Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

This Week's Web Series You Need To Watch: "Bestie by Bestie"

“What if moles wrote in tiny notebooks called human skins?” Go. “I don’t believe the Grinch’s heart could’ve grown three sizes in one day.” Make a hilarious comment. “Do people with alopecia still get browbeaten?” No time to think or write anything down. Just let ‘er rip.

Improv’s tough. Being stream of consciousness funny without any prep or thought about what would be the most genius thing to say in a given moment — it’s not for the faint of heart. Sure the streets of New York and LA are crawling with self-proclaimed “improv aficionados”, masters of “scream at the top of your lungs, now pretend you’re a chicken climbing a tall, tall mountain” pre-class warm-up exercises, but the number of those who are consistently off-the-cuff brilliant is slim.

I’m not sure whether “Bestie by Bestie” creators, writers, stars and long time friends Jenny Slate (“Marcel the Shell”, “SNL”, “Bored to Death”) and comedian Gabe Liedman went the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” retroscripting route in crafting their petite masterpiece (if not, they should be awarded an Oscar). I do know that the series — absurd, raw, and fantastic in its unapologetic simplicity — is one of the best I’ve seen on the web.

As web video production is becoming more and more about posturing for potential TV deals and attracting early network eyeballs, “Bestie by Bestie” is an unabashed testament to comedy in one of its purest, most visceral forms — two friends hanging out, messing around. Every sub two-minute episode provides only Slate and Liedman riffing about a single question delivered to them on a little wooden toy called a “question truck”. That’s it. That’s the whole series and, frankly, if it had a premise any more polished or complex (or featured actors any less smart in their willingness to be giddily unbridled), it wouldn’t be as great.

Here are a few reasons to watch:

  1. Unchecked laughter
  2. Format
  3. Free association humor

Episode #1

A lot of people hated when Jimmy Fallon used to laugh during SNL sketches. I liked it. He was having a blast and all his cracking up was proof. It was authentic. I feel the same was about Slate and Liedman’s outbursts.  Besides being contagious, they let their viewers know the creators are truly affected by the material they’re presenting. Nothing’s cooler than that.

Episode #3

Simple is often better, and it’s always harder. Creating and executing on a premise that’s clear, smart, and funny, and doing it all in under two minutes, with no sets or sight gags, is a tall order. “Bestie” meets the challenge with underplayed precision.

Episode #5

Comedy’s funniest when you don’t see the joke coming. This series’ spit-balling style delivers an impressive level of spontaneity. A lot’s out of left field, in the best way.

Luke Kelly-Clyne is a writer, etc. living in New York City.

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  • kfon

    As an improviser (not a so-called "aficianado," just a long time improviser), I take issue with improv being characterized the way it is in this article. The reason there are so many improv kids who stand around screaming is there is this school of thought that improv is "Being stream of consciousness funny without any prep or thought about what would be the most genius thing to say in a given moment."

    It's not about that, if it's done right. It's about LOTS of prep–lots of training, rehearsal, warm up, etc. It's also not about stream of consciousness. It's about reacting to your partner and the needs of the scene. In this case, stream of conscious riffing is the rule of the scene, so that's what they're doing. But that's not what improv is about. It's also not about "the most genius thing to say." Being a laugh-a-minute machine, or thinking you have to be one, is what derails most good improv in my mind.

    These two are very good at reacting improvisationally to one another. It's super funny. But is it what improv, on the whole, is about? No. Do lots of people think it is? Yes. Is that what makes improv seem like a fuck around, a thing you show up to and if you're talented and funny you'll be the best? Yes.

    It's a disservice to the trained improvisers out there, both famous (Poehler, Fey, etc.) and regular, who spend/have spent a lot of time working on this art form to categorize it so narrowly. I care a lot about this (obviously) but so do many others.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luke-Kelly-Clyne/5410465 Luke Kelly-Clyne

      @kfon All good points. I certainly didn't mean to imply that improv doesn't require training or adherence to strict rules ("yes, and" and the like). I have a lot of respect for the craft and my comments were geared more toward people who think that because they've completed advanced training, they're all-of-a-sudden good. And the "off-the-cuff" brilliance I'm talking about certainly doesn't need to come from a one-man (or woman) "laugh-a-minute machine". In fact, as you've said, it shouldn't.

  • kfon

    Thank you for your response.