Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Discover the origin of Smarf in this detailed oral history of Adult Swim's Too Many Cooks

Illustration for article titled Discover the origin of Smarf in this detailed oral history of Adult Swims iToo Many Cooks/i
Screenshot: YouTube

We’ve been living in a post-Too Many Cooks world for pretty much exactly four years, which may partly explain why once-normal things in life have suddenly become so oddly terrifying, and now Inverse has put together a lengthy oral history of what was arguably the weirdest 11 minutes in Adult Swim history. For those who somehow missed out on Too Many Cooks, it was a short that aired on Adult Swim in 2014 that was created by Casper Kelly and initially aired early in the morning in an “Infomercials” slot. The video begins as a straight parody of sitcom intros from the ‘70s and ‘80s set to a catchy theme song, but once it reaches what seems like a natural conclusion, the song simply keeps going and introduces more and more actors who ostensibly appear in a fictional sitcom called Too Many Cooks. Once that joke starts to settle in, the clip begins to distort as the genre changes from sitcom to cop show to sci-fi epic, all while a serial killer stalks the actors in the background.


Kelly, who worked on Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, tells Inverse that the idea came from the knowledge that Adult Swim had the weird Infomercial slot where it had been doing experimental comedy stuff and “an old sitcom” he had seen that involved an intro where the actors all smiled and looked at the camera. He realized there could be something funny in keeping that basic thing going for “an uncomfortably long time,” and he started working out the idea at lunch with friends Matt Foster and Paul Painter. Kelly didn’t think he’d be able to fill the 11-minute Adult Swim block and had no real intention of ever pitching it, but during an awkward lull in a conversation with Adult Swim boss Mike Lazzo at a work party, one of Kelly’s friends brought up the idea and sold it to Lazzo.

From there, Kelly says he basically just started throwing in every sitcom intro he could think of, with him and Painter stitching together actual clips with fake music tracks to figure out the “rhythm” of how one could blend into another. At one point, the early “draft” of Too Many Cooks was just 40 or 50 TV show intros combined, with Kelly then storyboarding in clichéd sitcom gags like running the paint roller over somebody’s face and the dad screwing up the timer on a photo. Painter came up with the idea to introduce a Hannibal Lecter-type character who would appear in the background, and that’s where the “narrative” of Too Many Cooks started to come together.


The rest of the stories are worth reading in the Inverse piece, but the cast has a predictably fun take on just how weird everything was. Kelly says they basically just hired people based on their look, as in “that looks like the smart daughter. That looks like the crazy daughter.” A lot of them came from an Atlanta-area improv company called Dad’s Garage, but William Tokarsky, who plays the killer, got the job because he knew Kelly from Your Pretty Face. Tokarsky is retired and says he started taking acting jobs as an extra just to get out of the house, and after Too Many Cooks he started carrying a plastic machete in his car because so many people wanted to take photos with him.

Katie Adkins, who plays the girl who runs from the killer, says she was actually freaked out by her first sequence with Tokarsky, where he sneaks up from behind while she stands motionless in front of her name, but she had to purposefully run awkwardly and dramatically when he chased her because her normal pace was too fast. She also says she took the job because she wanted to work with Adult Swim, and nobody ever really explained what the shoot was about:

I tried to ask what exactly this is. Everything I shot was in one day. Every time I asked, they were like, “Oh, you know, it’s like a sitcom.” Then I saw them painting blood on the Smarf puppet, and I was like, “What’s this guy?” and they said, “Don’t worry about it.”

Speaking of Smarf, there are stories about how he was designed and how he sort of became the start of the fake show. There’s also an interesting breakdown of the sequence where the camera keeps spinning around on the table as different actors swap in and note. Surprisingly, that shot had no CG or cuts, and was just as much of a hassle as you would assume.

Then there’s the Too Many Cooks theme, which deserves an oral history all of its own. Luckily, Inverse does go into its own dark origin. Michael Kohler, the musician who wrote the theme, said he just started singing it to himself and couldn’t stop, and when his wife asked him what it was, he said he “didn’t know.” Once he had recorded it and could finally free it from his own brain, his thought was “Okay, I’ve poisoned someone else now.” Then, another musician named Shawn Coleman came up with the idea of twisting the songs to fit the different genres that were coming in, with Kohler saying he “kind of felt bad” that Coleman then had to put more work into the twisted earworm of Too Many Cooks.


Also, as ridiculous as Too Many Cooks was, Kelly had some wild ideas that didn’t make it into the final version. At one point, he was going to pull out to a “different view of reality” where all of the actors were being operated like puppets by an army of lizard people (one of whom still appears in the final couch scene). There was even an alternate ending that would’ve squished Too Many Cooks to half of the screen while the credits started up on a second fake sitcom and then a third fake sitcom that would squish its credits.

You can find Inverse’s whole oral history, including the ideas of a Too Many Cooks sequel and the Too Many Cooks stage musical that Dad’s Garage put in, at this link. Also, the people who made Too Many Cooks thought it was “really cool” that The A.V. Club liked it, which we also think is really cool.


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