the laughter that you’ve strained and sweated to create. Standing in front of hundreds of people, wearing a monkey mask and a naked suit, whirling my fake, luminous penis around while a cut-up of Deal Or No Deal plays. You get a moment of clarity and realise exactly what you’re doing, then burst out laughing, wondering how on earth it ended up like this.

If you could have anyone in the world as your Valentine, who would it be and why?
Hmmm. It’s hard to think of an answer that isn’t tragic, sexist, or both. So I’ll settle for someone who’s witty enough to think of a funny answer to that question. And who’s got massive knockers.

Michael’s book Earth Inc is available from Picnic Publishing now. Cassetteboy’s third album Carry On Breathing is available to buy from online record stores.

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