The good folks at Kottke.org, site of Jason Kottke (basically the O.G. content aggregator/curator, before those were dirty words), this week asked people for their favorite under-the-radar internet things.
Mine has to be The Sifl and Olly Show, which was on MTV from 1997 to 1999—the days when MTV was “music television” and was funky and, often, weird (in the best sense). I guess it was originally a TV thing, but now it’s definitely an internet thing.
If you have no idea what Sifl and Olly was, the briefest and most succinct description would be: a sock-puppet show.
Yes, a sock puppet show, but what a sock puppet show it was! As charming as it was low-budget.
I was 10 years old in 1997 and we didn’t have “cable” anyway (just the basic channels: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, UPN, WB), so it’s hazy to me how or why I even remember the show, but I recall being a big fan. And about one year ago, I rediscovered it in YouTube clips and, man, it has aged well.
Each 20-minute-episode opens with the very catchy theme song: “Sifl / and / Ol-ly / Sifl / and Olly / show!” (Now repeat 4x.) Midway through the song, they yell “rock!” and show a rock on the screen.
Another recurring song, equally delightful, is when they take calls from the public; the song goes: “Calls calls calls / calls from the public / calls calls calls, calls” and then a phone hits the operator in the head with a satisfying coconut thwack.
It’s that kind of humor—deceptively simple, usually eliciting giggles more than guffaws, but extremely likeable. I watch YouTube clips of it more than is healthy.
There is no DVD set of the show, which is offensive and sad, but some enterprising and godly YouTube user, athropos, has uploaded 41 of them (I believe that may be the full set). Thank you, athropos! And another user, Vegetarianrage, also uploaded a bunch of episodes. (I hope that drawing attention to them doesn’t lead to a cease-and-desist from MTV, which would be very un-chill.) The athropos videos are the ones you want—at some point, video game content company Machinima (I assume after buying the rights) started producing Sifl and Olly video game review videos, and those videos have a different (newer) look and are bad and not cool.
The show was created by musicians Liam Lynch (who later directed the Tenacious D movie) and Matt Crocco, and they voiced almost all of the characters. The structure was a series of segments: interviews, music videos, poetry, jokes.
Here’s an interview segment from one episode: Olly says it’s time for interviews, and he says, “Sifl, I have no idea what you booked.” Sifl says, hesitatingly, “I got some… characters that are going to do nursery rhymes.” Olly asks if it will be Mother Goose nursery rhymes, and Sifl says, “No, these guys were blacklisted by Mother Goose.” And then it’s what you’d think: a parade of bizarre characters (also all socks) reading weird, bad poems in different voices.
Here’s one representative exchange between Sifl and Olly and a caller:
CALLER: “Uhh, yeah, I’m having a little bit of a problem in the bathroom.”
OLLY: “What number. 1 or 2?”
CALLER: “Uhh… three?”
OLLY: “What’s three?”
CALLER: “Don’t make me say it, it’s so embarrassing… shaving.”
The stars of the recurring supporting cast were Chester (lovable stoner friend of Sifl and Olly) and Precious Roy, a TV pitchman for products like pirate cripplers (“to render any pirate helpless,” of course). Sifl and Olly did most of the pitching for Roy’s products, and then they cut it over to him to remind you to buy his stuff. Chester often introduced Sifl and Olly. One example: “Okay, not that I care [laughing], but here’s Sifl and Olly.”
I could continue describing it but the appeal of the show is its weirdness and its effect can only really be experienced by watching it. Here’s a good representative episode:
Sifl and Olly was unstructured and bizarre, but not the same kind of empty/mindless as, say, Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It was smart. I’m not sure if I’d say it was “before its time,” because it was probably squarely of its time, but I wish there were more of it.