A couple years back, I wound up performing in a free comedy show outside a fish taco stand in East Los Angeles. The guy who opened the show did a much more political act than the audience was expecting, and while they didn’t fall in love with him, I knew I’d made a lifelong friend. This was my introduction to Dave Sirus, a kinetically powered contrarian from the East Coast who had dreams of reanimating our mutually beloved cartoon IPs and who carried himself with the level of political education that either makes a perfectly electable comptroller candidate or an impressively spitfire satirist.
Soon after, I’d discover that Dave had a secret alter-ego named Brick Stone. Prior to our meeting, Brick made a long and impressive history as the number one troll of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Midwestern hate-group that regularly pickets cultural centers, artistic gatherings, and funerals. In dozens of videos spanning several years, “Brick” embarrassed serial harassers with logic and microphones shaped like dildos all across this great country of ours.
Now that sharp political wit has finally found an appropriate outlet, as Sirus was picked up to be a writer on Saturday Night Live at the start of this season. I spoke to him during the last day of writing before the Adam Driver episode about what it’s like to be SNL’s new secret weapon.
How’d you wind up at SNL this year?
I got the job over the summer. I’d written with (cast member) Pete Davidson for a while, and I turned in some samples. I actually moved to New York not knowing if I had the job or not. Seven days before the season started, I got officially hired. I showed up to work the next day.
How is being an SNL writer? Is the coke as good as it was in the ’80s?
It’s not as terrifying as people said. The environment is a lot cooler than I expected. Everyone has this expectation based on cultural jokes and stories and, to a lesser degree, Jay Mohr’s book, which sold this as a truly terrifying ride. But I’m a freshman writer and I get at least one sketch to the read-through each week, so I’m doing okay.
I’d be remiss to not ask: How was it to work with Donald Trump for a week?
I’ve seen his hair at the end of an 18 hour work day: it is not great.
Working with him was actually pretty amazing. All week there were protesters out in front of the building, which is weird when they are protesting you but you don’t necessarily disagree with them? The Occupy Wall Street twitter account calls me, personally, a racist.
It was my fourth week on the job, guys. It’s not like I booked him.
So let’s talk about Brick Stone. I know you’ve had to adopt the persona because your work gets you a lot of death threats, but where did the idea come from?
I created Brick because I wanted to do some very basic “gotcha” interviews with dumb people. Then I saw a video of some folks trolling Westboro Baptist Church. WBC loves to protest outside of San Diego Comic Con and a small group was reverse protesting them. But you can tell that they still loved the attention. That’s when I realized what Brick Stone could do. Brick Stone could find a way to give Westboro attention in a way that they would never enjoy. Signs aren’t confrontational. I could make them feel stupid. And I could make them feel bad. And all I had to do was get them one-on-one and challenge them with logic.
How do you give bad attention to a group that believes there is no such thing as bad attention?
They have pride. In both their intelligence and sense of humor. They think they are very smart and in a one-on-one conversation you can embarrass them by making them defend what they don’t want to. You can’t lie about logic — just making them feel like they are on the losing end of something is the point. It’s verbal bullying but with a highly ethical edge. That’s what they do, too. They think they figured out some kind of magical formula with free speech for getting away with hurting other people. I can do the same.
What’s the worst thing you’ve seen them do?
I haven’t gone to the funerals because I don’t want to make those spectacles. That’s such a shitty thing I can barely wrap my mind around it, but that’s also great motivation to keep doing this. When someone dies and the next day they have a sign of that person, it’s because they want to be obnoxious, but they rarely even know who the person is. They had “Harris Wittels Is In Hell” signs two days later and they certainly didn’t listen to his podcast about Phish. They try so fucking hard. The way they talk about their own family members is also amazing. So many people who left are immediately treated like deviants, which shocks me. Usually when someone leaves the family, they don’t want to “leave the family” so much as they just don’t want to yell mean things at strangers anymore, and the family pushes them out for bailing on The Cause.
When people leave the WBC they tend to reach out to you directly, to ask about how to be people in the real world. I think that’s a testament to what a force they consider you to be and that they know you’re a “good” person.
Libby Phelps contacted me after she left the church and said that she was tramautized by the family and that the Brick Stone videos helped her deal with that by making those fearmongers look like boobs. When Zach Phelps left, I messaged and asked if he wanted to do an exit interview. We did a two hour Skype conversation. There was a lot going on in his life and he wound up basically having a meltdown with a positive side effect. He was going through some serious things and couldn’t deal with the negativity anymore — just wanted to be a nice person and have a normal life.
Do you think you make a difference at the protests?
I think I take the fun out of it for them. At the very least I’m making them less happy. I’m not going to convince them to leave. Mostly, I get letters from people — especially gay kids in the south— who live in fear of the WBC because they’re worried those idiots might be right. Maybe gays do go to Hell? And then they see me making the WBC look like boobs and it takes a lot of power out of that ideology.
Last year, WBC got really into making hilarious parody Vines to help spread their hatespeech. That sort of viral interaction seemed like a direct reaction to you.
They keep trying to find ways to salvage their dignity and get their message out. My videos are the most popular thing you can find when searching “Westboro” and they hate that. They just have so much pride, they need to prove to themselves that they’re witty. They’re really just attention whores. Shirley Phelps thinks she’s a great singer and sees their social media as a platform to share that. They don’t have access to people outside of their family, so, especially for the teenagers, that must drive them insane with a need for attention. They need contact with the outside world, but they can only achieve it in such negative ways.
What was your favorite outing?
Malibu. Steve Drain’s anger is just delicious. He’s got such a big ego that at some point it becomes a Benny Hill sketch where I’m just chasing him around. That was also the first one where I used a dildo as a microphone, which was only because they were instructed not to speak to me. I had to find something to say that would make them angry enough to talk. That’s where I got them to admit that newborns go to hell and that I’m a “fag” because I found women attractive. It’s so petty and ridiculous, it’s a perfect example of who they are.
What will bring them down?
It’ll just dwindle away as more people don’t want to spend their life doing this. They’re getting bored with it. They peaked with attention and no one cares anymore. They don’t have the balls for a Waco, or something big and dramatic like that. It’ll just die out. They’ll be on the side of the road somewhere for a while. They like being treated like they are dangerous. Fred Phelps finding his mind at the end of his life and trying to fix it is an example of how this is going. “Hey, why don’t we try being nicer to people?” They put him a hostel to die cause they thought he was insane for saying shit like that. That’s how far gone they are.