This Week in Web Videos: ‘Put a Ring on It’
This one goes out to all ya’ll whose Facebook feeds are flooded with engagement announcements. It just don’t have to be that way. Love is a sham. Monogamy is a prison. Doubt me? Take it from creators Anna Roisman and Robbie Sokolowsky. Sometimes saying “no” can be a whole lot more fun.
How did each of you get your starts in comedy?
Robbie: Prior to us meeting, I was first introduced to the UCB Theatre by my friend Nate Lang. He took me to my first show in 2004. That was my first introduction to what kind of comedy was going on there and I wanted to learn more about it and became a little obsessed with it. I took some improv and sketch classes and, paired with the production work that I do for my day job, I put the two together.
Anna: That was beautiful. How did I get my start in comedy? Well, I’ve always liked comedy. I’ve acted ever since I was little, writing songs, and making shows. Then, one summer, I worked in New York City for a casting agent’s office and, in my spare time, I started going to ASSSCAT and Stepfathers and all these different shows at UCB and thought to myself, “I want to do that when I live in New York City.” So I guess that’s how I got my start. Whenever I did plays and stuff I always wanted to be the pretty ingénue, but I was always cast as the dog or the sidekick or something. I went to a musical camp and every summer I thought “This is going to be the year that I get the lead,” but I always got cast as the boy or some other supporting role.
How did Put a Ring on It come about?
Anna: We were out one night together, making fun of people’s engagement photos and how now everything is documented.
Robbie: Often when we have conversations like this, we start our ideation process which is “How can we turn this upside down? How can we ruin it?”
Anna: One of the first ideas we had was someone proposing and the other person saying “no.”
Robbie: We’ve all seen some bad engagement scenarios in movies and stuff like that but we felt like you’d never seen them in real life. What happens when a girl says “no”? We just wanted to take it and make it horrible and real.
Anna: Reality show-like. I showed it to a friend of ours before we put them out and he told me, “Anna this is really sad.” And I told him, “No it’s not, it’s just very real.”
What other series are you guys watching online right now?
Robbie: I do watch a lot of contemporary UCB actors’ and directors’ videos, but I’m inspired a lot by shows from the 90s. This series specifically I pulled from for this series was the TV show, Blind Date and from this show I used to love as a kid called, Maximum Exposure. It was where people would do really stupid, don’t-try-this-at-home stunts, and the voiceover would just make fun of them as they fell to their death, so that’s really where the voiceover for Put A Ring On It came from. I really like that kind of stuff, so I’d say I’m more inspired by older stuff.
Anna: I’m watching all of James Cordon’s videos where he has celebrities singing karaoke in the car; I just cannot stop watching those videos. I don’t know why but I just die watching them, they’re the funniest things ever to me.
Robbie: I’ve also been reading a lot of articles on the website Reductress, I’m obsessed with those headlines. Clickhole has been making a lot of videos as well that I’m obsessed with. I took level 401 at UCB with John Haskell who now writes for Fallon and he has a very random YouTube channel that’s full of really hysterical stuff.
What advice do have for people looking to do what you’re doing?
Robbie: There are so many deterrents for people to not do these things and I think I used to make excuses a lot about why we couldn’t make things, but then I realized if the idea is good, it doesn’t really matter who is in it or what it looks like. Don’t let those things get in the way of your ideas. Just shoot it on your iPhone; you can still get a million views if your idea is good.
Anna: We made most of these videos for $0 and whatever money we spent came out of our pocket, so my advice would be: “Collaborate with people.” So many people have funny ideas but won’t do it because they’re scared to approach others or don’t want to work with other people. The only way to make this kind of stuff is to work with people you think are funny.
I assume you guys write together? How does that process work?
Robbie: The way it’s historically worked is one of us will have half an idea and bring it to the other one. This series was different in that it came from us both talking about it and coming up with it together.
Anna: Usually I’ll text him and be like, “Oh I have this idea” and then I’ll write an outline and send it to him and he’ll look at it and punch it up. Or he’ll do the same and just text me a video idea. We’ll usually just text each other ideas and then go from there.
Robbie: We establish a base and then we’ll each pepper in our own ideas. They always seem to end up being very dark and morbid.
Yeah it sounds like you both have a lot of issues. So, what’s next for the series?
Anna: It’s funny because after we put it out we had friends who were like, “I wanna see more of these” and I was like “I don’t know.” They just came out. We shot them a while ago, you can tell because there’s snow in some of the shots. We produced them ourselves, which we had never done before and it was a really good learning experience for the two of us.
Robbie: Definitely. Moving forward, we’re just going to shoot, edit, do everything internally. We’re getting better at it with each time we do it. Each production we do we set ourselves up for uncomfortable scenarios where we have to edit it, we have to shoot, etc. so that we can learn more. Each series we put a little bit more on ourselves so that we can tackle our own ideas every time. Like let’s do our three part reality show series, which sounded like a crazy, huge undertaking but after we did it we were like, “We can do anything.”
- Writing/improv balance
- Genre parody
Episode #1, “Justin”
Put a Ring On It’s writing is so strong and—moreover—so real that, in many scenes, you can’t tell where the page ends and the improv begins.
Episode #2, “Kyle”
For all the 90s nostalgia clogging the arteries of our beloved Internet, we don’t see a lot of Blind Date parodies. Good on ya, Anna and Robbie.
Episode #3, “Chaz”
Jesus. It’s just really uncomfortable. That’s so great.
Luke is a writer/director for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.