A man with a megaphone stands on a dirt lot with his fist in the air, facing a small crowd of teens in hard hats and safety glasses. “It’s time to roll, baby, roll!” shouts Andrew W.K., the devout hard rocker, party animal and, since 2009, host of the Cartoon Network game show “Destroy Build Destroy.”
Unshaven and dressed in his strict uniform of filthy white jeans and matching white T-shirt, W.K. is at the Agua Dulce Movie Ranch in Canyon Country for a final day of shooting the fourth season of “Destroy Build Destroy.” It’s a typical day for the explosive show as the long-haired host leads a half-dozen kids through a series of contests, including the building and then blowing up of stuff in real Hollywood-scale fireballs.
None of it seems out of character for this hard-rocking ringmaster, born Andrew Wilkes-Krier, and still best known for sing-shouting the delirious all-night kegger anthems “Party Hard” and “Party Till You Puke.” Now some of his most ardent followers are hyperactive boys ages 6 to 11, many of whom are oblivious to his music career, drawn only to the show’s explosions and its host’s raging, outsize personality.
Last year, “Destroy Build Destroy” owned that aspiring tween demographic in its time slot (8:30 p.m. Wednesdays), averaging above 1.5 million viewers a week.
“When you get to be this close to joy, this close to revelry and the excitement of real young people, you can’t help but have it rub off on you,” W.K., 32, says later in the production van, looking over six camera monitors. “This month has been one of the happiest and most amazing for me ever. I was born to do this. What else would you want to spend your time doing?”
The show’s June 1 season opener (“Food Fight: Valley Girls vs. Jersey Boys”) began with the blowing up of one fruit truck and the dropping of another from a 100-foot crane, topped off by another explosion of the losing team’s vehicle.
W.K. estimates he’s witnessed about 117 explosions since the show began but remembers his first one, as the large metal “Destroy Build Destroy” logo was ignited on the lot.
“I was nervous about it,” he recalls. “There was all this buildup: ’10 more minutes! OK, we’re hot! Fire in the hole!’.... When it actually blew up, it was way, way bigger than I thought it was going to be.”
Earlier seasons ripped apart school buses, dropped a pickup truck from a cliff, crushed another beneath an army tank, and ignited dozens of fiery mushroom clouds of propane. In one episode shot for this season, kids competed with 20-foot blimps, and the losing team’s airship was set aflame like the Hindenburg.
The contestants are boys and girls ages 11 to 17, recruited to compete as teams to share a $3,000 cash prize. The online casting call asks: “Have you dreamt of blowing things up?”
As host, W.K. is “the Willy Wonka of the show,” says Rob Sorcher, chief content officer at Cartoon Network, who sees the series as key to the network’s expansion beyond animated shows into live-action programming, including “Dude, What Would Happen?” and “Hole in the Wall.”
“All of these shows really started from thinking about what kinds of shows our audience would want that are not on the dial anywhere,” says Sorcher. “This is a show where you get to build stuff and then wreck it. Wow, that appeals to a boy of any age.”
A game show for kids might seem a strange career choice for a young rocker still seriously recording and touring for adult audiences. Andrew W.K. made a strong first impression with his volatile 2001 debut album, “I Get Wet,” with cover art that depicted his own bloodied face, but he also sought opportunities to host music specials on MTV and VH1 from the beginning.
“I don’t think Keith Richards would want to make a TV show. He’d probably think that’s not cool … but I’m not Keith Richards,” says W.K. of the Rolling Stones guitarist. “In the very early days of show business in America, it was pretty common if you sang that you also did TV, you might make movies — Elvis, for example.”
Raised in Ann Arbor, Mich., and now based in New York City, he is working on a new album for release this year but has no intention of slowing his TV career with Cartoon Network.
“He’s a big cartoon,” says “DBD” creator and executive producer Dan Taberski, a former “Daily Show” producer who first worked with W.K. when the rocker was a guest there. “Everything he does is big, and nothing is small. He screams right in your face and is somehow not threatening.”
After lunch comes another explosion. An ambulance and firetruck are nearby, and the kids watch safely from a metal bunker 300 feet away from the pyre. There has never been a child injured or fallen ill at a taping, other than one who missed “half a day because he ate too much candy at the craft services table,” executive producer Scott Messick recalls with a smile.
Once the button is pushed, there is a loud pop as the car is enveloped in a giant fireball and a smoke ring rises into a cloudless sky. The kids cheer. So does the rock star in their midst.
Close proximity to these young contestants has W.K. finally thinking of having children of his own. “I’ve never seen a kid leave completely sad or discouraged or crying,” he says. “It’s such an intense, exhausting day. By the end of it, it can get emotional, and I’ve seen kids get close to that. Usually, when the explosion happens, they get excited even if it’s their vehicle being blown up. They love that.”