Sam Hyde Speaks: Meet the Man Behind Adult Swim's Canceled "Alt-Right" Comedy Show (Exclusive)
The controversial figure behind 'Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace' vents about his show's demise amid a firestorm of free-speech debate: "The execs — the Jewish Adult Swim executives, the black Adult Swim executives — they all loved it."
From the moment it premiered last August, Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace was causing disturbances in the insular and relatively supportive weirdo-comedy world of Adult Swim. The show, with its odd pacing, jarring graphics and bizarre characters and scenarios, at first glance contains all the hallmarks of other offerings from the Cartoon Network offshoot — cult sketch shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! and The Eric Andre Show. Watch long enough, however, and World Peace veers into some shocking and arguably offensive territory. In one sketch, a man trips his brother's wife because he doesn't find her attractive enough, sending her face-first into a glass coffee table. In another, an African-American woman boasts of getting $40,000 a year in disability payments. Even a seemingly innocuous sketch about "making tap water" takes an ugly turn when the actor in it angrily references men "taking it in the ass," for no apparent reason.
The show is from the mind of a trio of Rhode Island-based sketch comedians — Sam Hyde, Nick Rochefort and Charls Carroll — who've been at it for a decade and call themselves Million Dollar Extreme (MDE). Prior to series pickup last May, they already had amassed a sizable following, particularly in the "alt-right" online community that has championed white supremacy and cheered Donald Trump's rise to power. As the group's leader, the 31-year-old Hyde — who tweets support for alt-right theories like Pizzagate while hurling attacks at left-leaning celebrities like Lena Dunham (whom he called a "fat pig") and Patton Oswalt (whom he theorized had "killed his wife") — has drawn the majority of heat. Some of his other material makes World Peace seem tame by comparison: In one 2013 video on the official MDE YouTube page, Hyde takes the stage at a comedy club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and proceeds to read aloud several pages of homophobic "research," provoking walkouts.
Trump's Nov. 8 victory only served to exacerbate the situation. As the behind-the-scenes debate over World Peace grew more heated — with Adult Swim senior vp Mike Lazzo holding strong in support of the show, which he found funny — comedian Brett Gelman, who hosted occasional dinner-party shows on the network, announced that he was severing ties with it. (The move was also in protest of the network's complete absence of female showrunners.) Tim Heidecker, the star of Tim & Eric and an influential figure at the network, voiced support for his friend Gelman's decision but said he would stay put at the network. On Dec. 5, amid mounting outrage, Adult Swim announced the show was being canceled — sending MDE fans into a rage spiral.
"These guys just don't behave like reasonable people," says one Adult Swim star, who asked to stay anonymous after news of the cancellation prompted death threats against Heidecker and his family. (Hyde called in to Heidecker's Facebook Live show Thursday to berate him for instigating the cancellation, an accusation Heidecker flatly denies.) The Adult Swim star adds: "I actually never had a problem with it airing. It wasn't Tim or Brett Gelman that got the show canceled. It was the fans. They were harassing Adult Swim employees and people working on other shows."
A spokeswoman for Adult Swim tells The Hollywood Reporter that the network has no comment on the cancellation. But Hyde did agree to talk.
Hi Sam. Thanks for doing this interview.
No worries, man. Thanks for giving a racist like me a platform to spew my hate. I’m kidding. I’m just messing with you.
Well, that’s kind of my first question. There is a lot of debate as to whether or not you’re kidding. Where do you stand on a lot of this material?
Is it the show I’m being asked about or my Twitter account?
Let’s focus on the show because I’m interested in the cancellation and what unfolded behind the scenes at Adult Swim.
The show is strictly meant to be a comedy show. It’s not supposed to have a preachy [tone]. It’s not supposed to be that at all. We hate that. It’s not supposed to be a political statement that says one thing or another. It’s just supposed to be funny. And it’s provenly funny. It got better ratings than Eric Andre’s first season. The execs — the Jewish Adult Swim executives, the black Adult Swim executives — they all loved it. They wanted to buy season two immediately and shoot 100 more episodes. People loved the show until these f—ing twisted articles came out doing Twitter detective work going deep on accounts that I’ve never even heard of. So no, the show is not a political show.
It may not be political, but isn’t it trying to puncture certain liberal attitudes regarding racial issues, gay issues, women’s issues?
It’s supposed to poke at different things. We made fun of white people more than any other group on the show. That’s what comedy does, good comedy at least. It pokes fun or highlights problems. I’m not a very well-spoken comedy historian here, but what we did is not much different than Eric Andre having swastikas on his show and his joke, “Everybody hates kikes.” It’s not that different from what Sarah Silverman does with putting blackface on. It’s not the craziest stuff that’s ever been on TV here. And we came under fire — I don’t know why. Probably because we aren't anti-white.
How were you informed the show was canceled?
We just got a phone call saying the pressure on Turner was too much and they had to call it off.
What happens next for the troupe?
We just sold a book that made more money than we did with the show. Just doing funny stuff I guess. We’ve been doing indie comedy for 10 years so it’s nothing new to us not having health insurance, and having people laugh at us and call us losers is old hat.
What about comedian Brett Gelman, who quit Adult Swim partly in protest of your brand of humor?
I’ve never seen that happen before. Unless it’s a hack comedian or a comedian who steals jokes getting people riled up, I’ve never seen comedians attack a comedy show like this before. I think that’s pretty brazen. So to those people I’d like to say: Congratulations. In 50 years, in whatever the future version of Wikipedia is, your article is going to say “got a show canceled.” That is going on your Hall of Fame inscription, because you got a show that you didn’t like canceled because you were threatened by it and because you didn’t agree with the humor. I think that’s a f—ing low place to be. Even if I hated somebody, I would never campaign that way to get someone’s livelihood taken away.
I actually found myself laughing quite a bit while watching your show.
And, on a personal note, I’m both Jewish and gay. And I wasn’t taking offense. I was finding it weird and silly and at times kind of beautiful — like when that guy puts a noose around his neck and flies into the air.
Thank you very much, man. I appreciate that.
But then I watched that standup set you did in Williamsburg.
And I began to wonder: What is actually motivating you?
I was trying to get those people the f— out of the room. Because I do not like Brooklyn hipsters. So I was trying to see how fast I could get them out. (Laughs.) And I got them out pretty fast. But the show we made is not supposed to make gay people or Jewish people or any people feel bad. It is not a vehicle of hate. It’s only supposed to make people laugh and bring joy and possibly clarity or understanding, but it is not a vehicle of hate.
OK, so that’s the show. But nothing you were saying in that Williamsburg room that night reflected what you really feel about gay people?
I can’t remember everything I said. It was an exercise in — no! No! I didn’t even do the research myself. (Laughing.) I told some kid to get as many anti-gay hate facts as possible and I would just read them. And listen, that might be a joke that’s in poor taste. I mean, it’s a sick thing. I can see why you wouldn’t like that and I don’t blame you, man. I don’t think I did some great thing.
What I have read about you is that you never drop character, that you’re this Andy Kaufman-style performance-art comic who sometimes says racist or anti-gay things. But when I saw that Williamsburg set, I couldn’t figure out why you would say all those things about gay people. The whole thing kind of upset me and disoriented me.
I hear you. That’s my bad, man, and I apologize to you personally because it’s not fun to watch. But I’m not some virulent homophobe or something. I’m a guy that wants to make funny stuff. The thing about it is, it’s genuinely tough to make funny and insightful [material]. You mentioned a “beautiful moment” from the show. I think as my career has gone on, my friends and I have been generating more and more beautiful or poignant moments. That’s not to say that everything we do is genius. But along the way there’s a lot of broken eggshells. There’s a lot of things we’ve said that’s retarded or not funny or goes over the line. That’s what happens when you’re trying to do what we do. And we tend to slant more out of bounds than other people do. So if people get pissed off in the process, that sucks. That’s not a good thing.
So you harbor no biases against minorities, is what you’re saying.
No, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that I’m probably as racist or as biased as the average regular white guy or the average regular black guy.
And you’re trying to turn the rock over, so to speak, and shed some light on social biases rather than stifling them?
No. I think the biases that I have — which are not what people say about me in these articles — those biases are not things that we consciously or apply to our comedy. Our comedy is pretty intellectually pure, I think. It’s not like at any point we’re sitting around as a group trying to think up people we hate so we can make them look bad.
One of the things that struck me while watching the show was that you hired actors of color — African-American, Asian — for sketches in which the jokes, to some viewers no doubt, appear to be mocking them. You do blackface in one sketch, for example. Did that ever get awkward on-set?
I don’t think so. A lot of the crew was black. Our assistant director was black. Our development executive was black. And I don’t think anybody got butt-hurt about what we were doing while we were doing it.
Was that Adult Swim executive Walter Newman? What was his support for the show like?
Yeah. I probably shouldn’t speak for him, but we have great respect for Walter and we like him and are grateful for him being part of the show.
What about [Adult Swim senior vp] Mike Lazzo?
Who was the person responsible for bringing you in and thinking what you do fits in with the Adult Swim brand?
That would be [Million Dollar Extreme member] Nick Rochefort, who hit them up relentlessly over the years. It was a long process of getting to where we are. We weren’t discovered. We bothered them like weirdos.
You mentioned earlier that comedians should stick by one another.
Not stick by one another but that an effort to assassinate a show — I’ve never heard of anything like that before.
But you have gone pretty hard after other comedians on Twitter. For example, shortly after Patton Oswalt’s wife died, you tweeted, “He killed her.” What instigated that?
(Laughs.) Making fun of people on Twitter and disagreeing with them is a whole different ballgame from having their livelihood destroyed, wouldn’t you agree?
But he was obviously going through something a terrible time. Why would you say that?
Well, I’ve forgotten what he was doing that would piss me off. But it was pretty suspicious that his wife was a murder-mystery writer and she dies painlessly in her sleep. That’s kind of crazy to me. (Laughs.) If he didn’t kill her it’s a sad thing. I’ll say that. But it’s f—ing suspicious as hell. It’s none of my business, but I think he said something to piss me off so I decided to ask him about that.
Where did the show shoot?
In Atlanta [at Adult Swim headquarters]. The only time we’ve rubbed elbows with any of these people was at some Adult Swim party thing. We’re not L.A. or industry dudes. We had this one girl come up to us at that party and give us this whole tirade about how, “You pieces of shit! I’m going to get you fired!” This whole angry drunken rant from some girl. I don’t know who the hell she was.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Look, I get that as a gay man watching me taking these hateful facts and turn it into a performance art thing, that’s kind of a f—ed-up thing. I was trying to do something. I did it. I don’t know how funny it was. But we aren’t what they are saying in these other articles. We’re not f—ing scum. We're not people who callously try to create suffering and think cruelty for its own sake is funny.