On numerous occasions, usually when trapped in the claws of Shakespeare and Emily Brontë, I’ve contemplated starting a book club with my dear friend Sparky Sweets, PhD. We’d sit and drink tea with our pinkies out, chat about gold chains and his robust do-rag collection, and catch up on his growing YouTube show for literary players, Thug Notes.
A parody of CliffsNotes, Thug Notes is as educational as it is comedic, cutting to the heart of such classic texts as Crime and Punishment and The Great Gatsby and encouraging readers to develop their own understanding of the book. Reading along with the hilarious Sparky, played by L.A.-based comedian Greg Edwards, viewers can’t help but come back every week for a new video and, whether they realize it or not, they’re taking their own steps to learn outside of the classroom.
“Sparky is a regular guy,” says Edwards of his character. “I always think he’s from South Central, East L.A., Boyle Heights, and just a regular dude who enjoys to read. He has a library card, he loves to read, and he talks to his friends… I look at Sparky just like LeVar Burton in a do-rag and saying slang.”
But it takes more than Edwards’s charisma and Sparky Sweets’s bibliophilic ways to make Thug Notes a success.
The channel is the brainchild of business partners Jared Bauer and Jacob Salamon, two writers and film critics with a passion for arts education and comedy. Bauer originally came up with the idea of Thug Notes in line at the Egyptian to see Barry Lyndon.
“I was joking around with my friend in line about how Barry Lyndon is the original gangster story because, even though it’s a slow-moving, kind of reflective movie about social structures, Barry Lyndon does kill a British officer and make a shit ton of money by gambling,” argues Bauer. “The woman behind me in line was like, 'You obviously don’t understand the movie at all.' I was like, 'Everything I’m saying is accurate; it’s just in another language maybe you aren’t comfortable with.'”
From the very first video, Thug Notes has received acclaim from publications such as the Huffington Post and YouTube Nation, which have praised the team for doing the impossible: making viewers want to read.
“I guess that is the joke because literature, especially the classics, are kind of enshrouded in deliberately difficult vocabulary in order to truly ‘get it,’” remarks Bauer. “And so that’s kind of Sparky in an abrasive way. [He] proves that no, I can explain it in slang and you can get it.”
2014 has been the team’s year. The company recently changed its named to Wisecrack in order to expand and produce more education shows such as 8-Bit Philosophy, which explains philosophy using video game graphics, and Behind the Genius, an upcoming show about figures in history. Bauer is currently knee-deep in writing Thug Notes the Book, set to come out next year, and announced in our interview that the team is currently working on shows about movies, music, and history.
Subscribers to Wisecrack’s channel get a weekly dose of education they'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. And though the Wisecrack team cannot erase the memories of your horrible high school English teacher or drunk philosophy professor in college, they can make you passionate about education again.
Go and learn your ass off on their channel: Many great literary classics are just waiting for their chance at a reunion.
Screengrab via Wisecrack/YouTube