On August 9, the comedy group Everything is Terrible! touched down at the Neurolux in Boise, Idaho to put on one of the strangest shows the venue has ever seen.
For those unfamiliar, Everything is Terrible! is dedicated to celebrating the weird and wonderful treasures of long-forgotten VHS tapes, both through their YouTube and Vimeo channels. Since 2007, the group has been posting edited versions of their videotape finds on a weekly basis, cataloging hundreds of kids shows, evangelical programs, instructional videos and commercials.
In an interview with Vice, member Dimitri Simakis explained the appeal the group finds in these strange relics: “We love their insane version of whatever they thought they were trying to make, and that it turned out to be beautiful in an entirely different way than it was originally intended.”
The clips are often bizarre, sometimes uncomfortable and almost always amusing. Some of the internet’s most beloved memes have come from the works of Everything is Terrible!: staples like Duane and the weird bread-blob known as the Almighty Loaf come from videos originally posted by the group.
Everything is Terrible! has also produced several live tours and various other performance art projects. The group is perhaps best known for the Jerry Maguire Video Store, a pop-up shop in Los Angeles that only sold VHS copies of the Tom Cruise movie. The shop was part of an ongoing attempt to assemble a pyramid of the tapes (dubbed Jerrys) in the California desert.
The group has accumulated around 27,000 tapes so far — many of which are provided by fans attending live shows — and is currently in the process of finding land, an architect and a construction crew to complete the project.
At their Boise show, the folks at Everything is Terrible! brought every bit of the zany energy and warped nostalgia that they’ve built their name on. Things started slowly, with the crowd trickling in to fill the tables spread in front of the stage.
A series of music videos from the group’s expansive library was projected onto a screen, and after about 20 minutes, some people were getting restless. One attendee asked the man at the merch table about what else to anticipate during the show but was only told it would be an “experience.”
Then things got weird.
Onstage, the screen went black, and then showed a mysterious floating cube. A bassy synth rumbled, and out walked a tall, blue, furry creature with human faces for eyes. It spoke in a shrill echoing voice and told the audience to prepare for the greatest night of their lives: Tonight, they would be opening the Melancholy Box of Infinite Sadness.
The contents of the box proved to be a series of frantic montages, combining hundreds of clips from the videos Everything is Terrible! has posted over the years. Each montage focused on a theme, like kids and pets, sex or religion, and showcased the impressive editing and arrangement skills of the people involved.
The sequences took the recontextualizing that’s essential to the group’s humor to its extreme end, grabbing lines and visuals and slamming them together to create something new. Just before this furious pace became exhausting for audiences, a longer snippet would play, although these were usually so hilarious that they didn’t offer much of a reprieve. A lengthy clip of a man pleasuring a woman with a discordant saxophone solo left at least one viewer in tears of mirth.
These montages were strung together by a silly story, starring a tentacle-covered alien father and son, and Gerbert, a Jesus-loving puppet who dreamed of being a real boy. The aliens had cryogenically frozen the evening’s previous host and stolen the Melancholy Box of Infinite Sadness, along with Gerbert, hoping that by opening the box they could return to the 1990s. But it could only be powered by the crowd’s “giggles and yucks,” meaning they had to keep the videos coming.
While much of the material Everything is Terrible! had prepared did result in an abundance of giggles and yucks, there were also several sequences with a very different tone. The most notable of these was the final montage of the night, titled “Memory Hole.” Created by several members of the comedic group, Memory Hole approaches the same sea of ‘90s and early 2000s media with a much more menacing sensibility.
— Everything Is Terrible! (@E_I_T) August 2, 2019
The videos on its YouTube channel are unsettling, scored by tense, dissonant electronic music and patched together with spastic edits. Online, they generally run for a minute or two, but a longer segment had been prepared for the live show, and it felt like a “Clockwork Orange”-style brainwashing. Spliced together car crashes lurched into a man running around on fire. A group of men writhed naked on the ground while a crowd looked on.
At times, the chaos slipped into a more direct commentary, as when footage of a police officer playing with a baby was intermixed with another officer pointing a finger gun at a child. The montage ended with a polar bear vomiting in its zoo enclosure, an encapsulation of Memory Hole’s aesthetic.
The crowd breathed a small sigh of relief following this barrage, and Gerbert and the aliens returned to the stage to finally open the box. Before the unsealing, however, a request went out for audience members to bring their “Jerry Maguire” tapes to the stage.
Shamefully, the crowd had only mustered up a single Jerry, but fortunately this disappointment wouldn’t keep the Melancholy Box of Infinite Sadness from opening. The audience helped count down, and with a blinding flash of light … nothing.
The aliens, unreturned to the halcyon days of the 1990s, cursed their luck, and the whole evening seemed like a bust. But then, suddenly, up rose Gerbert, no longer a puppet, but a boy! He invited the crowd to the foot of the stage to dance with him, and the evening ended on the same absurd note that it had begun.
A night spent with Everything is Terrible! is a singular experience. Few groups so expertly toe the line between comedy and chaos, or so naturally channel the spirit of internet humor into a live setting. Hopefully, this won’t be their last visit to Boise. There will be more Jerrys next time.