We hereby declare Tuesday, August 28, to be Pizza Day, a day to celebrate all the magic (and marinara) of one of earth’s greatest foods. To be completely honest, Pizza Day was originally meant to be timed to the release of the pizza-themed romantic comedy Little Italy, starring Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen; when we realized that Little Italy only hits theaters this week in Canada, we said, “Eh, let’s celebrate pizza in August anyway.” Who needs an excuse to honor pizza, right?
Pizza is a delicious thing to eat, and, separately, it is also a thrilling culinary medium. You can bake only so many stray ingredients into a cake until you compromise the integrity of its structure. Pour enough weird stuff into a soup and it’ll congeal into an unappetizing paste. But pizza is essentially an edible plate designed to compliment almost anything you put on top of it. For that reason, it has encouraged reckless topping experimentation. History’s most daring chefs, so drunk on the accommodating nature of a fresh, plain pie, have succeeded in convincing society that both brined fish and tropical fruit are pizza ingredients worthy of mainstream menus. But that is the undeniable magic of the dish: Even the oddest foodstuffs can pass when they’re swimming in hot, melted cheese.
No one seems to know this better than the Olsen twins. Or at least, the fine people responsible for dreaming up the song “Gimme Pizza” that the Olsen twins performed in their 1995 special, You’re Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley’s Sleepover Party. In this particular entry of their successful home-video franchise, the two host a group of friends for a slumber party. They play video games, tell scary stories, and feud with their older brother. It’s all very low-key, with the exception of dinner time, when the girls order “one super-giant pizza” with nothing on it and garnish it with anything they can find in the fridge, all while performing a freestyle rap about the effort. For posterity, here is the complete list of what they put on the pizza.
4. Whipped cream “pouring like waterfalls”
6. Ice cream
7. A whole fish
8. Chocolate sauce
11. Caramel coconut cream
12. Egg foo young
13. Chicken tongue
14. Rice and mashed potatoes
15. Fried green tomatoes
18. Fish sticks
22. Eyeballs (Almost—an executive decision is made to “hold” the eyeballs.)
Concocting gross meals and daring your friends to eat them is a timeless juvenile pastime, and one that surely delighted the 10-year-old girls (like me) who religiously watched Olsen-twin videos. “Gimme Pizza” was a simple song that seized upon that trope and took it to the absurd. And no one appeared to think much of it until 2008, when a clip of the special was uploaded to YouTube. The low production value, reliance on close-ups of the children’s exaggerated expressions, and nostalgic significance made You’re Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley’s Sleepover Party ideal internet fodder. Two years later, YouTube user philipmserious slowed down “Gimme Pizza,” distorting the kids’ voices until they were deep, lethargic, and commanding, creating an instant stoner anthem. More than 7 million people have watched it. The first time I saw the latter version, somewhere around the year 2011, I was high, two slices into a Domino’s pizza, and riveted.
One of the most frequent comments below the original video is a variation of the question: “How?” How did this happen? And who were the people responsible for accidentally creating what is now a deeply unsettling relic of the fledgling children’s entertainment industry? I tracked down as many technicians, directors, and cast members as I could to find out.
Part 1: The Business of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Kendall Schmidt [composer]: The Olsen twins, we were told, were each worth $50 million. And they were 10. And that was 1995. Even now that’s a lot of money, but I mean, then, that was ridiculous.
(Note: The Olsen twins did not respond to requests for comment.)
William Clark [first assistant director]: I was the assistant director on the Mary-Kate and Ashley videos in the mid-’90s. I’d been doing some work with Tapestry Films on feature films, and they had a partnership with Dualstar to produce that collection of videos. So I started working on one, two, and then I became friends with the director of most of the series—a lovely man named Michael Kruzan—and whenever we would do ’em we would do about three to five a pop and go different places and do different videos for the home market. I did about 10 or 12 of them. It was a huge company. They were really genius in their marketing plan, so there was always an approval process.
Schmidt: They had two series that were done by the same people. One was called You’re Invited, and the other one was called The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley.
They had this guy Robert Thorne, [head of Dualstar Entertainment in the ’90s], who ran everything, and he lived on a houseboat on, like, Lake Mead or something. I remember Louise [Rosner, the line producer] would have to take a plane, rent a car, and take a little boat out to his boat to show him the mix, to get approval. He owned everything about them, so he was the final word in everything. He was this mystery sort of guy—the Howard Hughes character. No one ever saw him except for her.
Clark: These girls were very busy at that time. If we were not shooting on a day, they would make public appearances. And people would line up around the block. I mean, big blocks! Big city avenue blocks, just to see these girls and to get their little signatures. We shot in Alabama once where they did a Saturday public appearance and the amount of people that showed up to that public appearance—I didn’t know that there were that many people in Alabama.
Schmidt: I remember one time, just to pull a trick on Louise, I created a fake L.A. Times article and made it look really authentic. And in those days there wasn’t much email, so I faxed it to her, which made it even more authentic, because you couldn’t really tell that it was fake. It was something about how I offended the fans of the Olsen twins, and all the fans were storming my house. And I faxed this to her over at Tapestry. When she got it, she believed it.
Part 2: Shooting the Sleepover
Liz Kay [art director]: I built their bedroom at Ben Kitay Stages in Hollywood. I just wanted to make it look comfortable and inviting, like every kid would like their room to be. All-American, yet not Disney-fied. I wanted it to be kind of cool, moody. Slightly film noir.
Brighton Hertford [cast member]: I got this audition from my agent and ended up on MK and A’s sleepover party. I got invited, I guess you could say. If I remember correctly—they had a Slush Puppie machine backstage at that sound studio. We weren’t allowed to have them during filming because they would obviously turn your mouth bright red or bright blue, but I remember thinking that was the coolest thing ever, as a kid. Honestly, craft services was probably one of my favorite parts of being a child actor.
Vanessa Croft-Thompson [cast member]: I was excited. The Olsen twins were fun. I was 10 or 11 at the time. They were a year younger than me. I thought it was really cool. But at that point in time, I had been in the industry for seven years. So for me it wasn’t really about the Olsen twins. It was that I booked a straight-to-video job. Even as an 11-year-old, I knew it wasn’t a high-standing job.
David Hillenbrand [music producer]: I actually produced the girls vocals’ tracks on all of the songs for the video series. I was in the recording studio with them, one at a time. I actually sat in the stage area of the recording studio, sitting in a chair in front of the microphone, teaching them the lines one-by-one. When one of the twins got tired, she would go back to another room where their teacher and chaperones would be, and the other would come into the studio to continue recording.
Clark: It’s a job for us, but they’re still kids and they should be having fun. We really went to great lengths to try to make sure they would as much as possible. On their birthday, I let [the Olsen twins] mash my face into a cake. They came to my girlfriend and said, “Tell Will that the cake smells funny.” And I went, “What do you mean?!” And they smashed my head into the cake and they laughed for hours about that.
Kay: Mary-Kate and Ashley made up [a rule that] if we swore we would have to put money in a bucket. And, you know, these girls were richer than God and we were paying them all the time. That added insult to injury. They were like, “Oh, we heard it!” And I’m like, “All right …”
Hertford: At the time of filming, I thought the funniest song was “Very, Very Unbelievably Scary,” and we all had face paint and wigs on and stuff. Mine was an homage to the band Kiss. The face painting was all very white. It was big, bold, black. Eye makeup and stuff like that. [Editor’s note: There is also a slowed-down version of this clip.]
Croft-Thompson: I had a teddy bear that I used to take with me everywhere. I was very superstitious about him. I called him Fuzzy. I actually still have him. Fuzzy was on that shoot. There was a lamp, and he was on the lamp. And they took a Polaroid to make sure it stayed where it was because the shoot was over a couple of days.
Part 3: “Gimme Pizza”
Kay: The pizza song was just a jingle that the director came up with. We would all just sing it all the time. We would be like, “Gimme pizza, P-I-Z-Z-A.”
Clark: That was one of the first sets of videos that we had done.
Matthew Gossin [film editor]: I couldn’t get the song out of my head for, I don’t know, a good couple of months. I brought copies of the cut home to my wife as I was doing them. We were humming “pizza, pizza” for a long time. But when I was told to edit the song, there certainly wasn’t anything special, like: “This is going to be our hit!”
Croft-Thompson: I do still remember all the lyrics.
Schmidt: There was a moment [at the beginning of the song] where a mom’s voice had to say, “Kids, the pizza’s here.” And they were trying to find the right person. And I think the producer just used her voice.
Hertford: The pizza song was far and away the most intensive process of the whole filming. There were so many ingredients that we had to stick on the pizza.
Clark: We shot just the [Olsen twins] first, and then we did the master, and then we did the other girls. So that’s why, if you watch the video, Mary-Kate and Ashley really aren’t putting much of the stuff on the pizza. They’re reacting and we get a close reaction to their faces, and then they sing the song. Children’s video acting is a little different from normal acting. You can’t shift your eyes. Normally you try to act natural, but when it comes to children’s videos you’ve gotta keep those eyes steadier.
Hertford: I’m the one with the round bob and the fabulous linen overalls, which by the way, were also my own.
Croft-Thompson: I remember they made me wear my hair in this really stupid way that I never wore it. And my mom was really pissed about that. It was kinda half up, half down. They were paying a chick to do hair and makeup, and she just did not know how to deal with curly hair.
Hertford: A lot of the direction I was given was to be more excited and to make crazier faces. I had to know every single lyric. I probably could still recite some of it.
Croft-Thompson: They kept saying, “Be more smiley.” They were like, “Be excited, you’re super excited! There’s pizza!”
Clark: When we got to the other three girls, we were experimenting with the whipped cream and the fish and the eyes. They were little girls and would go, “Ewwwwww eyeballs.”
Croft-Thompson: I was raised a vegan. And they wanted me to hold the fried chicken. I remember thinking that was kind of weird, but whatever. Now when I look at it, I’m like: So because I’m a colored girl you want me to hold the chicken? During the ’90s, I don’t think the racism was so apparent, because my mom would not have allowed that to happen. I don’t think at the time it was racist. Now I think it’s racist.
Hertford: The [toppings] that stuck out to me were the flying fish at the end of it, the whipped cream, all that stuff was obviously nothing that you would want to eat on a pizza, ever.
Kay: We had to make all of those things. But I think some of the actual physical toppings were just potatoes with food coloring in it.
Gossin: For some reason right now, I’m hungry. I don’t know why.
Part 4: The Aftermath
Thirteen years after its initial release, the “Gimme Pizza” clip is posted on YouTube and goes viral.
Schmidt: Did they do remixes of it and stuff like that? That’s funny.
Hillenbrand: I’m not sure I ever saw the finished product [until] I had looked at the video when you first emailed me.
Hertford: It was kind of surprising, once I got the finished product, that our voices, or at least my voice—my singing voice—was dubbed over for all the songs. I’m pretty sure they were old actors trying to sound younger.
Clark: The kids at that time who were watching those videos are now 30 years old. So, you know, there’s a potential that some of them are my boss in this day and age. And when they hear about the Mary-Kate and Ashley thing, they’re like, “Oh my gosh! You worked on the Mary-Kate and Ashley videos? They were amazing, I loved them! I had all of them!” I hear that all the time.
Croft-Thompson: I moved on from the child-acting period when I was about 15. It wasn’t till I was maybe 24 or 25 when someone came up to me and was like, “Is this you?” And it was the “Gimme Pizza” thing. When I tell you that I literally moved away from that part of my life, that is a metaphorical and literal thing. I metaphorically moved away from that, and then literally I moved to the fucking Caribbean. I did so many other, better things in my acting career. I was in a music video with Michael Jackson for his song “Black or White.” That video is what I imagined would’ve been more of a thing than this goddamn Mary-Kate and Ashley video.
Hertford: [Years later, when it was posted on YouTube,] my brother-in-law at the time called me, and he was like, “Dude, are you aware that this pizza video has reached viral status online?” And I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I got on and I saw it slowed down, and of course it was a completely different song at that point. I thought it was pretty hilarious.
Croft-Thompson: I have people DM me on Instagram. They send me messages like, “Are you Vanessa Croft from the ‘Gimme Pizza’ video?” It’s really wild because I don’t identify myself as that. Yes, I’m Vanessa Croft. But I’m Vanessa Croft the poet, the author. ... I am a mother and a teacher and a wife and a lecturer. I am definitely not that chick from the “Gimme Pizza” video.
Hertford: I think now it’s something you can put on the background at an adult pizza party if you wanted to, as opposed to something that was made and marketed for kids originally.
Croft-Thompson: For the 30-something demographic, those Olsen-twin videos are like the last thing they hold on to as a piece of their childhood. I think people want to revisit a time when they did not have as many responsibilities. Where you had a swing on your tree outside. You had a pair of a rollerblades. You played with Gak. You had a slap-band bracelet ruler. You read Baby-Sitters Club books and Goosebumps. And you watched Olsen-twin videos. Things were happy and simple. For some strange reason, people clung to that song as that representation. And the “Gimme Pizza” video, because it’s about pizza, it’s catchy, we’re spelling a word, and people realized they could slow it down. It’s kind of wild, to be honest, because that is the last thing in the world that I ever thought would be that.
Hertford: I work in the tech industry and, as you can imagine, there are a lot of—I don’t know if the word “internet trolls” is the right word because I work with a lot of really nice people—but they’re definitely aware of what’s going on on the interweb. So, it’s brought up probably more than I would if I worked in a non-tech industry. We have an inner work channel that we do on Slack, and sometimes people will joke around with me and be like, “What should we have for lunch today?” “I don’t know, pizza.”