We’re all familiar with those bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets and email signatures that say “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” And we all think they’re awful, as we should. But one saying we’re not so used to seeing — one that should be plastered and magnetized and emailed all over this ever-loving planet is: “To play a true idiot, it takes a genius.” Seriously. Because it’s very hard to act like a convincing dimwit, or clueless egomaniac without sacrificing authenticity or a special kind of audience affection reserved for “losers.” Will Ferrell’s mastered it. So has Danny McBride. And if Mike Camerlengo’s performance in his painfully low-budget, yet completely hilarious web series Unsolicited is any indication of what he’s got in store, one more brilliant idiot may bring us one step closer to popularizing a saying that actually means something. I recently spoke to Camerlengo about the series.
How’d you get started in comedy?
I started in college. I got into a sketch group we had where we did one show once a year, and from there I started doing standup just around the northeast. I went to school in Connecticut, and senior year I went down to New York and I did this UCB one week intensive for 101 and it was awesome, I loved it. So I decided after college I was going to move to New York and do it full time. That was about 7 years ago. From there, I went through the UCB program, did sketch shows, did improv, and I also started an improv group.
What was your inspiration for this series?
Well, one day I had made a goofy little web cam video and the thinking was that I was going to reach out to some people and ask if I could be in a commercial and I gave them some samples of what it would be like. I did it on my web cam so the production values were a little low, so I cleaned it up and showed it to a few people. I think it was Dunkin' Donuts, AT&T, and Snickers. And whoever was running the Snickers' Twitter account got back to me and said they thought it was funny and that got me thinking, “What would it be like if we saw what these commercials were like?” This guy thinking up all these commercials that he thinks are brilliant, what would it be like to see those? So I thought, “I should make some of them. “
It’s one of those things that is just immediately funny. The concept is definitely well conceived.
Thank you. It mostly follows the same kind of format, which is my guy pitching why he thinks this is a good idea. I wanted to get that in because I wanted to show the reasoning for why the commercial was the way that it was.
What’s your production process like?
It’s pretty light on production and that stuff. I have a camera and it’s a pretty small group of people that I work with. I come up with a concept and write it out and shoot it. Then I edit it and do all that. The first couple we shot all at one time and now we’re just doing them as something comes up. I’m writing, editing, and acting in it. The last video, I just had my girlfriend holding the camera for me, so it’s definitely very bare bones.
All part of the charm. What kind of advice do you have for people looking to get into the web comedy space?
I think the rut a lot of people get into is you don’t want to make something rushed so you keep putting it off. You should hold off if it is some big thing you put money on, but if you’re just trying to get content out there, just do it. I made that slogan up myself.
Yeah, I’ve never heard “Just Do It” before.
You do make a lot of mistakes, but if you’re just starting to get stuff out, just do it. I’ve only made a handful of videos with only a couple hundred views, so I have no idea what the secret to web videos is. I think if you do have funny ideas in there, find people with similar ideas and get together with them.
Do you ever feel that gross feeling of shameless promotion when you’re asking your friends to watch something you made?
I do feel like that, and I think there’s a way that you do have to promote yourself. To start, I was tweeting out on Twitter and after a while it was like, “Okay, I’m done.” There’s definitely a feeling, but it’s hard to do.
What was your budget on these?
I just had a camera that I bought when I was working my last gig. I was shooting and editing man-on-the-street stuff for a late night show that was on ESPNU. I had a camera and then props just came out of my pocket.
What’s your day job now?
I’m freelancing right now. I was doing that show full-time but then it was canceled about a month ago. So I’m looking for something else more solid, but it does give me extra time to do more stuff like this. Silver lining.
And now, three reasons you should take a few minutes out of your precious day that’s sooo precious and watch Unsolicited.
"Canada Dry Ginger Ale"
Okay, so the sound ain’t great, but big picture—this is guerilla filmmaking at it’s best. The Canada Dry bottle wearing a backpack?! Come on!
There’s a lot of subtle, serious comedy swimming around The Net right now, and that’s cool when done well. But there’s something classic and universally appealing about being a clown.
Camerlengo could make three of these every day if he wanted, for basically no money. And they’re good! Now that’s a great web series idea.