While Thanksgiving is just hours away, we gather here on this Eve of Forced Familial Interactions to discuss a holiday much more solitary: The Night The Tooth Fairy Visits. It’s an event that comes at different times of year for every child (or adult with severe dental decay) who believes in the majestic molar monger (does the tooth fairy even take molars?). That said, tooth fairy interactions rarely happen the way writer/stars Matt Dennie and Josh Sharp depict in their The Truth About the Tooth (Fairy). For one, the winged wonder doesn’t wake you up. Because you’re asleep it’s hard to say if she looks like a transvestite hooker, is a thief, or talks to you with the sassy, seen-it-all know-how of a Puerto Rican elementary school nurse, but I’m pretty sure Dennie and Sharp took some license here. Inaccurate as it may be, this sketch is a brilliantly executed, rich character piece brought to the next level by joke specificity. In a pitch meeting, this concept probably would’ve sounded stale, met with cold stares and passive aggressive responses like “Is there anything more Thanksgivingy we can do?” but thanks to Dennie and Sharp’s commitment to making this idea so textured, it beats the STUFFING out of most of the GOBBLE-DAMN T-Day sketches I’ve seen thus far!!! Ugh, sorry about that. Have a nice holiday.
There are two kinds of emails I receive that make my skin crawl. One is from a membership sales person at The Equinox gym in SoHo. I went in once with a friend and said I might join and now he emails me every day about special offers that “won’t ever be available again!” even though they’re available literally every day. His name’s Phil and he’s a real pain in the ass. The second kind of email that gives me the willies is the kind that pitches a sketch or web series idea about hipsters, zombies, or hipster zombies. It’s not that I have any deep-rooted aversion to these subjects, it’s just that I’m sick of hearing about them — they’re the web equivalent of people yelling “I’m Rick James, bitch!” on the street during SantaCon. It’s not inherently not funny, it’s just tired. But then, series like Roger, The Chicken come along and remind me that, no matter how banal the underlying idea of hipsterdom seems, there’s absolute magic to be mined in something I thought I was really sick of. Co-created by Matthew-Lee Erlbach and Mallory Portnoy, written by Erlback and Jeff Ashworth, and starring all three, Roger, The Chicken is a powerfully smart, original project about hipsters that made me realize there are no tired premises, only tired executions. READ MORE
What’s the key to producing successful web videos? There’s no guidebook, that’s for sure. As much as we think we know what’s funny, what’ll get shared and featured on the likes of HuffPo and Splitsider, the viewing public is highly unpredictable. Luckily, creators aren’t totally in the dark — there are some unofficial rules of web media that start to guide our path toward digital success. Many have been talked about in this very column; you know the old faithfuls like “keep it under 3 minutes,” “keep it topical,” “relatable humor is good humor,” but perhaps the most salient “rule”, one creators’ share time and time again, is “Just make stuff.” Create content, a lot of it, and don’t worry if it’s not Webby-worthy. Use the medium to get a feel for the medium.
At New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, there’s a monthly event dedicated to this very tenet and it’s called Sketch Cram. Produced by ever-industrious UCB’ers Matt Klinman, Brandon Gulya, Zack Poitras, Sketch Cram has one clear, not-so-simple goal: collect the best writers, actors, and directors in New York’s comedy ecosystem and write and produce a sketch show — complete with live and video sketches — in less than 18 hours. (Last month saw it’s first Movie Cram where this breakneck process yielded a feature length film.) Amazingly, it works. Month in and month out, this crew feeds the comedy-hungry community while honing their own skills…by doing. Even more surprising, the content is really good — insane Cram timeframe or not. Need some proof? This “Exciting New Number System” was conceived, created, and released in fewer hours than my normal Sunday sleep cycle.
Last week, we published the 90th installment of This Week In Web Video’s (formerly called “This Week’s Web Series You Need To Watch”). It follows that this week’s write-up is the 91st installment. That’s 9 away from 100, 100 away from 200, and 800 away from 1,000. Bottom line is, we’ve talked about a lot of great web content here, and there’s a long, wide, impeccably paved road ahead, leading to a whole lot more chatter. This week, I thought it wise to take a step back, so we could collectively appreciate The Audition one of the simplest, most pure pieces of short-form comedy I’ve ever seen — one of the key creative guides I use in choosing content for this column week after week. It existed in a time long before the boom of internet comedy, on HBO’s late-90s comedic masterpiece, Mr. Show, but it will live on in the hearts and minds of comedy nerds everywhere, for as long as we all shall live. As we charge toward our 100th piece and what will hopefully be tens of millions to follow, let us remember that the key to strong, sharable comedy is not kooky special effects, wacky plot lines, or big name actors (yes David Cross and Bob Odenkirk are huge now, but not so much when this first aired). It’s just funny jokes. Plain, simple, and far from easy.
Way back, a long long time ago (in the early 2000s), a little sketch group called Dutch West became one of the first collectives of writers and performers who were adept at pumping out consistently high-quality comedic content for next to nothing or, literally, nothing. Their undeniable talents soon landed many of them at CollegeHumor where they formed an Internet comedy super group that has helped propel that site into one of the most recognizable online brands in the entertainment space. (Full disclosure: I work there, but I thought all this even when I didn’t.) Year after year, video after video, the CollegeHumor Originals team has managed to turn out videos and series that are as viral as they are smart and filmic, leaving many to wonder — HOW DO THEY KEEP DOING IT? We asked President of CH Original Content Sam Reich — co-creator of this week’s featured series — and his co-creator writing partner (and wife) Elaine Carroll their secret to digital success. Sit down with Precious Plum for one minute and you’ll see why I say these OG Dutch Westers have a Midas touch, at least when it comes to Josh Ruben in a big-tittied fat suit. READ MORE
Person is born. Person is made somewhat insecure by the travails of daily life and, for some reason, feels a little better when people laugh at him. Person decides to become a comedian. That’s the first half of the life cycle for 99 percent of people who decide to pursue a career in comedy. The other half is the part that determines whether those people will die cold and alone (i.e. be successful) or whether they’ll go on to be happy (oof, tough break). To achieve success, a person needs to bare the deepest excesses of his soul, turning the painful into the true and the true into funny. Being insecure and wanting people to laugh at you gets you up to the mic, but what you say and how that’s received all depends on how far you’re willing to dig and how personal you’re willing to get once you start speaking into it. How To NOT Win Back Your Ex creator Dan Siegel knows that and along with Sam Jacobson, Sam Sparks, Caralyn Stone, Max Goldberg, and a host of other very talented folks, he’s put together one hell of a web series. READ MORE
So, the shoot’s over. Everyone had a great time high-fiving and doing impressions and eating the single bag of Doritos you brought as crafty. Then you ask the question of all questions, the one you’ve been carrying deep inside since the shoot started: “Cool, so when do we think it’s going to be edited?” And you don’t mean like a rough edit, you mean like completely done and perfect. So you can plaster it all over Facebook and tweet it and email it to mom and dad in a desperate attempt to convince them that you’re “doing stuff.” No matter what the response to your transparent little question, you know deep down, it’s going to be a while. You don’t really get the finer points of why, but buzzwords like “color correcting,” and “mixing,” and “footage” give you some, sad idea. Unless. Unless unless unless your production is topical. In that case, it needs to be out quick in order to have any sort of impact whatsoever. And that, of course, means it will absolutely be out quick (because we’re all sniveling view chasers). But speed is all the more impressive when that quick, timely thing is also a good thing. And, as we all know, fast, good things are an essential component of viral success. Take this mash-up parody of the popular Lana Del Ray song “Summertime Sadness” written by Beth Crosby and Marc Warzecha, directed by Andrew Putschoegl, and perfectly engineered to ride the wave of Breaking Bad Sadness!
Also this, similarly opportunistic (in a good way!) addition to the deluge of pre-finale Breaking Bad-related stuff, called People Freaking Out About the End of Breaking Bad from sketch group The Kids Table. READ MORE
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. READ MORE
George Kareman. George Kareman. George Kareman. George Kareman. Tired of reading George Kareman’s name yet? Well then maybe you shouldn’t look at the credits in any TV show or movie or awesome web video ever again because I’m predicting this lad will have his name in bold quite a bit in the months to come, especially after releasing gems like Long Haired Businessmen earlier this year and now splashing onto the scene with Japanese Commercial Reel which is one of the funniest, most creative, brilliantly executed production-intensive projects I’ve seen in a while. Kareman’s small but powerful body of web work has proven — I think undeniably — that he’s got the goods: acting chops, writing skills, and a knack for tonal consistency that would make Vince Gilligan cream his pants. If Vince Gilligan were still able to be aroused. (It’s explained in the last episode). Kareman has always been a proponent of the “just make it” school, courageous enough to spend time and effort on any idea he’s passionate about. He does it for the love, as any true artist would and he takes his time. Take one look at his latest project and you’ll realize, that ain’t a bad model to follow. George Kareman. Get used to reading it!
There are lots of web series on the Internet. Few will capture your office mates’ attention and have them laughing out loud in under 30 seconds. This one will (assuming your office mates don’t completely suck). That’s because creator and star Mike Cullen has artfully mastered the ways of deadpan alt-comedy, the kind of stuff that makes me love Will Ferrell’s “Worst Boss Ever” (sorry about the vintage video) sketch more than my own parents and strikes fear into the hearts of anyone who watches anything on network television. Prepare to be tickled, and a little bit upset.
Tell me about your comedy background.
I’m from the south side of Chicago and I’ve been doing improv since I was a sophomore in high school. I started making YouTube videos by the time I was a junior. By now, we have 80 videos on YouTube, I’d say. I took 2 years off from doing improv and then I did the Comedy Studies program at Second City when I was a junior in college, and from there I joined Columbia College’s improv team.
How did this series come about?
I was looking to do something on a bigger scale. Some teachers from Columbia were also willing to help me. I wanted to come up with the simplest idea possible for a web series and I thought using a workplace setting would be something people were already familiar with and I just wanted to make them very, very short. I also really had the desire to play a character that was the most unlikeable and despicable person. Just so over the top. The people I liked in comedy always played characters like that. READ MORE
It’s Wednesday, ya’ll, and that means you’re in for a web video treat! Actually, it means you’re in for a bunch of them, assuming you haven’t perused the recently launched YouTube comedy factory, Jash. If you have, you know why I’m so excited. Oh baby, it’s good. Featuring original content from some of the biggest names in comedy (Sarah Silverman, Tim and Eric, Reggie Watts!), it’s what all web video should be. And with only 25,000 subscribers and 46 videos to date, you’ve got the chance to jump in on the ground floor. I suggest getting your feet wet with Paul Scheer’s The ArScheerio Paul Show (recently covered by Sir Bradford Evans here) where a flat-topped Scheer and his A-list celebrity pals conduct eerily committed re-enacted interviews from the Arsenio Hall Show. The best might be this one, featuring Nick Kroll as Jean Claude Van Damme and Kevin Smith as Van Damme’s wife, Gladys. It’s a classic example of the type of brilliant insanity the Internet is custom-made to serve up in the most delectable ways. Please watch this. I promise you’ll thank me. Show me your fat tits! Not you, I’m quoting — ah well, you’ll get it after watching.
“Keep it simple.” Hear it once, it’s one person’s opinion. Hear it twice, maybe that second person’s friends with the first guy who said it. Hear it 100 times, it’s good, true advice that you need to follow. In the web space, location and cast-light projects are the ones that survive the test of time because they’re the easiest to make. And if you’re like Two Jasperjohns creator Vinny Lopez, that consistent artistic outlet and experimentation space is one that churns out some pretty fantastic content no matter what the view count. So it’d be a shame to have to plug up the idea spigot due to lack of scratch. We all want to be fancy and unique. We all want to make a splash, but the sooner we realize that bare bones funny is the key to Internet chic, the sooner we’ll all become fabulously successful…right?
How’d you get your start in comedy?
I write promos for VH1. I don’t come from performance, I've always come from writing. Less from sketch. I’m a huge sketch nerd but I never went that route. Even with this. I could’ve done sketch stuff but I think I’m a completionisht. I like to follow stories, I like to follow characters. This came out of wanting to follow these two brothers instead of doing something sketch-wise. READ MORE
Everyone says “Write what you know.” Well, not literally everyone but a lot of people do — people who give advice on writing. And that trick of the trade can seem daunting because most of us don’t know about explosions or steamy love affairs or astronauts exploding on their cheating spouses for having steamy love affairs…in space. No, most of us are most familiar with more normal stuff like family or school or work and, because none of those buckets seem exciting in and of themselves, our first reaction is often to buck the pro’s wisdom and write something that we think is cool and will set us apart. That’s almost always a huge mistake. Either we don’t get past page 4 because we realize we’ve got no idea how a submarine works and all our expert shipman are referring to the sub gadgets as “that knob” or we do finish the piece and it feels equally unauthentic.
Whether we think so or not, the key to creating work that will mean something and, for our purposes, make people laugh is sticking to what we know best. Chances are that thing — no matter how mundane or “done” the larger theme is — will be well received because it’s highly relatable and rings true to a lot of people. Broad City co-creator Abbi Jacobson knows this full well, focusing her new web series Annie and a Side of Fries on a very unique childhood experience couched within a larger, highly familiar topic — divorce. She’s writing what she knows. Not surprisingly, it works and is completely fascinating. READ MORE
If you like inviting friends to Facebook fan pages you’ve created for yourself or your series and enjoy tweeting links to the latest episodes of… whatever the fuck, then there’s probably something a little bit wrong with you. If you feel sort of uncomfortable about self-promotion and do it anyway because you know it’s the only way to get your hard work out there, then you’re just like me (fan page here, I apologize) and John Trowbridge — the writer/creator behind a hilarious new series called Last Night, featuring a troupe of New York web comedy mainstays like Ben Warheit, Molly Gaebe, and Boris Khaykin and directed by Dave Bluvband.
Posting about yourself may be stomach turning at first, but the world of modern web comedy has become a place where everyone needs to be pimping their work all the time if they have any hope of getting it seen amidst a deluge of content. So, grit your teeth, clench your butt cheeks together and start selling you. Just make sure you’ve got the work to back up the pitch, like my good man Mr. Trowbridge here. READ MORE