From L to R: (Karel Ebergen, Andrew Hahn, Brian Kiely, Michael Yanoska, Nick Agee, Alex Vergel)
A Hot Chocolate Party sounds like a mostly quiet affair full of sipping, but for six Los Angeles-based comedians the name invites viewers to take a look at their mix of outrageous sketch comedy and video game themed rap music. The comedy group, most of whom are Bruin alumni, treat online audiences to their sweet mix of funny material. The group sat down with On The Hill to talk about the origins of their group, their progression as comedians and their future plans as Hot Chocolate Party.
Q: How did Hot Chocolate Party start out as a group and start posting videos?
Michael: So me and Brian started making videos back in high school, we grew up in the same hometown where everything closes at like five or six p.m. so needed to do something when we were bored. So we started making videos and started getting noticed by record companies which was pretty cool and then I came to UCLA and my senior year I joined Spring Sing Company and that’s where I met Alex and Karel and we started doing skits and videos. And Andrew I met him when he joined company and I was helping him out with that. So we’ve gone through a couple different lineup changes but once I came down here working with Alex and Andrew and Karel in Spring Sing that’s where our current iteration comes from.
Q: What kind of things where you making in the beginning and how has the group’s comedic sensibilities changed over time?
Alex: It’s funny because Michael and I started working after Spring Sing we started doing some of the sketches that didn’t make it, which is every single one I’ve ever written (laughs). But that was a good thing for us when starting out because we’ve already read them and had a sense of them. And Michael had an idea for a rap video about WiiU and that was the first one that kind of got big.
Brian: When we were in high school the very first thing we ever did was lip sync JoJo “Get Out.” Hooked up his video camera to the TV so we could see ourselves try to lip sync the best we could and dressed and danced like idiots. And from there, there was “Hey There Delilah” which was the first one we actually shot in multiple locations and singing the same things over and over. I think it was really our second year of college when things started picking up and getting more serious. That’s when people started recognizing our videos and calling us and hiring us.
Q: Can you describe the other members of the group and what they contribute to the writing process and the comedy you guys create?
Alex: I remember I met Andrew first at Company 2014 auditions and I was in the corner half-dying, didn’t matter what he did. I was half-dying and half-angry that was like this guy “he’s funny.”
Andrew: The first time I saw you was before that at the Laugh Bowl, where you were really funny and which you won.
Michael: The first time I really worked with Alex was after I joined Company. I had written this script that was a parody of MTV: Cribs, but it took place in a college dorm. And at the pitch meeting I had a feeling that Alex would be really good at it, but he wasn’t at the pitch meeting. So the first time of him reading it was in front of the Board and everything and I barely gave any direction and it could not have been any more perfect and what it could be.
Karel: This guys smelled like Irish Spring and I was like “that’s it” that’s a friendly smell (laughs).
Michael: The thing about Karel is that he writes so much and it’s so consistent too.
Brian: I think the cool thing about this group is that we all have different kinds of writing styles, we can all vibe onto what other guys are doing.
Q: What’s a normal production process for one of your videos?
Michael: How it’s kind of worked at least in the past year or so is that we’ll upload something into the dropbox and if it makes us laugh then we’ll do it. I think we’re really respectful if someone wants to take a crack at it or punching up a couple lines.
Brian: That’s one of the things I’ve noticed the most about this group is that coming into it, Michael having his experience his senior year with Company and Alex coming from stand-up or reading one of Karel’s scripts and having it be this crazy combination of smart and accessible humor.
Q: So how often do you guys put videos out?
Brian: Well we tried to put videos out every Monday and Friday, but after the New Year it started to slow down because we needed to get some new material and potentially start working on bigger projects. Like we have one or two ideas for web series. One of our strengths I think is that we like to continually challenge ourselves. The question is what’s the next step? How do we show students and active comedians what we’re capable of? Donald Glover for example is an inspiration because here’s this comedian, he’s really funny, but also he’s an extremely talented rapper who’s smart and educated.
Q: How hard is it to balance between doing whatever you guys are doing individually and what you guys do as a group?
Michael: Yeah, you know sometimes we’ll have a pretty cast heavy skit like our Olympics one or The Moles. As far as our individual efforts, Andrew is an improv group and does a lot of work in Hollywood, me and Alex are in another group, Karel is one step away from leaving us (laughs).
Karel: We all have affairs, but this is the true love, that’s what’s Michael is trying to say. We get urges somewhere else, but we always come back because there’s nothing like it.
Q: What do you see the role of the Internet is in democratizing comedy?
Alex: It’s the worst-best thing.
Michael: Because it’s so much easier to put out your own stuff, but that goes for every other person.
Alex: Everything is saturated man, we need more doctors.
Brian: You can call me irritable, but I think there’s too many 13-year-old girls and people who make a lot of money from videos that don’t really take much talent.
Michael: I think the big question we’re trying to ask ourselves is how we separate ourselves? What’s going to help us stand out.
Alex: When it comes to the Internet, it’s like how to get it to work for you. It’s the same with music, you got to make music people like and once you start doing that you can start being more experimental.
Q: Do you have a relationship with your fans?
Alex: There’s like two people who talk to me on twitter and it’s really funny because they’re just into Nintendo stuff. And I can keep up, but I feel bad, I feel like a poser when I’m like “Did you ever get that Amiibo?” and they’re like “Yeah, it was a hundred bucks, did you?” and I’m like “No.”
Michael: Yeah we have this guy, he’s a fan from New York, he’s a college kid and he’s an RA and for his floor he threw a hot chocolate party and they watched all our videos and posted a picture on our facebook page, which is something even we’ve never done (laughs). We do have a resident hater-dealer with in Alex.
Q: Do you have anything coming up in the works?
Michael: We’re working on a webseries potentially, we’re still trying to work out the storyline and hopefully we can get it up and running in the next few months. You know, also our second album came out and we only have one video up from that. We have two in the works that we’re hoping to have up in May.
Andrew: And one of the music videos has a very surprise celebrity guest, so check it out.