Rise Of The Planet Of The Bass: An Interview With Kyle Gordon aka DJ Crazy Times

Michael McKinney speaks to the comedian turned viral musician behind "Planet Bass" about making sure he's knowledgeable about the genres he parodies, the process of playing different characters and...
By    November 2, 2023

Image via Kyle Gordon

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Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”

Kyle Gordon is as confused as you are. The Brooklyn comedian had a viral moment earlier this year when a goofy and loving Eurodance parody blew up social media and crash-landed a Jonas Brothers concert. That track is, fundamentally, a joke. It’s a send-up of, and love letter to, Eurodance, with each line and synth hit engineered to sound like it’s from 1997. But it’s not unlike what Gordon was doing before, either. Prior to the explosion of “Planet of the Bass,” the comedian and musician cut his teeth on the Brooklyn open-mic circuit, piecing together genre parodies and quick-hitting jokes over an acoustic guitar. Suddenly, he went from being a comedian and aspiring television writer to being DJ Crazy Times, a memetic MC from a dozen Eastern European countries. It’s a profound whiplash, and it prompts the question: what now?

Fortunately, Gordon already had that sorted. Next March, the comedian and musician will release his debut LP. Entitled Kyle Gordon Is Great, it takes his musical-comedy creations and polishes them up, giving them a full-band makeover in the process. Throughout the album, he uses genre as a springboard for comedy, leaning into a whole range of styles and sketching out wholehearted caricatures and character studies: the country-rocker who can’t quit the open road; the pop-punk frontman whose life is really, truly, horrible; the sort-of-twee pop musician who won’t stop shrinking into her boyfriend’s arms.

Last month, we had a chance to catch up with Kyle Gordon, exploring how stand-up and Christopher Guest have influenced his work, how Eurodance rocked his world in the ‘90s, how he uses tropes and sketches in his comedic work, and Austin Powers.

How are you doing?

Kyle Gordon: Good. It’s definitely been crazy; it’s been hectic. But it’s also been fun. I’m trying to have fun with all the craziness, because it’s definitely a new experience for me.

What’s some art that connected with you early on?

Kyle Gordon: I have a distinct memory of being five or six years old. My mom took me to go see Jimmy Buffett—rest in peace. I fell asleep pretty quickly into the show, but I remember women in coconut bras walking around the parking lot. I was like, “Whoa!” It felt very adult to me. So that’s definitely my first live performance.

Growing up, I listened to a lot of stuff. I listened to the radio a lot before I got a CD player, so I listened to a lot of classic rock. My first introduction to Eurodance was twofold. In the US, I feel like Eurodance would only occasionally break through on pop radio—the “Barbie Girls,” the “Blues.” So, when I was listening to pop radio—Z100 in New York—those songs sounded like they were from outer space. Everything else getting played at the time was, like, American pop, or nu-metal, things like that.

When are you thinking of specifically?

Kyle Gordon: This would have been, like, 1998 to 2001. I’m 30, and I was born in ’92. Around that time, I remember “What Is Love” and “Another Night,” by Real McCoy. That stuff wouldn’t necessarily be played a ton on the radio when I was growing up, but I’d hear it around. I have a distinct memory of being at the bar mitzvah of a friend’s older sibling. That’s when you would hear dance music: as a kid, you’re not going to the club. I remember hearing that kind of stuff at this bar mitzvah and being entranced by it.

Who’s the first comedian you loved?

Kyle Gordon: Definitely Chris Farley. He’s on my comedy Mount Rushmore for sure. He was the first person as a kid that I was completely—he’s just naturally funny. I’d make an argument that he’s the most naturally funny person ever, and especially for a kid. He’s so huge, and he’s so compelling on camera. When I was a kid, I’d do Chris Farley impressions. My comedy was just doing Chris Farley bits.

Where’d it go after that?

Kyle Gordon: A lot of different directions. As I got older—middle school, high school—I’d say Christopher Guest. His movies, like [This Is] Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind, are still maybe my favorite movies. When you talk about my inspiration for musical comedy and genre parodies, he’s my favorite by far. So he’s a huge inspiration. In high school and college, I watched a lot of Tim Heidecker and Kyle Mooney. It’s funny: I put a moratorium on myself. I refused to watch anything of theirs, because I don’t want their voices in my head. I don’t want to do impressions of either of them; I don’t want to slip into their cadences.

Do you still have that moratorium?

Kyle Gordon: Yeah. I probably haven’t watched any Kyle Mooney stuff for 10 years. It was so important for me to try to develop my own voice. The influence is strong enough already.

I hadn’t considered A Mighty Wind as a line here, but that tracks. I think a big part of what makes that work is that it comes from a place of deep knowledge and obvious love; it’s not smarmy. “I love this; here’s my riff.” Is that something you try to do in your work?

Kyle Gordon: Yeah. That’s definitely true on “Planet of the Bass”; it was genuine love and fascination with the genre. With that, I’d been immersed in it already. I try to be pretty knowledgeable about the genre I’m parodying. But it’s a fine line. With any genre parody, especially genres that are maybe a little more niche, it’s a fine line between knowledgeable enough that it’s precise so that people who know the genre will know you’re being accurate, but not being so deep in the weeds that you’re making meaningless references. If you become so deeply immersed in a genre, the things you think are important to mention are really not important to anyone who’s on a more surface level. So it’s a really fine balance, and I try to strike that. But, as a general note, I agree with that take on A Mighty Wind: it’s about being knowledgeable, being specific, and identifying what’s great and silly about the genre.

Let’s follow that thread a bit further. When you were putting together “Planet of the Bass,” how generalist of an audience were you aiming for?

Kyle Gordon: Not as general of an audience as it ended up reaching. And that’s amazing. That’s mission accomplished for me. The fact that so many people loved the song but didn’t necessarily know what I was talking about or referencing is fine by me. When I first put it out, I wanted to reach, and appeal to, people who know the genre. The other audience I had in mind were people who had an ambient sense about what was happening in the ’90s. Maybe they couldn’t name any of the bands or tell you what the genre is called, but they’d say, “I know what he’s talking about.” That’s generally the range of an audience I’m aiming for. What I didn’t expect was people saying, “I have no idea what he’s talking about, but this is hilarious.” [laughs]

You’ve been workshopping that character for several years, right?

Kyle Gordon: Yeah. I first developed the character in college ten years ago. I’d do it while goofing around with my friends. There’s a recording of me on my acapella group’s CD: I introduced the CD as DJ Crazy Times. I started workshopping it a little more in 2019, doing it at small Brooklyn shows, and I couldn’t quite figure out the best way to do it. Over the pandemic, I started posting videos as the character on TikTok, and it was mostly the ad-libs you hear at the beginning of the song. That’s all I was really doing before I wrote an original song.

Was this your first original song as DJ Crazy Times?

Kyle Gordon: Yeah.

Prior to this, what sort of musical work had you done?

Kyle Gordon: “Planet of the Bass” is the first song on the LP that’s coming out later this year. Each song on that is a different genre. “Planet of the Bass” is the only song on the album that was written specifically for the album; everything else is stuff I’d been playing live, just me and my guitar, for many years. I eventually said, “I have all these songs, and I want to record them all with full production and instrumentation—I want to make them sound like the genre I’m parodying.” “Planet of the Bass” was the last song written for the album.

How connected would you say your comedic work, musical work, and social media are? How do they talk to each other?

Kyle Gordon: My live act, which I had been doing for many years, was entirely based around this music. That’s what’s so interesting about “Planet of the Bass”: I wrote that song after I’d had many years of posting a lot, and success on social media. People who knew me as a comedian in Brooklyn knew me for doing musical comedy. But I had tried, over the years, to find a way to incorporate my musical comedy into my social media. For the most part, a vast majority of people who follow me online weren’t aware I did any kind of music until this. Now, I have songs coming out. It’s kind of fun, in that way—it’s new for a lot of people. After having done social media for many years, I’m figuring out how to take these songs that work live and package them for social media. It all started with the music, and now I’m re-engineering it for social media.

What’s that packaging process like?

Kyle Gordon: I’m learning as I go. So far, it’s: I’ll take the best parts of the song, put out a promo clip that’s a little music-video type thing, and then I’ll eventually push people towards a full official music video. Because these other songs were written before I was on TikTok, it’s an interesting process to see what would work on social media. I just promoted my new song, “Ugliest Girl on the Beach,” a few weeks ago. It’s good, and it’s cool. But I’m still learning what works.

Given the speed at which TikTok moves, is there a temptation to reverse engineer your older material to make it work better on the platform?

Kyle Gordon: Absolutely. It’s more like five seconds. So I’ll start with the chorus. The phrase “ugliest girl on the beach” grabs your attention. The songs are what they are; they’re locked in. Especially with TikTok, if a song is gonna go viral, people will latch onto a part of the song that you never expected. Trying to predict what people will latch onto is a bit of a fool’s errand. Sometimes, I have to put up my hands and remind myself that people are gonna find something I didn’t even think of.

You’ve spoken in the past about using genre as a springboard for comedy: about riffing on tropes and idioms, and stretching them in new directions. Tell me more about that.

Kyle Gordon: If I were to summarize my taste and comedic impulses, I’m most drawn towards identifying and distorting tropes. I’m always playing a character; I’m never myself in my comedy, really. That’s just a product of what I find funny. It goes back to a Christopher Guest-type thing. It’s about identifying tropes, whether they’re in characters you might meet in real life, or in characters from TV or movies. In music, it’s genre tropes. Genres are a way for me to explore a character. DJ Crazy Times is on one track; on “Ugliest Girl on the Beach,” the character is this guy called Antonio Frankfurt, and he’s a smarmy Brazilian guy.

Does the character or the genre come first?

Kyle Gordon: With my music, the genre comes first. There have been times where I’ve said, “I’d love to do something with this genre,” but I just haven’t known what to latch onto. I’ve scrapped a lot of songs because I haven’t been able to find that character.

Can you give me a look at your cutting room floor?

Kyle Gordon: I try to identify genres that I haven’t seen parodied before, even if they’re a little niche. I had this thing I was trying to do recently, where I was trying to do a ’60s Marty Robbins, western story-style song. Maybe I’ll re-examine it, but I just couldn’t figure out who this guy was or what his perspective was. I tried to make it a super aggressively anti-Communist song, but I just couldn’t get there. I want to revisit that in the future, because it’s such a specific genre. There was this whole trend where ’60s western TV shows would have theme songs in this style. I’m drawn towards that, too: if it’s just one artist, that’s less appealing than if I’m parodying a whole genre. It’s not just a Marty Robbins parody; it’s all of these different artists doing the same thing.

What is it that draws you towards parodying genres rather than particular songs or artists?

Kyle Gordon: That’s a good question. I’m writing all my own music, and it might be easier for me to write a song in a particular genre than it is to parody specific artists. I’m not really sure, though. [laughs]

Talk to me about nostalgia. Listening through your incoming record, there’s a lot of stuff that sounds like 2000s radio. I’m not hearing much that sounds like 2023. Why that focus? Is nostalgia a framing device for you?

Kyle Gordon: Definitely. As a rule, I don’t love being topical, even in my non-musical comedy. For me, if it’s topical, you’re going to have a dog-pile of everyone in the world trying to address that particular subject. There’s nothing wrong with that; there’s amazing people who can make the funniest joke about something that happened yesterday. For me, I’m trying to do stuff that’s surprising and, more importantly, not obvious. A compliment that’s sometimes phrased as a criticism [about my material] is, “Who asked for this?” “Who asked for a bossa nova parody? Who asked for a Eurodance parody?” I take that as a compliment, though, because that’s what makes it surprising. There’s a parody of traditional Irish music on the album, and nobody’s asking for that. That’s what makes it so appealing to me.

So it’s a combination of being unexpected while also tapping into something that’s in the background of a lot of people’s musical understanding: “I’ve heard a million songs like this, but I never expected to hear it here.”

Kyle Gordon: One hundred percent.

It’s funny: it feels like I can name every artist on the record. There’s a blink[-182] song. There’s something close to contemporary Christian music; there’s the Irish stuff; there’s outlaw country. It’s all these styles that you can count on people having a tangential knowledge of.

Kyle Gordon: My reference for what works in this type of comedy—I can’t remember who came up with this. I heard it on a podcast somewhere. It’s crazy that Austin Powers worked. It’s one of the biggest comedy movies ever; it’s a pop hit with a mass audience. But could those people name any of the references that they were making? Are they familiar with Swinging London or Burt Bacharach? Probably not, but they enjoyed it anyway, because they had an ambient sense: “This type of thing was going on in the ’60s.” Some people just liked hearing Mike Meyers with a silly voice, and that’s fine, too. A lot of people liked “Planet of the Bass.” Maybe they’d never listened to the music before, but it was a funny guy with a silly voice saying nonsense. That’s fine.

So it’s about extending that tightrope for an entire record. Tell me about your songwriting process—how do you do that?

Kyle Gordon: I’ll put “Planet of the Bass” aside for a second here. Everything else on the album I wrote on guitar. The process has changed a little, but most of the time, I’d have a basic idea: a chorus or one line and a chord progression. I used to go open mics and improvise lyrics. I’d cut and paste the best bits: “That line was funny, and that line didn’t work at all.” Then, I’d build from there. It’s usually a series of non-sequiturs. None of the songs have a narrative. Each line is almost like a little meme in and of itself; that’s how I like to write. I want to make sure each line is funny rather than having it build to a big punchline.

What pop music are you drawn towards now? Does the stuff on here speak to your current taste?

Kyle Gordon: I mostly listen to 20th century rock and pop music. I don’t keep up with new music much anymore. There’s some country and hip-hop, too, but I’m mostly into rock and pop from the ’60s to the ’90s.

Do you intend to put out another record after this?

Kyle Gordon: Yeah, definitely.

How concrete is that?

Kyle Gordon: It’s not concrete. I would bet on it, though. This is something I’ve only recently been thinking about: I’m trying to ruminate on what I’d want to do for a second album. I want to explore writing more music in the style of “Planet of the Bass.” I was worried about that track before it came out, because it was the only song I hadn’t tested in front of a live audience. The fact that it worked so well gives me more confidence to write more music without a live audience in mind. I’ll have confidence that, even if each individual beat isn’t perfectly oriented towards a live audience, it works.

As a sidebar: I know a million folks have asked you about opening for the Jonas Brothers. But I want to ask about the video that showed just how confused the audience was in response. Talk to me about that.

Kyle Gordon: That video was actually cut and put out by the Jonas Brothers’s people. They showed it to me before they put it out, and I thought it was funny. It’s a Jonas Brothers concert; people are there to see the Jonas Brothers. It’s a long show, and during intermission, most of the audience is going to say, “Why is this short Latvian man yelling nonsense at me all of a sudden?”

Did you know coming into the show that you’d be getting a pretty bewildered reaction from the crowd?

Kyle Gordon: Yeah. There was a very high possibility of that for sure.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Kyle Gordon: I’m gonna keep trucking with the album. I’ll put out a few more singles, and then the album comes out in November. I’m doing some live shows in the UK at the end of October. Then, it’s east coast shows in November and December. I’ll be doing a bigger tour in the spring. Once the strikes end, I want to get back to pitching shows. I want to focus more on acting and doing TV stuff.

Were you in that before this?

Kyle Gordon: Yeah. I was starting to pitch television shows before the strikes. Hopefully, with the success of this, I’ll have more people interested in working with me.

How do you expect this success to shift your career?

Kyle Gordon: It’ll be interesting to see once the strike ends, because that’s when I’ll be more able to do the kinds of things I want to do. I definitely have more eyeballs, and a new audience, compared to before “Planet of the Bass.” The media attention is brand new. I’ll really know how it’s changed my career once the strike ends: I’ll be able to go into meetings and say, “You’re really excited to work with me in a way that people weren’t before.”

What’ll your Christopher Guest film be?

Kyle Gordon: I don’t know if I’d do a mockumentary like he would do, because that’s been done so much since him. He invented that. Something I would love to do, though–something I was working on before the strike–is a parody of a nostalgic baseball movie, like a “Field of Dreams” or “The Natural.” I’d like to work on something like that.

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