For a video that was created to fail, “What does the Fox say?” has been incredibly successful, totaling more than 120 million views … but that wasn’t Ylvis’ intent. They swear.
Brothers Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker are hosts of Tonight with Ylvis, a late-night talk show in Norway. And when it came time to prepare a promo for their new season, they called on a favor they had with some guys over at Stargate, a Norwegian production company that has produced hits such as Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” After Ylvis helped one of the guys at Stargate prepare a birthday gift, the company had promised to produce something for the comedy duo in return, and now the guys were ready to cash in their I.O.U.
“As comedians, it wouldn’t be a good thing if we went to pursue a hit in the States because they could potentially make something that became big, so we thought it would be more fun from a comedian perspective to come home to the talk show and say, ‘Listen we had the chance, we could’ve made it big, but the only idea we got for the song was this old idea about what the fox says so we’re sorry. We screwed up.’ That was the plan,” Bård said. “That would’ve been funny to say on the talk show.”
“We had started writing the scripts for the show and we even had the introduction to this video, we wrote that as this ‘We’re sorry, we screwed up, this was all we could do,’” Vegard added. So what happened when the video took off and actually became the brothers’ biggest hit? “We had to rewrite the whole thing.”
So let’s back up: When the brothers were brainstorming ideas for possible promos, what made them think about the sounds a fox makes? “It all comes out of a genuine wonder about what kind of sounds it makes,” Vegard said. “For all other known or normal animal species, you have this defined word that they say that is their sound like woof or meow or squeak. The first verse is telling this to the world in a very pretentious way: ‘The mouse goes squeak and the cow goes moo.’”
“It started with us making sounds – we had other mammals as well – but we ended up thinking ‘it would be fun with a fox,’” Bård added.
So after two days in the vocal studio and a bit of a mishap with the costumes — the brothers joke about wearing a bear and a squirrel costume in the video — they had created the video that would eventually land them on U.S. talk shows and in The New York Times. If only the duo had gone with their original idea …
“First we had an idea about why every weekend there’s three billion guys in the entire world that dread the fact that they have to go to a club and they have to dance and no one can actually dance. There’s not one move. There used to be like cha cha cha and now it’s just chaos. That was their original idea and that felt [like it was] searching for a hit,” Bård said. “But [Stargate was] pitched this idea, so that’s why they gave us the songs. And I called one of the guys. I said, ‘The whole thing changed a bit and now we want to make a song about what sound the fox makes.’ I explained that it will be funny for us if we go over and misuse your talent – that will be funny for our show.” Luckily, Stargate was in.
It’s also worth mentioning that this wasn’t Ylvis’ first music video. In fact, musical comedy is something they consider to be very near to their hearts. The brothers, who grew up in Africa, found their love of music and comedy at a young age. “We grew up with the Life of Brian from Monty Python. We grew up in Africa and we didn’t bring enough videos, so we only had that. We had two. We had that and a Norwegian variety guy. So we developed humor that was a mix between those two,” Vegard said.
Although they have no vocal training between them, singing is something they’ve been doing for years. “Our parents were always really fond of music and they encouraged us to do whatever we wanted to do. We went to choir and stuff when we were kids,” Bård said.
“We sang continuously. We made small music things in our room. But it was always with a comic context. We always hide behind that. We’re too much of cowards to actually mean something,” Vegard said.
Other things you might not know about the comedians: Vegard is a commercial pilot, or he could be if anyone hired him, and Bard enjoys having no education whatsoever and gardening. They’re also big Tenacious D fans. But most importantly, the success of this video does not mean that fame is now their priority.
“We’re not chasing the next hit. We’re just making stuff that we think is funny. Some will get like 100,000 views and some obviously got 100 million, but it’s the same recipe,” Bård said. “It’s supposed to be three minutes for a Norwegian talk show and this one traveled. Maybe we’ll make another song with them maybe not. It’s just a month old, this song.”
“We’ll see when it reaches a billion,” Vegard joked.
Watch one of the guys’ improvised bits, “The Intelevator,” below:
And here’s another one of their music videos, about Stonehenge no less:
Will you continue to follow Ylvis’ comedy, PopWatchers?