This Week in Web Videos: ‘The Other Kennedys’
Not everyone can follow their wildest dreams. That’s the harsh reality for most adults whose ambitions are naturally tempered with grocery bills and car payments, mortgages and kids’ college savings plans. I don’t mean to make any of that sound tragic. It’s just life. The fact is: wild dreams are most easily followed by the unattached, the unencumbered, the young–people like James Coker and Marshall Stratton who are jumping through every hoop to ensure their shot at doing what they love is aimed as precisely as fate will allow. If only things were as carefree as they are for The Other Kennedys. Alas, Coker and Stratton will have to get by on being funny and the hope that they’re lucky, too. Whatever the outcome of their quest, they should always be sure to rock those dope-ass Yale crew necks every step of the way.
How did you each get started in comedy?
James: Both of us started by taking classes at UCB in New York and were actually on an indie improv team together.
Marshall: Then the team got to the point where we were like, “Well improv’s fun, let’s try sketch.” Everyone was excited about it but then, over time, James and I were the only ones who were still doing sketches and then we realized through that that we had similar tastes in what we thought was funny and it just kind of went from there.
James: Well, actually, how it really started is Josh Sharp and Matt Dennie, who have been doing stuff at UCB for years, put up a show called Cool Shit, Weird Shit and they now do it at UCB East, but it started in the basement of The Triple Crown, probably about three years ago. I had written this bit that I was going to perform by myself that involved me with a gym bag full of Tab cola and I was going to give it away to the audience while reading out sad facts. It was just this dumb little bit but I was too afraid to do it by myself and, after Marshall and I rehearsed it together, we both discovered a character for these two guys and added to it and it was just so much fun and so successful and after the show everyone was like, “You guys should do more stuff together.” And that’s when we really started writing as a team. Like three years ago.
Did you guys study comedy or performance or writing while in college?
Marshall: I was a communications major in college and I always wanted to do comedy and theater and stuff like that but I chose sports and that kind of took over. I was always super jealous of people in it because it looked like so much fun and that was a side of me that didn’t even come out until I was like 25. I had, not a midlife crisis, but a quarter life crisis and moved to New York and started doing comedy pretty seriously. UCB was how I learned first. It was my first introduction to comedy training.
James: I was pretty much the same way. I was a business major in college and president of my fraternity and played sports and I wasn’t involved in theater at all even though I secretly wanted to do it. It wasn’t until I came to New York and started studying at UCB, The Magnet, and The Pit that I really realized that this was something that I wanted to do, long term.
What are your day jobs right now?
Marshall: I have a variety of jobs. I coach improv teams, I bartend at the UCB East theater, I work for a tour bus company called, “The Ride.” I’m also part of the UCB Touring Company.
James: For the last 7 years I’ve worked in production. I worked as a set PA for TV and movies the first four years. I was a PA for 30 Rock, Law and Order: SVU, some movies. But then, the last few years, I’ve worked on commercials in an office. It allows me to do more shows and have a more flexible schedule.
How did the idea for The Other Kennedys come about?
Marshall: It was James’ initial idea. He came to me with an idea for a web series about these guys who were distant relatives of the Kennedys and were just running around in Cape Cod. We also wanted to do something to show the different characters we could play, so we could get cast in more stuff. We mainly had done stage sketch but wanted to transition into doing more video stuff. And we wanted to do something that was more than just a one- off video.
James: Marshall’s family’s house is absolutely beautiful. A few of us went up there a couple of years ago and, ever since then, I’ve wanted to write something around the location. So when I came up with this idea, I just thought it was perfect and we had to go up there and shoot it. And, like Marshall said, we had been doing sketch for a few years and playing with these more extreme characters. Marshall and I wanted to do something where we were playing characters who were closer to ourselves. Which is one of the biggest reasons we wanted to do this.
That’s a little scary.
What’s your writing process like?
Marshall: When we first got together, we wrote a bare-bones outline for what was going to happen in each episode and then I went to LA for a couple weeks to do pilot season last year and was very not busy, so I kind of wrote out most of the episodes into a sketch form out of those outlines. From there, we edited them a bunch.
James: We already knew the location where we were shooting it and our main goal was to use as much of that space as possible. By coming up with the location for each one, we’d have the outline and then just improvise together to get an idea of how this stuff would come about and the funniest stuff that came up is essentially what made it into the script.
What’s next for the series?
James: Right now, we’re working on writing another season. We’d like to expand the characters a little bit more and expand the world around them. One of the biggest criticisms of stuff that’s put on the web is that people don’t have the patience to watch something that’s 3 minutes or longer so that’s why we kept it so short, but we’ve actually had people tell us that they wish these were longer, which is such a compliment. So right now we’re working on that next season.
Marshall: We have a couple episodes in mind and are making some basic outlines of them and there’s nothing really beyond that yet, in terms of shooting. We have ideas for what the next season will be.
James: We also do a lot of sketch together, both live and video. We’re trying to put out a new video at least every six weeks or so. We’re trying to alternate between doing projects like this and also sketch, which we both still love to do.
Who are your biggest comedic influences?
Marshall: I was a big Chris Farley fan growing up. Everything he said and everything he did was so funny and he just looked like he was having all of the fun. He was the kid that got picked first at kickball and was so overjoyed with it. That kind of infectious energy just resonated with me. Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis also. Those three were my big influences.
James: Everyone watches SNL growing and that kind of influences their comedy but, for me, I think the biggest influence was Mr. Show with Bob and David. As a kid I stumbled upon that show and really felt like it was speaking to me. I loved how absurd and different it was. It was really refreshing compared to the other comedy that was on TV.
Marshall: I think the same goes for The State. I kind of stumbled upon The State when I was younger and it was just so weird and different from everything that was out there. They were all so young but yet so smart and well trained at the same time. It was like punk rock comedy on TV. It felt like they were getting away with something, it was really cool.
What other web series are you guys watching right now?
Marshall: Business Work with John Purcell.
James: We stumbled onto this older web series that was on Comedy Central Studios and it’s called Steve and Brandon Think They’ve Sold a Show. It’s only like 6 episodes and then they do little sketches in between them and it’s great. Especially if you are in comedy, it’s just hilarious. We tried to show it to some friends who aren’t in comedy and they thought it was pretty funny but Marshall and I were just loosing our shit while watching it.
Marshall: There’s another show called Bounty Hunters that was only on for like 3 episodes. It’s shot really well and has this really cool look.
James: I loved Bounty Hunters.
What advice do you have for people looking to create digital comedy?
Marshall: Make your own stuff, put your funny friends in it, and make the thing that you think is funny. There’s nothing stopping you these days. Everything is so accessible, so many people want to make stuff or be in stuff, equipment is really cheap. Just go out and make something and don’t wait for anybody to cast you in something.
James: I think one of the biggest things you can do is: do what you think is funny, as opposed to what you think is successful because, in comedy, and on the Internet [in particular], it’s so saturated and the only way to stand out is to show your personality and your sense of humor. I know there have been so many times when Marshall and I have been working on something and we’ve been worried it might not be good for a certain audience or a certain theater and then we have to remember that the stuff that had us laughing the most was the stuff uniquely showing our sense of humor.
Marshall: People can totally tell when you’re doing something on stage or in a sketch and you don’t think that it’s funny. They can totally tell. If you’re really invested in something, and you think it’s funny, it will look good because you’ll care about it.
Here are your three reasons to watch The Other Kennedys. They all start with the letter S.
Episode #1, “Picnic Table”
If you think your web series premise is entirely too simple, ignore your instincts and make that project. Keeping the world small will allow you to focus on jokes. In short form comedy, strong jokes are much more important that major set pieces or intricate character development.
Episode #2, “Tennis”
For better or worse, short and sharable are almost always synonymous. If you like it when strangers watch your work, keep it very brief.
Episode #7, “Lobster”
Coker and Stratton walk the walk…of which they talk. They made the series that they liked. That authenticity makes it easier for us to believe and celebrate their work.
Luke is a writer/director for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.