“Metal Grasshopper” begins with comedian Dave Hill in a black T-shirt and black jeans struggling to push his Marshall amp up a rural Louisiana road on a sunny July morning, all to prove to heavy metal icon Philip Anselmo that he is “metal” enough to be Anselmo’s student.
The online comedy series follows the Karate Kid-like relationship between the two as the famed lead singer for Down and Pantera grudgingly serves as a rock ’n’ roll sensei to the inept, overeager Hill, teaching him to headbang, scream and be an all-around metal stud.
The two episodes are online on YouTube, and new episodes premiere on Tuesdays at the Funny Or Die and Metal Injection websites, and the third was posted in all three locations today.
According to co-producer Chris Lee of New Orleans rock band Supagroup, the idea for the show came after his band played with Hill’s in New York.
“Dave knew that Sean (Yseult, Lee’s wife) and I knew Phil, and he came up with that,” Lee said. The two started running ideas back and forth, then they slowed down to wonder if Anselmo would actually do it because the idea hinged on his participation.
“Anytime you have a fictional thing about a rock star, it always falls flat,” Lee said. “It always seems like the Hollywood version of what it’s like.” Anselmo would keep the show real and give it credibility.
Anselmo liked the idea, but he didn’t have time to learn lines. For Lee and Hill, that wasn’t a problem. “I don’t think either one of us felt like we could tell Phil what to say,” Hill said.
Instead, they outlined scenes and the information that had to get out in each scene. Once the cameras were rolling, Anselmo and Hill improvised along those lines, which results is a very natural interaction between them onscreen, even if it’s also a very silly one.
“I like improvising. The best stuff comes out that way,” Hill said. “It was pretty easy for us to fall into those roles. We’re joking around, but he’s yelling at me. This scary man is yelling at me, and you can’t help but be scared.”
“Metal Grasshopper” isn’t Lee’s first foray into small-screen entertainment.
He made a short online comedy series with Supagroup and was an associate producer on the reality shows “Jerseylicious” and its spinoff, “Glam Fairy.”
Hill had done a number of comedy videos for different outlets, satirizing not only heavy metal but Fashion Week and Comic Con.
“When people are passionate and serious about subject matter, I love that,” Hill said. “It’s when they take themselves too seriously, that’s when it’s super fun to make fun of people.”
Part of the success of “Metal Grasshopper” is that it’s affectionate.
It makes fun of heavy metal clichés, but everybody involved is a fan so they don’t make fun of metal. Since shooting wrapped, Anselmo and Hill stay in touch, often talking shop.
“Last time I hung out with him, he was listening to Portal, this band from Australia, and it was the craziest stuff I had ever heard,” Hill remembered. “I couldn’t handle it. It gave me an anxiety attack. I’m going to see them Saturday in Austin.”
But their shared musical interests go further than that, and when Hill did a night of stand-up comedy in New Orleans last summer, Anselmo joined him onstage to sing “Please Let Me Get What I Want” by one of the least-metal bands of all time, The Smiths.
Going into shooting, Lee assumed that Anselmo would be good on camera but that Hill’s wimpy struggle would be where the laughs are.
Once the cameras started rolling though, Anselmo stole scene after scene, playing with his own tough guy image. One minute, he’s shouting out Hill, commanding him to learn to smoke cigarettes; the next he declares, “I’m going to go make a f—ing awesome salad.”
“I knew he was a funny guy, but I hadn’t hung out that much with him in social situations,” Lee said. “When you do hang out with him though, he’s the guy who’s always on and will do what it takes to crack people up. You don’t know if that will translate when you put a camera in someone’s face, but he was very comfortable on camera.”
So far, response to “Metal Grasshopper” has been encouraging, so much so that Lee and Hill are starting to think about what could come next.
“We’d love to see it become a TV show,” Lee said.
“We’d love to do even more episodes or something spun off from this,” Hill said. “Maybe a ‘Thelma and Louise’ type thing.”