“Otis! My man!”
That’s how I almost greeted Otis Day to begin our interview, but I decided against opening with a line he probably got tired of hearing two decades ago. By Otis’ own admission he’s heard the famous Animal House quote shouted at him more times than he can count, though he didn’t actually seem like he was tired of hearing it. Actually I got the impression that he was still pretty amused by it. At the very least, I wasn’t nearly drunk enough to do the line justice.
Otis Day, front man of the fictitious-turned-real band Otis Day and the Knights, is a fraternity legend. This would be true even if Otis, an already veteran actor at 27 when he was cast in Animal House, had simply appeared in the movie and then gone on with his acting career, never again singing “Shout” or “Shama Lama Ding Dong.” That’s because being in that film makes you a fraternity legend. What’s that Thomas Hulce? You were nominated for an Academy Award for your role in Amadeus? Shut up, you’re Pinto forever.
But Otis is a fraternity legend thanks to his real world experience as well as his screen presence in perhaps the greatest comedy film ever made. There are arguably few people in this world who have seen as much of Greek Life as Otis has, most of it sheer debauchery, thanks to over three decades of performing at more fraternity parties than Otis says he could remember.
Though he had been acting for years, Otis’ big music break came a week after Animal House was released. A club owner in Rhode Island got a hold of him and asked Otis and the band to play his club. There was a problem though. Otis Day and the Knights weren’t a real band. While Otis was actually a talented singer (though his voice was dubbed over in the film), the other members of the “band” were merely actors, picked for their looks.
While acting was how Otis was making a living at the time, music was where his heart lay. Instead of informing the club owner that the band from a fictional movie was also, in fact, fictional, he decided to make it real and pursue his true passion, playing music/turning normal parties into full on blackout, dance party, ragers with the simple command of “a little bit louder now.” Otis called his niece and nephew, both talented musicians themselves, and suddenly Otis Day and the Knights was a real, actual band.
Unfortunately the club owner interested in booking Otis Day and the Knights died while Otis was scrambling to put together the band. Presumably this was God’s way of trying to discourage Otis from pursuing music, and in turn saving tens of thousands of livers, both born and unborn. But ridiculously disturbing omen be damned, Otis moved forward. Thanks to the popularity of Animal House it didn’t take long for the band to find more gigs, and management.
For years fraternity parties were a staple for Otis Day and the Knights. Otis could only recall a few specific, outrageous memories from all the years of playing at fraternity houses, like his first show at a chapter at either USC or UCLA (he couldn’t remember specifically). “It was insane. I had no idea what to expect,” Otis admitted. What he soon found out is that Animal House was truer to life than he realized, in that real fraternities often give as few fucks as the Delta house and its members.
Otis remembered from that show specifically that the house was so packed he couldn’t move through the crowd to get from the stage to the bathroom during a set break. Using drunken fraternity ingenuity, the party goers simply crowd surfed him across the room to the bathroom, and then crowd surfed him back up to the stage when he was done.
“I thought, Oh my God, what else can I expect now?” Otis said he wondered after that first party. The answer, simply put, was a lot.
After one show, Otis Day and the Knights had whipped the raging crowd into such a frenzy that while the band was boarding their tour bus fraternity men were literally throwing their slams to the band, shouting “take them with you!”
There are a lot more memories than those, to be sure, though that was all he could recall off the top of his head. According to Otis, he couldn’t recall only a few because there were only a few, but rather because there were so many that they all sort of blended together, probably into a degenerate blur of awesomeness that spanned states and decades.
It’s impressive, really, that the man who spent weeks partying with the cast of Animal House was still shocked and entertained by the antics of real life fraternities. Otis was actually invited by Delta cast members to stay in Eugene, Oregon, where the film was being shot, after his scenes had wrapped just because they liked partying with him so much. Otis happily obliged, staying for a few extra weeks and raging with the cast.
Otis said that most nights the cast, which was pretty close knit, would go out drinking, either hitting the town or partying at the hotel where many of them were staying. He didn’t have any specific Belushi stories from those nights out, in part because the film’s star had to go back to New York every Thursday through Saturday to do Saturday Night Live, of which he was still a member when Animal House was being shot. However Otis did say that during the famous toga party scene he was pretty sure that more than a few of the actors were actually drinking. It’s hard to imagine that a guy with John Belushi’s reputation wasn’t one of them. He was a method actor, right? So the next time you watch that scene, realize that you’re seeing John Belushi’s drunk face, though I’m pretty sure at any given Belushi screen moment in any movie of his that’s the face you’re seeing.
Even at present Otis Day still tours with the Knights, his next show is this Friday at the Blockley in Philadelphia. Not only that, but Otis Day and the Knights still play fraternity parties as well. And, because when it comes to Greek Life Otis has been just about everywhere, Otis Day and the Knights will be making an appearance in the upcoming Total Frat Movie, turning yet another fraternity party into a free for all rager filled with individual acts of perversion so profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here, like he did so many years ago at a Faber College toga party.
Don’t forget to donate to the Total Frat Movie IndieGoGo campaign if you haven’t already, and help us create another classic fraternity film. Thankfully we’ve got Otis Day, a fraternity legend, here to help us get there.