They say you can never go home again. The exception to that rule, of course, is when you can come home drenched in the sweet smell of success — and this week, the two South Carolina natives in sketch comedy troupe Human Giant head back to town stinkin' somethin' fierce.
Rising MTV stars Aziz Ansari and Rob Huebel both spent parts of their formative years in the Palmetto State (in Bennettsville and Charleston, respectively); Huebel even did time as a pedicab driver, pedaling tourists around the peninsula. Little did those easy riders know the guy hauling them around would one day take over MTV for an entire 24 hours, as Human Giant did from noon on May 18 'til noon on May 19.
"It was the epitome of experimental television, which was all we wanted it to be," Huebel says, on the phone in the midst of an L.A. traffic jam. "I'm not positive how it came about, but I like to think it's because we were complaining. We're sort of like the underdog on the channel — we love our show, and a lot of people, mostly comedy nerds, like the show ... but they don't really promote a first-season show. They like to see how it goes by itself.
"Their top guys over there love our show, too, though, so they came to us and said, 'Do you want to do this insane thing where if you get a million hits on your website, we'll give you a second season, and if you don't, we won't do another season?' Supposedly those were the stakes, it was the real deal."
Human Giant, joined by quite a few of their comedy buddies, blew MTV's ultimatum apart, easily garnering their million hits before the marathon hit the 18-hour mark. They racked up over 1.2 million hits total, although Variety missed a period while skimming the MTV press release and erroneously reported that they got over 12 million (Huebel: "We were just fine with that!").
During the long night's journey into day, Ansari and Huebel, along with third member Paul Scheer (he was just in Charleston for Scheer and McBrayer, but has to miss the Human Giant appearance due to a scheduling conflict) and director Jason Woliner, did what MTV wouldn't let them do: reran their favorite sketches from their inaugural season, often more than once. They also played host to guests like Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk, Arrested Development's Will Arnett and Michael Cera, Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen, and a bagillion other really, really funny people, plus bands like The National and Tapes 'N' Tapes.
"When the dust settled, they [MTV] were really stoked," Huebel says. "They were like, 'That's what the channel used to be.' It was a really cool experiment that really worked out."
They won't start taping the second season until later this summer, making now the perfect time to enjoy the Human Giant experience in the flesh. For their shows this week at the Charleston Ballet Theatre, Huebel and Ansari will present a miniature version of the marathon as they alternate between filmed sketches and fully interactive bits with the audience.
"We like to fuck around with the audience a lot," Huebel says, "We're going to show a fair amount of videos, but we just want to kinda hang around with the audience and create comedy on the spot from talking with them. Also, Aziz and I promise that this show will change lives.
"A lot of people compare this show to a dolphin show. We don't know why that happens, but everyone's like, 'Your show is so great! It's like seeing a killer whale show!' ... so don't compare us to a dolphin show. But we are going to change lives. Everyone in the audience is probably going home with $1,000, a brand-new puppy, and a case of herpes." —Sara Miller
HUMAN GIANT • Piccolo Spoleto's Piccolo Fringe • $15 • (1 hour) • June 6 at 10 p.m.; June 7, 8, 9 at 9:30 p.m. • Charleston Ballet Theatre, 477 King St. • 554-6060