Wet Hot American Summer: The 20 Best Characters at Camp Firewood Ranked - VRGyani News and Media


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Wet Hot American Summer: The 20 Best Characters at Camp Firewood Ranked

From the beginning, Wet Hot American Summer was largely a film about underdogs. After the cancellation of MTV’s The State, Michael Showalter, and David Wain decided to create a quick and cheap story they could make with their friends. Yet this process took over three years, leading to filming at a cold Pennsylvania camp where it rained every single day, and a trip to the 2001 Sundance Film Festival with no distribution offers. The film received terrible reviews from critics and made less than $300,000 in theaters.

Yet you’d never realize Wet Hot American Summer was originally a failure twenty years later. The film quickly became a cult classic, a strange comedy that has a very specific voice unlike any other comedy, and the giant ensemble cast included actors who would soon become gigantic stars, like Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, and many more. Two decades after its release, Wet Hot American Summer has spawned two Netflix series - First Day of Camp and Ten Years Later - a graphic novel, and even a role-playing game. The film that took years to make and failed upon release has become an everlasting franchise.

The events of Wet Hot American Summer took place on August 18, 1981, so forty years later (and just slightly over twenty years after the film was released), let’s take a look back at that last day of Camp Firewood’s 1981 season, and rank the best characters from the film. But what makes a great Wet Hot character? First, this list will only focus on the events of the film, not on the various ephemera that has come out since. But secondly, the best characters from Wet Hot are consistently hilarious, are important to the events of this final day of camp, and are simply a blast to be around. Some of these characters might only get a few scenes in the film, yet their impact in Wet Hot American Summer is integral to the overall experience.

Without further ado, grab your 20-sided die and fondle your sweaters, as we rank the 20 best characters from Wet Hot American Summer.

20. Ben (Bradley Cooper)

20 years after the release of Wet Hot American Summer, Bradley Cooper has arguably become the biggest member of this cast, and while his part may be small, his ability to play off anyone he’s up against in his very first film shows the talent the actor already had. Ben is able to be the order to Susie’s madness, and is able to make his relationship with McKinley possibly the most believable in the entire film. Watching Wet Hot American Summer now, it might be easy to think Ben is funny simply because it’s odd watching a young Cooper in such a tiny role, but Ben is able to hold his own against some massive comedic talents right out the gate.

19. McKinley (Michael Ian Black)

Beyond his relationship and iconic sex scene with Ben, Michael Ian Black’s McKinley doesn’t have a lot to do in Wet Hot, somewhat surprising considering his prominence in The State and as one-third of Stella with Showalter and Wain. But it’s in the small moments throughout the film that make Black shine, like the awkward way he runs during the capture-the-flag competition, and the way he already has plans a decade after the events of the film. Also, in a film where everyone is so committed to getting laid/getting other people laid, McKinley is one of only two characters that we know for a fact did the deed during their summer at Camp Firewood.

18. Gary (A.D. Miles)

When looking at the characters of Wet Hot American Summer, there are really two types of characters: the chaos characters who are integral to some of the film’s most insane and hysterical moments, and the more restrained characters who often act as a garnish to the chaos characters. By working in the kitchen with Gene, Gary immediately becomes one of the most important characters in the latter character, as he has to consistently deal with one of Wet Hot’s most bonkers characters. Without Gary, you don’t get Gene’s floundering to make up excuses, and you almost certainly don’t get the Can of Vegetables having a heart-to-heart with Gene about their shared experiences in Vietnam. Whether it’s getting a wedding present for Ben and McKinley, showing that Abby (Marisa Ryan) won't wait for Victor, or asking about the camp’s trip into town, Gary is also integral to setting up some of Wet Hot’s biggest jokes, an underrated and important piece of this story.

17. Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks)

If this list took into consideration the events of the two Netflix Wet Hot American Summer series, Lindsay would be far higher on this list, as she has one of the most interesting backstories of any character at camp. But even without knowing that Lindsay is Never Been Kissing this entire group, Elizabeth Banks is fantastic at trying to steal away moments with Andy, even when she smells like a burger. Lindsay’s inability to not be turned on, whether it’s when covered in barbecue sauce or when it seems like the camp is about to blow away during the talent show, is a fun commentary on the over-sexualization of female characters in teen comedies.

16. Aaron (Gideon Jacobs)

Wet Hot American Summer usually keeps a strict line between the lives of the campers and their counselors, but that isn’t the case with Aaron. Out of all the kids in arts and crafts, Aaron takes it upon himself to make sure Molly Shannon’s Gail is okay about her separation from Ronald von Kleinstein (Judah Friedlander). Considering that Gail is one of the only characters that is supposed to be in their 30s only makes the actions of Aaron even weirder. Wet Hot ends with the two deep in wedding plans, and while it seems like this is just another one of Gail’s relationships that doesn’t work out, it’s extremely strange and borderline unsettling while it lasts.

15. Nancy (Nina Hellman)

Nurse Nancy is another one of those Wet Hot characters that doesn’t have much to do, other than to pop up at opportune times, and drop absolutely brilliant one-liners. In fact, Nancy is one of the only characters whose every line absolutely kills, and her reactions in every scene are extremely underappreciated. Take, for example, her line about lube that causes Beth (Janene Garofalo) to silently drive away from her. The line was enough, but the unhinged way she runs away from Beth is the perfect capper to what was already an absurd moment. Like Gary, Nancy is an ingenious embellishment for already hilarious scenes.

14. Caped Boy/Keith Stack (Gabriel Millman)

Unlike the other “indoor kids” that decide to spend their last day of camp doing science projects with Henry, Caped Boy distinguishes himself from the crowd, in that he actually has a name. With just one small monologue, we learn so much about Keith Stack - aka Caped Boy. He’s from New Jersey, he is a class B dungeon master, and he’s unexpectedly confident, even after being called a douchebag. Simply put, Keith rocks, to the point that he’s the face of the Wet Hot roleplaying adventure game, and even gets his own backstory in the Wet Hot graphic novel by Christopher Hastings. And of course, he saved the camp using his trusty 20-sided die. Keith doesn’t have a lot of time in Wet Hot, but he’s definitely cast a level 5 charm spell on us.

13. Neil (Joe Lo Truglio)

Joe Lo Truglio has always been a great sidekick, but when he faces a raft full of scared campers, and a runaway Victor (Ken Marino), Neil becomes the star of his own story. Neil alone with the campers on the rapids is packed with great lines, especially telling the boat to “stay there” while on the river, but it’s the aggressive way he attempts to track down Victor that gets him so high on his list. His anger at Victor making “a big mistake,” leading him to chase him down on a stolen motorcycle and eventually destroy the camp’s infirmary is so delightfully over-the-top and crazy in a film that already has its fill of crazy.

12. Gail (Molly Shannon)

At the time of Wet Hot American Summer’s release, Molly Shannon was one of the biggest names associated with the film, having already been a successful cast member on Saturday Night Live due in large part to her ability to play ridiculous characters. Yet in Wet Hot, Gail is possibly the most grounded character, a woman in her 30s who is still teaching at a summer camp, worried that she won’t ever find love and having a personal crisis while surrounded by concerned children. But it’s the way that Shannon plays Gail so seriously that makes her so funny. Her entire story builds to the punchline that she’s now going to marry one of the campers, and by that point, we’re just happy to see Gail happy. Be strong, Gail!

11. J.J. (Zak Orth)

J.J. is the ultimate supporting character in Wet Hot American Summer, in that he defies time and space by apparently being everywhere in the camp at all times. He’s there when Andy (Paul Rudd) accidentally kills his second camper, he has time to go to Waterville to rob old ladies and go on a drug binge, and he and Gary have time to go to Crate & Barrel and buy Ben and McKinley a wedding present. J.J. is also apparently the only character who came to camp with his brother, Steve (Kevin Sussman), and his acceptance of Steve at the end of the film is surprisingly effective. On that last day of camp, J.J. is truly making a day of it by being there for seemingly every major event that happens at the camp all day.

RELATED: David Wain Reveals the Correct Way to Watch ‘Wet Hot American Summer’

10. Arty (Liam Norton/voiced by Samm Levine)

I’ve always found the reveal that Arty has apparently been running his own radio station at camp for eight weeks, despite the fact that all his equipment isn’t hooked up, to be deeply disturbing. Add to that he hasn’t showered in two months leads me to believe that Arty is the most unhinged and deranged character in the Wet Hot universe. Even McKinley seems afraid to spend more than a few seconds with him at a time, and who can blame him? Arty doesn’t just need a shower, he needs some serious help.

9. Can of Vegetables (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin)

By the time Wet Hot American Summer introduces a talking can of vegetables, this film is already pushing the audience’s tolerance for absurdity. Coming so late in the movie, the Can of Vegetables is a real litmus test for first-time viewers, seeing how far one is willing to follow the nonsense logistics of this film. And kudos to First Day of Camp for actually making some sense of this character, but isn't it more fun to believe this may or may not be a part of Gene’s psychosis? Is Gene truly so far gone that only a can of Pozinsky’s Mixed Vegetables can get through to him? The Can of Vegetables is a true testament to how strange the world of Wet Hot could get.

8. Victor (Ken Marino)

Victor is sort of the missing link between Coop and Andy: he’s overly confident on the outside, but extremely sensitive and blows relationships way out of proportion when given even the slightest opportunity. Victor’s journey from horny virgin to hero of the river keeps him away from camp more than most other counselors, but his adventures with Neil more than make up for this separation. Victor destroying the camp’s van, running away from Neil on a motorcycle, then his daring river rescue is a hero’s journey unlike any other in Wet Hot. The fact that he does it with an unfortunate head of curly hair and too-short jean shorts only makes Victor’s adventure even more impressive.

7. Beth (Janeane Garofalo)

Considering she's the camp director for Camp Firewood, it makes sense how much Beth gets done on the last day of camp. She puts Victor on the river, is able to wrangle even the most difficult counselors, and even has time to start a relationship, get pregnant, and help save the camp from a renegade piece of Skylab. But even when all the other campers and counselors are gone, she’s still a shoulder for Coop to cry on when his story doesn’t end as he would’ve liked. In many ways, Beth is the closest thing Wet Hot has to a straight man, yet she’s a major part of almost every storyline and somehow gets pretty much everyone out of this day in one piece (except for a few campers who are lepers). Beth might not be Wet Hot’s Ruth Buzzi, but she’s the glue keeping Camp Firewood together.

6. Coop (Michael Showalter)

It's undeniable that Coop is lame. Of course he is, I mean, just look at that picture. What a dork. Yet Coop is the heart of Wet Hot American Summer, a big softie that just wants love. Admittedly, the Coop-Katie “relationship” is one of the weaker aspects of Wet Hot, but there are so many little touches to the character that make him charming. The way the campers in his bunk genuinely seem to love the guy in the film’s opening minutes, or his brilliant training montage with Gene that turns him into a crop-topped dreamboat. And do I love Coop because he’s probably the character I most relate to? Of course, but seriously, Coop’s goofy optimism makes him endearing even when he’s at his dorkiest.

5. Susie (Amy Poehler)

None of the counselors gives a shit about their jobs, but Susie cares enough to make up for all of them. As the producer-director-choreographer of the camp’s talent show, Susie truly gives everything she’s got to not let the camper’s bullshit attitudes hold her back. Filmed prior to Amy Poehler joining Saturday Night Live, Susie shows just how Poehler can turn even the simplest line or scene into a great bit. Her delivery of lines like the sarcastic “please, welcome them,” and “how dare you” are so memorable because of how Poehler elevates these moments. Susie and Ben are both trying to do some good theatre, and it’s that dedication that made them two of the biggest stars after Wet Hot was released.

4. Henry (David Hyde Pierce)

David Hyde Pierce was easily one of the biggest names in Wet Hot when the film came out, due to the popularity of Frasier, but two decades later, Pierce’s Henry is one of the most underrated characters in the entire film. Pierce’s performance as the nerdy scientist staying next to the camp is pitch-perfect, and is the polar opposite of the Niles Crane role that Pierce was well-known for at the time. Henry gets some of the movie’s best lines (“I SAID NO!," “Oh fuck my cock”), and even the way he moves in every scene is delightfully strange. Every scene gives Henry some fantastic moment or throwaway line, to the point that it’s easy to forget just how brilliant Pierce is throughout this film. And any associate professor who can teach kids how to make miniature black holes out of paperclips and soot deserves tenure.

3. Alan Shemper (Michael Showalter)

Alan Shemper is such a ridiculous character/joke, but the way the film escalates his moment in the spotlight makes him one of the film’s best characters. As a cheesy comedian from the Catskills, Shemper tells the worst jokes, but the crowd’s pure bliss at these awful jokes only boosts his confidence, to the point that he’s screaming obscenity-laden jokes like his life depends on it. By the time Shemper gets to “I went to camp so long ago that fucking Jesus Christ was my counselor!,” Shemper has pulled a 180 and become a truly hilarious comedian. I’ve watched Wet Hot at least 100 times, and Shemper’s outburst remains as funny as it was the very first time. Add to that Shemper’s dancing to Coop’s victorious entrance, and getting blown away by Steve’s talent, and Alan Shemper is by far the most underrated of Wet Hot American Summer’s impressive roster of characters.

2. Andy (Paul Rudd)

Wet Hot American Summer clearly wants the audience to root for the relationship of Coop and Katie, but it never entirely works because, c’mon, it’s Andy. He’s cut. Like, from marble. Even Katie (Marguerite Moreau) admits that Andy is lame, but anyone who says they’d pick Coop over Andy is simply a liar. Andy is responsible for some of the most memorable Wet Hot moments, like Andy’s frustrated picking up of his mess, or disposing of several campers who have been witness to Andy’s negligence that has led to multiple deaths. Andy is cool as shit, and he’s one of the few counselors that only improves after the events of First Day of Camp and Ten Years Later. Compared to the other counselors in Wet Hot, no one stands a chance against Andy.

1. Gene (Christopher Meloni)

As great as the entire cast of Wet Hot American Summer is, Gene is an easy #1 and it’s not even close. At the time of Wet Hot, Christopher Meloni was best known for his terrifying turn as Chris Keller in Oz and as Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, so playing the Vietnam vet cook with likes to fondle his sweaters, smear mud on his ass, hump fridges, owns a bottle of dick cream, and talks to a can of vegetables was a bit of a surprise turn.

Sure, Gene is a loose cannon, but he’s also emblematic of the film’s overall message that resonates throughout the film: be proud of who you are. Gene feeds the camp not only through his food, but he revitalizes the camp through that nugget of emotional nourishment. Whether you want to be a dirty DJ broadcasting to no one, an overly ambitious musical director ready to boo a production of Godspell, or a kid that tapes himself jerking off, Gene wants you to be proud of who you are, and isn't that truly what Wet Hot American Summer is all about?

Gene is the true hero that Wet Hot American Summer needs, a wildcard who plays by his own rules and is haunted by a war we had no business being in. Gene’s simmering aggression is also unrelentingly hilarious, as Meloni finally got the opportunity to be as wild and strange as he wanted to be, and does he ever go for it at full force. Gene becomes even more integral to the story in the two Netflix seasons, but the genius and perfection of Gene in every scene makes him by far the best character in Wet Hot American Summer. Look at him, Ma, he made it! to number one! He’s okay!

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