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The Meat Hangs over the Bun.
Holy crap it's been a long time since I wrote an article. As such, you're going to have to put up with me rambling a little. I don't know what it is. Whenever I sit down with the keyboard in front of me and gaze upon the many video horrors put before me, part of me just freezes up. But, thanks go your votes, emails, and two glasses of Red Bull & vodka (you know, that stupid drink the Red Bull company paid lots of money to night clubs for so that they'd convince you it was a real drink so you'd buy their accursed beverage), here I am. A little wobbly, but I think that's best considering what I have before me. If you've read the blog, you know that there are lots of things I've been meaning to review and I put it up to you to choose what would appear on the site this week. The general vote was that you "want to see them all" which translated to an 8-way tie for first place. Which is good, because it let me choose the shortest film on the list. The bad news? Well, "Grill Skill" was the shortest film on the the list. Admittedly, it's a weird thing for me to review. I found it via some horrible friends who send me links to films and, like the Star Wars Christmas Special that only the initiated know about, I really shouldn't be watching it. Never meant to be consumed by the masses, this was a training video for Wendy's employees who were charged with the glorious task of grilling burgers. Which are square, so they hang over the bun. And people like that. It's Wendy's dedication to old-fashioned cooking that makes them the best in the OH DEAR LORD the training video is leaking into my brain already. Before I can get into this, let me show you one screenshot that'll explain why I have to review this horrid, horrid thing.
The year is 1989 and there's a black man in a Wendy's uniform covered in glitter & sequins wearing "I'm a hip hop superstar" gold sunglasses while a phantom double meat & cheeseburger hovers over his right shoulder. If that doesn't explain why we're all here today, nothing will.
Now, I've never worked in a fast food restaurant. I did a short stint as a dishwasher at Denny's (which required no training video) but I did have the pleasure of being a Publix employee for like 2 years during Junior High/High School. (For those of you who don't know Publix, it is a pretty epic grocery store chain in the American South [as opposed to South America] that is NOT pronounced "pube-licks". It's a common mistake, so don't blame yourself.) While working there, I had to watch a horde of "how to be better at putting groceries into bags" films as well as the occasional "don't inappropriately refer to your female coworker as a T&A all-terrain vehicle" sexual harassment infomercial. They were all really dry and uncreative. And boring. Never in my wildest imagination would I have fathomed what would happen if a training video tried to be "fun" and reach out creatively to urban youth (because white kids can like rap music too, right?). I can't back that statement up, but it's the only reason I can come up with for why Wendy's would hire a rap singer to teach their employees how to cook a hamburger. Heck, maybe it was ahead of its time. Only 3 years ago, McDonalds hired Puff Daddy/P-Diddy to redesign their uniforms so that they'd have more "mad flava" or some such crap. While we still don't have happy meals served by daisy-duke wearing hoochie girls (all terms which illustrate that I'm the whitest white-boy that ever lived), I still like to think corporate Fast Food companies are looking in that direction.
Of course, nothing says "I'm down with O.P.P (yeah, you know me) quite like an overweight white businessman. The video starts and ends with a small speech from beyond the grave. I am, of course, talking about Wendy's owner and founder, Dave Thomas.
I really want to make a joke about Dave Thomas here, but beyond the fact that he's dead and fat, I can't really be more subtle than that. Dave introduces us to the premise of the film: Wendy's is freakin' awesome. He also mentions no less than 20,000 times that the secret to their success is the fact that their burgers are square so they hang over the edges of the bun. I'm exaggerating, but not by very much. They say this so many times in the video it's like they're trying to brainwash you so that the next day while you're in class, you start wanting to explain the glories of square beef. Dave Thomas isn't exactly as polished a public speaker here as he is in the commercials, as we find out there are certain words he actually doesn't know how to say. Like "old fashioned." At the end of this article, there's a link to the actual video of Grill Skill so you can see for yourself.
And, with the company's owner having told us how awesome square chunks of dead cow are, our descent into madness begins.
...pretty innocently at first. Here, Gloria the manager kindly tells Bill he's been promoted to the Grill. Taking him into the break room, it's time for him to watch a few training videos so that he can truly join the chosen few who wield the golden spatula. That's mostly a joke...but not really. You'll see.
Gloria selects the "Grill Skills" video out of an entire shelf of training videos, which implies that there are a lot of really batshit insane Wendy's videos we still don't know about. I'm somewhat skeptical that any of them can be as weird as this one, but in the video there they are, sitting innocently on the shelf. Bill seems pretty comfortable with his assignment. Not too interested, but hey, it's minimum wage...there are worse things to do than get paid to watch videos.
Our first warning sign comes from the 2001 Space Odyssey shot from inside the television. Something is watching Bill from inside the machine. Is it God? Is it Dave Thomas spying on his employees? Something is awry.
At this point the television starts to shake, emit smoke, and produce hallucination rainbows. If I didn't know better, I'd say dropping acid is part of the Wendy's training process. Considering where this is going, I wouldn't be surprised. So what happens next?
If you answered "A severed head pops out the television, declares itself to be the 'Duke of the Grill' and proceeds to suck Bill into an alternate dimension of rap music," you would be correct. Get used to that premise because for the next ten minutes, that's where we're going to be imprisoned. Well, that's where I've been imprisoned and soon, once you watch it, so will you. It's like some horrible version of Poltergeist featuring fry cooks and glitter and it may never end. Join us, the television in the break room whispers, beckoning you closer. Do you dare come closer, adventurer?
Sweet Mother of God. Words are failing me and I'm resisting the urge to just say, "watch it your own damn self," with every possible comment. I mean, look at that. Oversized retro-shades, a golden spatula, a hip hop "Wendy's Side" gesture... if time machines existed, I think that any modern rap singer would go back and repeatedly prison pummel this guy for what he's done to the world of rap. Then again, maybe I'm taking it too seriously: It's a fun fact that rap singers of yesteryear were, well, excessively lame compared to the "hardcore street smart gun-wielding rival-shooting" fellows we have today. I mean, come on....preteen kids wearing their pants backwards were stupid popular singers, and iconic rap singers either wore big plastic noses or had novelty alarm clocks around their necks. I should be quiet, though. Obviously, I'm not understanding the glory of rap culture. Or oversized alarm clocks that people wear around their necks. What I do know is that a rap song about how to cook burgers at Wendy's is not something either side of the rap fence wants to listen to.
Let's see some of the lyrics, just so you can understand (with appropriate screen capture):
"But if something goes wrong, and your burger's not right,
There's no need to get uptight!
If it's dry, broken, or incomplete,
That may be turned into Chili Meat!
Don't serve that meat you see
'Cause Quality is our Recipe!
Put those patties in the Chili pan,
and save 'em all for our Chili fans!
But if they have cheese, then throw them away,
Or it will ruin our chili, our experts say!"
....and it goes on like that. For almost an eternity. As with previous reviews that I've written, I will say that I will post the entire Grill Skill rap lyrics if enough people really, really need them in their lives. But that excerpt will have to do, because dear GOD it's terrible. There's dancing, there's a spatula being played like it was a guitar, there are grown men giving each other the dog pound over hamburgers (not a euphemism), "pop and lock" dancing, and.....square burgers are what people like because the meat hangs over the bun. People like that.
Of course, the Duke of the Grill has back-up singers. These singers are, of course, talking hamburgers. Since MacDonald's has talking burgers already, I think I need to be clear that these are just talking hamburger patties. Which are square, so the meat hangs over the bun. People like that.
Just when you think the rap song is over, the Duke passes the golden spatula to Billy who then proceeds to go through the same rap song again while the Duke reminds him of lyrics he's forgotten. Billy's a quick learner, but if the existence of a Wendy's rap didn't hurt the world of music enough, having it repeated a cappella by an 18 year old honky (the actor's words, not mine....see the interview at the end of this article) has to be a crime against God. Oh and a little part of me dies when I hear the advice "Choke up on da' spatula" words that I never thought would come together to hurt me as they do. Before I move on, let's read the final lyrics of the epic Grill Skill Rap:
"Remember this rap, and you'll be hot!
Give the grill your very best shot!
And soon you'll develop some real Grill Skill.
You'll be Tough on the Grill, yes you will, Mr. Bill!"
Let me just say that there is something seriously wrong with me that I've had to watch this video enough that I've memorized the damn lyrics. Next time any of you see me in a convention or whatever, please do not ask me to quote this song to you. Because I'll totally do it. And by the time my mouth finishes its unholy work, the apocalypse will be upon us. (By the by, "my mouth finishes its unholy work" is also a sentence I never thought I'd say. Pervert.)
Of course, the rap song isn't all there is to the Grill Skill video. In fact, I keep wanting to call it the Grill Skills video, because while the title on the video says "Grill Skill" the country music theme song that plays at the beginning and end is called "Grill Skills." And just to add urban flava, I almost want to type it Grill Skillz. But I won't. Because someone would have to beat me to death if I did that. Preferably with a golden spatula.
Wait. Did I not mention the horrible country song? Yep. If rap music circa 1783 wasn't to your taste (fine, the year was 1989 but two decade old rap music is very, very different from what we call rap today) they included a country folk song about being strong and working the grill.
Oh and dear lord the whole thing is lip synched by "real life" Wendy's employees. Young high school students right next to middle-aged fellows who most likely thought no one outside of a Wendy's break room would get to see their goofy pantomime song and dance number. Suffice to say, it's painful. It doesn't outdo the horror of the Rap song, but it does give it an earnest try.
So in the end, we have the longest fifteen minute training video in the history of cruel and unusual torture. The grill lessons contained within could fit on an index card but the presentation drags them out to some sort of pop culture eternity. Did I mention I caught myself humming this song to myself in the shower this morning?
See you in your nightmares!
Get it while it lasts: Grill Skills on Youtube.
(If this vanishes or someone suggests an alternate link, I'll put that here instead.)
The Bill (who has skills of the grill) Interview:
Yes, I did about 5 seconds of digging and found the actor who brings the horror of Grill Skills to life. He kindly answered my questions. Check it out!
Jared: First off, how did you find out that this was circulating online? I only found this by total chance but how did the return of "Grill Skills" come to your attention? Did a friend email you asking if it was you in that old training video with the singing burgers or what?
Bill: My best friend from High School (who suggested I "model" and "act" for extra cash) contacted me about a year or so ago with a link, which was soon dead due to Wendy's legal action. It was funny to see myself nearly 20 years ago.
Jared: Can I ask how much you were paid by Wendy's for your pivotal role? Were you an actor or just a part time worker that got singled out?
Bill: I was a sophomore in college in Columbus, Ohio. Wendy's HQ was right around the corner. They cast and shoot industrial/training spots in-house....but I was booked thru the agency I was with at the time.
Jared: How well did the video circulate amongst the Wendy's chain?
Bill: I remained in touch with the producer/director of the piece, and apparently it won several awards, but ironically had to be removed from the training series for technical reasons. I believe it had something to do with the four corner press. I can only speculate what was wrong with it, but must have been serious enough to drop their award-winning video. In 1996 I was travelling with some friends in Texas and we stopped at a Wendy's. The girl behind the counter recognized me. I've not done the math before, but I'm fairly certain it was no longer used in the chain, so she must have seen it years earlier.
Jared: Do they really train all Wendy's employees in the use of golden spatulas?
Bill: God, I hope not.
Jared: Ok, someone has to ask this. When they told you about this did they give any larger background for what was happening in the video?
Bill: No. This audition took place in a converted garage/studio behind the talent agency I was with. The only sides (script pages) they gave fro Bill were for the opening scene with Mary. "Hey Mary, What's up? [lol] There might have been a question like "Can you rap?" Of course I would have lied.
Jared: Was there a short script that read "Bill gets sucked into a dimension of Urban Beats and Grill-themed musical numbers?" I've done a few weird commercials over the years and even if the premise isn't clear in the final product, sometimes the plot intention was there. If this question makes any sense to you, I'd love to hear what you might remember.
Bill: Look, it's obvious that I'm not a real "actor." But the script they gave me was daunting in length, and yes, bizarre. I don't remember the descriptive actions, but I'm sure "Bill gets sucked into the monitor" was in there somewhere. I wish I had saved a copy of it. My roommate got a good laugh after the first read. What really sucked was that this was just before my Winter Quarter Finals...and I had a spring break planned with some friends that would conflict with the shooting schedule. So in addition to my coursework, I would also have to memorize 30 pages (or so) of script and return early from vacation for the shoot. This was all very problematic for me. That is until I learned what I was to be payed for the 1.5 days of work: somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000. A lot of money for a 20-year-old student with no responsibilities and no debt. Of course the US dollar could actually buy you something back then.
Jared: Is there anything else you'd like to put on record regarding Grill Skills?
Bill: There was a follow-up video to this called "Sister Sam". White girl rapper teaches Bill to dress up the bun for the burger. Half the money, half the time, double the humiliation. I was forced into a foam star suit. Funny, I don't even remember doing it. It's a bit eerie for me to watch. Selective memory I guess. Neither video made me more popular with the ladies...at least I don't think so. Go figure.
Jared: Who the heck is the other guy in the video with you? Since there are no names on the video, I have no way of hunting down who sang the horror that is the Grill Skills rap.
Bill: man, I can't remember the guy's name. He was very nice and actually was a recast. The first guy they cast went by the name "Johnny Jingles." He was from the Cincinnati area...apparently couldn't get the rap down.
Jared: Well, thank you Bill. As per my policy whenever someone's kind enough to give an interview, is there any website you'd like me to send people to?
Bill: I've only got one thing I'd like to plug - Ron Paul for president 2008.
:end Interview: Thanks again Bill...it's been...surreal. On an unrelated note: Jesus. Foam star suit? If anyone out there has a copy of "Sister Sam" please, please, please don't send it to me. I can only take so much Wendy's rap in one lifetime. I'm done.
Copyright 2007 Jared von Hindman or maybe just Jared Hindman. It depends. Any images used that are not Jared's are used via Fair Use review purposes and belong to their respective owners....who are nice people that don't want to sue me.
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