How did a movie starring Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper take just $300,000 at the box office? Hard to believe now, but when Wet Hot American Summer landed in cinemas in the dead days of 2001, it tanked. Or not so hard to believe...
In so many ways, Michael Showalter and David Wain’s spoofball, gross-out, sex-fuelled, rom-com, summer camp satire was a Wet Hot American Mess. In the 14 years since its release, the movie has become the definition of a sleeper hit that’s finally found its audience. Not least on Netflix, where fans of the aforementioned film genres could find it languishing in their “Goofy Comedies” or “Because you watched Animal House” recommendations and give it a go.
Clever, canny Netflix, which is now launching Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp, as its latest original TV show, bringing back the film’s all-star cast – and throwing the likes of Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera and a couple of Mad Men in for good measure. The trailer, which landed on Thursday and has the nether regions of the internet in a total tizz, plays like a reunion despite being dubbed a “prequel”. Here’s our cut-out-and-keep cast list – or should that be typecast list? Let’s just say that some of these happy campers haven’t exactly moved on.
Bradley Cooper as Ben
Now one of the world’s most bankable stars, Wet Hot American Summer was Cooper’s first film. Brad dons very short shorts to play Ben, a super clean-cut camp counsellor trying to put on the best talent show ever, who ends up falling for Michael Ian Black’s McKinley, with whom he enjoys a surprisingly graphic sex scene. No typecasting issues here, as most of Cooper’s best-known films have him playing either a handsome ladies’ man or a dark, brooding Man With Problems.
Amy Poehler as Susie
Susie is serious, cheerful and determined to have organised fun ... sound like anyone we know? Poehler became a sitcom superstar as Parks & Rec’s Leslie Knope – relentlessly upbeat but equally obsessed with hyper-organisation – and also appeared in the recent Showalter/Wain production, They Came Together, as a cheerful (though this time klutzy) sweetshop owner opposite Paul Rudd. She’s currently voicing Joy in Pixar’s Inside Out – a real character curveball.
Paul Rudd as Andy
Rudd came to the Wet Hot party already known as the dishy and confident but vaguely superior college dude Josh, Cher’s love interest (and step-brother!) in Clueless. Here he was the arrogant, heartless womaniser Andy – but the characterisation didn’t stick, with most of Rudd’s best-known roles being sweet, likeable, non-threatening men: Bobby Newport in Parks and Rec, Mike in Friends, a slew of Apatovian bromance-type outings and They Came Together.
Janeane Garofalo as Beth
Famous for her standup comedy and Saturday Night Live appearances, Garofalo was cast against type as the straight woman albeit camp director Beth. It’s hard to name an American comedy she hasn’t appeared on, with Seinfeld, the Larry Sanders Show and the Ben Stiller Show all on her resume. She has since taken more serious roles on the West Wing and 24, and we welcome her return to the funny.
Ken Marino as Victor
Wet Hot American Summer nailed Marino down as an arrogant, selfish womaniser (despite being a virgin) – characteristics which have followed him around ever since. In Childrens Hospital, he’s playboy Dr Glenn Richie; in The League, Donny “The Seed” Sedowsky, a boorish jock who rubs his semen in people’s hair as a prank. He’s an arrogant, womanising voiceover artist in In A World and Kenny Powers’s nemesis Guy Young in Eastbound and Down. Marino, however, did show he has range with maybe his best-known role: the insecure, uptight Ron Donald in Party Down.
Molly Shannon as Gail
A veteran of six seasons of Saturday Night Live, Shannon was a familiar if not always placeable face, and one of the most subversive characters in the original film. She has since kept a relatively low profile, nailing bit parts in films and guesting in shows like 30 Rock, Scrubs and Sex and the City. She also starred in NBC’s poorly-received adaptation of Aussie sitcom Kath & Kim.
Michael Ian Black as McKinley
Best known now for his standup and appearances at celebrity poker tournaments, Black’s role here as a secretly gay counsellor whose main plotline is trying to get one of the campers to take a shower established his wisecracking persona. He also played Phil Stubbs, a slacker fond of get-rich-quick schemes in Ed, and was yet another member of They Came Together team. You can find that on Netflix, too.
Elizabeth Banks as Lindsay
Banks plays bikini-ed love interest to Rudd’s Andy. The two have since co-starred in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Role Models. Banks has also shown up in the Spider Man and Hunger Games franchises, as Jack’s second wife Avery Jessup on 30 Rock and recently graduated from Pitch Perfect cast-member to director of the less than Pitch Perfect 2.
David Hyde Pierce as Professor Henry Newman
Playing Garofalo’s bookish, awkward love interest who seriously lacks confidence around women, Pierce was one of the few Wet Hot American Summer cast members who was already a household name thanks to his 11 seasons on Frasier playing the – yep, you’ve guessed it – bookish, awkward Niles Crane.
Honourable mentions to: Kevin Sussman as weird, socially awkward Steve who later played weird, whiny Walter on Ugly Betty and weird, geeky Stuart on the Big Bang Theory; Joe Lo Truglio, put-upon sidekick to Ken Marino, now put-upon Charles Boyle in Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Christopher Meloni, intense, Vietnam vet who talks to a can of vegetables, and later Desert Storm vet Elliott Stabler on 12 seasons of Law & Order. He recently returned to comedy with a turn as Selina Meyer’s dim personal trainer/lover in Veep.