As a junior in college, when Matt Saincome pitched his friends an idea to start a website dedicated to satirizing punk and the DIY scene, they tried to convince him otherwise. “They told me, ‘That’s not going to work man, no one’s going to read that sh*t. You’re going to get beat up. You should not do that. I kind of listened to them… I just kind of put it away,” Saincome — now 26 — tells me over the phone.
It would take two years before he could put the pieces together and launch The Hard Times, the notorious site marketed toward punks. “There’s all these people like me out there, I assume, and they’re not getting the satire for them. There’s satire for normal people, for people who want to mow their lawns or raise their kids or whatever. But that’s not for people that spend all their time at DIY basement shows,” Saincome recalls of his thought process when starting the site.
For someone unfamiliar, it might be worth asking why the DIY punk scene is worthy of so much attention, satirical or otherwise. Is there really that much to discuss? Over the phone, Saincome and I immediately bond over our shared history growing up in the punk scene, the ways that it molds our outlook on the world, and most importantly, the ways we can relate to one another despite our physical distance.
“You and I haven’t met before, but we’ve both thrown shows,” he said. “The weird part about life is that a lot of people are really similar in these ways that you and I probably have a lot of really similar experiences. I can make these jokes about what happens when all the bands think someone else is bringing the drum kit or whatever, and you’ll understand it in a way that it’s almost like we’re friends, even though we’ve never talked or anything like that.”
It also helps that people take punk values and aesthetics very seriously. It’s for this reason, Saincome thinks, that The Hard Times is able to be so successful: the comedy basically writes itself. “It’s kind of a reason why Saturday Night Live, when they do a lot of jokes, they’ll go for stuff like a presidential press conference or something,” he explained. “That’s a pretty serious environment. Whenever you can create a tension of seriousness, there’s some good comedy there. All these punk bands are like ‘we’re saving the world!’ Yeah, but you’re in a basement in front of 30 people. Are you? Are we? Am I involved?”
While this experiential understanding of the punk and DIY scene isn’t exactly unique, it is hard to teach. Thus, while getting the site off the ground, rather than hiring writers for the site, Saincome decided to hand-pick from his group of friends with whom he had come of age playing in bands together and attending basement shows. “You can train a smart punk guy to edit comedy, but you can’t really train a really smart comedy editor to have a background in punk,” he says of the site’s starting staff.
Saincome never expected the reach of The Hard Times to expand outside this same group of friends. However, the site’s statistics quickly started to grow, the Internet helping to spread universally niche articles about mysterious local legends and awkward kids asking about guitar pedals in the middle of a show.
Within the site’s first year, the offers started rolling in, with The Onion, Vice, and even Universal wanting to do business with Saincome and The Hard Times. But of course, with growth comes challenges, especially in this scene: For a site like this, there will always be a variety of things that people just simply don’t think you can joke about. This doesn’t apply for Saincome, who is just trying to lighten the mood a bit in a way that’s both self-deprecating and fun, encouraging readers to let down their guard a bit and learn to laugh at themselves.
“Something I think Hard Times does really well, and a comment that we get a lot that I really like, is that we hit both sides pretty hard,” he said. “I think that’s pretty important to have some comedic credibility. You’re going to hit a right-wing person, now hit a super left-wing person. If you can’t see some ideological flaws in these extreme, extreme radical political beliefs and lifestyles, then come on. It’s a little bit silly sometimes, right?”
He continues: “Sometimes, we’ll publish things like ‘How A DIY Asymmetrical Haircut Helped Me Eliminate My White Privilege‘ or ‘Vegan Bake Sale To Fight Gentrification.’ Some people really don’t like it when we make fun of those types of people, because it’s kind of too-close-to-home sort of sh*t where it’s like, ‘Oh sh*t, that might be me or all my friends and I don’t really like you guys making fun of me.'”
As the influence of The Hard Times continues to spread, the site is showing no signs of slowing down. They recently launched a video game vertical called Hard Drive to a positive reception in the video game community, and Saincome is currently dipping his toes into the creation of more video content.
In the works at the moment are two Hard Times shows — one a short consumable Internet show with five minute episodes, and the other a true narrative sitcom. “I love learning new things, and it’s been a lot of fun learning about how to actually pull that off, and learning from the producers that we’re working with and all that sort of stuff,” he said. “I think the way that stuff works is just that you have to take a lot of shots before something hits.”
Although the growth of the site has seen Saincome’s social circles shift the same way anyone’s would at the helm of a successful project, he is ready to accept this evolution. At the end of the day, Saincome doesn’t let the negative reactions deter him from his goal as he reflects on punk’s original purpose: To cause trouble.
“Punk’s had a lot of different political opinions in it and a lot of different world views and stuff, but one of the overall connecting themes is troublemaking,” he said. “If you go out there with comedy and you make some trouble with it, you’re going to get a lot of punk fans to like it. We’ve definitely ruffled some feathers, but I think it’s worth it.”