Jared Whitham lives in my house. He’s an amazing artist, and bonafide completely nuts, speaking half the time in rambling, sorta-poetic non-sequiturs. He makes amazing sculptures, like this 14-foot-tall hand diorama, and has recorded a concept album about Showbiz Pizza and Bill Cosby called Jared Whitham Goes to Wal-Mart. He’s also shot 300 hours of garage sales in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida, and paints scenes from some of his favorite rummage sales. And he’s an incredible carpenter and electrician. But his somewhat doomed dream is to get his self-produced program, “The Jared Whitham Show” on a big TV channel, and be all famous. But he’s just too weird, really–he’s not quirky in that Viacom kinda way, he’s completely “Naked Lunch” bonkers, and he’s not faking. Except that now he is on TV. He’s on New York City broadcast television, 24 hours a day, on four different stations.
Tune in anywhere in Queens, Greenpoint, and random areas throughout New York, and you can see this madman on channel 6, 26, 32 or 35–any time, day or night or anywhere in between. (By the way, Channel 32 seems to work the best in Brooklyn and some parts of New York City, and he’s not on cable, just the airwaves.)
This is not pirate TV, but huge-scale commercial broadcasting shoved into the air by enormous transmitters. If only half of NYC can see Jared, that means he’s broadcasting 96 hours of himself to a potential audience of five million a day, a constant infomercial of insanity. I truly cannot believe this has happened, particularly because it mirrors the plot of UHF, one of Jared’s favorite movies, starring Weird Al Yankovic. I asked Jared to pretend he was writing an episode synopsis for TV Guide. Please note the schizophrenic, Burroughs-like nature of his descriptions:
1. OLD ROBOT EPISODE – Better watch out! Jared’s left for dead a cat projector. Not really a cat, but a reality projecting machine. Special guest: Tobar, the world’s oldest robot, serves Jared brunch.
2. TOM MILLER SHOW vs. JARED WHITHAM SHOW (Jared talks about Tom Miller constantly, they were bitter rivals as competing eccentric performers in the Florida suburbs.) Watch Jared get kicked off his own show. Tom Miller of Gainesville FL destroys Jared’s old lady vaudeville dreams.
3. THE BILLY & BRUNO SHOW – Clay animation Jared made when he was 15 about a boy who gets lost in No-No Land.
4. DEMENTIA STUDIOS – Fake bio-reality movie in the middle of nowhere. Sleep deprived colorful movie land where dreams die in Nazi citrus fields.
Vice: Jared, how did you get four television channels in New York City to broadcast your TV show 24 hours a day?
Jared Whitham: Well, it’s all called the Jared Whitham channel now. See, there’s this old man, and he owns TV channels. I don’t know where he’s from, or where he lives. My best friend from Venice, Florida, who moved to NYC recently, his uncle is an engineer in television broadcasting. I’ve never met Gabe’s uncle, but Gabe’s uncle introduced Gabe to this man.
I think you’re hiding something. I don’t believe you.
[mumbles a bunch of crazy stuff that’s completely lacking in syntax or meaning, and I yell at him to start making sense, and we start over again.]
If the whole story was told, I would totally get in trouble. But we’re riding the last of analog television into the sunset.
You mean before they change to digital broadcasting in June? So you get 4 TV channels from now until June?
Why is this guy who owns a bunch of TV channels broadcasting you?
The guy has to broadcast something, or he’ll lose the space. And the old man likes the Jared Whitham Show.
How did he see your show?
Gabe won’t tell me.
Your friend Gabe showed him the show?
Ok, the old man didn’t give a shit about the show. He just needed something to put on the air. He must keep the station going, or he’ll lose it.
What are you showing?
I’m broadcasting the Jared Whitham Show, 24-7.
What is the Jared Whitham Show?
The Jared Whitham Show is everything I’ve ever made as an artist. It’s about me, a lowly janitor from Florida. And this kid, me, wants to escape total normality.
I don’t know what that means.
I don’t know. I can’t tell you. Who gives a shit? It’s a late night show for kids, where I’m the host, and I had an idea when I was eight years old. One of my friends filmed it in 1988.
So you’ve been doing your show for 21 years?
I had a dream to film it when I was kid.
Wait, you didn’t film it in 1988, it was just a dream you had?
I’m the host of a variety show. It’s disastrous. This hideous trans-dimensional repeat of a stupid performance art amalgamation. [Jared insists on me writing this down and repeats it about ten times.] The show also has live performances in Florida, featuring Tom Miller, who screwed me over, and kicked me out of a live show I was doing in Florida. He kicked me out of Florida!
How could anyone kick you out of Florida?
He didn’t kick me out–I left! And I came to NYC in my rocketship. [Jared actually did come to New York in a rocketship, made out of industrial junk and welded onto a truck. A drunk driver crashed into him and totaled it.]
So again, what’s on your show?
Take Episode Six, it’s live in Chicago. There’s a double of me projected, and I fight myself, and lose and get kicked off the stage. Julie Fabulous, this really great transvestite filmmaker, and some lumberjacks stuff me into a box. A very small cardboard box. We were shooting the music video for Sir Millard Mulch’s new album. It’s an homage to the Florida saying “Shit in a box, and mail it to Japan!” It means, that’s what you do as an artist–you shit in a box and mail it to Japan! It’s a good thing. If it’s something beautiful, that’s what you do. The video features Megan Blank and Andrew Duncan. And after the music video, then my double takes over the show, a devil wearing a blue raincoat.
What are other episodes like?
PIZZA FUTURES! That’s a great episode. Carla Rhodes is in it, she’s spectacular! John Keen is in it. Carla Rhodes comes on the show. And she has that insane vicious ventriloquist dummy, Cecil. What an arrogant bastard. He figures out how to sell me some weird Pelican’t stock, with Pizza Futures. Pizza from the future! Or Episode Four, it’s about my struggle with Tom Miller, and shaming this man, shaming him. And then this footage is interspersed with me building a movie studio. In this fake dream that doesn’t even exist.
When you say “fake dream that doesn’t exist,” you mean that it did exist, but it went badly?
Yes, it did really exist.
Thank you for clearing that up.
(photos by Stirling Kruising)