Interview The Real

A barmitzva for Jay-Z, ghostwriters on strike, Lloyd Banks retirement party : welcome to The Real world. With their absurdist video sketches, this New-York based comedy crew has become an Internet favourite these past months. Meet Eric and Jeff Rosenthal, the two brothers in charge of a soon-to-be-classic weekly serial.

16/12/2007 | Interview by JB | Version française

Abcdr : Your videos have been floating around the Internet for a couple of months, but nobody really knows who are the people behind "The Real". So, who are you ?

Jeff : We're the people behind The Real. That's too simple, actually. Oh ! We're also often the people in front of the cameras, at times passing for actors. If you watch the videos, Eric's the curly-haired fop, whereas I'm the tall fellow that usually plays the role of "Insane." In real life, though, Eric has been known to "make it rain", and I don't care for most forms of precipitation.

Eric : We’re brothers (three and a half years apart in age) from New York City who have a deep respect and interest in everything hip-hop. We took our love for music and film and put them together, in the form of 2-5 minute videos, turning our voices into visuals.

A : How did it all start ? What kind of stuff were you doing before the video blog ?

E : I’m a 2002 graduate of Syracuse University, where I studied film. After graduating, I thought I would immediately become a feature film writer/director. So, over the next couple of years, I pitched script ideas and screenplays to a group of successful producers, production companies and agents in both Los Angeles and New York City. When nothing stuck, I decided to look for a smaller company who looked at the world in a different way, and found one : Hustle Films. The company was co-owned by a young man who, at the time, was a burgeoning hip-hop producer named Kanye West. Over the course of a year, I got to know Kanye’s management pretty well, and my big break was when they invited me to document Kanye 24/7 at the 2005 Grammys. Since then, I’ve worked with Missy Elliott, Juelz Santana, and a host of other artists and bands, filming behind the scenes, on stage, in the studio and on tour.

J : I graduated from Boston University in May 2006, and bounced around a few writing gigs before being picked up by HBO to work on a new comedy website that they'd be cobbling together with their corporate siblings at AOL. There were a bunch of problems with the management of the site and so, after less than a year, it was shut down. That's just professionally, though. I did a bunch of things before we started The Real : I slept for about one-third of my life ; I've worn my sunglasses at night ; I (am not proud that I) saw "Malibu's Most Wanted" in the movie theatre, among other feats.

A : How many people are currently part of the team and how did you meet each other ?

J : Eric and I were birthed by the same woman, but not at the same time (that fine distinction belongs to my fraternal twin brother, Dan, who lives out in Cleveland.) Aside from the two of us, we have a seemingly endless stream of creative friends who are pretty willing to help the cause – from actors to musicians, artists to writers.

E : Growing up, we attended and later worked at a local day camp, and most of the people you’ll see acting in our videos are attached to that day camp in one form or another. The camp has, among other programs, a movie production class, where a large group of us as 12 and 13-year olds put together 30-minute narrative films. And over the past decade or so, our dozens and dozens of friends have all become very close, and together we’ve produced creative projects – like films, mixtapes and artwork –  just for the fun of it.

A : While it seems that everybody out there is trying to be either a rapper, or a rapper, or a CEO, you choose to laugh with hip-hop. Have you ever try to rap ?

J : Ha ! Yes, we have, but just for our friends, nothing serious. We have some skills, but our stories of a sunshine-y suburban upbringing don't exactly appeal to the larger hip-hop record-buying (or downloading) public. That, and I don't know how to freestyle, so it'd be pretty embarrassing when I went on Tim Westwood's show or something.

E : I’m glad you referred to us as "laughing with Hip-Hop," because some people have taken our videos as "laughing at Hip Hop," which is totally not our intent. We’re looking to add some levity to a musical genre that can take itself too seriously at times. As for rapping, yes, there’s 6 or 7 of us who have gotten in the booth, and while I think we all have talent, we all realize that rapping is not the most real way for us to get our message across. 

A : Eric, there is this quote on your Facebook profile, where you say you are "attempting to change pop culture". That's a pretty ambitious statement !

E : I totally believe in our product and I’m not shy in getting that message across ; if we don’t believe in our own material, then why should anyone else ? We’re very smart and we’re very funny. It’s a struggle to find those two things together these days. And honestly, when you see half the stuff on television or the Internet – wouldn’t you want to help change pop culture too ?

A : How has been the response so far for your videos ?

E : The response has been outstanding, which only make us want to work harder and top the previous episode. Here’s a couple of interesting things about a few episodes… The Lloyd Banks one, our first video, had a lot of people confused, because they didn’t know who made the video. A lot of people took it seriously, thinking Banks was really going to retire. Some thought that The Game was behind it, and had hired us to make the video. And others even though that Cam’ron made the video !  All the speculation led to a ton of people seeing it, and that was great. The Biggie video was another hugely successful video for us. It was universally acclaimed and opened a lot of bloggers up to us. They saw the potential in our style and humor. But you’ll always have detractors too, some people who didn’t like how we ripped on 50 and others sent emails on how we ripped on Ja Rule. We don’t take our compliments or criticisms too seriously.

J : Pretty good. I think that people - especially the big bloggers - recognize that we're attempting to bring something different - a sense of humor - to hip-hop without actually taking too much away from the culture, and they seem to appreciate it. That's what, I think, ringtone rappers think about themselves, too, that they're adding levity to the gunplay that has dominated hip-hop for so long. I guess I feel the same way about our stuff, except that I think there's more thought to our stuff. I guess what I'm trying to say is that our fans aren't really getting these specific needs met anywhere else, because they're probably not listening to Rich Boy by choice.

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