“Honestly, it’s fun for my mom!” said comedian, writer, and Anthony Fauci fan Brad Silnutzer, when asked about his recent fame for funny songs that are sweeping the internet. As one third of the Forever Boys, he’s partly responsible for the viral – pun recognized – send up of Hamilton’s opening number dedicated to the nation’s standout doctor from the National Institute of Health. Brad says his proximity to doctorhood matters a great deal to her: “As a Jewish mother, her son isn’t a doctor or a lawyer, but at least she can say [her son] was on the news for writing dumb songs.”
“About a doctor!” I made sure to chime in.
Brad, along with his writing partner Joey Orton and Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying, have spent their time sheltered in place outdoing those of us feeding sourdough starters or starting gardens with catchy – another pandemic pun recognized – songs that are representative of the moment. And as it happens, this project was in some ways literally made for this moment. Orton and Silnutzer were getting ready to take their Fast and Furious full-length parody musical overseas to showcase in Edinburgh and then tour Europe. After several sold-out runs in their home base of Los Angeles, it was going to be an exciting next step for their longform musical baby.
But then, the world shut down.
That newfound parcel of free time, however, allowed for a third collaborator to get involved. “Scott [Hoying] had seen our musical and really liked it, and Joey had written with him before.” In those conversations, Scott had said the magic words: “we should all do something together sometime!” And in a world that afforded the three a great deal of some time, this iteration of the Forever Boys was born. Brad admits that while the current state of affairs is awful, it did create an opening for something that might literally have never otherwise happened. “If we didn’t have all this time, I don’t know if there’s a world where Scott would have worked with us!”
Each video (which includes not just “Dr. Anthony Fauci,” but also other popular videos like the retroactively written “2020’s Gonna Be My Year” and the Les Miserables-inspired “Quaran-Fantine”) comes together through marathon writing sessions that Brad called “an outlet to drown out the madness.” The songs and the songwriting process are interesting in that they both provide a brief respite from the dual dread of a worldwide pandemic and a long-overdue racial reckoning and the opportunity to find humor in the moment. Recalling a writing session that he logged in for after one of the earlier protests in LA, Brad called it “a respite from all the craziness of the world.”
It would seem that some of the comfort that the sessions and the project overall provides, is the opportunity for Brad and his collaborators to create something in a genre that he’s long admired. Because he’s the first to admit that he has nearly no musical aptitude (noting that a middle school music teacher once said in reference to him and within earshot, “I just can’t with this one” to another teacher), he’s hugely grateful to Joey and Scott for working with him. “The level of talent in Joey and Scott is unbelievable,” he says, while also noting that every now and again they’ll leap into one another’s lanes. “Scott and Joey are very funny—they’re more funny than I am musical […but] sometimes I’ll hum something in the shower, bring it to them and go, ‘Is this a thing?” He says of this unexpected opportunity to dive so deeply into musical comedy, “it’s always been something that I’ve loved, and I needed this partnership to get me there.” In so doing, it’s unlocked a new and really meaningful path for him: “I’ve gotten so much creative fulfillment out of this music stuff. Before this, my #1 was all standup related. I love standup. But if someone was like, ‘you can either do standup forever or write musicals forever, I think I would choose musicals.”
But in the meantime this viral moment is here, and “here” means shares on social media from the likes of Octavia Spencer, Betty Who, and even California Governor Gavin Newsom (a share that made Brad laugh so hard he cried), I asked him what it felt like to gain this odd sort of notoriety. “It’s been weird,” he admitted. “You do these little songs, and you don’t expect press to come out of them. Even our first couple of songs, we had a few celebrity retweets, or we would show up on a local news program.” But their anthem for Fauci has catapulted them into a new level of visibility—one that feels truly odd in some ways. Whereas this feels familiar for Scott (because Pentatonix rose to fame with the help of YouTube), “Joey and I come from working in nonprofits together, so we have perspective. We think [the attention] is delightful and funny and weird.”
As each successive song comes out, the questions have risen in frequency: can we expect a full musical about the age of quarantine and COVID-19? While Brad doesn’t rule it out, he does make the case that…they’re already doing that with the videos they’re making. There’s been talk of releasing them as an “album” of sorts on SoundCloud, or otherwise stringing them together to create a lengthy look at what this time indoors has felt like. But the time has also opened the door to future non-pandemic projects, including a full-length musical that has nothing to do with masks, Animal Crossing, or COVID testing. With that said, he’ll concede that while he won’t call what he and the Forever Boys have made “important,” he does think it matters that they’re creating something that documents the time we’re living through together. “We don’t have much of a monoculture [these days], so for the first time in a lot of Gen Z’s life, we have this thing that we’re all experiencing at the same time. It’s so interesting for comedy […] no one can deny that we’re all experiencing these same cataclysmic events. At least that’s something.”
Music that brings people together, and brings lightness into the world at a time when it’s most needed. What mom wouldn’t be proud of that?
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