Homestar Runner...it's one of those phrases that will elicit either a
blank stare or a huge smile of recognition and enthusiasm. The latter
is starting to overtake the former, and, knowing a phenomenon when I see
one, I sent an email out into oblivion asking if I could talk to the gentlemen
behind it, figuring I had the same chance as a snowball in hell. But you
never know with these things, and the chances of chatting were probably
decreasing as the popularity skyrocketed. Act quick, in other words.
But, being the Music
Director with UMFM - our beloved campus and community radio station -
I thought might at least give me a little bit of clout. I had already
cleared a hurdle of sorts a couple of months before, when Matt Chapman
gladly emailed me a couple of voices promoting one of my radio shows.
But, I thought, surely he's done enough for me now? God knows these guys
must spend as much time deleting wide-eyed fan mail as they do creating
their little masterpieces. But then I got the go-ahead, as well as the
privilege of finding out what makes these guys tick. Which was an amazingly
gracious gesture from amazingly gracious (not to mention hilarious and
My addiction to this site began in approximately June
of 2002, with a chance clicking on the "Office Dullard" link
on Fark.com, during a slow day at work. And I just went from there, during
the slow days at work and even the days when I should have been earning
my wage. Explored every little nook and cranny of the site. Now I understand
better the mind of the Trekkie who can recite whole scripts (whom I used
to be a little freaked out by), because I now find myself quoting Homestar
and Strong Bad (although I don't do it in public for fear of freaking
OTHERS out). Sewiously.
The interview was conducted by phone on May 20th, 2003,
with both Chaps, and was originally broadcast on UMFM (CJUM 101.5 FM in
Winnipeg) on June 5th. It's better you read it than hear it, though...I
come across as less of a fawning, drooling lackey this way.
Thanks to Mike and Matt Chapman for the time, the insight,
and the fun.
Kevin: I’m talking to Mike Chapman,
one of the Brothers Chaps.
Mike Chapman: That’s correct.
Kevin: “Chaps” being plural for Chapman.
Mike: That’s right.
Kevin: Or would it be “Chapmen”? (laughs)
Mike: Uh, Chapmen. Yes.
Kevin: But they go by the name “The Brothers Chaps,”
and they are
responsible for the Homestarrunner.com site. Now, how
describe what it is? I always think of it as an online
site, but it’s more than that, isn’t it? How
do you describe it to
Mike: Yeah, the way I sum it up best is sort of
experience akin to finding secrets in video games, that sort of
feel, that lots of fans have told us that they feel about the site.
There’s lots of secrets in the site. The sort of
feeling you get
when in the original Mario Brothers game, getting into the negative world,
or finding the 40 extra men secret, and things like that.
Kevin: What was the genesis of the whole site? Obviously
didn’t start off as a website, did it? It was probably
couple of characters?
Mike: Yeah, a friend of ours, Craig Zobel and I, wrote
a story in
1996 that’s got most of the main characters – Strong Bad,
Pom Pom and the Cheat I think are the main ones. Just a story
made one afternoon, went to Kinko’s, made about ten or fifteen
copies of it, and kind of gave it to our friends, and that was it,
really, for several years. We just did that in summer. We
college, and did it in a bored afternoon.
Kevin: Such humble beginnings. The voices came later
Mike: Yeah, and then when we discovered Flash, or wanted
Flash as something that we thought was cool but also something that
we were interested in doing as a career, making money doing graphic
design and web design and things like that, so we were learning
Photoshop and Illustrator and Flash and all the different
applications for that stuff. And as we learned Flash
we just used
Homestar Runner and the guys pretty much as a way to learn Flash,
and it took off on its own.
Kevin: So Flash has pretty much sped up the whole process
preparing the stuff on the site obviously.
Kevin: Can you give me some kind of example of how the
popularity has increased since you started doing it? When did
start the site?
We started in January of 2000. We’ve never done
any advertising, or anything like that, so back then there was probably
two or three people checking it a day – probably Matt and
I and our
dad, or something like that. It’s been pretty gradual
growth. It’s all been word of mouth, lots of links on
people’s personal pages, and stuff like that. There’s
been a few spikes in viewership, like last summer we were in Yahoo
Magazine and Internet Life magazine.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s kind of like the internet equivalent
of a hit TV
show now, isn’t it? I mean it’s really grown a
Kevin: One of the most surprising things about the website
way it exists with no advertising of any kind which is really rare
on the internet, and it’s become a day job for you both, correct?
Mike: Yep. Right.
Kevin: And I know you probably get this question a lot,
but has it
reached a point where doing the site is profitable, or self-
sufficient, at least?
Mike: Yeah, it’s self-sufficient. We’re
able to pay for the
hosting and support Matt and I.
Kevin: And that’s through T-shirt sales?
Mike: Yes, just through T-shirts, pretty much. We
stickers and some other stuff but mostly just T-shirts and
Kevin: With all you have to do, though, I don’t imagine
stuffing envelopes with T-shirts yourself, right?
Mike: We were for a long time. In February of this
year we got a
fulfillment company to do that for us, but up until then it was at
our parents’ house. Our parents did it and were
able to handle it
pretty much by themselves when it was only a few orders a day. And
then this Christmas it got pretty crazy, so for most of November
and December there was any number of people from the neighborhood
family, friends, neighbors that were home from college and whatever
– and they’re stuffing envelopes, and it was fun. We
had the ping
pong table covered with stuff, and shelves up.
Kevin: Does the site ever get overloaded with visitors? Does
get bogged down?
Mike: Yeah, in late December last year it got pretty
were still on shared hosting at the time and it actually went down
for a few days at the beginning of January, which was when we made
that “The System is Down” short.
Kevin: One of my favorites, actually.
Mike: Yeah. (laughs)
[ PAGE TWO OF THE HOMESTAR RUNNER INTERVIEW ...