On May 14, Elijah Wood, Danny Trejo, and Greg Grunberg appeared as guests on a late-night talk show, something the seasoned actors have done countless times before.
However, this appearance was different — instead of swinging by a studio in New York or Hollywood to sit on the couch of Jimmy Fallon or Kimmel, the stars logged into a video game to chat with a novice host, in a virtual world.
A Virtual Talk Show
Gary Whitta, the screenwriter behind "Rogue One," recently found himself with extra time on his hands — like so many of us riding out the pandemic — so he began to fill in his days with "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" soon after the video game's release in March.
In the open-ended game, players use an avatar to build a virtual life for themselves. Whitta's main focus in the game, he told Newsweek, was constructing a beautiful house, and eventually, he found some items that inspired him to decorate his virtual basement like a late-night talk show set.
The stars logged into a video game to chat with a novice host, in a virtual world.
Once he had the set, Whitta decided it would be fun to invite guests over and host an actual talk show inside his Animal Crossing house, streaming the whole thing live via Twitch.
With his wife Leah as executive producer and his friend Adam Nickerson as bandleader, Whitta streamed the pilot episode of "Animal Talking" on April 26, interviewing internet personality Naomi Kyle.
By the time the fourth daily episode streamed, 12,000 viewers tuned in to watch the virtual talk show. It's since landed such big names as Elijah Wood and T-Pain, and he's booked guests through the end of May.
"I can't say anything, but if I told you some of the guests we have coming on, you literally would not believe me," he told The Verge. "It's unbelievable.
The Appeal of "Animal Talking"
It's not hard to understand the appeal of "Animal Talking" for both guests and viewers.
Because the coronavirus has put a halt to standard talk show production, most late-night hosts now record episodes straight from their homes — interviewing poorly lit guests over Zoom and delivering jokes that just sort of float in the air, without the laughter of a live audience to ground them.
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Kudos to them for trying to keep entertaining people at a time when laughter is in short supply, but it's hard to imagine anyone arguing these shows are as good as they were prior to the lockdowns.
"Animal Talking," though, is tailor-made for life in a pandemic. Guests can appear on the show without having to appear on the show — have you seen some of those DIY haircuts? — and viewers get a much-needed dose of bright, cheerful escapism.
"People are miserable right now," Whitta told The Verge. "The game, the show itself, it's wholesome, it's silly, it's fun, it's whimsical."
Take the coronavirus out of the equation, though, and "Animal Talking" would still have advantages over traditional late-night talk shows.
Thanks to the show's virtual setting, guests needn't adjust their schedules to be physically available for the show — they can call in from anywhere in the world. The experience for viewers, meanwhile, is more interactive, as they can use the Twitch chat feature to talk to one another during the livestream.
"People come to me and say, 'Oh this is just like a real talk show,'" Whitta told The Verge. "But this is not 'like' a real talk show. It's a real talk show. We do everything that the big boys do. We can do things right now that the big boys can't do."
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