Arts & Culture

Everything is wonderful with 'Everything Is Terrible'

Puppets, people and costumes are part of the live-action antics that accompany Everything Is Terrible’s latest film mashup, “The Great Satan.” The show, which took two years to put together, will be presented Sept. 13 at The Mill in Iowa City. (Jim Newberry)
Puppets, people and costumes are part of the live-action antics that accompany Everything Is Terrible’s latest film mashup, “The Great Satan.” The show, which took two years to put together, will be presented Sept. 13 at The Mill in Iowa City. (Jim Newberry)

Don’t let the name fool you. Everything is wonderful in the realm of Everything Is Terrible.

This YouTube phenomenon, created by college friends, hit the web 11 years ago in Los Angeles. It’s still going strong — despite the team spending two years wading through more than 2,000 schlocky 1980s VHS tapes to create a mashup of D-list horror videos, titled “The Great Satan.”

The resulting film will be presented Sept. 13 at The Mill in Iowa City — but don’t expect any old night at the movies. Three people with puppets, a narrative and costumes will accompany the film, conjuring up a devilishly hilarious evening akin to performance art.

For the Everything Is Terrible team, taking their show on the road is “the perfect way to go out and actually present the things and present physical interaction with fans,” said co-founder Dimitri Simakis, aka Ghoul Skool.

And their fans come in all ages — people who have discovered their more than 3,000 daily web videos and those who have answered the call by bringing them more than 22,000 “Jerry Maguire” videos that the team hopes to display in a desert museum pyramid someday.

For now, however, the team has presented “The Great Satan” about 60 times so far.

“It’s been a good, wide mix of people,” Simakis, 36, said by phone from Los Angeles. “We always love it when it’s a little unexpected. Lately we’ve been happy to see multidiversity. It’s nice to interact with people who don’t look and sound exactly like you. The people who come know what to expect — they’ve heard about it. Every show is so different with every tour we do, and with every movie we do. We create a new universe every time.

“We’re really excited to present it to folks in Iowa City, especially when we don’t get to travel as much as we’d like in the Midwest.”

He’s also happy to get out of cyberspace and into the real world.

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“It’s nicer to get out of the space of the internet,” he said. “Everything is so flat there, so it’s exciting for us to have that (live) interaction. Our website and videos are the means to an end. They allow us to present the way we want with the live shows. It’s all immersion — always about wanting to connect with our audiences.”

For parents of young Everything Is Terrible fans, he described the movie as “PG-13, into soft R territory.” “If they’ve got cool parents, they won’t be horribly offended. We’ve had audience members as young as 9 or 10. Nothing’s that explicit to destroy anyone’s soul.”

The experience begins before the film starts rolling.

“What we’re really proud of is immersing you into the Everything Is Terrible universe,” he said. “Every sense is firing on all cylinders. There’s sort of an atmosphere when you come in.”

Mood lighting, incense and preshow visuals are designed to set the tone for the audience.

“And then when the actual show actually starts — this one’s probably our most elaborate one to date, by far — there are multiple characters, multiple costumes, multiple arcs going on at the same time, yet it’s really only a couple of us backstage changing — that’s sort of the secret of it all. ... We let the movie help tell the story,” he said.

“You can watch the movie on your own at home, and that’s great. But if you come to one of our shows, it’s a totally different experience, where you’re seeing the universe that we are creating for you, as opposed to the movie, which is stuff that the universe has already created, and we’re spewing it back. It gives us a little more time to breathe, even though there’s not much subtlety to our live shows. It’s very extreme — not in a scary way. We’re still very comfortable and inviting, but we definitely try to entertain at all times.”

Building a show around Satan is not part of a religious agenda, he said. It’s the product of having so many VHS tapes available to dice and splice, from what he calls the “satanic Panic” from the early 1980s into the 1990s, where everything from Dungeons and Dragons to Ouija boards were purported to “open a portal to Hell and your child would not be able to escape. That’s so silly,” he said.

So he and his collaborators searched for the through-lines in clips from more than 2,000 movies to mash up.

“As ridiculous as this sounds, they tell the story of humanity. ... It sounds like we’re making fun of Christians or that we’re making fun of Satanists, but we’re calling out everybody a little bit, including ourselves,” he said.

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“The major theme that I’m trying to get across throughout, is that whether you’re looking at it from the side of a Satanist or looking at it from the side of an evangelical, it’s all about being afraid of other people. The movie just levels the playing field. You understand this media wasn’t that long ago, and what a ridiculous waste of time it is to be afraid of one another, and make up and tell your lies in order to push an agenda, and that’s really sad. The movie isn’t sad. The movie, we hope, is very funny.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

GET OUT!

WHAT: Everything is Terrible: “The Great Satan”

WHERE: The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., Iowa City

WHEN: 8 p.m. Sept. 13

TICKETS: $10 advance, $13 day of show; Icmill.com/?page_id=5

ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Watch.everythingisterrible.com/

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.