Photo by Anthony Pileggi.
When we last left Nirvana the Band, they were hot on the trail of the Rivoli’s hilariously-dubbed “booking book.” The duo, of Illustration Sunday fame, make an interesting musical team: Jay McCarrol, the reserved piano-savant who, in his words, was “born into consciousness on the keys,” and Matt Johnson, the volatile fedora-wearer who, in his words, “doesn’t really know how music works.” The newest episode of their web series Nirvana the Band the Show, which went online this week, continues the band’s never-ending pursuit of major stardom. Off-camera, however, Matt and Jay react to the success of their comedy act with slight unease.
“Everything we do on the show is so illegal,” Jay blurts out, as he and Matt share a look, wondering if this is something they should be more concerned about. “And we love it. We film people and then put it on the internet without their permission.”
It’s this cavalier mentality that makes the team’s comedy so intrepidly funny. When asked if they had difficulty getting permission to film their various exploits inside the Rivoli, Matt smirks: “We don’t get permission. We just sneak in there and film it.” Everything on Nirvana the Band the Show seems real, because it is real—or at least painstakingly crafted to appear that way.
The group embraces the city around them, using Toronto landmarks to make the scenes feel more honest. Each episode is bursting with the city’s landscape, from recognizable stores on Queen West to the familiar locale of the back of a streetcar. “This show couldn’t happen anywhere else,” the guys agree. “Just try going to New York and filming for forty-five minutes on public transportation without anybody noticing.”
Following in the tradition of shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, the guys believe in comedy without jokes and are critical of punchline-based humour that taps audiences on the shoulder. “That’s the last generation’s comedy,” Matt explains. “Nowadays the funny thing to do is to act dramatic and serious, and never say it’s a joke.” The result is comedy that is formula-free: one of the group’s videos consists solely of the pair singing along to the Wii Shopping Channel (“Update Day”), while another boldly ends with the entirety of the Bruce Lee 120 minute pseudo-documentary Dragon, the guys’ self-proclaimed favourite film (“The Piano Lessons”).
The on-screen interactions between Matt and Jay ring so true, viewers may wonder whether the childhood friends are acting at all. On or off-screen, the pair lovingly cut one another down with boisterous irreverence. [Matt: “I don’t respect Jay at all on the show.” Jay: (stunned) “Well… you respect me a bit.”] Their real-life conversations are fuelled by the same pop culture touchstones from their adolescence that drive their comedy. Indeed, the team cites David Mamet, The Onion, and Final Fantasy as major influences, and list Alec Baldwin as their dream collaborator. Even the group’s name speaks to this cultural framework. Nothing screams the ’90s like Nirvana: “When I was growing up, I didn’t listen to music,” Matt confides. “I was scared of Nirvana. I saw a grade eight girl having sex on a park bench; I thought that was Nirvana.”
Despite the fact that the show continues to gain popularity—or perhaps because of it—Matt and Jay have decided to retire Nirvana The Band on its one year anniversary this December. As their faces become more and more familiar around the city, it interferes with their ability to capture reality while shooting. This has left the comedy team with a slightly strange wish: “We’re just hoping the show doesn’t get too popular before we finish it.”
Images from Nirvana the Band the Show.