The format for Two Minutes to Late Night is like that of any talk show, but just a bit… off. There’s the required desk, the likes of which has been a staple of the genre ever since Steve Allen first brought The Tonight Show from radio to the newfangled television in 1954 (ask your grandparents).
There’s a guest interview, a backing band and musical acts. There’s a high-energy host in a suit who monologs his way through some jokes off the top.
But whereas Colbert’s desk is front-and-center during his show, on Two Minutes to Late Night, it’s pushed far to the side to make way for the stacks of Orange and Blackstar amps.
Prized guests are more likely to be Baroness guitarist Gina Gleason or Quicksand frontman Walter Schreifels than Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson. The backing band isn’t a beloved hip-hop ensemble or made up of vets from dad-rock bands; it’s sludge rockers Mutoid Man.
And the host’s black suit is more apropos for an undertaker than a Jimmy Kimmel, his monologs have more references to bodily fluids and porn than is typically allowed by network censors and, unlike most male TV presenters, his black-and-white corpse paint makeup is definitely meant to be noticed.
And then there’s the name: Gwarsenio Hall. It’s a joke handle that manages to be silly yet also reverential to metal (Gwar) and late-night-talk history (Arsenio Hall). And that may as well be the mission statement for the show.
“There’s nothing funnier than someone who knows a lot about something. If you know the specifics and you know the ins and outs of it, you can make fun of it better than anybody else,” says Drew Kaufman, one of the two twisted minds from which Two Minutes to Late Night was born.
“We put jokes into our projects that we’ve had for 10 or 20 years because it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I finally met somebody who loves Van Halen as much as I do.”
A heavy metal-themed talk show might seem the kind of drunken lark thought up by a bunch of film students with too much time on their hands and too much love for Rob Zombie. That’s because that’s exactly what Two Minutes to Late Night is.
The idea first came to Kaufman and his co-creator Jordan Olds (who plays Gwarsenio) while watching old videos of White Zombie late-night guest spots.
The two had originally bonded over a shared love of heavy music – Olds had gone to school with Kaufman’s younger brother, who introduced the pair after telling his sibling that “he listens to the same shitty music as you” – and a twisted sense of humor.
Something about the contradictory image of dreadlocked horror rockers getting a few minutes to shine on a show dominated by boomer-friendly entertainers tickled their funny bones just right.
It took a few years of shooting sketches and two different pilot episodes, but the YouTube channel has now become a cult favorite. It turns out there are quite a few people who share Olds and Kaufman’s appreciation for the loud and absurd: they’ve racked up almost 9 million total views.
The full-fledged talk show episodes, of which there are just eight and a live special, are the most diverse and, in some ways, fully formed showcases for Olds and Kaufman’s talent.
There’s Gwarsenio’s back-and-forth banter with his musical number twos during the monologues; there’s pre-taped sketches (cops respond to an emergency, but the emergency is a guitarist brought a Boss Metal Zone to practice – “That thing sounds like bees having sex in a bowling alley!”) – and there’s a musical performance to cap things off.
Interviews can be lengthy, meandering affairs that stray from the metal formula: witness Gwarsenio curling up in his chair from laughter as rapper Contessa Stuto cracks impossibly filthy jokes and details her side hustle as a New York City realtor.
All of it is injected with a very metal anarchic feel. It is very much a niche product; to get some of the jokes, you don’t just need to know that Glenn Danzig exists, but why the Misfits’ frontman’s self-serious gothic persona is inherently hilarious.
“If Roky Erickson was still alive then he might agree that Jordan and Drew are the Two-Headed Dog of comedy and heavy music,” says Mutoid Man singer and guitarist Stephen Brodsky.
Like most creative endeavors, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into many of their plans - their podcast, Pod Minutes to Cast Night, has been mostly put on hold, and there hasn’t been a full episode of the talk show since the first season finale over a year ago.
Since January 2020, the channel has largely been dedicated to The Bedroom Sessions: weekly covers, with arrangements composed by Olds, featuring a revolving and ever-expanding cast of musicians.
Olds showed glimpses of his musical talent during the musical performance segments on the talk show, but the covers give him a true chance to shine: in different videos, Gwarsenio will play bass, guitar and sing, all while manically doing scissor kicks off his couch in his self-described “shoebox” of a Brooklyn apartment. (He has since moved to ostensibly larger digs).
“I had bands growing up but I never had a successful one. I always had the bands that played one show and we broke up because two people got in a fight over what it sounded like,” says Olds. “I ended up taking my love of music and just kind of bullshitted my way into the music industry as, like, a videographer, or doing lame documentaries about bands.”
Where Olds’ musicianship fails, he’s got some pros to back him up. While Mutoid Man have proven to be remarkably versatile comedic foils with their own defined onstage personas (Brodsky yells a lot; bassist Nick Cageao is a sad sack; drummer Ben Koller is a lovable goof), their creative partnership has extended into these at-home recording sessions.
“The creative process is very enjoyable for me because I get to imagine little dream teams that inspire new arrangements of great songs,” says Brodsky. “I’ll start by putting together a very basic recording using Kurt Ballou’s electronic drum program – or “robodrums” as Jordan calls them – and a guitar recorded direct into the machine so that it’s easy to make changes later if need be.
“I usually add a guide vocal to help the musicians involved maintain their bearings. The real fun part is taking liberties like speeding up or slowing things down, trying to make stuff heavier or weirder, adding little jokes like throwing a couple bars of (Soundgarden’s) Spoonman in the middle of (Alice in Chains’) Rain When I Die just because we can.
“We all know those guys hung out with each other back in the day, plus who doesn’t love a grunge Easter egg?”
Though the idea was hatched before COVID-19 made the idea of live shows laughably quaint, the timing turned out to be fortuitous. It gave Olds and Kaufman a public health-friendly regular creative outlet, and it allowed them to help out musicians whose livelihoods just took a major hit by splitting part of the Patreon proceeds.
“We’re working on and performing songs that we’ve planned on doing for years,” says Olds. “These people are busy and it’s hard to be a working musician.”
“The elephant in the room is that the music industry had to sort of fall apart for us to do our thing,” adds Kaufman. “We’ve completely changed the way we approach making things. I like to joke that I always wanted to make music videos and now I make one every week. It’s like, a finger is curling on the monkey’s paw. What awful curse did I put upon the world to make music videos?”
Not every musician featured is struggling. Whereas most YouTubers are content to just play along to their favorite songs and call it a day, Olds and Kaufman have used their cachet to get everyone from doom-metal band Khemmis to Tool drummer Danny Carey.
Wanna see Gwarsenio shred to Ozzy’s Over the Mountain with members of Mastodon and Kvelertak? What about The Boss’s drummer himself, Max Weinberg, bashing the skins to some Misfits with some of the dudes from Hatebreed and Dillinger Escape Plan?
Stars like Daniel Craig might have gotten their jollies by donning a Stormtrooper’s armor in the latest Star Wars trilogy; Marty Friedman and Les Claypool seem to feel a similar urge to make guest spots on covers Rush or Fleetwood Mac tunes.
“Bands are seeing their friends on our show and then they want to be a part of it. We have such an insane backlog of songs and people still need to work with. I don’t see an end for it just yet,” Olds says.
“That was always the goal of the show, was to get the people in the genre that we wanted to work with. Now that we have all those people, I think the next goal is to get people from outside the metal world. I want to get (Swedish pop singer) Robyn to play a song with us so badly.”
It’s with these cameos that the connection between Two Minutes to Late Night and their most obvious forebear becomes obvious.
If a heavy metal themed talk show, where the host’s name is a joke about a band that dresses up like aliens and whose albums have cumulatively sold less than a million copies in the United States sounds like a tough sell for a mainstream crowd, you are forgetting about the existence of a little show called Metalocalypse.
The Adult Swim cartoon, which ran from 2006 to 2013, was the brainchild of Brendon Small. For those unfamiliar, Metalocalypse was the insanely violent and profane story of Dethklok, a band of five brutal idiots who somehow became the biggest band in human history.
Like Two Minutes to Late Night, Small’s affection for metal was obvious – he composed all the music for the show and peppered his scripts with in-jokes. And like Two Minutes to Late Night, he attracted a who’s who of heaviness to guest star – from the super-famous like Metallica’s James Hetfield to the know-just-by-the-diehards such as Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis.
So it’s no wonder that when asked to list the most exciting person they’ve gotten to guest on a cover, Olds immediately says Small, who contributed, along with members of Mastodon and Municipal Waste, to a very festive take on King Diamond’s No Presents for Christmas.
“I don’t think I’d be doing this without Metalocalypse, and honestly, maybe without (Small’s previous show) Home Movies,” says Olds. “That’s been one of my favorite shows forever.
“I love Metalocalypse but I watch all of Home Movies maybe once a year. Drew and I love cartoons and off the cuff comedy. The best moments on our show are when it’s unplanned.”
As of this writing, it seems possible, if not likely, that the live music industry might reboot by fall of 2021. Whether that will include live tapings of the full Two Minutes to Late Night experience remains to be seen. Kaufman and Olds seem content to focus on their weekly covers.
That’s not to say the world won’t see more of Gwarsenio and now-beloved side characters like Hard Melissa and Cannibal Corey. Ever since Spinal Tap first turned things up to 11, heavy metal-based comedy has had a way of enduring.
“The entire world changed this year. Everything is different. Nobody really knows what the future of entertainment is,” says Olds. “Obviously, it would be amazing if someone like Adult Swim or Netflix or whatever, these giant companies came in and said ‘Hey, we see the value in you guys and we want to have a part in it.’”
Metal is in Two Minutes to Late Night’s blood. It’s right there in the title, in the host’s name and corpse paint, in the stacks of amps on stage. But if some of the jokes are insider baseball, Olds and Kaufman want to bring the joy that comes from knowing someone as absurd as Glen Danzig exists to the masses. They just need a proper budget for that kind of tall order.
“The goal is, we want to be some channel’s talk show,” Olds says. “Metal feels like a genre that’s not for everybody, but I want the show to be an invitation to come play in the metal sandbox. At the end of the day, I want it to be a music show. We want everybody to see the same fun that we see in it.”