The Penny Arcade Guys Film a Reality TV Show Called “Strip Search”

Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins started Penny Arcade 15 years ago as a place to publish their comic strips about the videogame industry.


Since then, Penny Arcade has became a launch pad for all kinds of entrepreneurial ventures.

The 15-person company operates out of an office in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, which serves as a sort of incubator for hilarity.

Krahulik and Holkins mostly come up with the wacky ideas; as the guy who holds on to the company’s pursestrings, Robert Khoo says whether it’s all possible.

So far, Penny Arcade has been successful with the launch of PAX, a well-attended game conference that now has a handful of events around the world. It also has a merchandising business, which is not as widely known, but no less substantial. The company’s latest effort includes filming a reality TV show called “Strip Search,” about finding America’s next top comic artist.

The funding for the show, in part, came out of a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised half a million dollars. Most of the money went to eliminating advertising on Penny Arcade for a year, but since they exceeded their goal, some of it was also used to support the filming.

Here was the idea: Fly in 12 artists from around the world to compete for a $15,000 prize and a chance to work at the Penny Arcade offices for a year. Much like “Top Chef” or “America’s Next Top Model,” the contestants lived with each other in a house, and were put through a series of challenges, where they must “fight, claw, write, and draw until only one artist remains.”

While they were in the throes of filming, I talked to Krahulik and Holkins about what it was like to be the show’s creators. The infographic below gives you some clue as to the craziness factor: 16 hours of filming a day, six people who cried, two speeding tickets, and 46 trips to Starbucks. (Not to mention 47 poops recorded, and 26 condoms used.)

Krahulik and Holkins act more like brothers than business partners. And while you can rest assured that they strove hard to find the best up-and-coming artist, at the end of the day, everything was done to create the most entertaining outcome possible.

“We made it all up, so it’s hard to take it seriously,” said Holkins, who is the primary writer for the Penny Arcade comics. “But the responsibility became really serious when you show up every day and realize that only one person will walk away with the money and the chance to work in the Penny Arcade office for a year.”

Krahulik, the Penny Arcade’s illustrator, said that knowing that there will be one winner and 11 losers becomes “bad for your soul” when having to choose between two very qualified contestants.

But just because they were sympathetic, that doesn’t mean the duo acted as conscientious objectors. To the contrary: They wanted to make it as juicy as possible. “Jerry was bad cop, and I was the asshole,” said Krahulik, who prided himself on how many times he made people cry.

Holkins said they had to try hard to create drama, especially in a house filled with aspiring artists who all seemed to get along and understand one another. Krahulik said he did his best by looking an artist in the eye and thinking to himself, “what’s the meanest thing that I can say.” Oftentimes, it was something like, “your hair smells like shit.”

Holkins explained, “We made them cry for your enjoyment — you psycho!”

Despite all the efforts put into to creating an entertaining experience, they assured me that there was absolutely no fabricating of any events. “As a culture, we are so pumped full of reality TV, we fall into the archetypes very quickly,” Holkins admitted.

The show cost roughly $250,000 to film and, in addition to the Kickstarter campaign, it was subsidized heavily by sponsors and advertising. There will be 35 to 40 Web episodes in all; they’ll run from 12 to 15 minutes each. After the entire season appears on the Penny Arcade website, they’ll put out a DVD. The first episode will air later this month.

The one thing both came away from after filming “Strip Search” is that there definitely will be a Season Two.

Here’s the infographic:

strip infographic_full

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