Like a lot of Super Deluxe’s work, the video almost feels like it could have been made by any good political satirist on the Internet. Almost. The production value is just a little bit more polished. The singing is a little too good. (That would be Amber Coffman, formerly of Dirty Projectors, providing the vocals.)
Super Deluxe is an entertainment company, owned by Turner Broadcasting. And its online presence is something of an optical illusion.
Even in 2017, viral culture still wants its greatest hits to have an element of being stumbled upon by chance. It’s still cooler to share a piece of satire by some random genius on the Internet than it is to share one by, say, BuzzFeed. In its two years of existence, Super Deluxe has built up an Internet presence that often gets away with feeling like the former, but with the resources and production values of a major entertainment company. You’ve probably seen, maybe even shared, some of its creations, even if you don’t know what Super Deluxe is.
“To be honest with you,” said Wolfgang Hammer, the president of Super Deluxe, in an interview with The Post, “I really like that.”
Super Deluxe has 77 full-time staff members, and about 70 to 80 contractors working for them at any given time. There’s a lot going on. For instance, the company produces daily, interactive Facebook Live videos that work something like a Choose your Own Adventure book, but about really weird stuff. Using technology developed by an in-house tech team, Super Deluxe scans viewer interactions with its streams to count votes for, say, what items to put into a baby food recipe that will then be consumed by an (adult) actor portraying a baby. According to Super Deluxe, the majority of their Facebook Live shows hit number one on Facebook’s global map (the weird baby food one, for example, has nearly 700,000 views). It’s now making TV shows, including the Chances — a show that attempts to provide a full look at the lives of deaf people without focusing only on that trait. There are about 10 staffers who work specifically on Super Deluxe’s political content.
Part of Super Deluxe’s M.O. is to identify random geniuses on the Internet, give them experienced production teams and resources and promise full creative control. Another aspect is to figure out how to permeate the boundaries between short-form Internet creation and more traditional forms of media — specifically television. They look for, as Hammer put it, “non-mainstream perspectives. But their stories could be appreciated by the mainstream.”
The most fully realized version of this model in action is Joanne the Scammer, who now has a TV show in the works. Joanne, a fictional character played by Branden Miller, is enormously popular on Instagram and Twitter. Miller started making Joanne videos with Super Deluxe in 2016.
In our interview, Hammer revealed that Vic Berger — the Internet satirist who, among other things, probably best expressed the sad shuffle of Jeb!’s campaign for the presidency — also has a TV show in development. Super Deluxe said that the show already has a pilot, but declined to go into further detail.
Berger is likely the best-known example of how Super Deluxe managed to find a particularly effective vein of political satire in the Trump era. His work feels like hyperbole, but is more like a mirror. During the campaigns, Berger distilled Trump’s disruption of the Republican field down to an airhorn sound effect.
Its other political humor is similarly surreal: it has former Mexican president Vicente Fox recording direct address videos to Trump, for instance. During election night, it had a massive Facebook Live hit that simply showed a cozy fire burning over the American electoral map. And of course, there are the songs, like “Ivanka Del Rey.”
Jason Richards, a Super Deluxe executive producer who is behind most of its political satire, said he thought Super Deluxe’s political content was sort of “a mainstreaming of the spirit of Weird Twitter,” a grouping of Twitter comedians of which he is a major figure. (Richards is also the guy behind @Seinfeld2000.) And as that sort of humor itself becomes more mainstream, Richards said that Super Deluxe was unique in figuring out what to do with it.
“That voice that is largely referred to as Weird Twitter is now the dominant voice of Internet humor,” he said, “But before Super Deluxe it hasn’t been codified into a content producing organization.”
Nick Lutsko, the 26-year-old Chattanooga-based songwriter who wrote and did the initial cut for “Ivanka Del Rey,” started working for Super Deluxe last year, after writing (on spec) a theme song for Berger and Tim Heidecker’s convention special at the Republican National Convention. Super Deluxe liked it, and asked him to do one for the DNC, too.
Months later, Richards (who also produces Berger) reached out again: “Trump’s tweets have been kind of emo lately,” Lutsko recalled him asking. “Can you make a song?”
“I felt like I had a lot to prove, so I stayed up all night working on it,” Lutsko said. The result has more than 14 million views on Facebook. And his most recent contribution before Ivanka Del Rey was similarly successful: he’s the writer behind the song that re-purposes Alex Jones rants in the style of a heartfelt Bon Iver-style indie-folk song. It was so irresistible that even Jones himself spent a solid week praising it to his followers on Infowars.
Super Deluxe’s political humor during the campaign has provided a texture to satirizing Trump that has become ubiquitous online. But Super Deluxe insists it would be still doing what it does, no matter who became president. “We’re apolitical,” Richards said, “but we hold a mirror up to whoever is monopolizing the attention economy.”