There aren’t many occasions besides hors d’oeuvres–crammed December when it sounds more appealing to drop everything and train as a boxer for three months. Few of us would ever do it, however. Apparently that doesn’t apply to Nate Houghteling and Kai Hasson, a pair of San Francisco Bay Area Ivy League grads whose White Collar Brawler online television show has represented a form of wish fulfillment for thousands of desk jockeys since September.
The conceit? Two 26-year-old best friends train as amateur boxers for three months, then fight each other. (The finale happened Friday night and will be posted this week as soon as it’s edited.) They spin the storyline as the antithesis of their former cubicle farm occupancy. “We spent the last four years in office jobs, and at some point, it drives you crazy,” says Nate.
And penniless, apparently. As recently as August, Kai was kvetching to his webcam (see below) that an entrepreneurial failure had forced him to move home “because I’m dirt poor.” Not strictly true, mind you: Both Houghteling and Hassan went to Oakland’s expensive Head-Royce private school, leading Houghteling to Harvard and Hasson to Yale.
Regardless, the Web series they’ve created functions as more than yet another incarnation of the Harvard-Yale rivalry. Instead, it amounts to a useful portrait of white-collar masculinity in contemporary society. The series is borne of a sense that office jobs repress the authentic male’s inherent masculinity, and that, 10 years past the millennium, beating the snot out of an opponent (even for the sole purpose of attracting YouTube views) is regarded as more authentically male than, say, whipping up a really whiz-bang PowerPoint presentation.
Not beating the snot out of the opponent too hard, mind you. More than a hint of upper-class slumming exists in these first couple of episodes, an awareness of the absurdity that these former prep schoolers would take up such a working-class pursuit as boxing. And in an era when boxing’s cultural relevance has been KOed by mixed martial arts, one might be forgiven for wondering why Kai and Nate didn’t opt for the more authentically Fight Club pursuit of the UFC’s Octagon.
No matter. The series works as a kind of online companion to the comparatively more hardcore competition depicted in the Comedy Central rival-friend series, Kenny vs. Spenny. Both work because it’s fun to watch guys make explicit the rivalry that exists as an undercurrent in many friendships. Kai and Nate are charismatic, as are the supporting players who surround them. It’s fun to watch schlubs get in shape; more fun still when the fitness element involves competition; even more fun when that competition involves a healthy helping of violence.
Tension arises from the natural questions: Who will win? And will their longtime partnership—Nate and Kai have been friends since kindergarten—survive their first fistfight? It’s the last question that gets answered first. Sure, the friendship will survive, says everyone from pugilist penman Sam Sheridan to MMA star B.J. Penn, both of them making much of the intimacy of combat. And Kai himself compares a fight to a one-night stand, which places White Collar Brawler uncomfortably close to the 2009 indie movie Humpday, a film about a pair of hetero male friends on a quixotic quest to climax, not in combat, but in gay sex.
Once Nate and Kai jogged into the ring for their bout on Friday night, the transformation wrought by their training was evident; Nate’s arms were thickly muscled; Kai’s former beanpole had filled in. With the first exchanges of blows, both Kai and Nate showed they were there to compete. Nate, in better shape, as well as the superior athlete, was the favorite. Underdog Kai insisted he had a chance because he said, somewhat pitifully, that he was the better chess player. But the taller Kai’s big wild card was his three-inch advantage in reach. Unfortunately, he didn’t use it. When the third and final round ended, it was clear to everyone, including the sanctioned judges, that Nate had won by decision.
The long hug between victor and vanquished at the fight’s end confirmed the friendship remained extant, and Nate spoke of a season two in his after-fight remarks. So the two friends stuck it out. Was it a success? With most-viewed episodes counting less than 30,000 views as I write this, the series wasn’t nearly as viral as other Kai-and-Nate videos, at least one of which has more than 2,000,000 views. But while the show purported to chronicle an arc about a couple of office slaves who gave up their jobs to become amateur boxers, the more interesting arc was related, but different. The show chronicles a couple of kids whose hobby of making stupid Internet videos evolved into a full-time career of creating captivating entertainment. If they didn’t quite achieve their fame and fortune, Kai and Nate are heading toward it.
—Photo via Valleyloop.com