If you don’t know Brian Bonz and Mike Rizzo from their latest viral project, it’s possible you still know them from the neighborhood or their other guises: as a musician, Bonz has played venues from the Owl’s Head and Three Jolly Pigeons to the Bowery Ballroom and Music Hall of Williamsburg, while Rizzo was Bay Rizz. Both are longtime locals (who I’ve known for close to 15 years, since high school) and childhood besties, musical and video collaborators since they were boys with VCRs. Their latest project, Bobo Touch, produces comic shorts using bad hip-hop to lecture impolite New Yorkers, whether it’s hipsters texting and walking or manspreaders who try to get on the subway before letting disembarking passengers off. The videos have attracted attention, including a recent post on the Voice’s news blog. So I caught up with them, to talk courtesy and Bay Ridge.
So, what’s Bobo Touch?
Bonz & Rizz: Brian’s dad, Willie Strandberg, always told us while growing up, “Make sure nobody touches your Bobo,” like strange dudes at the pool, and it always stuck with us. Everyone has a bad association with Bobo the clown, and we love weird creepy clowns. The name is a mashup of words, but what it represents is something that you don’t want to touch and it’s bad for you but you want to talk about it.
You’ve both gone through phases of videomaking together and alone, from Paxen to Bay Rizz. How did you hook up again?
Rizz: We both linked up again at a time where we were feeling a creative desire to get back to our comedy roots just like we did as kids. Bonz was touring with his band for many consecutive years and I was building a career in commerical editing. We were both pursuing projects in our respective industries and vowed to get back to it at some point. The real hook-up went down when Bonz started to tour less and settle down to have a family. At that same time, I moved back to Bay Ridge (after much crossborough living) and made it easier for us to brainstorm ideas and just pop over to each other’s houses and start shooting again. Bay Ridge was the missing link!
This project came about while brainstorming a lot on our train rides. Brian works in the Meat Packing District and I work in Flatiron, so we take the train home quite often. We would literally get trampled by people storming the subway doors and just observing bad behaviors and riffing on scenarios. The real tipping point was when Brian’s wife was pregnant. They were riding the train together and would often encounter people not giving up their seats to his pregnant wife, Laura. He would have to call them out to get up and confront them, in order for her to have a seat. That’s when the “Let Them Off Before You Get On” song was created. Moments after.
The videos are mostly about city-living etiquette; do you think people in New York are less considerate than they used to be?
Rizz: Yes. We feel there’s so many more distractions, with cellphones, selfie sticks, hover boards and everyone being wrapped up in their own world. We’ve seen lots of change in NYC and with change and higher rents we’ve been noticing more entitlement. NYC is such a hard-edged, fast-paced city, which we love, but you have to be alert, and often bad manners and disrespect goes down. We also feel this could be the reason the MTA did its Courtesy campaign, with all these manspreading incidents and people being super rude, forgetting there are other humans around them.
You guys have lived in Bay Ridge a while; how has it changed? And what do you still like about it?
Bonz: The neighborhood has always been great when it comes to food and people. After living in different parts of NYC, it was great to return to Bay Ridge. We are seeing a change in bars starting to serve craft beer instead of just Coors Light, and new restaurants are starting to open up. I’ve also noticed a lot of old staple delis and other spots have closed. We also see a change in people who live there, a lot more younger families or artist types who appreciate the neighborhood. I hope prices in rent don’t continue to go up and our favorite restaurants don’t raise the price on the perfect slice.
If I follow best practices on the subway and don’t sexually assault women, what else can I do to make Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and New York great?
Bonz: I think NYC can be a kinder city, and I don’t think it hurts to smile sometimes. I appreciate it’s taught us to keep our guard up, but it’s okay to be social and connect with strangers.