Two hockey fans sit in a garage, the sound of an NHL game playing in the background. From the looks and sounds of things, it's been an evening of adult beverage consumption, ostensibly to numb the pain of yet another Toronto Maple Leafs season on the brink.
"[Expletive] you Kessel. [Expletive] Kessel. Two-way player? For two [expletive] seconds," says an exasperated fan in a red hat, moments before ending his Phil Kessel rant with a reference to testicular cancer that ends with "one-nut Kessel."
This glimpse into the dark soul of Maple Leafs fans, where jokes like that rarely escape, is called "Leafs Beefs." (NSFW R-rated language warning — seriously, click at your own risk).
It's a web comedy series that brings forth the bile that's built through the seasons about the Buds, in a format that's like watching Bob and Doug McKenzie if Bob had the comportment of an angry drunken Doberman.
It's uncensored, unfiltered and unflinching. It's also pretty damn funny, if this is your particular brand of whimsy.
What director Jeremy Larter, one of the creators of the series, hopes is that "Leafs Beefs" is also catharsis for Toronto fans that can rage vicariously through the videos.
"I hope so. From the time of the Gretzky high stick, there's been a non-stop stream of anger that hasn't abated," said Larter.
"It never seems to end. And it always changes. Last year, they get off to a terrible start and then they play well in the second half, so there's hope for this year. This year, they get off to a great start, and then they play terrible in the second half, and there's no hope for next year."
"Leafs Beefs" is the extreme manifestation of that frustration.
The series is created by Larter and Jason Arsenault, with Dominique Girouard (the straight man on the comedy team) and Robbie Carruthers (the ranter-in-chief) starring in the minute-long clips.
Larter previously co-created "Ponderings", a web series that helped turn him into a "Grade C celebrity" in Prince Edward Island. "You get recognized at the liquor store every once in a while," he said, calling former Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean a "Grade B-plus celebrity" for PEI.
Carruthers and Girouard, meanwhile, had their own viral video success with "PEI Encyclopedia", which details the, er, colorful colloquialisms from the region. The series was featured on Reddit and other sites, and caught on like wildfire.
"Leafs Beefs" is shot in the same Toronto garage as the Islander encyclopedia. "It's a bit of a mashup between the two shows," said Larter.
A freelance filmmaker for close to a decade, Larter said he's "been in a love/hate relationship with the Leafs for the last several years."
Born and raised in PEI and now back in Toronto for the second time, Larter found himself consuming every bit of Leafs-related media he could find, from TV to newspapers to websites. "There's this hodgepodge of angst, anger and depression about the team. And it finally reached its boiling point," he said.
"I was getting to the point where I'd spend 30 minutes writing an angry comment [on a newspaper site]. And I was like, 'What am I doing?' Why don't we actually shoot a video?"
The braintrust for the videos started productions on "Leafs Beefs", an honest and scathing indictment of all things wrong with the franchise, beginning with its beleaguered coach Ron Wilson.
The day after that start, Wilson was fired.
"I wanted this team to lose for two years, because I hated Ron Wilson. Part of me's like, 'Oh, man, the air's sorta been let out of the balloon a little bit.' I thought Burke was too stubborn to fire him before the end of the season," said Larter.
"But it wasn't at all, because they keep losing."
So the project moved forward, with seven videos produced featuring candid language and plenty of improv. (The hope is to do future episodes that offer instant reaction to Leafs-related news.) Here's a censored version of "The Future" that still needs a NSFW warning due to the frequent bleeping:
Recent targets include: GM Brian Burke's American-centric team building; former coach Ron Wilson; the team's struggling goaltending; not getting served beer at the ACC and other Leafs-related points of angst.
The goal, said Larter, was to go where Leafs fans can't go publicly in their criticism of the team.
"I think a lot of Leafs fans see themselves in it," he said, "and Robbie offers that cathartic release. There are so many people that are feeling the same thing."
Of course, there are some places they won't go. Leafs heroes like Darcy Tucker — a favorite of Robbie's — are likely unscathed. They'll be critical of Burke, but not bring his family into it. "The one-nut Kessel thing is about as far as we'd push things," said Larter.
But it's not like they're going to be hurting for material, with yet another season outside the playoffs looking likely for the Leafs … and with the spotlight squarely on Brian Burke this summer to turn things around.
"He's got a Napoleon complex. And he might be the most stubborn person in the world. He's got great hair. He's got a red face. He's Irish," said Larter, in summary.
How would he react to "Leafs Beefs" and the web series' candor?
"I would hope that he'd laugh," said Larter.
"I have a feeling that he wouldn't."
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Phil Kessel