'Too Many Cooks' Creator on Sudden Success: "72 Hours of Constant Adrenaline"
Chris 'Casper' Kelly is now taking meetings in Hollywood after his Adult Swim parody went viral
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It began as a barely seen segment that aired at 4 a.m. on Adult Swim — a bizarre 11-minute parody of 1980s sitcom openings set to an earworm of a theme song. But after its Nov. 5 upload to YouTube and a few enthusiastic tweets from such influential genre filmmakers as Edgar Wright and Rian Johnson, "Too Many Cooks" is hurtling toward cult-viral status.
The video had amassed 1.4 million hits by Nov. 10 to become a top trending topic on Twitter. For its creator, Chris "Casper" Kelly, the mania has been a lot to take in. "It's been 72 hours of constant adrenaline that could almost veer into flop sweat and panic," he tells THR of his success, which, like so many Hollywood breakthroughs, has been decades in the making.
A former newspaper cartoonist who has produced content for Atlanta-based Cartoon Network and its companion Adult Swim since the late '90s, Kelly had been toying with the idea for "Cooks" for a while and decided it would pair well with a new block of late-night infomercial parodies. "It kind of fit in with the idea of befuddling someone who stumbled on it at 4 a.m."
Produced on a five-figure budget with impressive results — there's even an animated homage to G.I. Joe — the short features more than 80 extras, all credited by their real names, who are stalked across TV genres by a cannibal.
Weird as it may sound, "Cooks" has found a huge and adoring audience. Patton Oswalt, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, have all reached out to Kelly to profess their admiration for it. Then there's that Instagram video featuring Zooey Deschanel dueting on the addictive theme song with a rather tone-deaf Billy Eichner. "All these people I love who've seen something I made is really crazy," says Kelly.
Now with Hollywood calling, Kelly, who has no representation ("I didn't really feel the need before"), is taking meetings in L.A. and soliciting advice from such pros as Matt Thompson, co-showrunner of FX's Archer. Says Kelly, "He sent me a nice, long email about how to handle my career."
Five Fun Facts About "Too Many Cooks"
1. The creator attended middle school in the Middle East
When he was just entering his teen years, Kelly's engineer father moved the family to Saudi Arabia in search of work building airports. "So that was my puberty."
2. Tricks of the trade
While Adult Swim won't divulge the exact budget, it was extremely low — the same amount allotted to other parody infomercials that aired in the same time slot. Kelly worked with Atlanta-based indie production company Fake Wood Wallpaper to achieve some of the effects on a shoestring: "In the hospital scenes, we just shot a cinder block wall with a curtain hanging in front of it."
3. You take the good, you take the bad
"Cooks" is a mixture of storyboarded scenarios and scenes improvised on the fly. Kelly began with a rough test edit that stitched together actual shots from existing sitcoms with illustrations of some of his planned sequences, all of which he set to a looped version of the theme from The Facts of Life.
4. A maniac star is born
William Tokarsky, the background actor who plays the machete-wielding murderer, has seen his IMDb Starmeter ranking skyrocket from 99,590 to 7,067 since the video went viral — surging past fellow Adult Swim stars Eric Wareheim (14,778) and Tim Heidecker (8,837).
5. The way it was meant to be seen
Sure, most of us experienced "Too Many Cooks" online, where YouTube's timecode bar gave away one of its biggest mysteries: "When will this end?!" But if you want to catch it the way it was meant to be seen – on late-night TV — Adult Swim is re-airing it all week at midnight.