Vic Berger on scrambling the GOP primaries
A talk with the video editor surreally chopping up Scott Walker’s and others’ presidential announcements.
Whether creating disgusting close-ups of dried spit flying from the corner of Donald Trump’s mouth, splicing together all of the feedback noise in the awkward Chirino Sisters performance that prefaced Jeb Bush’s presidential announcement, or compiling all of the annoyingly macho drivel in New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s recent announcement, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania comedian, video editor, and musician Vic Berger has been turning heads of late with brilliantly nuked edits of the ludicrously overstuffed Republican presidential primary field. In scrambling the candidates’ statements, stretching out weird pauses, and creepily zooming in on audience members, Berger highlights the perversely canned nature of the interactions between a celebrity—in particular, a conservative politician—and his or her audience. The latest contender to get the Berger treatment is none other than Wisconsin’s ascendant union buster, benefit slasher, train denier, marriage-equality opponent, and public-university decimator, Governor Scott Walker.
In Berger’s edit of last week’s Walker announcement, the focus is on Walker’s notoriously vacant resting face (which resembles a man who’s been doing whip-its, alone, in a bathroom stall for six-plus hours) and Walker’s forced speaking charisma (likely the result of emergency speech coaching to try to smudge out Walker’s long-held reputation as a dismally boring public speaker), pushing oppressive amounts of force into every instance of the words “we” and “America,” and liberally taking breaks to clap awkwardly and appear excited.
Before Berger began diving fully into nuking the presidential race, he put up a series of gorgeously unsettling edits of interviews that make the likes of Tom Hanks, Emeril Lagasse, and Adam Levine appear to be either unable to complete a sentence without going into convulsions or just really narcissistic. Extra care was also taken to highlight the absurdity that lies behind whatever focal point each of these media events presented. In a Berger edit, no goonish smile, look of disgust, or bizarre gesture from the audience goes unexploited. Berger’s first political targets became Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee, two bottomless sources of amusement and absurdity, which eventually led to Berger’s series of “____4Prez” Instagram accounts, of which there is one for pretty much every Republican candidate. Each account features hilariously hideous Photoshop treatments of the candidates’ faces. A couple of times, Trump himself accidentally retweeted Berger’s balloonish and troll-faced treatments of his image, which were brilliantly disguised with Tweets of encouragement to Trump and his campaign.
Berger’s work has been met with an outpouring of support from Tim Heidecker (for whom he’s done video work for On Cinema At The Cinema and a recent promo for Tim And Eric’s Clown Town performance at Pemberton Music Festival), Gregg Turkington aka Neil Hamburger (Berger made a video for Neil Hamburger’s “Endless Roll”), and most recently the Everything Is Terrible crew. Fresh off of Berger’s upload of the Walker edit, Berger talked with us this week about searching for the human side of celebrity, getting unwittingly retweeted by Trump, his relationship with Heidecker, and how he began a decade-long obsession with Chubby Checker.
Tone Madison: Outside of your political-speech videos, which seem to offer plenty of ridiculousness to grab on to, your other work targets celebrities that most people wouldn't immediately think of for their absurdly busted media presence. Is there a process of selection? Or do you think pretty much any celebrity packs enough megalomania and unflattering quirkiness to work for your editing style?
Vic Berger: I just really enjoy being able to see the human side of a celebrity. Many celebrities have this persona that covers so much up. I like using the video editing to try and reveal or amplify the little bits that they do reveal. And there's something so interesting to me about those people that I tend to focus on like Chubby Checker or Emeril or whoever else I'm hung up on at the moment. They're not people that many would think of as being funny, but I think in the right light, they can be hilarious! Unintentionally hilarious, of course. Chubby is by far my favorite to work with. He's the least self-aware person I've come across. I'd say that many, many celebs would be good for what I do, but there have definitely been times where I edited someone and I could feel myself adding way too much to it and it was coming across mean. I try to let them do what they do and just "highlight" what I see as funny or awkward.
Tone Madison: I honestly wasn't aware of how bad Chubby Checker was with PR until I saw "The Man Who Made It A Hit." Seems like he's provided an endless fountain of material. How did you end up wandering down that wormhole?
Vic Berger: Oh, man. Well, I walked into that wormhole about 10 years ago when I randomly stopped at a Border's to look around. He was in there signing copies of his new reggae Twist CD. There weren't too many people there for it and it was so interesting to see. I think he had very strict rules that he would only sign his new CD. On one hand it was somewhat sad to see, but in his mind, he was going to go back on top with this thing.
Tone Madison: Did you go up to him or just sort of survey the situation?
Vic Berger: He was right next to the kids’ section, so I perused the kids’ books and peeked over the shelf to see what he was doing. I wasn't going to meet him because I didn't want to have to buy that reggae Twist CD. He is actually coming to my town on Friday. I came very close to buying tickets. My plan was to go to the show and then go up on stage with him and dance. He does that at every concert. I ended up not buying tickets because I think it would be just too much to handle for me. It would be so weird.
Tone Madison: He seems to get pretty grabby with the audience.
Vic Berger: Oh, yeah. He doesn't even hide it anymore. Since the '70s, he's done this thing where he brings ladies up on stage and lets the foxiest one of the crew Twist with him and then he quickly grabs them by the waist and bear hugs them with their feet dangling in the air. It's really bizarre, especially at his age, but it makes for some hilarious videos. Those poor ladies. They all seem to not mind, though, because it's the famous Chubby Checker doing it.
Tone Madison : Hopefully they at least get to walk away with a free Checkerbar.
Vic Berger: No way. He’d make them pay!
Tone Madison: Probably.
Vic Berger: Actually, he doesn’t do “The Twist” with women on stage. He does “The Hucklebuck.”
Tone Madison: I wonder if he's aware of the digital shrine you've built for him.
Vic Berger: I'm pretty certain he has no idea of how much stuff I've done with him!
Tone Madison: I'm a big fan of the clip where Chubby chats with Mike Huckabee, another guy who seems to have very little self-awareness. But simultaneously, with Huckabee, everything also seems very deliberate. There's no way he riffed the "underaged Chinese gymnast" bit from your edit of his stand-up routine at The Improv.
Vic Berger: Yeah, Huck is a very interesting guy. He's another person that has way too much confidence. That "underaged Chinese gymnast" punchline might be the weirdest thing I've come across him saying. And that's saying a lot!
Tone Madison: One thing that really stands out with the more political videos you've been releasing is the way you highlight this sort of strange interaction between celebrities and their audience. At what point did you decide to dive into the candidacy videos?
Vic Berger: Well, the political stuff all started with Trump. I have this thing I do on twitter and instagram called Trump4Prezident (used to be called Trump4Prez, but he shut that down the week before he threw his hat in the ring). Basically, I just Photoshop a picture of him to make him look even more hideous than he already looks and then write a "compliment" like "I'm going to vote for Trump. I hope you run for president" or whatever and then send it to him. He would occasionally accidentally retweet it not knowing the photo was there with it. So following him, he would release these "vlogs" of him insanely ranting about something. I took a few of those and edited them to have him say stuff that was even dumber that he originally said. I thought they were pretty funny so I tried it out on a few other people like Ted Cruz and Huckabee, my favorite guys, and then started editing their announcement speeches as they were releasing them. It really was just because I was looking for material. I think Cruz and Huckabee are so unintentionally funny at times that I like to try and make them even funnier. They also say some scary things, too, but I tend to not focus too much on that. I knew Trump's [speech] was going to be amazing. I was so excited watching it live. It was a dream come true. I think Jindal and Lindsey Graham are the most boring guys out of all of them. Jeb, too. Jeb's video was more about everything else going on around him. His speech was boring and didn't really say a whole lot, kind of like most of these announcements. But he didn't really say anything that could be used out of context too well, so I focused it on the insanity around him in the auditorium.
Tone Madison: Personally, while I'd obviously never vote for Jeb, I definitely think he's probably the best at carrying himself. But yeah, the Bush video was remarkable—the awkward double hug, and that that guy knocking those weird bowling-pin things together.
Vic Berger: Jeb definitely knows how to present himself. He also seems to have very good people behind the scenes to create this image of a great guy who loves minorities and can speak Spanish and so on. But just remember that he's a Bush! It's pretty incredible how he never mentions his brother. His brother who was president just seven years ago. I have been loving these cringe-inducing videos that his staff have been putting up on his YouTube channel. There's some of him using Uber and getting in the car and driving away. There's even one of him putting on a hoodie! But of course no one told him to unzip it so he's putting on a zip-up hoodie over his head. I can't get enough of these videos. They call them "Jeb Unfiltered." Hope there's many of those. They're just trying to humanize him. I guess it works for some people but I like to think most people see through it and see it as pandering.
Tone Madison: There was definitely some very strange straight-outta-speech-class stuff going on in Walker's speech. How did you approach that video? Have you been following what he's done to Wisconsin?
Vic Berger: Yeah, I followed it up and paid attention throughout the recall. I would always hear about the horrible things Walker was doing and trying to do to unions and state universities and public education. Boiled my blood.
Tone Madison: It's truly horrifying that someone with such a flagrant disregard for the people he governs has basically been elected three times. He also has the charisma of an egg, which your video highlights well. My personal favorite moment might be the forced claps.
Vic Berger: Ha! Yes. I hadn't seen Walker on video too much before this. I thought he would come across as an in-your-face guy almost along the lines of my least favorite person in the world, Chris Christie. Walker is such a wussy guy. SO uninteresting.
Tone Madison: You also use your video edits to create caricatures of your subjects—in particular, this sort of playground-bully take on Chris Christie, where he's just constantly picking fights with people.
Vic Berger: It's very easy to make that guy look angry. Probably because he always is! His tone of voice is so aggressive.
Tone Madison: He needs to be humbled by falling out of more chairs.
Vic Berger: He absolutely does! I'm sure there'll be a few more falls before the election. Fingers are crossed.
Tone Madison: Christie's personal hell will be him in a diaper and bonnet, falling endlessly through an infinite amount of chairs.
Vic Berger: I love it. Seeing that scenario would be my personal heaven.
Tone Madison: In the tradition of one of your major proponents, Tim Heidecker, you're a longtime musician who ended up diving into the world of comedy. What was the catalyst for this transition?
Vic Berger: Tim is the greatest. Such a good guy. Oddly enough, I got into making these videos largely because of him. I was sending him these original songs based on episodes of On Cinema and they had a little video to go with them. He liked the videos and ended up asking me to edit something for the [On Cinema] Oscar special even though I hadn't really done all that much editing at the time. I ran out and bought a MacBook and learned the software and edited the thing and thankfully he and Gregg liked it. The first video I ever did in this style was the Ronnie Wood and Alice Cooper conversation. Tim really enjoyed it so I ended up making more in that style and he'd give me notes along the way. He has been super supportive throughout all this. I can't thank him enough. All of those [On Cinema] songs are still up on YouTube.
Tone Madison: Speaking of On Cinema, I should add that your Joe Estevez highlight reel in the last Oscar special—where they give him the On Cinema Lifetime Achievement Award—is the reason I now own a hard VHS copy of The Catcher.
Vic Berger: Oh, wow! That's great to hear! The Catcher is amazing. Poor Joe gets a bat to the head.
Tone Madison: I was really hoping that scene where his kid beats him to death with a bat would be at the very end and that it would just be this consistent and completely broken abusive baseball-dad movie throughout, but that's not quite how it ended up. Anyways, what's next for you?
Vic Berger: There will be lots more videos in the future! I'll also be doing some political videos for Everything Is Terrible.
Tone Madison: How did that come about?
Vic Berger: Commodore Gilgamesh came across some of my political videos and wrote me. I have been a fan for a long time so it was incredible to be asked to contribute some stuff. They put up my Christie video last week and they're putting up my Walker video on Thursday.