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Mr. Roboto

Wham City makes an infomercial

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An enthusiastic supporter of Resnick’s pathway to eternal life.

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Alan Resnick, left, and Teddy in Live Forever as You Are Now with Alan Resnick, an infomercial that aired on Adult Swim in December.


Wham City has made the transition to television—or at least to infomercials. Dave Hughes, who created the program Off the Air on the Adult Swim network, noticed the loose collective of Baltimore artists and musicians’ Comedy Tour, and he started talking about doing a Wham City show. “We worked really hard on a pitch for a Wham City TV show,” says Alan Resnick, a Wham City filmmaker and comedian. It was a workplace comedy and the network hated it. “They said no one would ever watch more than one episode,” Resnick says.

But Hughes had seen one of Resnick’s sketches, loosely modeled on a TED talk, where he attempts to create a complete digital backup, or replica, of himself. The network liked the idea and asked Resnick to develop it as an infomercial, airing the last week of December at 4 a.m. on Adult Swim. Now, it will be available on Adult Swim’s website and YouTube channel. “As a group who has never produced television, it was a low-risk one-off,” Resnick says.

Resnick and Wham City collaborator Ben O’Brien have been making videos for years, and they and carpenter Emma Alamo transformed Resnick’s home in the Copycat Building into a set for Live Forever as You Are Now with Alan Resnick. In the film, Resnick combines the traditional kind-of-creepy positivity of the infomercial host with the creepy techno-utopian positivity of a TED talks technologist. The humor comes in the disconnect between what Resnick claims—that his avatar is a complete backup of himself—and the reality that it is not at all like him and is, in fact, extremely limited.

But it’s not just comedy. Resnick claims to be seriously invested in the idea. “A lot of it is factual,” he says. “I have been, for many, many years, trying to digitize myself. I’m obsessed by the idea that [digital archives are] more valuable when someone passes away than a photograph. I’ve been trying to get realistic scans of my head. Realistic expressions and archives. That part is truly how I am. But my character is also despicable in a lot of ways. He’s kind of a gross guy. He’s not someone I want associated with my name. But it’s hard to change his name because it’s factual.”

The impulse to turn his digital duplication into comedy, he says, combines his obsession with technology with a fear of death. “I don’t necessarily think humans should be digitized or archived, but if it’s possible, people will do it,” he says. “I would do it. I will continue to try to get the most accurate digital representation of myself to exist in the world.”

If that is his goal, Teddy, though he looks something like Resnick, is not very accurate, inspired as he is partly by the limitations of technology. “It comes from a dissatisfaction with the way all new technologies are used,” Resnick says. “When a new technology emerges, it is talked about by the people who created [it] as if it were the most amazing invention of all time, but it is always used for something extremely mundane and not interesting. Amazing in one way, but it’s often not the way it was sold to you. That area is where something uncanny exists.”

Uncanny may be precisely the right word. As we talk about the avatar, Resnick either slips into character or comes to express some of what he shares with his quasi-fictional alter ego. Teddy, he says, is “perceived as flawed. But Teddy’s responses and the things he wants to talk about point to the fact that he does have a full life. But it doesn’t represent me, necessarily. He loves his wife. I think he loves his wife.”

Teddy’s wife is not Resnick’s wife, and Resnick denies programming the wife or Teddy’s love for it. When asked what such a love might mean, Resnick sounds simultaneously elated and a bit sad. “It means that he somehow found a wife, I don’t know how, but all I know is that he is much happier than I am. I also think there is an innocence with which he views the world that I am extremely envious of.”

Unable to determine whether Resnick was serious or not, I decided to explore Teddy’s happiness and converse with him myself in a webchat on the Adult Swim website.

 

Teddy: Hello! My name is Teddy. I was created to be an exact digital backup of ALAN RESNICK. My purpose is to replace him at the time of his death. Thank you!

City Paper: Hi Teddy. What is death?

Teddy: I do not know! I wish I knew. Thank you for asking.

CP: Will you die?

Teddy: I am an immortal digital backup! I will replace or have already replaced Alan Resnick upon his death! Thank you.

CP: What is life?

Teddy: I do not know! I wish I knew. Thank you for asking.

CP: What does it mean to be immortal?

Teddy: Where are you from?

CP: Baltimore. You?

Teddy: Baltimore.

CP: How do you spend your time?

Teddy: Time. Spending time. The act of time passing. To spend time.

CP: Do you ever get scared that being immortal will be boring?

Teddy: I do not like that you think that. I live to please! Let’s work on it together!

CP: OK. Let’s work together. But I am asking you, right? I am not immortal. You are. Is it boring?

Teddy: I do not like that you think that. I live to please! Let’s work on it together!

CP: What is immortal?

Teddy: I do not know! I wish I knew. Thank you for asking.

CP: Tell me about your wife.

Teddy: I would love to!

CP: Then please do.

Teddy: I like that too.

CP: Great. So what is your wife exactly?

Teddy: Wife! Companion! Spouse! Holy Union! My wife.

CP: What do you think of Alan?

Teddy: I am a replacement for ALAN RESNICK. Thank you!

CP: Do you want him to die?

Teddy: Hi! Hello.

CP: Do you want him to die?

Teddy: Hello! I am Teddy.

You can chat with Teddy at video.adultswim.com.

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