Harley Morenstein and his cronies have created a beautiful niche in the world of entertainment. They are the dream-livers; that is to say, they do what you and I only dream about. Cars made out of meat? Ships made out of cinnamon buns with cannons made out of churros? Or just a giant man-cookie dunked into a giant-er cup of milk — this is the world Harley lives in with Epic Meal Empire, his show on A&E’s FYI channel. Entering its second season tonight, Epic Meal Empire is poised to live our collective fantasies and live them harder, better, faster and fatter than they did last season.
They’ve added a girl to the mix, Natalie Forte, and probably some other badass stuff, but don’t take my word for it — you’ve got to tune in for the hour-long Thanksgiving special airing tonight. If I am reading this right (Jeff adjusts invisible glasses, squints), the show will then regularly be on Fridays at 10 pm ET. Or if you want, you can start living vicariously through the bearded dreadnought of YouTube right now by reading NMR’s interview with him. Do what thou willst.
Since we’re talking about your Thanksgiving episode, Harley, what are you thankful for?
Harley: I’m thankful for a lot of things. I’m thankful I’m Canadian… It’s the little things, like having ten fingers. I have the opportunity to work at a job with my closest friends daily, we get to sit around … we’re very lucky to have that and we think about it all the time. We’re like, “Wow, we’re lucky.” I’m thankful for that opportunity. I’m also thankful for animals — I mean, technically, they are my job creator.
Being Canadian, how does that impact Thanksgiving for you? Do you guys celebrate or is it just another day for you?
Canadians get to do things before Americans and every year we get to do Thanksgiving first. (JEFF NOTE: I had no idea they have like an early Thanksgiving — it occurs on the second Monday in October). I live in a very specific part of Canada — Montreal-Quebec, and being from Montreal all of us, we are who we are, it’s a very interesting city. We identify as Montrealers a lot and after filming a whole television series in L.A., it comes up a lot, being Canadian. Right now I’m looking out the window and it’s snowing.
What can we expect for Season 2?
For the next number of episodes, we have a one-hour Thanksgiving special where I was thankful I had the resources to put together a boat made of Thanksgiving food, sandwiched between two pigs, on an ocean of gravy. We also make a meal for the L.A. Derby Dolls, which is a female roller derby team. And I get on skates. And, I mean, being 6’6” and already bad at walking, seven foot on skates is a whole other niche entirely, so that’s something to look forward to. And we go huge — we do some HUGE things. We sauce up wings by putting a guy in a huge ball and we roll him down a hill with chicken wings and sauce inside of it. So we still do our crazy things. We go to the Cinnabon factory and we make a battleship out of Cinnabuns — it’s a Cinna-battleship. It’s about eight feet long, it’s hundreds of pounds and has a cream cheese frosting churro cannon. And, like, nothing else in the world has a cream cheese frosting churro cannon. That’d be the first cream cheese frosting churro cannon ever. It’s just the little things.
So you’ve added a girl to the cast?
Yeah, it’s funny, because when the show first came up, I kind of pitched it as Ghostbusters. And it’s still modeled as Ghostbusters if you look closely at the Epic Meal Empire/Ghostbusters line. See, we get a call that’s an emergency; people need an Epic Meal. So we get into our Hambulance, which like the Ecto-1, is a retro-fitted emergency services vehicle, and all four of us go there and we have our gadgets. We have our hot sauce backpack, we have our creme brulee flamethrower, we have our wall of swords and knives which help us chainsaw a shark if we have to … which we’ve done in an episode already and in Ghostbusters they had a Janine. Janine would answer the phone and tell them where they were going and what they were doing, so that’s how we came to Natalie. And the beauty of Natalie is that Natalie is so different than us. A lot of like-minded people came in to be a part of the cast, but the thing about Natalie is she is very not like-minded. I mean she eats like crazy and has a huge appetite, but she looks very differently than we do and she doesn’t have our perspective. Even though she came to manage us and show us around L.A., she keeps up. She’s basically part of the team.
Was this something the network ordered? Like they were like, “We need a female element.” Or was this something you guys came up with?
I genuinely pitched it as Ghostbusters and I genuinely pitched that we would have a Janine. As a female presence on the show, we’re four dudes and it could only do us good to have that extra perspective. Especially because, all four of us — we’ve been doing this for four years — there’s got to be someone in the mix to say, “You guys are f**king nuts.” And that’s her.
So she’s not going to f**k with the “bro element” then?
No she does not and, what I think happens is, I think she kind of gets f**ked up by the “bro element” just a little bit. Lots of times we’ll be sorting meals on the show and she’ll throw out ideas like “watermelon” or “kale” and we’re like, “No, no, no, take a lap.” We still have our bro thing going on and we’ve been doing it for four years and Natalie is new and she’s, like, in there and we’re tough to break into. We’re like a wave and she gets dragged along with us … whether she likes it or not.?]]
Did you guys haze her into the gang?
Oh yeah, the first episode she came on, we threw like a huge Epic Meal [bonanza] and she went to town on it and we were like “Alright. We’re good.” And she continues to prove herself and bring us our “clients.” Every week she brings us her clients and we go meet them. So when it comes to the creating of the meals, it’s still us four, but Natalie is a new presence.
What’s the major difference between filming for TV and filming for YouTube?
Mo-ney! (laughs) The budget’s always bigger (on TV). On Epic Meal Time, we’ll make like a huge 50-pound burger and that’s like the episode. Whereas on Epic Meal Empire, we’ll cook a 50-pound burger and then we’re like, “So what are e cooking for today’s episode?” It’s like the appetizers — it’s like our Epic Meal Times are like the appetizers. On Epic Meal Time, we made a 12-inch car, on Empire, we made the “Little Red Corvette” which was a fully drivable, edible vehicle. I drove it.
So you guys aren’t going to f**k this Epic Meal Empire up like most reality TV, where it becomes all scripted and suddenly there’s like long-lost relatives or you guys are solving a ghost mystery, are you?
I’m making no promises that there will never be ghosts in it. Ghosts make any show better, I believe — especially reality TV. The plan is to continue doing Epic Meals We started off catering for people and we want to take the food element bigger and bigger and we have future ideas, where if we continue doing the show, they’ll be awesome. We’ll go further and further into the food realm — things like we open up our own pop-up restaurant or we want to do our own food truck or anything else in the food realm. We want to keep Epic Meal Empire about our food. That’s what got us there. On the show, we’ve always done Epic Meals but we’ve also done Epic things — one of those things was we put Josh (“EpicMook” Elkin) in a full Mentos suit and dunked him into a Diet Coke dunk tank with, like, 400 liters of Diet Coke, just to see the chemical reaction of it. So I would say that our crew has no boundaries with where we’re going with it. We want to stay true to the “Epic aspect.” As long as we’re doing Epic things and it’s in the realm of food, you know that we’re being true to ourselves.
And you know what? We’re really doing it. As much as things could begin to get scripted, we’re really doing it. We just made an eight foot, five hundred pound battleship out of Cinnabons. Whether someone would question whether that was scripted at the beginning or not, we really made it. It’s really here and it’s really firing cream cheese frosting from its churro cannon. And these people who work at Cinnabon, who have no idea who I am, are going to eat it. And that’s real. We made our own bacon soap. That’s real. We made our own bacon whiskey on the show — that’s real. All these things, they’re actually real, but it’s a show.
Last question here — you have one of the all-time great cameos in “Tusk.” How did that come about?
Oh, that was so cool. Kevin Smith was on Epic Meal Time and we were filming and he was so cool. Usually when a high profile guy comes in, we’ve got to wrap in two hours, but he was there for the day. Epic Meal Time can take up to 10 hours to film and we just sat and we spoke for a while and we got to act together on Epic Meal Time and then when his movie came out, it was a Canadian movie and because I’m very Canadian, he hit me up. He gave me a role in it, and it was super-inspiring because he gave me a role and he gave me a script and it was really awesome and I was really excited. It was just like a little part, but once I signed on to the role, he rewrote it, custom-tailored to me. And it was really awesome to see this guy who’s made plenty of movies before, and here he was at 4 a.m. the night before filming the scene, completely rewriting the script just because he was passionate about it … it’s so inspiring to myself to have that passion as well.