Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Oral history of the "Whassup!" Budweiser commercials, part 3 of 4

Part 1.

Part 2.

How did you feel that Chuck did not do the promotional appearances with you? Even though promoting wasn't his thing, didn't he have FOMO just because the rest of you were on an adventure together?

Scott: Nope, the grind of getting up at 5 am to be at a TV studio by 7 am or visiting bars and nightclubs till 1 am simply was not his thing. Chuck's main focus was on directing (hence why he had to be coerced into starring in the commercials), and after the commercials blew up, he was getting offers to direct movies and TV shows, so being on the road doing promotional stuff was not gonna happen. We all totally understood and rooted for him. He was living his dream of being director. His place was not running around with us.
Fred: I felt he knew that wherever this thing can take us as a group or as individuals, we should capitalize from it. He wanted to focus on directing his projects—the True short was initially to showcase his talent, and he stuck to his game plan. 
Paul: Not sure what FOMO means, but if it means I have a negative feeling towards him not being in the limo for the crazy tour we did, no. Charles is a filmmaker. Him being on this tour with us would be waste of time. He should be focused on the next film, the next project, the next vision.

Did you hear from fans, and if so, how (given that the commercials aired when the Internet was still fairly new)?

Scott: Several ways, mostly through email. At the time, I had a yahoo account I used to give out. Sometimes I would get messages via my (ex) girlfriend's website. She was something of a minor celeb herself, so people would reach out to me via her. I also made the mistake of giving out my beeper number on The Howard Stern Show. I got inundated with messages (that following month, my pager bill was over $700!). One was from a young lady somewhere in the Midwest who wanted to let me know she was "receiving the messages" I was sending her via the TV.
Fred: Fans would show us love all the time. It would mostly be at events like Budweiser conventions, sporting events, and concerts. We would get flooded by people to take pictures. They would share stories about their friends, talk sports…an array of conversations. 
Paul: Yeah, and it was fun for a while, but then I started to avoid it. LOL. Imagine strangers screaming in your face all day. It was crazy. You know, I always thought it would be kool to be famous. This showed me that I valued my anonymity more than I realized. I wanted to be recognized when a cute girl was lookin' or I wanted to get in a club or something. Other than that I was happy to just be Paul. Besides, these people didn't really like you, they were interested in your fame. When that goes, so do they.

Did you feel there was any cultural (or personal) significance to the fact that the entire cast consisted of people of color?

Scott: There absolutely was. It was a topic of great discussion amongst many folks from black activists (who chastised us for representing the "bubba beer") to Anheuser-Busch and their distributors (who initially intended for us to spearhead a new campaign aimed at getting African-Americans to drink Budweiser, but then became afraid our popularity would turn them into "the new Colt 45"). But within the advertising world, mainstream media, and general public, we were seen as kind of groundbreaking in a few ways.
Fred: Yes, I think that, at the time, "Whassup," "Sup'," "What up" were terms known as how people of color greeted each other. Some people of color have been known to use slang, coded phrases and colloquialisms amongst themselves, as a way to culturally connect and at times those terms find their way into pop culture. 
Paul: Of course. It was America's beer! This pissed off rednecks to no end. It was awesome! They used to get around 100 complaints a week on this hotline they had. When we started working, they got thousands. So awesome.

What I was most proud of was how we were portrayed and the near universal love for the spot among men. Doing something fun and stupid with your friends doesn't have a color. Deep down, we're all pretty similar.

Were there any downsides to being in the commercials?

Scott: For me, not really. I genuinely enjoyed most aspects of it. In a TV interview, Paul once said "If you're a private person, this will rob you of all privacy," but that never bothered me too much. There was the rare asshole who was too overbearing, obnoxious, and acted like I owed them something because I was famous, but I was pretty good at handling them. There were the occasional fans who were a little too drunk and kind of annoying, but I kept in mind they were just showing love. All in all, there was nothing too horrible.

I guess if there were one real downside, it kinda revealed some of America's more racist aspects. I encountered a few folks (of the Caucasian ilk) who expressed resentment and displeasure (to put it mildly) about the fact that four black guys were representing Budweiser. One of them was a Budweiser executive (long story).
Fred: No downsides for me. I met some incredible people and went on many amazing adventures. I really enjoyed and learned a lot from the experience.
Paul: Doing those bar calls every night really started to wear on me. Other than that, I really kinda miss it. It was a blast. I'm waiting for the reunion tour.

Paul, what do you mean by "bar calls"? They paid you to go to certain bars to create buzz?

Paul: Exactly. We were required to do 3-5 of them per night. 

Scott, did you ever respond to any of the criticism (whether from black or white), and if so, how did that go?

Scott: If you mean confront folks about the bullshit they were saying, yeah, I did, every time it happened, particularly the racist assholes. That was a big part of Bill the PR guy's job when he was on the road with us—reign in my (and sometimes Paul's) "unpredictable" nature and temper. 

Fred, did you experience any criticism?

Fred: The only time I personally received criticism was when I was approached at an annual Budweiser convention by the owner of a Budweiser distributor. He was a white male in his late '50s from the Midwest and he "nicely" said "I saw the commercial and said to myself, 'What the hell is Budweiser doing? I don't get it. Who are these fellas and what are they doing? I don't get it.'" And walked away. 

A year later we were special guests at that annual convention and I was standing outside waiting for the Bud reps to pick me up and that same gentleman found me and walked over and said "'Hey, you remember talking to me last year?" Of course I did. "Well, let me say, I'm sorry for what I said. I guess I'm just an old white guy. My kids and grandkids see that commercial and they love it. They run around saying 'Whassup,' my wife says it with the kids. And what you guys have done for the company…business has been great. Saw you standing out here and I said I need to go and apologize to that young man for what I said, so I'm sorry. Pleasure seeing you again and let's all keep up the good work." And he went back inside.  

Scott, you alluded to a long story about a racist exec. We've got time. Willing to elaborate?

Scott: Here's my blog entry about that whole thing (scroll down to the chapter "Racist Cracka #2").

How often were/are you recognized on the street? Any funny stories about that?

Scott: All the time. Apparently, I was the most recognizable of the group (I was also the only one who had a name, "Dookie"). Paul used to say "I like going places without you—people rarely realize it's me unless you're standing next to me." I used to get calls of "Whassup!" and "Yo Dookie!" all the time, from people walking down the street, cars passing, etc.—everywhere I went. (A couple of times I heard someone yell "Whassup!" and I turned around to respond, only to realize they were doing it to a friend and didn't even know I was there…talk about embarrassing.) 

One of my favorite instances: [in] the Cherry Hill (New Jersey) mall, a young mother carrying her baby, her hair pulled back, in sweats and sunglasses, [walked] by me, craned her head up, whispered in my ear "Whassssuuuup," gave me a sly smile, and kept walking. I thought that was so cool and funny.   

One time in LAX, a guy came running up to me asking for my autograph, telling me what huge fan he was of the commercials and how proud he was of us as young black men. I was stunned to realize it was DeWayne Jessie, [best] known as Otis Day from Animal House and a well-known character actor from many famous movies and TV shows from the '70s & '80s. I said "You want my autograph? Do you know who you are? I need to be getting your autograph!"    

At a hotel in St. Louis, we got recognized by Dennis Edwards, lead singer of the Temptations…and as a kid who grew up in the '70s in a household filled with soul and R&B music, that was mind-blowing. One night around 2 am, at a diner in Philly, I saw Don Gibb (Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds) eating with some friends. I asked if I could get a picture. He said "Aren't you the guy from those commercials? I should be getting my picture with you!" 

[Another time,] Chuck, Paul, Fred, and I were leaving NBC in New York after doing some live interviews for local affiliates. We were walking across the lobby when from behind us we heard a loud "WHASSUUUUPPP!!!" We turned around and to our utter surprise, it was none other than Florence Henderson, AKA Carol Brady [from The Brady Bunch]! America's mom! She was on her way into the studio to do her daytime talk show when she spotted us. We all roared with disbelief and laughter and went running back to go talk to her. She was so gracious, cool, and funny. She told us what a huge fan she was of ours, which was greeted with a chorus of "What? We grew up with you! We're big fans of yours!"

Fred: More so recognized when we were all together. Every now and then by myself, which was great. LOL. [I was once in a] bathroom at [a] club standing at the urinal and a drunk guy comes in, goes to the urinal next to me, recognizes me, screams, "Duuuude! Whassup! Say it man! You got to say it with me!" The entire time he's swaying back and forth peeing. LOL.

Also, we were in Oxford, England, and Paul and I were going to an event. We get out the car and a huge banner of me is stretching from one side of the street to the other. People are in a mass of hysteria screaming our names. Paul looks up and sees I'm the only one on the banner and he goes "That's some bullshit!" And gets back in the car! We laughed at that so hard—[and] still [to] this day.
Paul: Before I cut my hair it would happen a lot. Not so much after, but I still get it once in a blue moon.

When was the last time you were recognized?

Scott: This past weekend. A guy simply said to me "By the way, I know who you are."
Fred: Three months ago I was at a restaurant with a friend and saw Katie Couric. She [had] interviewed us and was so happy to see us and joked and laughed with us on The Today Show. I headed to her table to say hi and she said "Oh my goodness—I remember you! Whassssssup!" and gave me a hug! The entire restaurant turned with surprised looks on their faces. Classic. 
Paul: My last gig. I was working at an online college and one of the people who worked with me was taking an advertising class. I came up in her research for something. I had already been working there for a year or two and I made her promise not to tell anyone. So after she told everyone, I had to have multiple conversation with people about why I didn't wanna talk about it. Sigh.

Why did the campaign end?

Scott: The short answer: after 9/11, Anheuser-Busch decreed "People don't want to laugh anymore," so they ended our comedic campaign ([but] did one more ad in the summer of '02 with completely different writers and director, aired the spot only a handful of times, then ended it for good).

The long answer; Anheuser-Busch's rank and file was never comfortable with having four young black dudes representing their flagship beer. Our commercials were only meant to kick-start a campaign aimed at the African-American market, to help change Budweiser's image as the "bubba beer." Our success across the board with mainstream (i.e. white) customers took them completely by surprise. All of this was told to me on a couple of occasions by a couple different execs. That's why, originally, they wanted to cast a "multi-cultural" group of actors. And that's the main reason why they started trying to spin off our concept into the "What are you doing!" yuppie guys and the "How you doin'?" Jersey guys. They were (quietly) looking for a way to phase us out and phase in a new, less "ethnic" cast. And 9/11 gave them that excuse. That's the real story. But you didn't hear that from me…shhh.
Fred: I was told [that] when 9/11 happened, Bud wanted to take a more serious, compassionate, and patriotic tone [in response] to what was going on in the country. 
Paul: 9/11. Period. That was it. As I stated before, my brother, my friend, and I were tanning on a beach in Castelldefels, Spain. Before we bounced, I had just shot the next four spots (that would never be seen). 

Part 4.

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