How a Philly Man’s Tweet Inspired That New Musical About Bill Murray, Wu-Tang Clan and Martin Shkreli
The best Twitter account in Philadelphia is @eastwes. His account is so good, one of his tweets is becoming a musical.
This requires some ridiculous backstory, so strap in. About two years ago, hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang Clan announced it would sell just one copy of its new album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The double-CD album was sold at auction late last year to a secret bidder with explicit rules: It could be streamed or released for free, but couldn’t be commercially exploited until 2103.
A few months later, Bloomberg broke the bidder’s name: Martin Shkreli. Though he’d attracted controversy before, Shkreli was mostly unknown until he came to wide public attention months earlier when the New York Times reported his pharmaceutical company had purchased an old drug named Daraprim and raised the price from $13.50 a tablet to $750. “It really doesn’t make sense to get any criticism for this,” he told the Times.
Though it was a much less important situation, people may have been even angrier when they found out Shkreli bought the Wu-Tang album for a reported $2 million — especially after he threatened to destroy it. The news bounced around the Internet. And Rob Wesley (aka @eastwes) tweeted a joke.
Forget the $2M, this is easily the most interesting part of the whole deal between Wu-Tang and Martin Shkreli. pic.twitter.com/5nSshXhjnJ
— Rob Wesley (@eastwes) December 9, 2015
Per Wesley’s tweet, the Wu-Tang Clan’s members and/or Bill Murray were legally allowed to execute one (1) “heist or caper” in order to steal the album’s rights back.
“It’s written like what a dumb person would think a smart person would write in a legal contract: ‘Heist or caper’ as if there’s a precise legal difference,” Wesley tells Philadelphia magazine. “Nothing in it is legally plausible. It’s written in Word and looks more like an old newspaper clip than a $2 million legal contract. So anyone ever believing it could be real never crossed my mind.”
Yet people did just that. It spread almost as fast as the two stories involving Shkreli. Actual journalists inquired about it. Others didn’t even bother. NME still has a story up saying the album sale “comes with an AWESOME caveat, as Twitter user Rob Wesley has claimed.” The Independent wrote it up as real, too. It wasn’t just the U.K. press that was fooled: Gizmodo tweeted the story as real, before issuing a correction eight minutes later: “Upon closer inspection, it’s seems quite likely that the guy who tweeted the clause is making a very funny joke.”
“Aside from being aghast at the state of modern journalism, it was funny,” Wesley says. “For every ‘this should be a movie/play/show’ reply, I had a thousand people tweeting ‘I’ll help!’ despite the fact that the obviously very real legal document specifically said they could not help.”
Martin Shkreli no commented, and a small cottage industry quickly arose to debunk the obvious joke. Even Wu-Tang leader RZA tweeted about it, after hearing of the backlash toward Shkreli buying the album: “We’re really getting the urge to call Bill Murray.”
Enter Lauren Gundrum and Joel Esher. The writing partners are planning a musical, Martin Shkreli’s Game: How Bill Murray Joined the Wu-Tang Clan, which will run for six performances at the Midtown International Theater Festival in Manhattan this July. Gundrum’s and Esher’s Indiegogo has raised more than $2,200 so far.
“Him buying the Wu-Tang album felt like a fun, an entertaining, an interesting story,” Esher told Philadelphia magazine. “And then when that supposed clause in the contract circulated, that was just a hilarious thing.”
“That turned out to be a hoax,” Gundrum says. “But the world wanted to see that heist. So we thought that was a really funny concept and started writing.” The pair has been working on the musical since December. Gundrum is the lyricist, while Esher does music. One sample song is titled “I’m Martin Fuckin’ Shkreli (And You Can All Go Fuck Yourselves).” They were casting earlier this week and will continue doing so over the weekend.
“Martin and his lawyers intend to ignore this childish, absurd project,” Shkreli’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told CNBC. “We have far more serious issues to address and will not allow ourselves to be distracted.” Those more serious issues: Not only is he being sued over art in the Wu-Tang album, but he is facing securities fraud charges. Shkreli later commented anyway.
But here’s a problem for Gundrum and Esher: They didn’t ask Wesley first. He learned of it when the New York Post wrote about the musical yesterday. While their content lampoons celebrities and people in the news, the plot is based on a work of fiction written by Wesley. It’s a work of fiction written in a tweet — inspired by a scene in Coffee and Cigarettes and an incident with Murray and Wu-Tang members RZA and GZA at SXSW in 2010 — but a work of fiction invented by Wesley nonetheless.
“Like pretty much everything on the internet, the whole thing is both weird and colossally dumb,” Wesley says. “I am against somebody crowdfunding a project based entirely on someone else’s idea. It’s apparently a small theater, but it seems like people are still going to be charged for tickets. And the part on their Indiegogo site where they say ‘Our goal is to get it up in front of an audience, see what’s working, continue to develop it …’, especially that ‘continue to develop it’ part, make me less inclined to be charitable about their goals and intentions.”
“We definitely want to give him the credit he deserves for coming up with the idea,” Gundrum says. “We were inspired by that tweet then kind of took it and went in a different direction.” Esher said they would be “happy to talk with him directly.” Gundrum says she and Esher thought it was a real legal document at first, especially with the press reporting it was real. Their Indiegogo says the musical is “based on truth,” linking the erroneous NME report.
But the most interesting part of the musical — the Bill Murray/Wu-Tang Clan heist — is the work of Wesley. He has already told them on Twitter that he doesn’t “approve of you soliciting money from people or charging for tickets based on an idea you didn’t create.” He declined to comment if he’s considering legal action.
“My hope at the moment is that the experience of Being Yelled At By People On Twitter – the surest and most trusted legal system we have in this country today – is enough to make them realize this was a mistake and rethink what they are doing,” Wesley says. “Their title, their premise and all of their promotion is based not on a true thing that happened, but on something that I created, and they should not be using it without my permission.”
Follow @dhm on Twitter.