HOF readers know me as the resident red carpet commentator and Sarah as our nostalgia expert, if you will. But when we team up, we bring you life lessons from beloved classics like Troop Beverly Hills and First Wives Club. Who could forget “Lesbians are great nowadays” or “Never go to Reno, girls”? We love movies that are enjoyable and not preachy but that we can learn something from. You may not know that Sarah and I met through the Community fandom, but we quickly bonded over our love for cult classic The State (which I watched in real time but Sarah caught up on later because she was like a toddler back then). So naturally we both have a deep and abiding love for Wet Hot American Summer and its specific and absurd humor. In anticipation of the new series, Ten Years Later, we decided to look back at WHAS and First Day of Camp to share what lessons they have to offer. If you’ve seen the movie and series – and if not, why not? – then you might be thinking to yourself that a life lessons post couldn’t be done. To that, we say: Watch us. Make sure you’re in the right bunk, grab a stick of gum, and read on.
Know your audience.
The kids at Camp Firewood have opinions, and they will let them be known in no uncertain terms. So you should probably get a feel for the room before you try anything. Because you can take a song from a beloved musical and think you’re automatically going to be great at it, but then you end up with something like this:
Let’s be real, though, they were following the Master Broom Balancer and Moose lighting his farts on fire, how could they possibly compete with that?
On the other hand, you take something like Electro/City, and you’ve got an instant classic. The drama, the tunes, the suspense…hell, even those jags from Camp Tigerclaw were invested in it:
You know, you’d think the “Day Bidet” campers would have remembered how captivating Electro/City was and strive to be that. No wonder Susie was fed up with her end-of-summer drama group.
Always make a dramatic exit.
There is no better way to get your point across than by making a dramatic exit. If your girlfriend is being lame and you need to get back to your waffles then sure, you could just say so, but the spin and flipping her the finger is so much more effective.
Remember, it’s important to commit, even if it means walking into a cornfield.
And sometimes you don’t really need a dramatic exit, but they’re just fun.
And if you really want to mix things up, a dramatic entrance is definitely the way to go.
Embrace your “creativity.”
I just want to be serious for a second and take a moment to appreciate the fact that, out of all of the hookups that took place on the first and last days of camp, Ben and McKinley were never the joke, even as Gary and JJ were spying on the girls and trying to figure out which Debbie to set McKinley up with. Out of all the crazy antics in the movie, their big reveal was the one serious scene out of the entire production, and for that I am thankful. If there’s any sort of tenderness and stability within the Wet Hot universe, it lies in McKinley and Ben’s journey.
And when we got their origin story during First Day of Camp, my heart grew three sizes. Everything about this is so pure, you guys. Putting them together in such close quarters by having them do the Zoot Suit number for Electro/City. The fact that McKinley allows for Ben to come to this self-discovery on his own (“Oh, I see, Ben. You don’t realize that you’re creative, too. That’s alright. Whether or not you’re creative, I think you’re really talented.”). The glances, the adorable as hell rehearsal, all leading up to that kiss behind the curtain. The fact that David Wain and Michael Showalter made Camp Firewood a safe space for these characters to explore and express themselves is amazing. The fact that they essentially solidified Ben and McKinley’s OTP status with this storyline is just a bonus.
As we all know by now, Bradley Cooper wasn’t able to be in Ten Years Later, but since Adam Scott is pinch hitting for him, I can rest a little easier knowing that both halves of Camp Firewood’s greatest love story will be at the reunion. Because if they had taken this opportunity to mess with Ben and McKinley’s pure light, so help us, Maggie and I would have burned Utica to the ground. Twice.
There’s no such thing as too many popped collars.
Look at Ben at the beginning of the summer: adorable, a little hesitant and shy, not yet in touch with his creativity.
And now look at Ben at the end of the summer: He’s like a caterpillar who’s turned into a butterfly; as his confidence popped, so did his collar.
If you’re feeling yourself, then you should go for it whether or not anyone tells you that your collar’s looking particularly popped today. Tell yourself.
Recognize the transformative power of music.
Because in order to change your life, you need the right soundtrack. And maybe someone to show you a New Way. Let’s look at Coop. Once Gene offers to take him under his wing, all he needs is a little training montage to go from this:
To being able to take it higher and higher:
But it doesn’t stop there! The right song can also squash any rivalry between warring summer camps, and save friendship as a whole in two minutes:
Okay, so maybe it’s just that one song. But eventually, you’ll probably have to stop the government from potentially destroying your camp. So you might as well have a few people from Tigerclaw on your side.
When in crisis, just fuck shit up.
When Beth and Neil need to find Victor to save the campers, they just destroy the infirmary looking for the phone, the phone, THE FUCKING PHONE. I can’t say that I blame them because no one seems to understand the sense of urgency. They need the fucking phone, okay? Do what you need to do to make your point, and by the way? It’s okay to be a little selfish sometimes.
The indoor kids will save your ass.
Never underestimate the kids who would rather do science projects than play sports and are excited to say they’re crew members on Spaceship Earth. Because when that renegade piece of Skylab is about to come crashing down on your bunk, you’re going to want to have someone with a twenty-sided die in your corner. While you’re having fun watching the comic stylings of Alan Shemper, these kids are making sure you survive the night without you ever realizing it. But it’s not about the recognition; it’s about the science, and it’s about doing the right thing.
There *might* be a chance that the robot kid’s baffling wind powers might have been the thing to save humanity—or, you know, Camp Firewood—but for everyone’s sake, let’s just say it was definitely the machine made out of a trash can and a stack of donuts. We could also probably lump the robot kid in with the indoor kids anyway, so it’s a win-win.
Prove them wrong.
Like any young woman trying to make it in her chosen field, Lindsay faces a lot of naysayers. It can be hard to get people to take you seriously. But when people underestimate you, remember that you’re twenty fours years old with a lifetime of sexual and career experience and use it to prove them wrong. If you can look sixteen with your hair clipped back, show them. Clip your hair back.
And if you believe in yourself, you can find a way to do your story AND save your friends.
Always follow the kid who yells.
You know what? Sometimes the loudest person actually knows their shit, and will keep you on schedule (it’s all about time management when you’re at camp). How else are you going to know when the food is ready? Or when you’re supposed to wake up every morning? Or when to put your game face on for Capture the Flag?
Most importantly, how the hell are you supposed to know when something cool happens if you don’t have some kid yelling about it? Do you really want to be the person who misses that?
Honesty is the best policy.
Breaking up with someone can be awkward. It’s tempting to go with a vague “it’s not you, it’s me” even when it’s not true just to avoid hurting their feelings or having to make it a whole thing. Right? But listen, it’s better to be honest. If it’s them? Tell them it’s them. If they taste like a burger? Do the right thing and tell them. It might be hard in the moment, but it’s better for both of you in the long run.
Andy is a good example of this but you know who’s really goals? KATIE. Let’s take a look at her breakup speech to Coop:
“Listen, Coop – last night was really great. You were incredibly romantic and heroic, no doubt about it. And that’s great. But I’ve thought about it, and my thing is this: Andy is really hot. And don’t get me wrong, you’re cute too, but Andy is like, *cut*. From marble. He’s gorgeous. He has like this beautiful face and this incredible body, and I genuinely don’t care that he’s kinda lame. You know, I don’t even care that he cheats on me. And I like you more than I like Andy, Coop, but I’m 16. And maybe it’ll be a different story like when I’m ready to get married, but right now, I am entirely about sex. I just wanna get laid. I wanna take him and grab him and just fuck his brains out, ya know? So that’s where my priorities are right now. Sex. Specifically with Andy and not with you. But you’re really nice, I mean everybody thinks so. And I’m sorry if this isn’t the direction you saw things going between us. I still totally want to be friends.”
If you have different needs than your significant other, you’re only hurting them if you’re not honest about it. And guess what? Coop handled it well, there was no slut shaming, and Katie left happy with Andy (who is indeed *cut*). Everyone wins.
Live your best life.
I am of the firm belief that a happy life is one where you just lean the fuck in to whoever you are. What’s the point of hiding your true self? If you want to be a dick with 1,000 popped collars, be a dick with 1,000 popped collars, Blake. If apathy is more your game, let it be your game; you probably already know what to do with the kids who *mysteriously* lose their swimming buddy while you’re making out with Lindsay, anyway. And for the love of god, do the things that bring you joy. Just look at how happy Gene is when he finally drops all pretenses:
Hey, if you need a little encouragement from a talking can of vegetables, so be it. Just own it.
Don’t let anything stop you from following your dreams.
When you want something, you have to go for it. Arty arrives at Camp Firewood with a dream of being the camp DJ. And once he sets his mind to it, he achieves it because he doesn’t let anything silly like the wires not being attached or showers get in his way.
A lot can happen in a day.
Look, all I’m saying is maybe we can learn a thing or two from Camp Firewood about the power of time management. Whether it’s getting the most out of your hour away from camp (which is always fun):
Or simply making it to lights out at sleepaway camp. At any given moment, you could be playing Capture the Flag, having fun at an afternoon BBQ, falling in love, holding a makeshift group therapy session during Arts and (Farts and) Crafts, diverting a falling space station and receiving the Hopkins prize for Physics, fighting off presidential assassins, waging (and winning) a legal battle against Xenstar and its toxic waste, and preparing a talent show, all before the sun goes down. You only have so many hours in a day. Make them count.
Toxic waste: How bad is it, really?
I know, I know, Xenstar is evil, we have to save the camp, blah blah blah. But look at Mitch, he fell into a puddle of the toxic waste and turned into a vegetable can but he’s still living a full life.
That’s all from 1981! Just look at how fruitful your time at camp can really be. What lessons are to be learned in 1991? Will Camp Firewood be saved? Will Ben and McKinley still shine the purest light? And exactly how does Greg come back from being straight up murdered during the first day of camp?! Here’s to finding the answers we’re looking for during the reunion. And don’t be late; I mean, we’re all in our late twenties, and we just don’t see any reason we can’t be places on time. Plus, McKinley has something at 11:00 in his Trapper Keeper full of appointments, and he can’t change it. He already moved it twice.