Good comedy is made when creators mine their personal passions for a subject that other people will care about and find funny. Fantastic comedy comes when creators take those personal experiences and present them in creative ways that are as interesting as the narrative insights themselves. Created by Ramsey Ess and directed by Chris Donahue, Ramsey Has a Time Machine is fantastic.
Talk to me a little bit about your comedic background and how you got started.
Ramsey: I always had a big interest in comedy as far as I can remember. When I was in college I took an intensive class over the summer at Second City, before moving to NYC. Then I started taking classes at UCB. I made friends through that and I was on a couple of Maude teams for a couple of years and I just kind of powered through comedy from there.
What’s your day job?
Ramsey: I am a high school English teacher by day. It’s a lot of fun. I’m also writing as much as I can in my free time. I’m a submitter to Weekend Update and I do a podcast, just trying to create as much as I can.
What was the inspiration for this series?
Ramsey: Well I knew I wanted to do a web series; I had been thinking about doing one for a while and then decided to combine two things that I love, history, and a really stupid character doing dumb things. I squashed those two things together and created Ramsey Has a Time Machine.
Who wouldn’t love those two things squashed together? What was the budget for this?
Ramsey: Yeah I financed it myself so it wasn’t anything crazy, I believe it was about $1,500. The majority of it was spent on costumes and locations here and there and then buying food for everybody after.
What was the biggest challenge in the series?
Ramsey: Probably locations, just because for the first episode we had the tea party by the waves and I really didn’t want people to get distracted by the waves because they were very loud so I had to edit them out a lot. Then also things like “How am I going to find a palace for Napoleon in New York City, that doesn’t cost $3000 to rent for four hours when I only need it for five minutes?” Or “Can I find someone that I know who owns a bar that will let me kill a bunch of mafia people in it?” So we had to work in those constraints. It was a challenge but I liked it a lot.
Are you going to do a second season?
Ramsey: Oh yeah we’re definitely going to do a season 2. I’ve already written a couple of those and have some ideas for other episodes. I kept saying when we were shooting, “Whenever we do this again, we’ll have fewer costumes and fewer locations” but, as of writing it, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I don’t know how that’s going to happen, but it’s going to be fun to see. Other than that I’m just gonna continue to write and make dumb stuff on the internet.
What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to break into the web comedy space?
Ramsey: I think the big thing is “Don’t be afraid to just make it.” There’s so much room to put out your own stuff and you’re gonna learn from making it no matter what, no matter if it’s a success or a complete failure. And I’m gonna steal a piece of advice from Eric Drysdale; he was Maude Team coach of mine. His advice when you were writing was, “all kinds of jokes.” I think that’s a really important thing to keep in mind. I have a particular sensibility that I tend to write for and it’s usually pretty wordy and that kind of thing, but I also made an effort to include all types of humor. Like episode 6 for example, is completely silent, which is not my forte but it came out really great.
Here are three reasons to hop into Ramsey’s time machine.
1. Historical premise
2. Snappy writing
Episode #1: Bar Trivia
Looking for comedic inspiration, world? History is a great place to find it. So stop writing series about awkward zombies and take a trip down a WWII Wikipedia worm hole why dontcha!
Episode #2: Hitler
It’s clear that Ess is a history buff and that comes through in sharp jokes that entertain and inform (well…if you know very little about history).
Episode #6: Art
In an Internet space replete with short form comedy, Ramsey Has a Time Machine stands out…because Ess is willing to take risks.