The Best Web Video of 2016 (So Far)
Once my roommate, Doug, asked me if I’d seen this video, I knew it was too late for me to spin as a brilliant little nugget I discovered. Knowing he’d seen it was all I needed to understand it had gone radically viral, but I decided to cover it anyway because it’s the first truly groundbreaking comedy video of 2016.
Yes, How To Lose Weight In 4 Easy Steps went to Sundance this year, so it’s already been recognized by an elite group as being really fucking good. The internet at large, though…the internet at large didn’t discover it until some time last week, and now they’re going completely nuts over it. It’s easy to see why.
Written by Conan stalwart Aaron Bleyaert, starring the incomparable Beck Bennett, Britt Lower, and Jessy Hodge, and directed by the prolific Ben Berman, this thing didn’t really have a shot at failure. Still, the degree to which it pulls at our heartstrings while making us laugh is what’s remarkable, and exactly the reason people can’t shut up about it, myself — and Doug — included.
How did you get your start in comedy?
Ben Berman: I started as an editor for Tim and Eric, for their show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! on Adult Swim. Then, from doing that, I was given the opportunity to direct a pilot presentation for Comedy Central. That ended up becoming Jon Benjamin Has A Van. That was my entrance to directing, having done a few things on my own. Then I directed the pilot and six episodes of Comedy Bang! Bang! on IFC. I lucked out and was able to run with it for a while, thanks to the support of some really great people, especially the people at Abso Lutely. So yeah, I’ve directed some TV shows. Directing things that other people made is fun but there was also an itch in me to do something of my own writing and vision. In 2014, me and some friends made a short film called I’m A Mitzvah, starring Ben Schwartz, that we wrote. Then that went to Sundance, and that was such an incredible feeling that now I’m trying to chase that, trying to grow that experience and move into features.
Another thing that I’m working on is with my buddy Andrew Fitzgerald, who edits for Nathan For You. Over the last few years we’ve made these little bizarre videos and then he had a connection to Ben Schwartz, who showed them to Will Arnett and then, one morning, I get a call from Marc, Will’s development head, and he’s just like, “Oh hey we’ve got Will on the line” and he’s basically just like “Yeah, we want to develop a show based off these videos.” So, we developed the show. It’s a weird sketch show and we’re going out and pitching it with Will and Marc. Andrew and I would star in it, and Will would guest star in it, and his company would produce it. It’s very bizarre and surreal.
How did How To Lose Weight In 4 Easy Steps come to be?
Ben Berman: So, about a year ago, I had just joined the gym and a friend sent me this article about how to lose weight and I started to read it very sincerely. Step 1: no more beer. Step 2: portion control. Ok, you can’t have too much. Step 3: Have your heart broken. It was a very strong misdirect, and it helped me a lot. I read the entire blog post written by Aaron Bleyaert from Conan, and it was really sincere and emotional, but also very funny. It was written in a very staccato way and, halfway through the reading of it, I was already thinking, “This could make a really interesting short film.” It’s kind of already edited for us; every new sentence is a new shot. I thought it could translate to video in a really literary sense. We have the voice over and all that we need. I reached out to Aaron, with the help of Ben Schwartz, because he’s friends with him, and we met and talked about it and he said, “Yeah let’s do it.” I’d spent money on productions in the past, but if you can spend someone else’s money, why not? So I went to Daniel Kellison at Jash and asked for some money and they gave it to me and we were off. We got connected with Beck Bennett to act in it, and he was on board, and even was the one who suggested that he also lose the weight in production and we shoot at two different time periods. That was something I was going to introduce eventually, but it’s a huge ask for a nine-minute video. He suggested it on the first phone call, so we didn’t have to wait on it and I didn’t have to wait to ask him. So, we shot two days in June and then two days in late September, after Beck had lost the weight.
That’s unbelievable. The fact that he lost all that weight, I was like, “Holy shit.” The production value of this piece was really spectacular.
Ben Berman: There was some money put in, but the real reason it looks so good is our director of photography as well as our production designer and her team. All that team is super, super talented.
Have you entered this into any festivals at all?
Ben Berman: The year started with us going to Sundance.
Oh. I’m very dumb.
Ben Berman: That was always kind of our goal, but the way I came upon the short story, it helped that it was an Internet piece. I was duped by the format of the Internet, if that makes sense. I wanted it to have the same success that the blog post had when it went viral. I wanted this video to have that same success and I thought it could only happen on the Internet. So, in my mind, it’s a fluke that it made it to Sundance because I thought it was more powerful on the Internet. Now other festivals have asked us to submit and to show the film at their events, which is really great. The support has been really super, much more than I expected. There are over 9 million views right now, between the Esquire page and the Jash page on YouTube, and the response online has been overwhelmingly positive. I did what you’re not supposed to — read through the comments — and 98% of them are positive, which is very bizarre for YouTube. All of this is really a testament to Aaron’s writing and what he created. We just edited it and added some style and supported what he wrote, but what he wrote is extremely relatable, touching, and funny. I pushed the comedy of it to balance it out a little bit in the visual form, but we started with something truly great.
You’ve done a huge amount in your career, Ben, and have had a lot of success already. What advice do you have for readers looking to do what you’re doing?
Ben Berman: You’ve got to just do it. Make things. Get it going, if you haven’t already, and once you’ve made a thing, go and make a second thing and a third thing. Someone can say they’re a writer or producer or whatever, and so much of that is what happens in Los Angeles, but only doing it makes you that. If things suck, which they often do, do it again and learn from it.
Luke is a writer/director for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.