Interview with Hot Chocolate Party Founder Michael Yonaska

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By Eric Ashley (@flapjackashley)
 
“Well, everybody’s a comedian.”
 
We’ve all heard that saying before, and it’s usually followed a heavy sigh and/or eyeroll, said by an exasperated person who is unamused by someone else’s attempt to be funny. But the truth is, not everybody is a comedian. Comedy is difficult. And creating good parody is perhaps even more difficult.
 
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but no one ever said it was easy. Take a look at how much flak shows like Saturday Night Live get year in and year out – it really has to be at the very top of it’s game to avoid an onslaught of horrible reviews. Parody channels on YouTube are a dime a dozen now, but good parody content is harder to come by – and that is especially true when it comes to catering to us nerds.
 
Parody
 
Speaking in general terms, nerds like me are some of the most loyal fans around, but we are also the among the most critical when it comes to the high standards we set for the entertainment we take in. We are defensive of what we like and we can be very savage about it – just take a look at the nasty backlash any critic who dared to give The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild anything below a 9.5/10 has gotten, or how Star Wars fans hold the hated Jar Jar Binks as the worst decision ever forced upon fans of that franchise. If we invest time into something, it better entertain us or we can turn nasty, especially if it is poking fun at something we hold dear.
 
With the newly released Nintendo Switch racking up good launch sales and buzz, the parodies are swinging into high gear. One of the more well-reviewed parody channels on YouTube is Hot Chocolate Party, a group that has gotten positive notices from sites such as BuzzFeed and Kotaku and have been praised by popular Nintendo fan sites like NintendoLife.com. Their history goes back almost seven years, but they only began creating Nintendo-focused parodies in 2014. Some of their more popular videos have riffed on the Wii U struggles, the amiibo craze and Pokemon GO. They are gearing up for their third full length release and I had a chance to sit down with founder Michael Yonaska to talk about how good parody is always based in a little bit of truth and why it is more than just a rewarding experience for those who make it.
 

Hi Michael, thank you for spending some time with us today.

Thanks for having me!
 

First off, as founder and continuing driving force behind it, you have been a constant since the inception of Hot Chocolate Party (HCP). Where did the inspiration to create HCP come from?

HCP was born out of a few friends being bored in a town where everything closes at 5PM. We’d get assigned these videos for class projects and we’d always go above and beyond with them, so then we sort of just kept at it in our spare time. The name of the group is a weird little nod to my favorite band of all time, the Foo Fighters. If you’re able to figure out how, I MASSIVELY respect you.
 

HCP originally started out as a comedy sketch channel with a lot of lip sync video tributes to bands like Maroon 5 and Foster the People. How did the project transition from that to what it is today, focusing mainly on the sketches, parodies and original music videos?

The M5 and FTP videos were fun because they would get the attention of the band themselves, who’d then retweet it or shout us out, and that was always really cool. It was sort of gradual, I wanted to transition into doing more original stuff, especially music, but just didn’t have the means or the tech to do so for a while there. I mean, our first record was made pretty much on an iPhone app, so it was definitely new territory. The music was originally part of this bigger webseries idea that ultimately didn’t come together, but left me with 5 or 6 songs that really made me laugh. So I figured, well, if we can write 5 or 6 more, let’s just put out an album and then make our silly videos but just with our own stuff.
 

Are you guys actually fans of Nintendo, and if so, for how long?

At least since I was in diapers, Mom and Dad would give me a controller while the two of them actually played, and I would just repeatedly drive head-on into walls and not turn. I did own a PS2 for a while, and my roommate had an Xbox 360, but other than that, it’s been all Nintendo for me.
 

Your videos are always pretty humorous, partially because they are based in truth and some of the frustrations that Nintendo fans had during the Wii U era – especially in 2015 and the Wii U Rap 2. What made you decide to begin to parody them?

Well, as someone who owned a Wii U, I was really familiar with a lot of the frustrations fans seemed to have at the time, about slow release schedules, games that didn’t quite hit the mark, poor Virtual Console showings, etc. So the idea of someone so in love with Nintendo that they’d make a song about it, only to watch them realize all of its problems during that song, just made us laugh. Plus the visual of (HCP regular) Alex Vergel inserted into Super Mario 64 with Peach is maybe my favorite visual we’ve ever pulled off.
 

Is it a challenge to parody a company that you are actually a big, lifelong fan of?

Not at all! The trick, I think, is to have our characters come at it from a position of anger rather than mockery. They WANT the system to succeed, rather than just belittle it and make people feel bad for liking something.
 

Nintendo fans have historically been very protective and defensive about the games they love. What kind of reactions have you gotten from people on social media, both good and bad?

Thankfully, it’s been incredibly positive. Never underestimate your audience, because they pick up on the fact that we’re genuinely frustrated rather than just looking for an opportunity to bash Nintendo. Our Amiibo Rap, especially, I was pleasantly surprised, because people empathized with us that (like a lot of Nintendo products), they were aggressively understocked, and were mad with us and willing to acknowledge that as an issue.
 
We did catch some flak on our “Wii U Rap 2,” when we started making fun of the different games coming out (Super Mario Maker, Star Fox Zero, Mario Tennis, etc.), but it’s one of the funniest bits in that song, and there’s always gonna be people who refuse to acknowledge fault, in ANY fandom, so what’re you gonna do. We bought just about all those games anyway.
 

You have a wide variety of content and sketches on your YouTube channel, and Nintendo has not been the only focus as Tinder, Chipotle and others have been in the HCP crosshairs. But the Nintendo stuff seems to always get the most views because they tend to be the most topical. Would it bother you if you ended up becoming known mostly as the “Nintendo Parody Guys”?

No! We love creating, and are just happy to have made something that resonated so well with a community. It’s a chance for us to contribute in a way that not many other people can or choose to. I don’t think any of us were expecting these would be our biggest videos, and it’s great to be pleasantly surprised! We have had several collaborations on our projects, with (well known fellow YouTubers) including Joe Bereta, a new one upcoming with RogersBase, and more.
 

Do you consider yourself a nerd?

Daily.
 

And finally, your channel has been highly praised by some major sites including Digital Trends and The Attack headed up by gaming personality Kevin Pereira. What is up next to build upon that positive buzz and what is next for Hot Chocolate Party?

Well, I mean, we made a site formerly known as The Nerd Machine…what else is there?! Our new album “The Revue 3” drops on 4/21/17, and goes after IKEA, the “Friendzone,” and, of course, more Nintendo content.
 

Thank you for your time!

Thank YOU!
 
You can find Hot Chocolate Party on YouTube at:
https://www.youtube.com/user/HotChocolateParty


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