This is the story of my adventure on the cable-access show Freaky Deeky. It begins with the Urban Dictionary definition of “freaky deaky” (“to be in a heightened state of sexual arousal and performing strange, extreme, or unusual sexual acts”), and it ends with me dancing around on live television wearing only boxer shorts, socks, a green wig, and Incredible Hulk hands. In between are the interesting parts of the story.
I visited the MTN studios in St. Anthony Main on Sunday night for the broadcasting of the season’s debut episode; next Sunday’s episode, which will air on MTN 17 during the show’s usual 10-11 p.m. slot, will mark Freaky Deeky‘s second anniversary. Producer Hamil Griffin-Cassidy oversees the show, which he refers to in a post to the show’s Facebook group as “the only real mind-number on the noodle box.”
What, exactly, is Freaky Deeky? It’s a real-time remixing of live video of several people dressing and acting outrageously, with a soundtrack consisting of call-in commentators and music created on the spot by Brent Koenig and guest collaborators. The onscreen result is a blizzard of images and sounds, some of which are beautiful, some of which are horrifying, and all of which are very brightly colored and completely absurd. On Sunday night, Griffin-Cassidy told me that “when describing the show, you should feel free to use the phrase ‘creative holocaust.'” His other request: “Mention that MTN is great for letting us do this.”
Each show has a theme; Sunday’s theme was human sacrifice, with a little Merry Christmas and Happy New Year mixed in. When I arrived at the studio, artist and co-star Carolyn Kopecky was sitting on the small mountain of costumes the show has accumulated, looking for items that might be vaguely appropriate for a human sacrifice. (Bullwhip: in. Tiara: out.) Video mixer Hal Schuler (a.k.a. “Time Squid”) was cuing up stock footage of a volcano erupting and a stairway to heaven for the sacrificed to ascend. (“Next time we’ll have to do something bad and make someone go down the stairs,” mused Griffin-Cassidy.)
Freaky Deeky‘s ancestors were a show named Call-In Karaoke and its successor PoetVision. For Call-In Karaoke, Griffin-Cassidy invited viewers to call in and sing along with song lyrics printed on the screen while cast members engaged in background tomfoolery. PoetVision applied the same concept to poetry, incorporating vintage footage by, of, and inspired by poets. Eventually, says Griffin-Cassidy, he realized that callers didn’t need any prompts: they were happy just to call in and speak their mind about whatever. Thus was born Freaky Deeky.
As the cast members began to arrive Sunday night, Griffin-Cassidy encouraged me to join in the action if I liked. I decided to play it by ear and see what opportunities presented themselves, but as the cast members began to squeeze themselves into the flamboyant and eccentrically-sized costumes, the point eventually arrived when I felt more awkward in my ordinary clothes than in a bright-yellow serape and matching wig.
At about 9:30, Griffin-Cassidy gathered the cast to explain the episode’s theme. “The theme is sacrifice, but since we never really had a Christmas episode as such or a New Year’s episode as such, we’re going to work those elements in as well. We’re going to sacrifice people to the gods so that our callers’ New Year’s wishes come true.” At the episode’s halfway mark, explained Griffin-Cassidy, a short prerecorded video would show highlights of the cast Christmas party. “Up until then, the theme should consistently be sacrifice—killing people, sacrificing things, whatever. The party film will introduce that Christmas element,” he continued dryly, “so after that we can bring in some more of those holiday and New Year’s elements, but the theme will still be sacrifice. Keep killing, keep dying.” Everyone nodded in acknowledgment.
When 10:00 arrived, everyone was in costume and ready to go. After a brief intro video played (it was an intentional typo in the warning slide, mentioned Griffin-Cassidy, that caused the evening’s show to be referred to as an “epidose”), Koenig started the music and the action began, with host Ray Whalen sounding like Bobcat Goldthwait as he fielded phone calls.
Besides being broadcast over MTN, Freaky Deeky is streamed live on the Internet and has earned a following well beyond Minneapolis; calls have come from Chicago, New York, and Berlin. The show’s creators have no way of knowing how many people are watching or trying to call, but the phone starts ringing as soon as the show begins, and rings again instantly when each call ends. Some regular callers are particularly assiduous, and are heard on almost every episode. Perhaps the most familiar to regular viewers is a man named Ray, who—in a possibly intentional homage to Freaky Deeky‘s origins—likes to read song lyrics in a monotone. Ray sent the cast a package of Christmas gifts, which they opened on air on Sunday night; the gifts turned out to include a jock strap and an audiobook version of the Bible.
Soon the human sacrifices began. After making a brief appearance in my serape, I returned wearing a cardboard sun mask to angrily demand, in pantomime, the sacrifice of virgins. (In a pre-show discussion, it had been agreed that there were several categories of virginity into which one might fall and thus be eligible for sacrifice.) I reacted with apt delight when a woman’s heart (represented by a red balloon) was ripped out and torn to pieces in the teeth of one of my, er, minions. Later, having traded my Sun God costume for a pink wig, I was myself sacrificed to an insatiable creature created by Kopecky out of a big red bag and an oversized set of vampire teeth.
Watching Freaky Deeky you may get the impression that everyone onscreen must be under the influence of some powerful psychoactive substance (like, say, PBR)—but in fact, if that were the case the show would never work. What materializes onscreen is the result of a multi-way real-time collaboration, with the cast members providing raw (as in severed-hand raw) images for Schuler to manipulate with his vast console of tools, while Koenig adjusts the soundtrack to match the action. During an episode, Griffin-Cassidy runs around offering loose direction (“Keep dying!”) and occasionally appearing onscreen to directly address the callers, the performers, or both. It’s improv theater, improv music, and improv video editing rolled into a single televised package, with the callers providing feedback, inspiration, and—if nothing else—an excuse for the show to exist.
Every episode of Freaky Deeky ends with Naked Time, which Griffin-Cassidy describes as “our version of the False Promise. It’s like in a soap opera where you’re promised that everything will be revealed in the next episode, or like in a gossip show where they show you a blurred-out breast before the commercial to keep you watching to see if there will be more. Naked Time is our False Promise.”
It is, in fact, a false promise insofar as no one actually gets naked, but amidst hysterical shouts of “Naked Time!” and the callers’ goading, everyone gets down to their skivvies and dances, with much squeezing of cleavage (women) and pinching of nipples (men). Some viewers undoubtedly find Naked Time genuinely erotic, others find it hilariously ironic, and some probably find it both.
This is the point in the story where I am to be found in a state of near-complete undress, jumping around hysterically, shaking my wig, and waving my Hulk hands in the air. All in a day’s work, right? Yes, but that was last week. Next week I’m totally going back, but I’m not going to write about it—so if you want to find out what happens, you’ll have to watch. The festive theme for the second anniversary show? Terrorism.
Disclosure: MTN’s executive director Pam Colby is a member of the board of directors of the Twin Cities Media Alliance, the Daily Planet’s parent organization, but had no influence over the content of this story, or the decision to publish it. If she happened to have been watching on Sunday night and saw me suddenly pop up on Freaky Deeky, she would have been quite surprised…well, okay, maybe not that surprised.