World Cuisine

Is It Cake? Inside Netflixs Mindlessly Brilliant Hit

· Host Mikey Day interviewed about the Netflix baking competition and the worrisome yet increasing possibility that everything is cake
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Is it Cake? is, obviously, not a sophisticated show. But the new Netflix cooking competition series knows precisely what it is — and what it isn’t — and leans so far into its own silly simplicity that it becomes something sort of brilliant. In a world that’s increasingly complex, nuanced and volatile, Is It Cake? boils down the viewer’s reality to a single question that anyone can answer — or try to, anyway. Picking out cake can be tricky.

The concept was inspired by online viral videos of bakers cutting into their hyper-realistic cakes made to look like everyday objects. As the pitch-perfect title suggests, the series is a game show where expert bakers trying to fool judges tasked with trying to determine whether things are secretly made of cake or not (trailer below). The show’s minimalism extends to its singular set, which is one of the most sparse on TV. Since its March 7 premiere, Is it Cake? has clearly caught the attention of viewers, ranking second in Netflix’s most recent Top 10 U.S. TV shows in hours viewed behind the second season of Bridgeton.

Yet there’s one ingredient that, without which, this high-concept confection might not have worked — host Mikey Day (Saturday Night Live) who brings just the right amount of playful irony to the series. Below the 42-year-old Day takes questions, some smart and some less so, about his show that’s likewise a mix of both.

So, how did you end up hosting this amazing piece of television?

My manager, Michael Goldman, called me and said: “Are you familiar with the hyper-realistic cakes?” I remember being like, “What?” But then I remembered seeing somebody online cut into something — it was something insane, like a puppy — and then it was cake. I met with the producers and they explained the premise of the show, and it sounded fun. But my biggest [concern] was that I said, “If I just have to read dense text with gameplay and rules, I don’t know if I’ll be the right fit for this.” The producers were very vocal in saying, “Make it your own, have fun with it.” They were very aware of the fun nature of the show. I mean, it’s called, Is It Cake? So it was good to hear the show was structured like the title. But it also treats the artistry side very respectfully and you see a glimpse into how these bakers create these insane cakes.

I like that they didn’t try to hire a host who knew anything about baking, or appeared to have studied much before filming, or even seems to have any interest in baking. That you’re diving in and winging it is part of the fun.

I was kind of neutral on baking. I definitely made it clear that I know nothing about it and I knew even more-nothing about this sub-niche of hyper-realistic cakes. Like, I had no idea what fondant was. So [the viewer] learns about it with me. I definitely came out of it with a profound respect right for the art of it. They’re magicians in a way.

How many ways did you practice saying the title before you began?

Oh my God, dude. It’s so funny. There are a lot of times where I have to say, “Six of them are telephones and one is — guess what? — cake.” So I tried to vary that a lot. “You’re not gonna believe this guys, one of those things on stage is cake!” I think I say “cake” upwards of 73,000 times. I’ve also heard comments online say, “Mikey cuts cake like a psychopath.” So I was made aware of that.

My favorite line was when a contestant selected an object they hoped was a cake and you soberly asked: “Why is this cake?”

The producers wanted me to press everybody on, “Now you said this was cake. What about it?” It felt like a police interrogation about cake. I remember the first episode, they gave me a sword to cut the cake. I was like, “We want to go all-in on a sword in episode one?” Because the cutting of the cakes, too, was very important. The reveal is a huge part of it. So I would first talk to the bakers or our in-house team and they’d be like, “You need to cut through the middle and there’s modeling chocolate at on top, so it’s gonna be a little tough, and then you diagonally want to wedge that cake out.” Some of the reveals went better than others, as you can see. But my heart was always racing a little bit when I had to reveal the money shot of the cake.

Why do you think the show works?

I think we have some kind of human … desire? … I guess, to pick out the “disguised something.” It’s some kind of weird instinctual thing. Like: “I can tell the fake, I can tell what’s pretending.”

You do realize that when you’re 85 years old and go into a cyber Starbucks, or whatever, the person behind the counter is going to look at you and ask, “Is it cake?” This will never end. Are you prepared for that?

I’ve gotten a little taste of it and I’m like, “Okay, interesting, is this something I’m going to hear forever?” I love that people are watching it. If when I’m [dead] and in a coffin and someone’s like, “Hey, is it cake?” I don’t know how I’ll feel about that. It’s funny because the title is a question, so you can just kind of walk up and go, “Hey, is it cake?” A lot of kids, like our neighbors, are like, “Did you keep the cakes?” They were so fascinated. No, I don’t have 168 leftover cakes. But I love that kids really seem to like the show. I’ve seen videos of kids hosting their own versions at home, which has been really great.

After you taped eight episodes of the show and returned to the real world, did you ever find yourself looking at everyday intimate objects and wondering if they’re actually fondant and buttercream?

I’m sitting in a dark room, cradling myself, whispering, “It’s cake … it’s cake…” A lot of it, too, was looking at something and being like, “Hmm, I wonder what they could do to make a cake into that?” You learn certain things, like how edges and lines are important. So you’ll look at something and be like, “Oh, that has a lot of even lines, so that wouldn’t be ideal to turn into a cake.” What’s fun is I’d just be talking to the bakers who are in the gallery, learning about this world, and there are certain objects everyone starts with. Everyone starts with a hamburger. Or archeological artifacts are a popular choice. Like that’s a known thing in this world. It’s very fascinating. But all the bakers were great. I really enjoyed getting to know all of them and hearing their stories.

Was it just me or did the first episode have an element where the contestants could alter the decoys with fake cake elements and then that element was dropped from the rest of the show?

That was controversial. People were saying that [a contestant] was cheating with his fake tomatoes on the decoy. But altering the decoys was allowed and part of it. You can mess with the decoys a little bit. Like I remember sometimes they used a dull spray to eliminate the shine of certain things — that’s a big giveaway, if something’s shiny. They would do little things like that. Using the tomatoes was highlighted [in the edit] so I could see how people would be like, “Wait, what’s happening here?” He wouldn’t have been just able to throw those tomatoes on there and get away with it on camera. We have video proof.

Did the producers make the setup too hard on the judges? Because very few people seemed to be spotting any cakes.

I know. The first time [we were wondering], “Are they going to get it immediately? Or is it going to be harder?” They are standing a little ways back. What I think is the hardest part is the time limit and me screaming at them: “Ten seconds! Five seconds! Hurry up!” It’s a lot happening — especially when the judges have no clue what the show was.

Wait, so the judges didn’t know the concept of the show?

They knew the concept. They knew they needed to pick out cake. But they had never seen the cakes before and didn’t know there’s going to be five of them and only one would be cake. They also didn’t know there would be this spinning wall and me screaming at them. You think, “I’ll be able to look at a telephone and know if that telephone’s made out of cake.” But then five telephones spin around, they all look real, and you can see their brains break for a second. Super fun. “That looks like a phone, but maybe it’s too much like a phone?” Sometimes I was told which one was real and then I’d get up there and be like, “Wait, which one is it again?” Even up close, they’d look super real.

Do the contestants who are not baking during an episode really have to sit on a bench and watch the bakers for nine hours? Because that seems horrible.

There’s so much B-roll of me going, “Guys, give them some sort of backrest.” They’re on a bench like it’s a baseball game. There’s hours of conversation with me talking to them about fondant. But they provided some fun commentary and everyone liked each other. There was no manufactured drama — “they stole my idea.” Everyone was very supportive of one. They all wanted to win, but everyone genuinely enjoyed being around each other and were rooting for each other.

Yes, how is it that everybody on the show seems super cheerful all the time? If you were just feeding them cake, they’d be in sugar comas.

I don’t know. Everyone was a genuinely good person with a great attitude and just excited to be there. It was very lucky getting that group of people. I think I said a couple times that I wish everyone could win. And that was very genuine. You get to know them and you’re rooting for them.

The show hasn’t been renewed. But what are some of the ideas percolating for making season two even more cakey?

I haven’t heard anything official. Season two would be so fun to do. If we did, I’ve been pleading with those producers: “Guys, we gotta do some huge stuff.” Like, I drive in and in a car that’s made of cake. Or do something huge like furniture. I’ve also asked if there’s some way to make my body into a cake — some kind of illusion? That’s always been on my wishlist.

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