April 29, 2010

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Not so secret anymore
‘Granite State of Mind’ launches trio to national stardom
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Before filming had even begun, Christian Wisecarver told his co-star Holly Winchell that “Granite State of Mind,” The Super Secret Project’s New Hampshire-ized version of Jay-Z’s mega-hip-hop hit, would be special.

With more than a million YouTube views and coast-to-coast media coverage, it turns out he was right.

But Wisecarver and his two partners in The SSP, Billy Donohoe and Darby DeChristopher, say they had similar hopes for each of the 27 web clips they’ve made to date.

“If you don’t have an inkling that this could be the one,” Donohoe said, “then why are you making that video?”

The comedy troupe formed in 2005, a few weeks after YouTube debuted on the Internet. “I remember seeing it and thinking, you can put a video up and it will work?” said Wisecarver, who at the time was also performing rap reggae in Boston bars with his Emerson College pal Donohoe.

He and DeChristopher worked days at a Cambridge production company. “It didn’t have much business, but they had all kinds of film equipment,” Wisecarver said. The three film school graduates (DeChristopher earned her degree at Syracuse) decided to join forces and experiment with the nascent video distribution medium. 

“Billy and I create the songs, and Darby and I are in charge of shooting and editing,” Wisecarver said. Their material ranges from doppelgänger parodies — Perfect Strangers Boston, Good Will Hunting: The Remake — to original comedy pieces like “Realistic Love Song” and “Welcome To The World,” where an infant is warned of evils like Ebola Virus and the Jonas Brothers.

A 2007 tribute to actor Zach Braff garnered a mention on the Tonight Show, and the trio’s videos have appeared on Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die web site. The SSP YouTube page has a few thousand subscribers.

But “Granite State of Mind” took the group to a whole new level.

“I had a feeling it would be our most popular video, just because the original has like 35 million hits,” recalled Wisecarver. But he says the wave of attention the song received was “pretty crazy.”

So far, three New Hampshire natives name-checked in the song have weighed in with positive feedback. SNL’s Seth Meyers tweeted about the song, urging “all my NH homies to watch,” while Sarah Silverman recently told a Boston paper she “loved” the video. And the other day, Adam Sandler phoned Wisecarver. “Basically, he said he liked it a lot and congratulated me. It was definitely a strange phone call to get at work,” he said, “but yeah, I’m taking that one.”

During a year Wisecarver spent working in Los Angeles, he had an uncredited assistant’s role on Spanglish, a film that starred Sandler. “He didn’t remember me, but we have common friends,” Wisecarver said.

The media attention has been surreal at times. One photographer asked the three to “play” for her in Wisecarver’s back yard, while the Fox affiliate in Boston felt compelled to apply that network’s special brand of hype to their appearance. 

“They had to make it a Fox story,” Wisecarver said. “Everyone else was, ‘New Hampshire comedy group makes a funny video and it’s blowing up,’ but Fox News had to be, ‘DID THEY GO TOO FAR?’ I was like, Oh, Fox!”

In the wake of all the press coverage, a key question facing the group is how to best capitalize on “Granite State of Mind.” They’ve received what Wisecarver terms “weird, ‘we want you to play our car dealership’ kind of requests,” most of which they’ve politely deferred.

However, they will perform for hockey fans at Verizon Wireless Arena on Saturday, May 1, during halftime of the Manchester Monarchs game.

A more concrete offer came from the Music Hall in Portsmouth, which invited them to perform on Saturday, May 22, for the monthly Scene@Five series. The SSP will do a multimedia show and participate in a post-performance meet and greet with fans. Normally these events are held in the intimate Founders Lobby, but due to anticipated demand, it’s been moved to the 900-seat auditorium, and will begin at a later than usual time of 7 p.m.

The troupe will do two shows in advance of the Music Hall performance, one on May 7 at Nashua’s Amber Room and another May 14 at Boynton’s Taproom in Manchester. 

Apart from the Wisecarver and Donohoe’s nightclub work prior to teaming up with DeChristopher, these will be the first live shows the group has ever done. “We’re still kind of working it out and practicing,” Wisecarver said.

They’re drawing inspiration from Internet comic Jon Lajoie, who parlayed successful videos like “Everyday Normal Guy” into Comedy Central appearances and a live concert tour. Lajoie made a cameo in a SSP video, and invited the group to see his show during a recent stop in Boston.

“He would do five minutes of standup, then play a song live and then show some of his Internet videos,” Donohoe recalled. “Christian and Darby and I said to each other, ‘there’s no reason why we can’t do the exact same thing’ — not copy him, but use the same format.”

“A lot of our lyrics are funnier when you see the visual joke,” said Wisecarver, who plans to project videos and use prerecorded instrumental tracks for the show. “We’re still performing live, not lip synching, but at the same time, you’re seeing the visual gag.”

They’re working on a follow-up to their hit video, “but we don’t want to do Granite State of Mind Two,” said Wisecarver. 

An animated video, “Reggae Road Rage,” is in the works, as is a song that Wisecarver says is about the “weird, superficial benefits of Internet fame.”

They’ve learned a lot about the latter, both good and bad.

“It’s hard,” said DeChristopher, “because this isn’t our job. We have to fit it in on the weekends. There are a lot of times when our spouses are wondering, what exactly is the point?”

“But I think we’ve scored a lot of leeway with our spouses now,” Donohoe said.

“People want to hire us,” Wisecarver said last Sunday. “Money is money, it’s not like we’re too big for that.  We’re still trying to figure it out exactly. We want to be careful about what we do.”


Super Secret Project appearances
• Saturday, May 1: halftime at the Manchester Monarchs game, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Arena in downtown Manchester

• Friday, May 7, at 9 p.m. at The Amber Room, 53 High St. in Nashua, multimedia show

• Friday, May 14, at 9 p.m. at Boynton’s Taproom, 155 Dow St. in Manchester (www.boyntonstaproom.com), multimedia show. Tickets cost $17.

• Saturday, May 22, at 7 p.m. at the Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St. in Portsmouth (www.themusichall.org), multimedia show with a post-concert meet and greet. Tickets cost $8.

See thessp.ning.com for more on The Super Secret Project..