Watching "TV Carnage," which gained a cult cache in dorm rooms and cramped, smoke-filled apartments around the world, is a hypnotic experience. Videotaped TV clips are edited and looped together. Linking two unrelated scenes creates a new context. Shots of Rosie O'Donnell pretending to be developmentally disabled in the CBS weeper "Riding the Bus with My Sister" is juxtaposed with a horrified John Ritter wearing a toga. The two clips have nothing to do with each other, but Beckles links them, giving them new, absurd meaning.
"I put a lot of time and love into these psychotic connections. . . . There's always some sort of connective tissue," said Beckles, who will show his new workout mash-up - "Let's Work it Out" - tonight, along with other examples of his work. The show "keeps going like a run-on sentence, but the sentence keeps going for an hour and 10 minutes."
Beckles started "TV Carnage" as a bored teenager in Scarborough, Ontario, syncing up weird cartoons with Stooges songs and trading the results with his buddies. He didn't start making hourlong "TV Carnage" episodes until 1996, when a surgical procedure forced him into bed rest and a painkiller-induced haze.
What separates Beckles from other subversive editors with a YouTube account is his insane attention to detail. "I don't go for the massive 'zings!' I like more subtle things like the way somebody says something or how they decorated their home," Beckles said.
He mentioned a clip of '70s porn star John Holmes discussing why he loves Los Angeles. "It's not because it's John Holmes, or because he's a porn star or had satanic views," Beckles said. "He was just in his den, saying, 'You know what I love about Los Angeles . . . ' He's trying to sound distinguished and worldly, and he has a sombrero on his wall and he's sitting at his desk and it looks like he's in outer space."
Beckles also loves mocking people with grandiose delusions who are surrounded by "yes" men and "decide they're going to espouse all of their greatest ideas or their personal philosophies," Beckles said. "It's the most succulent garbage you've ever heard."
It's no wonder that Beckles loves bloated egos. He graduated from film school and worked in postproduction ("It was literally the mechanics of polishing a show," he said. "Like turd polishing.") on various programs, watching celebrities misbehave when they thought the cameras were off or listening to executives take everything far too seriously. Beckles called current scripted TV "sub-vaudeville," written by guys typing with their toes who are simultaneously "microwaving a hot dog and watching a sports game."
But then Beckles moved to the other side of the camera. While working with the uber-hip Vice magazine and its online TV offshoot, "VBS," Beckles was hired as the face of the Truth anti-tobacco ads, bombarding cigarette companies with performance-art protests and assailing executives with facts and figures. "I didn't want to do them at first because, like, I didn't want to end up taping myself for 'TV Carnage,' " Beckles said.
The ads started as documentary, but that rendition was never released. "I don't want to be someone's meat puppet for a cause, but I ended up doing a lot of reading and believing that some of this s--- is evil," he said of the tobacco industry.
Today, Beckles is back behind the camera, directing music videos (such as Islands' "No You Don't," featuring Michael Cera) and working on a pilot for the Cartoon Network. It's called "Hot Package" and is a take on entertainment magazine shows like "Access Hollywood" and "The Insider." Beckles was mum on details but said that the host is a recognizable figure from the entertainment-journalism world.
Beckles is clearly in love with the process of creating his own show. He compared casting to being "a kid in a candy factory inside of a candy factory inside of a candy store inside of a gumball."
He has to be careful, though. One wrong move and some kid in some random suburb may just hit the record button. And turn him into TV carnage.
TV Carnage Live, International House, 3701 Chestnut St., 7 tonight, $5-$8, 215-387-5125, ihousephilly.org.