The Secret, Untold Story of "Gangsta Dreidel"
Kerper and Kolin put together a basic script--"We just called it 'The Dreidel Song,' that's the kind of provocative title we gave it," laughs Kerper, explaining that they didn't always formally name all of their bits--and tapped director Alan Cohn to helm the video.
"We auditioned a bunch of kids--we went to the casting person and said, 'Bring in some young hip-hop-looking guys and we'll put them all together,'" Kerper recalls. "A couple could rap or sing and a couple couldn't. They were all just sweet kids, none of them had ever been in front of a camera before. The main kid was really charismatic, and it seemed to come naturally for everyone. Some of them wanted to be singers. I never heard of any of them again."
HBO gave the pair a budget of $246,000 for each Hardcore TV episode, so bits like this one were done on the relatively cheap ("It wasn't exactly Game of Thrones," Kerper laughs). The video was shot out at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in less than a day. "Part of it was in one of those real old empty buildings, it was completely desolate and dark in there so it gave it kind of an eerie feeling," says Kerper. "We shot outside by the water, you can even see the Twin Towers in there, which is a little eerie now."
They handed out props like a large menorah, an inflatable dreidel, potato latkes, and fake guns to the actors. "They got the whole 'fish out of water' idea and they knew enough about Hanukkah that they knew the stuff we were giving them were Jewish-y things. We explained it and they got it, but they weren't like, 'Hey, if you guys have some time, I'd love to know the origin of the menorah.'"
Kerper and Kolin also brought in a couple of backup dancers from Club MTV and stylists painted "Happy" and "Hanukkah" on their butt cheeks. "We had worked at MTV so every time we needed girls for a bit we would call them up and say, 'Do you have anybody you think would like to be in this?' and they were like, 'We have 1,000 people!' Those girls loved to be on TV."
Despite the inherent silliness of it all, Kerper says that everyone was instructed to play it straight--to treat it like a real, gritty, hard-hitting, New York-style rap video shoot. "You wanna make it real and not too goofy--to me, things that are not real are not funny," says Kerper. "It doesn't look like a real video if people are joking around too much inside of it, winking at the camera. Like, I love Weird Al, he's amazingly talented and a great guy, but his stuff is goofy. I didn't want our kids to break character. [Cohn] used to describe that what we tried to do in Hardcore was have the world be exactly the same as reality, except just one small thing could change that would hopefully make it funny and absurd."
"I never thought it was something where you'd fall on the floor laughing, but people watched it and really laughed out loud," says Kerper. "The reaction overall was pretty good. Was it, 'Oh my God, we've never seen anything like this before! Stop the presses! We don't need a president anymore--you, Steve, can run the country'? No. But I think it worked."
"I think some people were offended by it. I've heard from some people over the years who've said that, but I don't really know why," he says. "There was no moment where I ever thought, 'This is going to offend some people.' But nothing really offends me. It's a gag. Everybody had a lot of fun doing it, and I'm glad it lives on in some way."