Last year, a co-worker asked if I had ever seen a website called "Tunnel Walk of Shame". At the time, I had not. Five minutes later I'm laughing to the point of tears coming down my face.
For those who are unfamiliar with the site, TWOS is what the creator calls a "web comic". In simplistic terms, he takes a bunch of pictures of Husker players and coaches, imposes text on them, and puts them into a slide show, creating a story. He posts a new one on www.tunnelwalkofshame.com* the day before every Nebraska game. The comics contain many recurring characters and running gags that make the whole thing funnier every time you read it.
*If you haven't seen TWOS, it is worth noting that the comics often contain language that you may not want displayed on your monitor in 48 point font.
To put it another way: the standard TWOS comic contains more f-bombs than Bo Pelini being secretly recorded.
For those of you wanting to know "Who writes Tunnel Walk of Shame?", you're not going to find that answer here. The lone condition for this interview was to not reveal his identity.
But don't click away yet - the responses he gives are terrific: thoughtful, honest, funny, and from a perspective that gets how utterly ridiculous it is to live and die and obsess about 18 - 22-year-old kids. Personally, I think Husker fans could truly be the "Greatest Fans in College Football" if more people adopted his viewpoint.
Buckle up and let's have some fun...
Dave Feit: How did you get started? What inspired you to create the first comic?
Tunnel Walk of Shame: Iíve been trying to make people laugh since I could talk. And Iíve loved the Huskers for longer than that. And I like making things. The Husker Content Universe already had bloggers, beat reporters, radio personalities and Faux Pelini. But there wasnít anybody Ė that I could find Ė creating some piece of content. An actual thing. Well, an actual internet thing. I thought there was room in the space for something like what I do.
The first comic is so bad I would be embarrassed to put it out now. Itís like a pilot episode of a TV show. I sent it to a few friends, and at the time we thought it was funny enough. Or I did and they were just being nice. So I kept making them. They kept sharing them. And it grew from there.
DF: Are you aware of any similar comics for other teams? If so, have you used them for inspiration?
TWOS: I havenít seen anything like TWOS, but I wouldnít be shocked if it existed. The whole web comic/meme phenomenon is not contained to Nebraska and there are probably people who could do it better than I could. Plus, some schools have even better material than we do. Can you imagine writing a comic about Iowa?
As for inspiration, Husker Nation provides most of it. Iíve said it before, but the comic basically consists of me asking, ďWhatís everyone losing their [expletive] about this week?Ē Then I make jokes out of that.
I think I draw a lot of inspiration from how South Park does their show. Everythingís produced the week of the show, and the visuals donít matter as much as the story and the satire. Iím not nearly as funny as South Park, but I like that model.
DF: How did you come up with the name ďTunnel Walk of ShameĒ? Iím guessing that alcohol may have been involved.
TWOS: It actually was. The first year, it didnít really have a name. I called it ďI Like Playing Against Away Games,Ē a Taylor quote, just kind of as a codename. The second year, I wanted a website and a Twitter account for it, so I needed some kind of brand. A buddy of mine and I sat at a bar and thought up some names, and just settled on that one.
DF: What is the process for creating a comic? Do you find the pictures first or draft the story first?
TWOS: The story comes first. The pictures are kind of an afterthought, unless thereís a particularly funny one that I want to work in. I keep an open Word doc at all times for when I think of a joke or storyline, and I just keep compiling them over the course of the week. Then on Thursdays I edit. I start with about 8 pages of content and whittle it down to about 5 pages. Thatís roughly 100 slides, which is a good target length.
To me, if itís still funny after writing it and reading it several times, itíll be funny for the audience, so thatís my test. I donít run it by anyone first (except Ms. Shame from time to time). With no advertising, sponsors or partners to worry about, I get to kind of do this thing the way I want to do it, which is important to me. Other people find it funny, and thatís what makes it meaningful for me.
DF: How long does it take to create a comic?
TWOS: If you add up all the writing and editing time, probably about 3-5 hours. Then picture assembly and uploading happens while drinking on a Thursday night, and I usually get distracted by Twitter and fantasy football, so itís an additional 3 hours or so.
DF: This is the third year of TWOS. Has the creative process gotten harder or easier?
TWOS: Itís actually gotten easier. Iíve got characters that I have worked hard to develop and I know what fans like and what they donít like. I also know a good length for the comic, and writing the script first (instead of what I used to do, which was to open pictures and write on the fly) has made it much easier.
The difficult thing is making sure I donít repeat jokes, and that characters donít get too predictable or stale. I try to model the creative process and product after my favorite TV shows: they use the same elements in different ways to create something original each week. I know my periodic table of TWOS elements much better now than three years ago, so in that regard itís gotten easier.
DF: So much of the humor comes from the images you use. Do you maintain a library of images for each player and coach?
TWOS: I told a friend once, if I ever get accused of a crime and the FBI has to dig through my computer they are going to find an obsessive serial killerís treasure trove of Husker pictures on my computer. Hundreds of them, sorted into folders (Players, Assistants, Bo, Other) and labeled (ďPapuchis-PoopFace.jpgĒ is my favorite filename). It seriously looks like Iím some kind of insane person. WHICH IíM NOT. OK I am.
DF: What is your favorite image to use?
TWOS: This one just cracks me up.
It hasnít made it into a comic this year yet! (*DF note - the interview was before the Purdue game. This picture made it's 2013 debut in the pre-game comic.) Itís my friendís favorite picture that I use and I know heís waiting for it to reappear. Itís such a perfect reaction shot, you can just think of so many things theyíd be laughing about.
DF: Do you have fans sending you pictures to use?
All the time, which is wonderful. I love that people even think like that.
DF: One the things that makes your work so funny are the over the top depictions of certain players and coaches. Iím talking about Imani Cross as the Hulk, Rex Burkhead as Jesus, and Barney Cotton as Dauber from Coach. What other character ideas have you had but ultimately scrapped?
TWOS: Oh man, I donít know. I try not to overuse that device. I know the Thor/Hulk thing is probably starting to wear on some people. I had an idea to build out the whole Avengers crew at one point, but it felt like the caricatures were starting to overshadow the characters, so I pulled back.
Honestly, most of that comes from the pictures of the actual players just not being that interesting, or plentiful. When Imani burst onto the scene, there were a few head shots of him smiling, and that was about it.
So I created the Hulk character so Iíd have more to work with from a character standpoint. And thatís kind of where most of those caricatures arise from. Except Dauber. Dauber is just a personal hero.
DF: And of course, if weíre going to talk about how you depict players, we need to talk about Taylor Martinez. Your characterization of him as an oblivious, childlike Bro is hilarious. Talk about how that came about.
TWOS: The same friend who loves the photo of the coaches laughing actually Ė whether he knows it or not Ė kind of inspired the whole TWOS idea. One day we were talking about Taylor and he said his favorite thing ever was when Taylor said, ďI like playing against road games.Ē That is, indeed, the funniest thing of all time. I watch that YouTube clip all the time, it kills me. And something about that just inspired the idea of ďWhat would it look like if Taylor really was like that.Ē I know it was just a slip of the tongue, but there was something about the childlike wonder of it all, in the form of this incredibly athletic, starry-eyed quarterback, half a country away from home and playing a game in front of foreign people who live and die by his performance. What a concept that is! Holy [expletive].
So, the disconnect between the expectations placed on him and the amount he cares about those expectations is so interesting to me Ė and in that gap lies the ďChildlike Bro Martinez.Ē Mario Kart. Bounce houses. Fruit Rollups. Interrupting grown-up conversations. Fist pumps. Roof raises. Childish nicknames. For the character, those are all things that humanize his usual robotic nature. But more than that, I think they point out to fans how ridiculous it is to place so much hope on any one person. In real life, heís still just a kid. So I portray him as an exaggerated one. If youíre a fan who wants to live or die by someone who doesnít care what you think, just loves playing football and may or may not refer to Bo as Coach Dad Ė then good luck with that.
DF: Setting aside how good Taylor is for your site, who should start at quarterback when Martinez is 100% healthy? Why?
TWOS: Taylor. He proved last year that he can win big games Ė on the road, no less Ė when heís a threat to run. I think whatís interesting this year is the difference between now and 2010. In 2010 they rushed Taylor back from injury because his backups had essentially proved themselves incapable of producing enough offense. Which in 2010 was 10 points, given the strength of our defense at the time. Now, the environmentís really different. Itís the offense carrying the defense. We really need those 30-40 points a week. And also now, weíve got competent backups. Armstrong is good. Kellogg is serviceable. So donít rush Taylor back until heís fully 100% But when he is, put him back in. I donít know if Tommy Armstrong makes those Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan State comebacks from last year.
DF: You poke fun at a number of people and topics. What is off-limits to you?
I think whatís off-limits is anything that unnecessarily slams a player. Iím kind of protective about the players. Theyíre kids playing a game for free for our entertainment, and we scrutinize them more heavily than our elected officials. If they say something dumb in front of the camera, who cares? If they fumble, who really cares? I maintain there arenít many Husker fans more fervent than I am, so I understand the gravity of the game. But Iím not here to make kids feel like [expletive]. I admire them, and respect them.
I think what I make fun of Ė whether itís Taylor or Imani or whomever Ė is Husker Nationís perception of those kids. Taylorís not that dumb. Imaniís not an amoral destroyer of villages. Rex Burkhead isnít Jesus. But people think they are, to some degree. I know I do. And thatís silly. So the comic is meant to poke fun at us, the fans.
And for that reason, few things are off-limits for me. If you understand what TWOS is about, you understand that the criticisms are coming from a place of love. Even Taylor. I hope everyone walks away from TWOS thinking Taylorís a little more likable. Lovable, even. So whatís off-limits to me is the snarky pot shots about a kidís on-the-field performance or off-the-field demeanor. Except Avery Moss whipping his dong out. Thatís kind of funny.
DF: The Pelini teams have given you a lot of material to work with. If you were doing TWOS in a different era, which would you pick: Devaney, Osborne, Solich, or Callahan? Please show your work.
TWOS: Initially I was like, ďCallahan, no contest.Ē But then I thought about it for 3 more seconds and decided on Devaney. Holy [expletive] would Devaney be fun. The Ric Flair of the Huskers pantheon of greatness. Booziní, gambliní, womaniziní, high-fiviní sunuva [expletive]! I would have so much fun with that guy. Every other Devaney slide would just be a picture of a steak from the Tam OíShanter.
I think, though, that itíd be hard to do this comic in any other era. We have unprecedented access to the lives of this staff and these players. We know what they sound like when they talk, what they like to do outside of football. We know about their religion. We know about their family. Their home life. We know their personalities. In the past, you didnít know that stuff. Part of TWOS is putting all of that knowledge on display so we can step back and look at it and realize that we have no need for all of this information. But we can make it fun.
DF: Letís talk about feedback. I saw recently that Kenny Bell was reading TWOS before a Husker press conference. Have you gotten any feedback - positive or negative - from somebody you have parodied or from other players on the team?
TWOS: Not a ton. Never from any of the coaches. Kenny Bell has told me a few times Ė via Twitter Ė that he reads TWOS and likes it a lot. I hear from some media guys I know that itís a pretty well-known commodity within the team, and that several guys read it and enjoy it. To my surprise, I havenít really heard of any players taking offense to it. And to be honest, Iím really happy for that. I never thought this thing would get to the players, but now that it has, Iím glad they see the fun in it and can laugh along with the crowd. Like I said, I know a few media guys who like it. And that kind of makes me laugh because our microscope-wielding media Ė goaded on and paid for by fans, mind you Ė is responsible for a lot of the access we have that gives me material to parody.
DF: Have you ever heard from Taylor Martinez?
TWOS: No. My honest guess is that TWOS is on Taylorís long list of ďThings I know exist but canít afford to give a [expletive] about.Ē That lists consists of all media, all articles, all stories, all fansí opinions and the conflict in Syria. Itís probably a healthy shell he has formed around himself. He really canít afford to take all that in. I probably get 1% of the feedback he does and I think about it a lot, so I canít imagine what it would be like for him to try to digest all the feedback and ink spent on him. He seems like a really good kid, honestly. I like Taylor a lot, and have respect for him.
DF: Iíd guess that you have spent some time in the Memorial Stadium student section. What are your thoughts on the increasing number of empty seats in the student section?
TWOS: I think thatís a manufactured problem. I donít think it matters. If they left when we were down because they were frustrated, thatíd suck a little bit. But they left in the middle of a boring dry hump of a blowout against Illinois because it was cold. ďOH BUT 45ļ ISNíT COLD.Ē Shut up, old people. Itís kind of cold. Itís fine, they can go. I have a MUCH bigger problem with fans who boo or call players out on Twitter.
DF: Your ď5 MinutesĒ post after the Wyoming game was one the most eloquently articulated ďplease chill the [expletive] outĒ speeches Iíve ever seen. Did you get any negative feedback over straying from the jokes, or for calling out the negative fans?
TWOS: Thanks. That is the one thing Iíve gotten some negative feedback about, honestly, which I expected and am okay with. I didnít write it with the intention of (a) garnering electronic pats on the back or (b) picking fights with detractors. It was just how I felt at the time and I had a microphone.
I think itís absolutely fine that people donít like some of the stuff I say. Iím far enough on the periphery of the Husker universe that people who donít like what I do can tune it out if they want to. Iím not forcing anybody to read what I write, and Iím not charging them to do so. I write what I write for me, selfishly. And Iíve always been of the opinion that others can kind of take it or leave it. Most of the time, they take it, and Iím really thankful for that. Peopleís support and enjoyment of TWOS makes it so much more fun to do. As a fan, Iím really proud of contributing something positive and laugh-inducing to the Husker community. It was missing. I wouldnít do this if people didnít generally like it, so while it started as something I did selfishly, itís become rewarding to contribute fun to the environment.
DF: I know you'd like to remain anonymous. Will you ever reveal your identity?
TWOS: No, I wonít. And not because I think Iím Bruce Wayne or something. The truth is I could come out tomorrow and tell you all my name and 99% of people would legitimately not give a [expletive]. Theyíd say, ďOh, okay. Neat. Whatís happening on Reddit? [click]Ē I am extraordinarily uninteresting in real life, at least on paper.
There are people who know me that, if they knew TWOS was me or if it came out that this was a product of me, those people would be affected, and perhaps negatively. Thereís people I work with, work for and just love. I donít want them to have to defend TWOS to anyone. And I donít want my mom to know I know this many curse words.
Anonymity allows me to write whatever the hell I want. If my identity was public, Iíd have to be asking myself if Iíd be comfortable with certain people reading what I wrote. I donít have to do that now, and it gives me the creative freedom that I think is really necessary to making TWOS good.
DF: Are you surprised by the popularity of the site?
TWOS: Completely surprised, yeah. I mean, I canít believe how many people read this every week. I canít believe Kenny Bell reads it. And I canít believe how many people wanted YOLO Strong bracelets. I think it goes to show that there was a comedy void in the Husker Content Universe. I still maintain that Faux Pelini is the funniest Husker-related thing out there, but outside of him there isnít much in the way of comedy-dedicated Husker content. I always thought Schick and Nick filled that void on radio, and even thatís gone!
I always said I didnít really want to promote or commercialize TWOS. Thatís why there arenít ads on the site. Itís why I donít ask for followers or retweets. Why I donít say, ďPass it along to everyone you know!!!Ē For me, TWOS has always been a test of how far good content could take an idea. So far, the contentís been good enough to garner TWOS a positive reputation and a solid following, and Iím really thankful and flattered that people enjoy my work.
It is a huge honor to be a part of someoneís day or week in any way. Through TWOS, Iíve gotten to be part of some peopleís routine, and that feels great. Iím glad to be something someone looks forward to.
DF: Seriously, what are you going to do next year when Taylor graduates?
TWOS: Start a Taylor Martinez for QB Coach campaign. Or go write a comic for the Minnesota Vikings, who will inevitably draft him in the 3rd round.
DF: Anything else you'd like to add?
TWOS: Iíll just say that the fans of TWOS are excellent. I love my fan base. Theyíre thoughtful, hilarious, reasoned and interesting. Or at least, their internet personas are. TWOS takes a lot of work and is something Iím proud of, so when someone takes the time to tell me they thought it was funny, it makes my whole week. The biggest surprise in doing TWOS is the little makeshift community thatís formed around it online, and it seems to be composed of really good people.
Dave Feit is a freelance writer living in Lincoln. Additional thoughts on the Huskers (and everything else) can be found on his blog (www.feitcanwrite.com). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.