The Gift and the Not Gifted: Ross and AJ are now on Whatifi!

Parties are stressful! Never mind the pressure to be social, fascinating and bubbly. What about birthday parties and the search for the perfect gift? Ross Kelly and AJ Lubecker nearly died on that quest on a sweltering day in Topanga Canyon. There was no other way. Their friend Bob bestows a “Best Party Person Award” at his annual birthday gathering to the guest who brings the most superlative gift. Every year, the stakes mushroom as the prize grows more and more outrageous.

One year, the prize was actually a … Well, let’s just say, Bob is as extravagant as he is demanding and judgmental. When you tune in to Ross and AJ’s new movie, The Gift and the Not Gifted, you’ll learn why the two comedians put their lives on the line to win and how far they were willing to go.

The Gift and the Not Gifted airs exclusively on Whatifi. This new app changes everything. Whatifi (pronounced “What if I”) is a gaming and interactive movie-watching experience combined. Think of it as a futuristic live action “choose your own adventure.”

Bob’s party was a pressure cooker for Ross and AJ, but it’s a comedic treasure hunt for Whatifi audiences. How does it end? Your call. Whatifi asks filmmakers to create multiple endings which can be “collected” by viewers. Ross and AJ filmed eight different endings, and there are a multitude of highly entertaining, death-defying paths to each one. At the end of each scene, you choose how to proceed with options like: “Play It Safe” or “Go Rogue.” (Note: “Play It Safe” results in a scene that is no one’s idea of playing it safe.) The app allows you to watch solo or in a live virtual setting with friends.  

Ross and AJ both started out in the Chicago comedy scene and became creative partners after meeting on a film set in L.A. They created the web series The Many Worlds of Ross & AJ in 2020 and later moved to TikTok where they went viral (over 60 million views). They’re known as two best friends with no small plans who are often on each other’s last nerve. Their well-intentioned schemes tend to quickly escalate into calamity. The Gift and the Not Gifted, says Ross, “is an opportunity to let our tone and comedy breathe and thrive a little more.” This current venture of theirs reminds me of Tarantino with its inventive next level scenarios and dialogue, all taking place under the delirious Los Angeles sun. But less violent than Tarantino and much funnier.

As an additional treat, the cast includes Chicago ex-pat stars like Tiffany and Danielle Puterbaugh, Aaron Branch and Ian Abramson as the implacable Bob.

Will Ross and AJ score the most spectacular gift? Will they abandon each other to catastrophe in the canyons and alleys of Los Angeles? Will Ross and AJ survive all eight endings? With an easy, free sign-up on Whatifi, you’re on the way to a most innovative, funny, entertaining movie-watching experience without leaving home.

Ross and AJ kindly gave me a behind-the-scenes peak at their friendship and creative partnership, and revealed how they became some of the first filmmakers to create content for this new groundbreaking cinematic app.


Teme: Congratulations on your movie! It is extremely fun and funny! It’s been over a year since we last spoke. How would you describe this past year?

AJ: Great question.

Ross: A blur.

AJ: Like everyone, we needed to do a lot of pivoting and figuring out what to do. We’ve been working with Whatifi since last spring.

Ross: We were looking for what kind of void we can fill and what kind of content is working in this weird environment. We teamed up with Whatifi and it was a perfect fit for us, especially the interactive aspects.

Teme: How did you connect with Whatifi?

AJ: They had seen our stuff on TikTok and reached out to us.

Ross: They asked us to do some beta testing for their app before it launched. We made some videos with multiple endings to test things out. They told us that they were going to be doing movies in their “Movie Room” section. We right away had our sights set on that. So we pitched a couple of ideas and they liked what they heard.


Teme: How would you describe your movie? Please let everyone know why they should definitely be watching it!

AJ: It’s undeniably just fun.

Ross: Most of the stuff that we’ve made has been on TikTok or Instagram. We’ve also made a web series. For Whatifi, we had a camera operator and a sound person. We were able to hire a lot of our talented friends to act in it. If you are a fan of “Ross and AJ,” this is us closer to full form.

Teme: It’s hard enough to write one ending. How hard was it to write eight endings?

AJ: It was hard, but also like what we already do for our videos. For our TikTok videos, we pitch each other different endings; “Oh, what if this went this way? How would it look?” With Whatifi, we probably had eight endings for every one of the eight endings that we were debating.

Teme: Do you have a favorite ending of all?

Ross: Definitely.

Teme: Which one?

Ross: It depends on what day it is. I don’t know if we want to give away endings! One thing I will say is that the Whatifi people said that you can predict where the audience is going to go. The first decision points in our movie are “Go all out” or “Play it safe.” Well, 70% of people are going to go with “Go all out.” So we made the less obvious choice as outrageous or maybe even more crazy so there is no boring way to go.

Teme: What was the most fun moment of making the movie?

Tiffany Puterbaugh as Len Pard with AJ and Ross

Ross: Maybe the scenes “In the Wild” or the scene “Visiting Leonard.”

AJ: Yes. There were some very hot days in Topanga where we were shooting those two things, but it was all really fun. We were just improvising through it. It was fun to find the jokes and write callbacks for other scenes that we filmed later on. So the first scenes that we were improvising paid off. It was very rewarding.

Ross: We filmed over two days. We did the intro on the morning of the first day. Then in the afternoon we filmed seven of the eight endings on my patio. We got many of our friends, including our very talented friend also from Chicago, Ian Abramson, who plays Bob. He was a trooper and was in scene after scene after scene. We had a special effects makeup guy who would bloody us up at the end. It was a whirlwind of comedy.

Teme:  That must have been an amazing day. I love that it was your actual patio.   

Ross: I’m walking around in it right now having flashbacks and panic attacks.

Teme: Your comedy is consistently original and hilarious. You always find the absurdity in life in a way that feels very real. What is the secret to writing like that?

Ross: We want our comedy to be right there on the edge, like in a ridiculous way, things that nobody else would do. Sometimes we’ll pitch a gag or an ending or a joke, and we’ll ask each other, “Too dumb?”

AJ: And then we go, “Well, we’re doing this other thing that’s way dumber and makes less sense than that idea, so I guess we can.” We do talk about the suspension of disbelief that needs to happen. Part of the reason it works is that our material is not shot in a silly way. The way we film stuff is very grounded by reality.

Ross: And we don’t have help. We don’t have silly sound effects or anything like that. We feel it out, and if it feels like “Ross and AJ”, then it is.

Teme: Every beat is very logical and makes sense, so by the time you get to the end it’s very plausible. Your scenes feel very real no matter how absurd they get. It’s kind of like this magical place that is comedically perfect.            

Ross: I think the perfect example is where AJ was huffing helium and he took a shit and it floats way up in the air.

AJ: But then we bring it back to reality where it fell out of the sky. Well, not reality, but mathematically it does make sense.

Ross: We have outrageous things that couldn’t happen, but once we’ve established that thing, then logic comes in to operate within that world.

Ian Abramson and A.J.


Teme: Your cast is a V.I.P. roster of Chicago expat comedians. It was so cool to see Ian, Aaron Branch, and Tiffany and Danielle Puterbaugh. How did you make these inspired casting decisions?

Ross: We didn’t really have too much debate. Luckily, almost everybody was available.

AJ: It was people that we were close with. We were imagining the roles being played by them as we created the characters. We gave everyone free reign to bring what they do to the table and make it their own. It was fun to not know what Danielle or Tiffany or Aaron, or anybody, had up their sleeve.

Aaron Branch as The Plant Guy with Ross

Teme: I’m thinking of the scene when you first see Aaron. I loved it so much. He is in the alley and there is a scene with a telephone pole that I can’t describe. People just have to see it. It was memorable! Was that scene improvised?

AJ: Yes. One-hundred percent improvised.

Ross: We figured out where the camera was going to go and then we gave him the telephone pole. He messed around with it  –

AJ: -with our guidance –

Ross: -and then we rolled.


Teme: Please tell me more about the interactive aspects of Whatifi. How does the social side of the app work?

AJ: Anyone who signs up for the app can create a profile and upload a two-ending movie. It’s easy to use. Then there’s the “Movie Room” where you can find content. It’s like Snapchat. You can use it for you and your friends, but then there’s also the “Discover” page that has produced content on it.

Ross: You can pitch to Whatifi. They are interested in nurturing filmmakers.

Teme: How can people throw a Whatifi “Watch Party”?

Ross: You can do a watch party with your friends. There’s a chat section where everyone votes about how to move on to the next scene. They have created a space where people can get together, watch the movies together and guide the story together.

AJ: At our watch party there were over a hundred people watching us watch our movie together, and then we’d see the votes. On the breaks, we talked about making the movie. It’s a really fun feature. I haven’t seen anything like that on any other streaming service.


Teme: These past two years have been so crazy and hard. How do you stay consistently creative and funny? How do you lift yourselves up when everything seems to be going downhill?

AJ: I think we’ve just tried to keep pushing through everything.

Ross: We read the news and are definitely affected by everything that happens. I rely on a lot of movies. Maybe it’s just distraction, but a good Monty Python movie or something like that. Not that that makes everything go away, but –

AJ: -at least in your head briefly it disappears. It’s impossible to not be affected by everything. I don’t think we have a secret, really. Therapy. We love therapy over here. And books.


Teme: What was the last thing that made you laugh?

Ross: Yesterday, we were outlining a new video for Whatifi and that was a pretty rewarding conversation. So writing comedy oddly enough makes us laugh.

AJ: I’m trying to think of anything else that is particularly funny. Ross’s car died in the middle of the road the other day. Not funny for him. You ever see somebody with their hazards on in the middle of the road, and you’re like, “I hope that never, ever, ever happens to me?”

Teme: Yes!

Ross: Well, it happened. I tried to contact AAA online and I tried calling, and I just never got anything to work. Then I was like, “What exactly am I paying for? I’m upholding my end. What are you guys doing?” A very friendly cyclist gave me a push around the corner into a parking spot, and then I was able to get a new battery in there.

Teme: Wow, I’m sorry that happened, but I’m glad it had a good ending!

Ross: Oh, man. Yeah. Speaking of endings, I had a chance to choose my own ending. Hit cyclist with tire iron? Or trust him?

AJ: And then he drives away with your car!


Teme: What’s next for you? 

AJ: We’re working on more videos for the social side of Whatifi, so we’re going to be doing that over the next couple of months. It’s exciting to be a part of Whatifi. This is just the start of it. And of course we want people to get on there and watch the movie.

Ross: I hope people watch our movie. It’s available exclusively on Whatifi. From the first email when we learned about the platform, we were really excited about it. We think it’s a really interesting and fun idea. We’d both watched Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch” and when I was a kid in grade school, I read “Choose Your Own Adventure” books a lot. So I’m excited for this to become mainstream entertainment.


The Gift and The Not Gifted is streaming on Whatifi. Download the App or link to the site here.

Connect with Ross and AJ:




YouTube shorts

Ross and AJ were also kind enough to speak with me here.

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