This Week In Web Videos: ‘Studio Heads’

I realize I’m about to tread on some touchy territory but just hear me out. Maybe, just maybe, we’re all a little prejudiced when it comes to our entertainment choices, and it’s sort of understandable. Because pleasure is usually derived — especially in terms of comedy — from content we relate to, it makes sense that the more focused a particular piece of content is on situations endemic to a certain demographic (race, creed, age group, whatever), the better it’s going to hit within that group. That concept is kind of what the whole TV and advertising industries are founded on. “Oh, we’d like to target 35-year-old white women with this, so lets load up on jokes about Lululemon and ads for Luna bars?” and “Hmm, this is really more of an AA-targeted show. Yes, we say ‘AA’ when we mean African American — fun right?” and “Okay, to reach the Latino set, ages 18-34, we really need to be joking more about boisterous matriarchs in brightly colored house coats or low riders or something.”

It’s sad but, probably more often than we’d like to admit, the entertainment industry accurately guesses what we’ll respond to…because we’re all secretly, without even knowing it perhaps, a little prejudiced. In order to bust out of that mold, to become less predictable, less easily manipulated by brand algorithms, we need new material that crosses demographic lines and appeals to us on a more universally human level. “It’s not funny because they mentioned a stereotype I should be familiar with as a 25-year-old white male. It’s funny because it’s smart and good.”

Luckily, hope is not lost. Studio Heads, created by Mike Diaz, Jaime Fernandez, and Anthony Palmini, bodes well for a less segregated comedic future.

How did you get started in comedy?

Jaime:  I started doing stand up around the City at a couple of spots and from that I ended up starting a sketch comedy group called Room 28. The main guy [Mike Diaz] who has the YouTube video in studio heads, he was in it, and we would do a lot of shows uptown. It was a lot of comedy like this; a lot of sketch that we were doing uptown and then I just kept writing and made a couple web series. From doing stand up, I got a manager so I’ve done some voice over’s because of that. I’ve been doing different kinds of comedy, stand up, sketch, then web series, and through doing all of those, I’ve gotten into writing more and my passion is really writing.

How did Studio Heads come about?

Jaime:  Well the videos that Mike did in the studio, those ended up getting a lot of hits, and then we started hanging out together in the studio a lot, just doing bits and video things. Then we just thought that we have this one, stand alone environment of the studio that we keep going back to and we thought it’d be a good setting for a web series. A lot of different stories could come from just these two guys owning a studio in the city. That studio’s actually in this building uptown where, if you looked at the building, you really wouldn’t think that there could be a studio in there. It’s a kind of a ghetto looking apartment on the outside but then, on the inside, it’s this really nice studio. We really wanted to use the studio location as the basis for our web series and then, because we’re both looking to get into the entertainment field, we decided to make the characters like that, two people looking to get into the industry helping people do their thing but they also have their own aspirations.

A lot of this felt very Christopher Guest to me. Who are your comedic heroes?

Jaime:  Definitely we love This is Spinal Tap and The Office and Parks and Rec. It’s one of those things where you can get a lot of jokes in if you do it in a mockumentary style. And sometimes it can be really overused. When we started the series, we had decided on the mockumentary format and then as we went on, especially the last episode, the humor was more in realm of a show like Community.  We had to balance the mockumentary form and us going off into these crazy story lines. I think you can bend the rules. Like with The Office and things like that you can go a little crazy so you’ve got to watch yourself. I grew up watching shows like Newsradio and SNL and the Simpsons, but what I watch more now are the quick humor shows like 30 Rock. 30 Rock is definitely the kind of show I would like to write on. Just write as many jokes as you can and still have all those memorable characters.

Yeah super, super fast. The Aaron Sorkin of comedies.

Jaime:  And when you do a web series, you kind of have to do it like that. It’s hard to condense it, but it’s also a challenge that I enjoy, trying to throw out as many jokes as you can. Also having the characters continue to grow. We have more episodes but we were only allowed to put a few on the website that’s hosting them because they didn’t want to host all of them. So we still have some episodes but we know we can post them somewhere else if we wanted to. I also think that by the final episode the characters are more developed, there’s a lot more there that can be done for future episodes.

Is a second season in the cards?

Jaime:  We are going to do a second season. We had Lin Miranda from In The Heights on the last episode so we’re trying to get a few more people like that for future episodes. We were trying to get Luis Guzmán on the final episode too. I mean we are Latino but our humor is not culturally oriented. You say Latino comedy and people have a certain idea of what that is, but really our humor is based on what we grew up watching, which was American humor. We’re trying to be as mainstream as possible. We’re Latino so we’re going to have Latino guests but still keep the jokes our style. A little bit of both. Have it as mainstream as possible but also showing Latinos in a comedic light different than what may typically be seen.

What have you run up against in terms of stereotypes, either working for or against you, because you’re Latino?

Jaime:  Well, there’s a lot of stereotypes in Latino comedy. Everything always has to revolve around something culture based. You have the stereotypes of Latino drug dealers or Latino gang members. To me it’s kind of not mainstream enough. The only way to break out of that as a Latino performer is to write your own material. I’ve gone on auditions and it’s pretty much a lot of the same stuff you’re going up for. I’m a lighter skinned Latino so I can kind of pass for both, but still, it’s just one of those things. To be able to write a show the way you actually want to write it is great. To be able to have Latino actors in the show but not have them play stereotypically Latino parts. It could be anyone playing that role; it’s just that we’re Latino so we just know more Latino actors. But it’s not something we’re trying to shove down anyone’s throats. I’m trying to write comedy as opposed to Latino comedy. If my comedy happens to have Latino stuff in it, then it does. I’m not trying to write jokes for any kind of specific race, just for a comedic audience in general.

Is there an advantage to steering your material towards one subset of the population?

Jaime:  I think definitely as a Latino stand up you can get a really big fan base if you gear your comedy towards Latinos. The audience can relate and a lot of it is very family based and how they grew up. Latinos haven’t had many stars on TV. When one of your top 5 Latino stars is Tattoo from Fantasy Island, that’s really saying something. I think there just aren’t as many opportunities. Even George Lopez, when he got a show, had to write about his life. I don’t think there’s enough variety in the Latino community and that’s what we need, we need different things we can choose from. If one Latino gets a TV show and then it fails, it becomes representative of all of us. So we have to support it, regardless of if we really think that it’s funny. Latinos are the ones going to see the Hangover movies so we know they like that comedy; I just don’t know why we haven’t had someone find that middle ground. Find a way not to push down people’s throats that this is a narrow TV show or movie. It’s easier to get that idea to a Latino audience, but then how far can you take that?

Your series was really funny to me and I’m not Latino. So that’s good. I mean, not good that I’m not a Latino—you get it.

Jaime:  Thank you. Yeah I feel like it’s bad but when I see Latino shows I’m already thinking “I know exactly what’s going to happen.” It’s going to be set in a quinceañera with a grandmother wearing slippers or something like that. We don’t have an Apatow-like figure yet.

What advice do you have for people looking to get into the digital comedy space who may not have done it before?

Jaime:  You need people that are excited about the idea. Need a good editor; editing is such a big part of it. It can make or break the video. It doesn’t have to be a big crew, but it needs to be people that you trust and who share your sense of humor. Not people you have to explain why it’s funny to. I’ve worked with people on the other side of the spectrum and it can be annoying. The first experience is definitely a learning process. You learn regardless, every time you do it. If we do another season of Studio Heads, I’m going to try and get one guy to just make it look great. Some of the 4 we didn’t put out, the shots just weren’t right. It was like a Bourne Identity movie, too much shaky cam. But get a good team and do readings. It gets everyone comfortable with the characters and it’s kind of like a rehearsal but not. Get it out there for people to see.

What’s next for you?

Jaime:  We’re gonna try to do another season of this and we’ve also been doing sketch shows. If we don’t do another season of this, we’ll probably do another show. I was an actor on another series myself and that was kind of more of a dramedy and that got into the LA Webfest and the NY Television Festival last year. So looking to do more of that but my heart is always in writing. I love to do that so I’m always looking to do more writing, either another season of this or a different show. Try to get my writing out there to the masses.

Here are…your three reasons to watch.

  1. Broadly relatable
  2. Strong characters
  3. Simple

It’s by Latinos, but it’s not created with a Latino audience in mind. It’s created for an audience who likes comedy, no matter what that audience looks like.

Each cast member manages to strike the oh-so-elusive Guestian balance between lovable anti-hero and oblivious jackass — it’s great.

From a pure production POV, setting this whole thing in a studio that the creators already had access to was logistically shrewd and, as it turned out, comedically rewarding.

Luke is a writer for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.

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