The Laid-Back Activism of Chad and JT
Orange County-based surfer bros employ radical kindness, an “aura of stoke,” and hilarious city council appearances to slyly promote grass-roots engagement.
This article appears in FLOOD 11: The Action Issue. You can purchase the magazine here. All proceeds benefit NIVA (National Independent Venue Alliance) and their efforts to save independent venues across the United States. #SaveOurStages
BACKSTORY: Perpetually stoked Southern Californian comedians channeling their inner Sean Penns as they attempt to make a positive difference in their community
FROM: San Clemente, California, but can now be found on any cool Orange County beach
YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: Their popular podcast, Going Deep with Chad and JT
NOW: Developing an animated Chad and JT series for Hulu
Chad Kroeger was stoked. After weeks of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the beaches in Huntington Beach, California had reopened; Kroeger—not to be confused with the Nickelback frontman of the same name—was looking forward to hitting his favorite surfing spots, and maybe even grabbing a meal afterwards at Bear Flag Fish Co., one of his favorite poke places. But what he saw when he pulled into the beach community concerned him greatly.
“I noticed that a lot of people weren’t wearing masks,” recalls Chad (real name: Tom Allen), comedian and co-host of the podcast Going Deep with Chad and JT. “Naturally, I thought that the supply chain must be boned up, since we’d heard early on in the pandemic that there was a shortage of PPE.”
Determined to help solve this apparent mask shortage, Chad and his bro/podcast partner JT (real name: John T. Parr) scored a bunch of masks from a pal at the MULCH California clothing company, and tried to distribute them. “We just thought we’d go out and hand them out for free, so that people could start rocking them,” Chad explains.
But despite the pair’s laid-back methodology, the response to their mission—as captured in a now-viral YouTube video—was significantly less than enthusiastic. While Chad and JT did find a few takers, most of the folks they spoke to countered their offer of free masks with medical disinformation, crackpot theories, bellicose declarations of personal freedom, and even physical threats. A second mask-distribution foray, this one filmed in the duo’s hometown of San Clemente, proved equally unsuccessful. “It was interesting to hear people’s take on it,” reflects Chad, “but in Orange County, people don’t really like being told what to do.”
“It’s like when I was in little league, and they tried to make us wear cups,” adds JT. “I thought they were really cumbersome and refused to wear one. It wasn’t until the third baseman on my team got hit by a ball right where you wear a cup that I was like, ‘All right, these are pretty important.’ I think that, whatever the issue is, it needs to strike close to home before people start taking safety precautions.”
“Our approach to all those situations is radical kindness, and maintaining an ‘aura of stoke. We read stoicism a lot, and that’s kind of the crux of that philosophy—always stay stoked within. By maintaining that, you can kind of de-escalate the ‘situache’ and help get your message across.” —Chad
But even during their gnarliest mask-distribution encounters—like the San Clemente surfer who ran up and coughed in their faces—Chad and JT remained impressively chill and undeterred. “Our approach to all those situations is radical kindness, and maintaining an ‘aura of stoke,’” Chad explains. “We read stoicism a lot, and that’s kind of the crux of that philosophy—always stay stoked within. By maintaining that, you can kind of de-escalate the ‘situache’ and help get your message across.”
The mask handouts were not Chad and JT’s first venture into activism; the duo have been showing up for several years now at city council meetings around Southern California, and speaking out on everything from zoning laws and scooter bans to pet projects of their own devising—like their proposals to add a second Fourth of July to the U.S. calendar, or build a statue memorializing the late Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker.
“Around the last election,” Chad recalls, “We noticed that the country was pretty divided, so we thought we should go speak to the San Clemente City Council about how a statue of Paul Walker could bring this country together. And from there, I guess we realized that we do have a powerful message to bring to the people, so we decided, ‘Let’s just keep speaking on things that are near and dear to our hearts, and maybe people will vibe with it.’”
While the videos of Chad and JT’s city council appearances are agreeably goofy—JT usually manages to work an a capella song into his speech—they also subtly reinforce the idea that everyone can and should get involved with community politics.
“I think our stoke-filled, lighthearted approach helps to open up the conversation to people who might not otherwise be interested in politics, or think that they’re not interested in it,” says Chad. “Like, we have a buddy who never watched the news before we started doing this stuff, and now he’s like, ‘Dude, I love politics!’ He’s really well-versed in all the city council agenda items now.”
“I used to watch Real Time with Bill Maher a lot,” adds JT. “And when Sean Penn would go on there, it would say on his chiron, ‘Sean Penn—activist/actor,’ and I was like, ‘Whoa, he’s an activist first!’ And I really respect Sean Penn, so I was like, ‘I’m an activist first, too!” So when we go to the city council, there are aspects of our speeches that maybe help it pop a little, but the first thing is always activism. We definitely want to make it viewer-friendly, and put the sugar on the pill that will make people want to watch it, but it’s all for the cause.” FL