No one is a bigger fan of Scrubs than me. You might think you are, but you’d be wrong.
If you have anything resembling knowledge of Scrubs, you know Ted Buckland as the sad sack lawyer who happened to be in a kickass a cappella band called the Worthless Peons. What you may not know is that was only their day job. Outside the confines of Sacred Heart, those same four actors/singers/comedians – Sam Lloyd (Ted), Philip McNiven, George Miserlis, and Paul F. Perry – comprise The Blanks, basically the Worthless Peons without the self-esteem issues.
So when a friend of mine in a Kent State University a cappella group (cleverly named the Kent Clarks) told me they were opening for The Blanks at a school-sponsored concert, I couldn’t take that sitting down. So I sat down, sent a few emails, and, a week later, found myself on the phone with Lloyd and McNiven. Not only were these two guys beyond hilarious, but I also heard a sound I never thought I’d hear in my lifetime: Ted Buckland laughing.
Offending Syracuse and Some Canadian School
Before he made a career out of frowning as Ted, Lloyd was a musical theater major at Syracuse University. The school gave him endless opportunities to explore his interests outside his major.
“It was a great situation for me,” said Lloyd. “My timing was excellent. The department was really awesome at the time. [Though] theater wasn’t my only interest. I’d been making Super 8 movies my whole life. They had cameras as big as small children that made it look like you were shooting in fog.”
Even with these technological limitations, Lloyd – along with Miserlis and Perry – still spent his weekend making a television show he called The Dynamic Duo Discover, which was basically Batman and Robin hosting a talk show. The show was spawned from Halloween costumes that were also the center of a pretty epic prank.
“We crashed a student government party in costume to a response of total silence,” explained Lloyd. As Batman, he said with the straightest face he could muster: “We think it’s great what you guys are doing for our country.” And the auditorium went crazy.
So how did McNiven spend his college years? He went to some school up north, like really far north. It’s called the University of Toronto, and I guess it’s a real school, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard of it (okay, I’ll leave the Canadian jokes to Lloyd from now on).
While at this totally real school, McNiven wrote and directed a play called Bushwackers, which was lauded as “masturbatory trash,” “not fit for humans to view” and “a show animals will love.”
No wonder he became a Worthless Peon.
Lloyd, Miserlis and Perry all met while goofing off at Syracuse. McNiven, who was born in Philadelphia and raised in Toronto (which I guess makes him Canadian?), didn’t meet up with the gang until years later. It’s a good thing he didn’t join the group during their college days.
“We didn’t talk to Canadians at the time,” explained Lloyd. “By the time we met Philip, we were at the point where he could sing with us.”
Luckily for his ego, which Lloyd and the other Blanks constantly assault with Canadian jokes, McNiven happens to be both thick-skinned and a Canadian elitist.
“I sort of look down on [Americans] as being below me,” he said of why these jokes don’t faze him. “Like south of the border. Eh.”
It’s fitting that Canadians sound like they’re singing a chorus of a Rihanna song (brella, brella, brella, eh, eh, eh…), because McNiven’s vocal talents made him a perfect fit for The Blanks. He was recruited by Miserlis to join the group during an audition to perform a Forever Plaid-like show on a cruise ship.
“Boys we’ll sail the seven seas!” said McNiven of his initial enthusiasm at the prospect of this gig. “We’ll travel to strange lands! The native girls are welcoming and generous!”
None of that happened. They didn’t get the part, but kept singing together for fun. When Lloyd was cast on Scrubs, creator Bill Lawrence had the guys sing at a cast and crew Christmas party. That’s when he had the brilliant idea to make them a part of the Scrubsverse. And thus, The Worthless Peons/The Blanks were born.
The Blanksian Way
“We do a couple straight songs but most of [our shows] our humorous,” said Lloyd of The Blanks’ unique brand of, as McNiven put it, “acacomedyapella.” “All four of us, including the Canadian, are goofballs. We do take the music seriously though.”
The Blanks’ shows consist of original music, covers of both classics and current hits and plenty of screwball comedy. They also feature a Major Chip Hazzard (from the movie Small Soldiers) doll, talking pumpkin and mechanical Mrs. Santa Clause. If you were thinking that all this must be a hassle to take through airport security, you’d be right.
Lloyd said that he once got in trouble because of the three-centimeter gun attached to Major Hazzard’s hand. Even worse was the time he got in trouble for the talking pumpkin.
“They said I’d been tampering with the pumpkin like there’s a law against it,” Lloyd said (though to be fair, he did). “Security is always an adventure with us.”
At least all the hard work it clearly takes to actually get to their shows in one piece appears to be paying off.
“For a while we were so associated with Scrubs,” said McNiven. “Now we’re getting our own identity.”
Elaborated Lloyd: “It’s [all] presented in a very Blanksian way. People come because they’re fans of Scrubs and leave fans of The Blanks. It’s Blanktastic.”
From Peons To Supermen
“We’re the underdog story,” declared McNiven. “Everyone talks about Jeremy Lin, but we were literally the Worthless Peons and now we’re touring the world.”
Lloyd and McNiven are hoping to start a phenomenon that generates nicknames like “Blanksanity” and “Blankspired.” The way they riff about their time on Scrubs, you’d think they were already bigger than Tebowmania and Linsanity combined.
“It was pure hell,” said Lloyd, doing his best prima donna impersonation. “After it became apparent we were carrying the show, the pressure was overwhelming.”
McNiven feigned agreement: “Sometimes we’d have to get there before noon. We’d be surrounded by all these attractive people and they would want to talk to us and laugh at our jokes. It’s like guys, we’re here to work.”
“That show lived and died on The Blanks,” continued Lloyd. “We didn’t want to be associated with a stupid medical show.”
But in all seriousness, both Lloyd and McNiven couldn’t be more thankful for the career boost Scrubs gave The Blanks. In fact, that’s part of their advice for aspiring college a cappella groups. Kent Clarks, listen up:
“You need to have one of your members be a cast member on a popular sitcom,” quipped McNiven. “[Also] get a lot of props with a lot of wires. Write songs about bombs.”
Yeah…don’t do any of that. Listen to Lloyd instead: “We break the rules, but we try to do stuff that other a capella groups aren’t doing.”
As in, be funny, talented and, most importantly, bald.