Sarah Daniell meets the cast of the hard-hitting comedy-cum-current affairs show for today's world.
In a converted sugar factory lobby in Brooklyn, just across the East River from Manhattan, Tony is priming the crowd.
"I'm not good looking, but my God, you all are," he bellows like a preacher to his flock. The way to a studio audience's applause? Flattery. Served hot and fast.
"Hey! Prince is in the house," he says, hurtling like a violent, random weather pattern towards a young black man, dressed in a long robe and leather pants in the front row. "Prince. You look like Prince. I'm gonna get you up on the stage later.
"You - you back there, my God, you are handsome. You look like Ricky Martin's father. Where you from?"
Mostly, they are from this neighbourhood. Each week night, the devotees queue outside. If they get in the door, there are forms to fill out, a body scan. Then there's Tony. Then, if they have survived all that, they get to watch four hilarious, sharp hosts sitting on red couches, jam about popular culture, politics, feminism, sex, drugs, fashion, shutting down the "dick talk" and whether Peppa Pig may or may not be sexist. They run tracks, crack jokes, interview experts.
It's raw. It's often very funny. It's unapologetic. In the former sugar factory, there is no sugar coating.
Vice Live is the edgy, fledgling show on Vice, the world's leading youth media brand, which launched a quarter of a century ago - 1994 - so it just skates in as a millennial itself. Valued at around US$6 billion, Vice's reach extends to 80 global territories. It has digital channels; a television and feature film production studio; an Emmy-winning international eponymous television network, an Emmy-winning weekly news magazine show on HBO; an Emmy-winning nightly news series on HBO; Virtue, a global, full-service creative agency with 26 offices around the world; a magazine; and a record label. (It's understood, however, that Vice's New Zealand office hangs in the balance.)
Vice Live is all about emerging talent. These are the opinion-formers; what these people say becomes the norm. They have profound influence and the diversity on the show - culturally and racially - is striking behind and in front of the camera - and in the audience.
"We had a comedian on last week and he said, this audience is Mike Pence's worst nightmare," says Guy Slattery, president of Vice, the day after our set visit.
"But it wasn't like an intentional thing - we screen-tested a bunch of people and these just happened to be the best talent. Then we built a team around them."
"It's more about having a point of view - they're not people you'll see on the networks but they all have particularly strong views - so it's diversity of opinion and of everything. So we are proud of that."
In the Green Room the next day, hosts Sandy Honig, Marie Faustin, Zack Fox and Fat Tony, talk over each other, call each other out and laugh. A lot. They are like a tight bunch of friends. There will be no apologies. No shrinking back from the glare of expectation. There is nothing remotely phoney about their chemistry, or their commitment.
"I will not apologise for having an opinion you don't like," says Faustin. "And I'm not going to apologise for telling my story. I'm a young black woman, first-generation Haitian-American and my perspective is my perspective and I'm not going to apologise for ... for trying to make something funny. That's my personality. No apologies. Also I am not going to apologise for being late. The way I respond to that is by saying, 'Thank you for waiting for me.'
"Women apologise for a lot of things," she says.
"I say sorry when someone else is wrong," says Honig. "I say sorry if I'm bringing up something that you did that hurt me. But whatever I would say would be a lie, because I'm always apologising. I would love to think I would not apologise for being assertive, but that's not true. I will. I just always will. Sorry."
Honesty and empathy
"We are here to cover the issues," Warm-up Tony hollers to the converted, before the hosts take their positions on the couch and the cameras start to roll. "Whether they be in Brooklyn or New Zealand."
Several nights before, it had been all about New Zealand. Our country in the glare of a big white Tungsten studio light, for all the wrong reasons. On Monday night, March 18, before my visit, their guest was the former national spokesperson for Hillary Clinton, Zara Rahim. She drew a direct line between hate speech, the heinous events in Christchurch on March 15 and US President Donald Trump. "It's easy for those who voted in the 2016 election for Trump to say, 'Oh he just says crazy things he doesn't mean' ... 50 people dying ... if that is not a clear enough indicator of what this man has done, I don't know what will be."
And on New Zealand's swift response to change gun laws: "Thoughts and prayers?" says Rahim, warming up. "You know what … f*** your thoughts and prayers. New Zealand just said, 'Here's some legislation!'"
The studio erupts into applause, shattering the solemnity like a rock through a glass window.
It's nearly 9.30pm and minus 15C outside. The studio at Vice's headquarters is about to make some live TV. In a shop earlier that day, in Brooklyn, I was asked what I was doing in town. I explained I was here to interview the hosts of Vice Live. "Oh my God," she said, drawing out the O between the G and the D. "They are huuuuge."
So how does an anarchic show with huge ambition, hosted by a bunch of comedians, actors, musicians and artists aged somewhere between 23 and 31, who grew up on a TV diet of Jackass and CKY videos, turn the circumstances of our times into something meaningful, irreverent, defiant and relevant to an audience halfway around the world?
A single word: empathy.
"You have to speak about those things with honesty and empathy," says Fat Tony, musician and rapper from Houston. "You know, we're not going to make a joke about a tragedy like that … we are going to address it. It would be foolish for us not to mention it. So with something like that, we bring on an expert, whether they're a journalist from another publication or a Vice dot com writer, we get them to engage in a discussion, get the facts and they kinda set the tone ... of seriousness."
"Because we aren't necessarily a comedy show," says Sandy Honig, a comedian and photographer from Connecticut. "If there is a subject that is serious we don't feel the need to turn it into a joke. I know that with SNL [Saturday Night Live], when something like that happens, they do something that's not a sketch. After the Sandy Hook shooting they brought out a children's choir to sing. We need to acknowledge it. We aren't trying to be experts but we have feelings."
Passionate and unvarnished. Raw and real. Vice Live is very much a show of its time.
"We're in such a time that the norm of what is broadcast in the United States is the exact opposite of empathy," says Zack Fox, a writer and musician from Atlanta. "It's xenophobia, being closed-off. That's not funny. When you are empathetic you build a bridge to someone else, so they can say, 'Okay, I can connect with this person.'
"A lot of the jokes … actually fall on America. Because in New Zealand they did gun reform in a day. You know what I mean? It's hilarious what we're doing over here, that we are ignoring this issue still. Dancing around it."
Slattery says part of the show's strength is that the hosts are inclusive.
"That is something we talked about a lot - when something really serious happens … it [the Christchurch crisis] was the first time with the show that something of that gravity had happened and they really wanted to do it.
"It's about having fun within the context of the show but having balance. Again with Vice in the early days, there was always the silly and the substance. They sit side by side.
"Do smart things in a dumb way and dumb things in a smart way."
Changing the world
The revolution may well be televised. But it will be a slow burner, says Fox.
Will that be fast enough? Millennials, says Slattery, are the instant gratification generation. So while they are discussing sexism, racism, or R. Kelly, Michael Jackson and hashtag MeToo - will there be profound change beyond outrage?
"No revolution happens in one movement - it's going to keep growing and keep changing ... hopefully we are going to find new and better ways to keep people accountable - we know there is a justice system that is flawed in not dealing with it."
But, says Fat Tony, "the fact we are talking about it now and that people keep coming out with allegations and survivors talking, means we will change the world forever. For the good."
Hollywood is full of nasty people, says Faustin. "Nobody in this room. But I don't think it's ever going to stop. People in positions of power are always going to abuse that and there are people who also want to be famous. And there are people who are innocent - even when they know this stuff goes on - and who will be exploited.
"Like Matt Lauer when he had that button under his desk to lock women in his office ... and he's been out of work less than a year and he's calling up saying, 'I'm bored'. No Matt," says Faustin. "Also you don't need anymore money, Matt Lauer. Stay in your empty house in the Hamptons. No one feels bad for you."
Honig: "It's interesting because there are a lot of things that haven't really changed. With Michael Jackson and R. Kelly, we knew about these things for a long time and no one seemed to care or do anything about it.
"There's also a lot of people who have been accused of these things before the MeToo movement - like Roman Polankski or Woody Allen - who are still just fine. But hopefully now, with people talking about it, people like that won't get to that point - so that if allegations come out, you are just done. Hopefully … but you know, who knows?"
What message do the young people with a voice and a platform in a Brooklyn studio have for the young people of New Zealand who tried to have their voices heard on a climate change march, on the same day 50 people were killed in Christchurch mosques?
"You have to make yourself heard,"says Fat Tony. "It has to be active. It can't just be intellectual. You need to show people what you are about."
"I was going to say, 'Oon't get discouraged by older people telling you what you should be talking about," says Honig, deadpanning. "Because, they'll die. And you can change the world."
LOWDOWN: VICE LIVE, Mondays to Thursdays, 9.35pm, VICE, SKY Channel 13. Also available on SKY Go and SKY On Demand.