Interview: “Sifl & Olly” Creator Liam Lynch Socks It to Us
by Luke Y. Thompson on September 11, 2012
Before Adult Swim brought us the likes of Tim & Eric and Squidbillies, two sock puppets on MTV were mining the awkwardly surreal humor vein with a comedic sensibility ahead of its time. Canceled in their day, Sifl & Olly (who once had an actual robot chicken as a character on their show) are back – online and uncensored – on Machinima’s Happy Hour channel, reviewing fake video games for a world much more primed to appreciate what they do. We spoke to creator Liam Lynch about the return of his famously feisty foot-coverings.
Nerdist: What made this the right time to bring Sifl & Olly back? Was it easy to just jump right back into character?
Liam Lynch: It had been 10 years, and I have all the capabilities to make the episodes myself, and so I just decided to one day. I wish it was more of a ground breaking reason, but I just felt like making them again. There’s no shift into character, because it’s just really my normal humor and mindset, so it was refreshingly natural.
N: Clearly, songs are as important an element as ever. Any plans on making them available to download separately?
LL: Yeah, I think when there are maybe enough songs for an album, I’ll do a release on iTunes and Amazon. If there is demand I may do singles of songs and ringtones if people are that insane.
N: “Olly” is a name many people have, but where did the name “Sifl” come from?
LL: It’s of Druid origin.
N: The original DVDs go for high prices on Amazon. Can we look forward to re-releases, or perhaps Blu-ray upgrades, any time soon?
LL: MTV never released the episodes on DVD, so any DVDs you see out there are bogus and just some guy deciding to sell something MTV owns. It’s lame. Equally lame as people selling our show to make money for themselves… is the fact that MTV never released them on DVD to begin with. So everyone is guilty. MTV was asking for it, and assholes were taking advantage of the situation. I don’t think you’ll ever see Blu-rays because it wasn’t shot in HD. It was shot at standard def on video cameras. It’s not like a film that can be rescanned in at a higher definition; they exist only as standard def. There may be some announcements in the near future regarding their release though.
N: Judging by the trailer, and some of the fake game graphics, the new show will have more elaborate imagery than the old. Did you get a bigger budget this time around, or is it that technology has improved so much you can do more?
LL: No, the budget wasn’t near what it was for the original episodes. I made these episodes, just on my own home computer. Yes, I think it’s safe to say that technology has improved over the last 10 years. I also have more capabilities now doing these myself and using some programs I’ve learned over the years. Sifl & Olly has always incorporated 3D animation into the show from the pilot episode on; things just work better and look better now. It was nice to freshen them up and bring them into the present. It felt good to finally see them in HD, for sure.
N: Tommy Wiseau had a show on Machinima that reviewed video games in an odd way. If Tommy got into a game-off with Sifl and Olly, who would win?
LL: That’s a great question. I think Sifl and Olly would win.
N: How do Sifl and Olly play the games when they don’t appear to have hands?
LL: How do they talk when they don’t have voice boxes?
LL: I’m a serious gamer. I’ve played most games on all consoles, going back to the Atari. I’ve always kept up with whatever new games are out since back in the ’80s. This was also evident in the original Sifl & Olly show. I would often bring video games into the show as a topic or a song, like “Rocket Through the Wasteland,” which was Sifl and Olly singing to music from a fake driving game and entering the game itself. In season 3 of Sifl & Olly we had Tony Hawk on the show because I (Olly) was so obsessed with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games at the time. I love video games so much and I always think of comedy when I’m playing. Over these Machinima episodes, you’ll see a mix of games that are totally fake based on nothing but weirdness, and also ones that are clearly spoofs of real games, filled with observations or inside jokes that gamers will appreciate. (But non-gamers can still enjoy, too.)
N: The new trailer also mentions no network interference and more creative freedom. Did MTV have a big say in the show back in the day? What was the weirdest input you ever got from them? Were there any issues with using the same theme song?
LL: Yeah. This is why I wanted to work with Machinima. It was one of the biggest online networks I could find where I could reach numbers equal to some TV networks but didn’t have to deal with any TV networks. I wanted freedom to do more and take chances that no TV network is willing to do today. So it was a perfect match for me. In the day, MTV didn’t really know what to think of Sifl & Olly… a few execs at the time championed it and got it while some, I think, weren’t even aware it was on at all. The legal team at MTV were pretty strict. We weren’t allowed to say the word FIRE for one season because they were afraid people watching would catch themselves on fire and then sue MTV. We also weren’t allowed to say the word “Adopted” once… Yeah, they were pretty strict. There were ways around this, though. We would just go farther into the weird so that they never knew what was going on or how to approach it. I also did backward audio and subliminal messages in the show as well, which none of them ever caught. We obviously had a ton of freedom to be weird on MTV, and I give MTV a huge amount of credit for the risks it was willing to take back then. I mean, MTV invented reality television with The Real World. They were taking risks and trying a lot of things that hadn’t been done. The fact that we got on television at all was pretty wild, but we did have our fair share of lawyers seemingly hellbent on stopping success based on paranoid fear. The characters reverted back to my ownership 3 years after they went off the air, so it’s nice to just make new shows again and really do anything with them now. Machinima has been nothing but cool and made the process really enjoyable for me.
Regarding the theme song, we always owned it so there were no issues. MTV didn’t own the songs.
N: Sock puppetry looks easy in some ways, but we’d bet it’s more of a challenge than it looks, especially trying to sync your hand-movements to the words. What are the hidden difficulties that the average viewer might not have thought about?
LL: Yeah, puppeting is tough when you’re actually trying to make it look like the characters are really talking. I do all the puppeting on Sifl & Olly and it’s definitely tricky, not only mouth sync, but the body language and subtle head movements people do when they’re talking. It can be tricky. Most people are not subtle with sock puppets and it ends up just a constantly moving mess flapping around at you. Stay conscious of when the puppet isn’t talking to stay still and keep the mouth closed. Other than that, I don’t feel I could give any solid advice, except maybe that if you’re actually concerned about how good your sock puppeting is, you probably need counseling and possibly medication.