Titmouse's Infamous “Smash Party” Crashes to an End After 20 Years
Interview by Mike O'Donnell / Editor
Some companies do trust falls. Others do corporate retreats. But the pioneering animation studio Titmouse, always embracing their true colors, has been doing something markedly different for the past 20 years. They throw a big party and smash things in a giant metal cage. Like televisions. Printers. Desks. Toilets. It’s like piñatas for adults, except they don’t just break the shell open. They smash the candy inside and continue to smash with an array of handheld weapons until it’s hardly discernible what the thing was in the first place. As Titmouse (and Smash Party) founder Chris Prynoski tells it, the best is “a big old CRT television or computer monitor...That implosion sound when the vacuum is broken is unmistakably brutal. Everyone cheers when those pop!”
In our interview below, Chris shares how “Smash Party” came into existence, how it’s evolved to elevate the spectacle (and yes, safety from rogue axes), and why it became a defining part of Titmouse’s (and the animation industry’s) creative culture. Oh yeah, and why they’re not going to do them anymore. Surprised? Did you really think the same guy who promotes the obliteration of appliances in a metal cage for the sheer visceral enjoyment wasn’t going to keep you on your toes?
How did Smash Party come about?
When I worked at MTV in New York on Beavis and Butt-Head, Daria, and Downtown in the 90s, my college friend Jody Schaeffer shared an office with me. He mentioned a news story about a fancy restaurant in Tokyo where one could smash a $1,000 vase in a room designed for just such an activity after eating an expensive dinner. Jody did not want to travel to Japan or purchase a gourmet dinner in order to smash a vase in a room. After all, he lived in a house with a garage and there was a Goodwill less than five minutes away.
Within a month, we were recklessly destroying a stockpile of smashable items in his garage. We were caught up in such a frenzy that we didn't stop with the items designated for smashing and ripped down his interior garage walls. He was not happy. He was incredibly happy. The Smash Party was born.
Did you have a history of demolishing appliances before activating the event for your company and community?
My mother was employed by a New Jersey state institution for the developmentally disabled. When I was 9-years-old, I attended an event called “Achievement Day.” It was during this event that I remember jumping up and down on the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle as two fully-grown, shirtless, mentally-challenged men simultaneously wailed relentlessly on that same car with sledgehammers. They were the bread to my meat in this sandwich of annihilation. As an adult looking back, I felt that I might have misremembered this experience. When I asked my mom if this could possibly be true, she remarked that it certainly was. It was the 80s, and the residents of the institution loved busting the shit out of stuff. So did I.
I smashed my Hot Wheels cars with a hammer. I burned my “Star Wars” figures until my lungs hurt from inhaling green smoke. I lit fire to a cookie tin filled with gasoline and a Lysol can - barely avoiding death as it burst forth in a Rambo-worthy giant explosion.
In the 21st century these types of activities are frowned upon. The Smash Party is a night where one can experience the visceral catharsis that our cave-person brain secretly desires without the stigma of our repressed society's judgement.
How has it evolved during its 20-year run?
Every year, the cage design has evolved. I remember standing next to Shannon (my wife and co-founder of Titmouse) when someone hurled a hand axe at a TV screen. Rather than shattering the screen as intended, it bounced off and spun high in the air - breaching the height of the cage at the time. Everyone surrounding the cage tensed as it looked as if it might plummet down into the tightly packed crowd. It did not. I turned to Shannon and stated, “Next year we are getting a roof on that cage.” She agreed.
What are some of the challenges that come with putting on an event like this? Any confirmed fatalities?
This party is a beast! Safety is always a priority. We've never had an actual human fatality, although many effigies have been sacrificed to the blade of an axe in the name of Cupo - our demigod of Smashing. At one point, we doubled down on medics (increasing from one to two) so we could keep the cage going while tending to the wounded. I believe the worst injury from this year was a dislocated shoulder.
How has Smash Party become a fundamental part of Titmouse’s creative culture?
Some companies do trust fall retreats. Some do bowling. Some do theme park trips. We, traditionally, have smashed. In our first official Titmouse location we kept a smashing room in the basement where any employee could take a destruction break to drum up some inspiration. There was a giant old wooden school teacher's desk down there that took a really long time to fully demolish. Artists took shifts with an axe. It took several weeks to get the job done. During this time, the employees bonded over their mutual desire to obliterate this desk. It was a group smashing experience with a shared goal. We all got drunk when that desk was nothing but splintered shards of wood.
What’s the generally agreed-upon item that’s most satisfying to smash? Or to watch being smashed?
#1 is a big old CRT television or computer monitor for sure. That implosion sound when the vacuum is broken is unmistakably brutal. Everyone cheers when those pop!
#2 is probably a ceramic toilet. They shatter well.
Why is now the time to send Smash Party off into the sunset? It seems like the kind of cathartic activity for everyone’s current collective anger and frustration.
There is a time for everything to come to an end. At Titmouse, we don’t like to get stale. Innovation and reinvention are a huge part of our culture. We do not follow the path of the expected. Why stop throwing this party at the height of its popularity? One reason is that we want to mix it up. I would never want to overhear, “Man, they’re still doing that Smash Party?” I’d much rather hear someone say that they miss it than hear that it’s gone on way too long.
Looking back on the past 20 years, what about Smash Party makes you proudest?
The tradition of The Cupo, the award given out for the most entertaining smashing, was introduced at the 3rd Titmouse Smash Party. It was named after Tony Fucking Cupo of Jersey City—legendary in his smashing style. The form of the award was an elaborate ceramic sculpture. The first recipient of this award thanked us then immediately threw it to the ground, shattering it into a million pieces. That became the tradition. The unspoken rule is that the winner of the Cupo smashes the Cupo. It lives in the moment of that night—then it’s gone forever. That makes me proud, for sure.
Any ideas brewing for how to replace the obliterated microwave-shaped hole in the animation community’s heart?
Heck yes! We are currently working on some new party concepts catering to weirdos. There are some pretty ambitious ideas out there. And who knows? Maybe when those ideas are played out, Smash Party might be ready for a comeback.