Back in 2016, an unusual talkshow emerged. Two Minutes to Late Night was hosted by the comedian Jordan Olds’s corpse-painted alter ego Gwarsenio Hall – who merges the vulgarity of intergalactic shock-rockers Gwar and the chops of comedic giant Arsenio Hall – with Brooklyn metalcore stalwarts Mutoid Man as the house band. Its DIY, punk ethos and absurd, profanity-laced comedy made it a hit among metalheads.
After creating a pilot for a now-defunct media company, Olds and his co-creator/best friend Drew Kaufman successfully crowdfunded an entire series, with performers from across the metal and punk spectrum, as well as the odd outlier such as comedian Janeane Garofalo and rapper El-P, and subculture-specific comedy sketches live on stage.
At the start of 2020, the duo started to remotely produce web videos in which all-star guests – including gothic singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe and Gina Gleeson of spirited doom-metallers Baroness – collaborate on covers of metal classics and reimagine pop tracks. They started it, Olds says, “so we could finally play with our musician friends that hadn’t been able to make it to the live show”.
The timing could not have been better. Two Minutes to Late Night’s Bedroom Cover YouTube series has been a lighthearted escape for the metal music community at a time of uncertainty about when they’ll be able to catch the next live gig. When the coronavirus pandemic decimated the live music industry, musicians, venues and crew members had to come up with a way to pay the bills. Olds and Kaufman realised they were in a position to help, and quickly recalibrated the plan for their bedroom cover series and crowdfunding structure to distribute some of the funds to the performers, to help them put food on the table and strings on their instruments.
Videos of Olds’s Gwarsenio character jumping off the couch in his cramped home office, virtually accompanied by some of the genre’s biggest names, have helped garner the page almost 90,000 subscribers. Their most popular video, a star-studded cover of Canadian prog greats Rush’s Anthem, recently surpassed 1 million views. Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher came up with the idea to get Tool drummer Danny Carey and Primus mastermind Les Claypool to form the cover’s rhythm section, while Mutoid Man’s Steve Brodsky roped in Coheed & Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez for vocals.
As 2021’s prolonged isolation shows no signs of letting up, Gwarsenio and his guests have been a balm to metal fans, as well as to Olds himself. “Gwarsenio is helpful because I’m able to amplify whatever is frustrating me, and heighten it in a way where it makes me laugh. It’s cathartic.”
Until live music returns, the spirit of metal will be kept alive by a guitar-loving corpse.