We’re all nervous, constantly. I am and you are. Follow me on this. We’re comedy nerds, right? That means we like comedy (duh) and it also probably means that we’re fascinated by comedians’ ability to make others laugh and in harnessing their powers so we can hone our own chops as jokesters. Why’s that? Because laughing’s fun, yes, AND because, in many cases, laughter begets approval — the elusive prize all human kind seeks in one way or another. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The entertainment industry’s built on, by, and for insecure people like us. The trouble can start when we make the jump from comedy students to practitioners, from quiet appreciators to content creators. Then, the question becomes: “Am I as funny as I thought and is what I’m doing worthwhile?” In the Wild West of web videos, the self-aware creator must ask himself (or herself) this question all the time. “Am I making an impact? Are people watching? Is the web a viable Hollywood domain or is it TV’s ugly stepchild — a middling venue that I’ve cooked up to be more influential than it really is?” Etc., etc., etc. To that concern and all like it, I say: worry not, Rob Riggle and JB Smoove are here to dispel your fears.
Newly released Coogan Auto, created and written by Rob Riggle and Andrew Secunda and produced by and starring Riggle and JB Smoove, is the latest major vote of confidence that the Hollywood powers that be have placed in Internet video. Airing on Electus’ YouTube channel, Loud, in partnership with Principato Young Entertainment, Coogan Auto is a long-form, one-location web series featuring some of the biggest names in the funny game — many of whom have lucrative careers in major movies and TV shows.
This project isn’t a newbie’s hopeful attempt at capturing public attention and it isn’t a desperate grasp at the last fibers of unraveling fame. It’s a viable contribution from two of comedy’s biggest stars and it’s meant specifically for the web not because it needs to be, but because they want it to be.
Principato Young executive producer and digital entertainment aficionado Corey Moss doesn’t see the web series model slowing down anytime soon. Good news for us comedy nerds. READ MORE
If someone told me two weeks ago that I’d be kicking off 2013’s first installment of This Week In Web Videos by profiling a series about John Ortiz’s character in American Gangster and Jim Gaffigan dressed as 1980s drug-addicted cops, I would’ve said “Oh, are you talking about the Two Cops web series? That’s not Ortiz and Gaffigan, but I can see why you’d liken the lead characters to those two dudes because they look a lot alike.” Then I’d write a glowing review of said web series, just as I’m about to do right now.
Created, written, produced by and starring various members of the Columbia Film School-born humor collective Sunset Television, Two Cops is a Believer Magazine-hosted show that I came very close to ignoring. Why? Because when I read its description — a 1980s-themed documentary about two cops living together — I anticipated a rehashing of the old stakeout trope where two dolts who’ve got no business wearing a badge drink, do drugs, and lament their dysfunctional family lives. That is exactly what Two Cops is about but I expected something that was either more punchline heavy or painfully expository. Never did I think that I’d be presented with one of the most authentic, visceral cop comedies to date. The Sunset Television team, comprised of Alex Goldberg, Karrie Crouse, Drew Blatman, and Graham Mason, are unassuming masters of the tragically wry and while they know that may not garner them overnight viral success, it sure as hell makes for a fantastic first note of the year. READ MORE
It seems like just a year ago that I was writing to all of you recapping 2011's web series, because it was a year…almost exactly.
Now, here we are in the home stretch of 2012, and it's time to think about all the things that the Internet has given us lo these many months — the stars it's birthed, the jokes it's broadcast, the dreams it's made come true. Most of all, it's time for a little holiday relaxation time during which you'd be remiss if you didn't go back and take a second look at the all the funny things so many talented people poured their hearts into in this, the year of the Mayan apocalypse. Celebrate our survival, celebrate the season, celebrate some of the best web series around. READ MORE
Do you know people? Do you like them? Do you share a similar comedic sensibility? If you answered "yes" to all of these questions (sorry, it's an all or nothing kind of deal), then it's probably worth inviting your special little creative collective over to talk web series ideas. Just because you have friends who say they're creative doesn't mean they are or that you'll make something great, BUT there's a strong possibility that you will. If you and your troupe are motivated and inspired and, most importantly, talented, you can capitalize on a shorthand that could allow you to pull a little move I like to call the Palardy/Lower/Foster. Admittedly not too catchy, but it doesn't need to be once you consider what its namesakes were able to pull off for a mere $4,000.
Created by Kat Palardy, Britt Lower, and Dan Foster, written by Palardy and Foster, directed by Bridget Palardy and Danielle Krudy, and shot by an adept Danny Belinke, Window Dressing is one of the most imaginative web series concepts I've seen this year. Though episode lengths spill a ways over the acceptable Internet norm, the project's concept, strong actor chemistry, and filmic pacing made me feel more like I was at some secret deleted scene screening for a lost Apatow flick than watching YouTube alone in the nude. This is a good thing and due in large part to the creative team’s long history together. More on that…right this second. READ MORE
Raw, unbridled creativity may be the stuff of pure genius, but it's rarely what we see on screen. Somewhere in between a creator's hatching a wild idea and wide dissemination of that nugget of would-be beautiful, groundbreaking insanity, brilliance becomes watered down vanilla fare. Flickers of original concepts are barely visible, trapped beneath think packaging slapped on to make the whole shebang more marketable or salable or more like Bridesmaids (love Bridesmaids, of course). This is almost always the case in TV and film. In web media, it varies. There are ample opportunities to be left-of-center, but tiny (if existent) production budgets and fear of losing clicks usually steers content creators toward some incarnation of the insipid security favored by larger outlets. In Broadway Video and Holiday Road's new series Sugarboy, there's no trace of convention. Thank God, and Dan Opsal for that.
Created, written, and directed by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon sketch writer/director, Opsal and produced by Opsal, Amy Ozols, and Jimmy Fallon, Sugarboy chronicles blue streak narratives told by a 7-year-old protagonist (Anthony Lumia) who's sent to his room for being too hopped up on sugar. Visuals are stunningly varied and impressively filmic. Storylines are inspired. How, you wonder, did a full-grown man capture the mind of a child with such fearless accuracy? Dan can tell you all about that. READ MORE
You read this column every week to get your web series and sketch video news (just let me think that even if it’s not true), I know. And I appreciate it. Not only do I enjoy writing for you, but I also hold my responsibility to disseminate Internet funnies near and dear to my heart — This Week In Web Videos is more than a pastime, it’s a labor of love, a goddamn act of valor (again, let me go with this) and that’s why I can’t lie to you…
I had a bit of a scheduling mix up this week and had to hold off running an interview piece we’d planned to publish today. The upshot is, this week’s feature will not contain the interview element you’ve come to know and, we hope, love. What it will feature is an ode to the venerable Harvard Sailing Team, one of the most hilarious collectives in modern short form video comedy and a group that can teach us much about creating successful web content. Nearly 40,000 YouTube channel subscribers and a collective 13.5 million views prove it. READ MORE
“Just let it happen. The best things come when you just let it happen.”
It’s something many ultra-creative people say as they sip their beers and bask in a glow that seems as accidental as it is divine. They never set out to be awesome. It just turned out that way. “Just let it happen.” I wish I could! I wish I had that kind of peace of mind, but I don’t. I want it to happen now. NOW! FASTER! FASTER!
That’s why I’m envious of people like Ben Warheit.
Creator of Broadway Video’s Above Average channel’s refreshingly offbeat animated series Waco Valley, Warheit didn’t set out to become master of the comedic universe. He set out to learn, to experiment, while he paid his rent studying drug addicts and doodling in his spare time. His humor wasn’t rushed, it was cultivated and aged, warped in the best ways and his series is hilarious evidence of the whole free-range process.
Want to know how Ben “just let it happen”? It’s all here, people. It’s all here. READ MORE
Before this week, I thought writer’s block was a myth, a story device perpetuated by B-movie writers looking for a way to get their screenwriter protagonists off the couch and into wacky, winding adventures solely justified by the character's "search for inspiration." It seemed like a gimmick, a dull, broad tool for hacks. Well, while in the thick of a recent creative impasse, I considered writing that exact script. (My main character was Mel and he worked at a Zoo…that's as far as I got.) I’m out of my funk now and Dan St. Germain helped. In between deep, self-loathing, comforter-wrapped-around-my-head-as-I-peered-through-a-hole-at-my-blank-Word-doc wallows, I spoke with Dan about his new MyDamnChannel series Kicking Dan Out and he told me how he came upon the idea for his show, one I consider to be pretty damn good and would be glad to call my own: "…look around and create a character and then put that character in different environments. This isn’t Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman. There isn’t anything groundbreaking about this, it’s just basic funny." My reset button was pushed. Dan freed me from myself and I learned something. Maybe you will too. READ MORE
Someone who I really admire in the world of comedy (you'd probably know his name if I said it, but I don't know if he'd want me saying it and I'm generally a nervous kind of person about those sorts of things) told me during a brief meet and greet about two years ago that he was glad I was interested in comedy and not drama. His exact words were something like: "If you told me you wanted to be a dramatic screenwriter, I'd tell you go find a real job because, unless JJ Abrams is your uncle or something, you're not getting in the door. But with comedy, you've got a shot. Anyone does, and you can get your break at any time. You just have to be funny." These were, and still are, the most hopeful words anyone's ever uttered in my direction and they heartened me to embark on a career in this industry. More, my unnamed laugh oracle was totally right. In the world of comedy, talent and perseverance can make you, no matter what your resume or family tree looks like.
The one thing he didn't impart is something Ground Game creator Aaron Hilliard can speak a lot about and that's: Even after you've got your foot in the door, whether that be as a staff writer, producer, creator or, in Hilliard's case, all three, you can’t take a second to breathe. Ours is a fickle industry and even the most talented artists usually take a long time to get chugging along in a visible way. The upshot? Always be thinking about new ideas and writing them down and don't concentrate so much on the end goal. It sounds trite but enjoying every small and medium-sized triumph on the way to what may turn into something bigger is the only way to stay even partially sane.
Plot’s easy. Specificity’s hard. What the hell am I talking about, right? Okay, easy does it. Let me explain.
Consider writing a pitch or jotting down an idea brainstorm on the back of a napkin. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re like most of us, it’s plot — all the stuff that happens in the course of your sketch or episode. It’s linear and orderly and makes sense. Unfortunately, plot’s not the most important element of an idea, characters are. Strong comedy relies most on characters and how they move and breathe and talk because it’s from these living qualities that we derive a project voice and joke style. Character specificity spawns relatability which is, I contend, the single most important element in all popular entertainment.
When trolling for a series to profile a couple of weeks ago, I came across the first episode of Lizzie and Ali, A (Mostly) True Story and was taken by the razor-sharp joke specifics. Created, written by, and starring Lizzie Prestel and Alison Quinn, the project knew exactly what it wanted to say and which stereotypes it wanted to parody. It was (and is) targeted and confident. As a result, it’s a promising example of the industry’s newest installment of smart, gender-neutral comedy.
Want to know more about the genesis of Lizzie and Ali, A (Mostly) True Story and the talented people behind it? Of course you do. That’s why I talked to ‘em! READ MORE
When I called Zeke Hawkins a few weeks ago to discuss his short, Bob Wins an Award, he was in LA, driving back from a creative meeting about a feature he’s directing. As cool as that sounds (and it is cool, no matter how you slice it) Hawkins didn’t answer from the back seat of his stretch limo. He answered while battling gridlock and asked me to “hold on” for a second as he pulled over. Despite geographic location, occupation, and the cache that comes with saying “I’m on the way back from a creative meeting,” the man I’d called isn’t a celebrity. He’s an explorer, a motivated talent on his way up who’s still fully aware of and perplexed by Hollywood’s uncertainties. Nothing’s easy for Zeke. Not yet, at least. But he keeps pushing because he trusts his passion and knows there’s something alluring about the unknown.
Written, produced, and directed by Hawkins and starring Tom DiMenna and Bob Turton, Bob Wins an Award is a darkly comedic take on the striver mentality prevalent in so many corners of the entertainment business but it’s also an affirmation of the freedom that filmmaking can provide when content creators decide to do what they want, instead of what they think will make them famous. Though Bob Wins an Award bucks many of the web virtues I belabor in this column (it’s more narrative and meandering than short and jokey), the piece is well produced, well written, well acted, and deserves praise for its refusal to be anything other than what it is: a passion project.
Here’s what Zeke had to say about Bob Wins an Award and his Hollywood ride thus far. READ MORE
It sounds great, but isn’t always so realistic. Though we all want to be masters of our creative domains, vigilantly pursuing the arcane passions that occupy the darkest recesses of the right brain, that shit just won’t sell. So, too often, we’re forced to shelve what we believe in to pursue that which we know (or we hope) will pay the bills. We still say: “Screw what’s popular. Do what you love!” but what we really mean is: “I’d love to do graphics for that freelance commercial project advertising your ink and toner business!” Anything to keep the lights on. Add a spouse and kids into the equation and it’s easy to see why our big career dreams can become quashed by real world responsibilities. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we’re smart and determined and resourceful, there’s nothing to say we can’t have it all. Take it from Christine Walters, Matt Evans, and Maggie Kemper Rogers.
Creators/writers/stars of Other Mothered — a new web series and TV interstitial airing online and on Nick Jr.’s new late night mom-centric TV experiment, NickMom — UCB-trained Christine, Matt, and Maggie were determined to find a place in their lives for improv and performance amidst new families, a growing checklist of to-dos, and a youth-centric entertainment industry that favors talent who can be anywhere in a flash…without calling a sitter. Their devotion has paid off in the form of a smart series about passive aggressive parenting, directed by Adam Sacks.
Christine, Matt, and Maggie were kind enough to indulge some of my questions. Here’s what the trio had to say about their heartening route to success: READ MORE
Just shoot it. That’s what I’ve learned from Matt Levy, creator of this week’s featured series, Lady and the Damp. As “creatives” (writers, producers, actors, symbol smashers, etc. etc. etc.), we spend so much time agonizing over perfection. We batter our brains to mush with our ceaseless internal monologues, our harsh self-interrogations. “Is this funny? Why is this funny? Will other people think it’s funny? Is it edgy? Is it relatable?” and so on. Though no one wants to release unpolished content, there’s something indisputably limiting about professionalism. Especially for products we’re hoping lots of people will watch and love and share. The fear of failure, of not becoming an instant viral sensation, can sometimes halt us from doing anything. I’m not putting out a call for rushed, sub-par work here, but there’s A LOT to be said for releasing videos because you think they’re good and you want to. Lady and the Damp is a perfect example of how going that route can yield A really SPECIAL END RESULT.
Starring the improv-adept Michael Margetis and Jamie Sandomire, created and directed by Levy, and shot by his longtime DP Joseph Lao, Lady and the Damp was born from the classic Lady and the Tramp food-share visual gag. Levy thought it would be funny to see two people “lady and the tramp” a banana, wrote a sketch about it, corralled some of his friends, and just started shooting…and shooting…and shooting. What started as a single piece became an eight-part series chronicling a cartoonish couple’s relationship. And, here’s the best part: all the footage, for the entire series, was captured in one afternoon. READ MORE
Lauren Hill and Anna Breslaw are quickly becoming this column’s female empowerment champions. In April, we covered Beer Goggles, their refreshing take on a quintessentially male zeitgeist addition — talking about how much hotter girls seem when the pursuing males are drunk. Now, we’re bringing you PHIL, a sketch that stays true to Cook and Breslaw’s affinity for messing around with gender norms but in a more hardcore way. Like porn hardcore. Well, I mean there’s no nudity so it’s not really porn hardcore, but it’s definitely erotic novel hardcore.
Again Cook and Breslaw have surprised me with their sensibility, specifically their unusual knack for turning something kind of trite and gross — girls enamored with the taste of a man’s semen in this case — into work that seems almost arty in its daring and original presentation. They’re also strict adherents to many of the web video best practices This Week In Web Videos hits on a lot. Basically, they understand the strength of brief, well-structured pieces that feature strong actors and about-to-be-really-famous talent. Above it all, the thing I like most about them is they’re not afraid to reinvent well-worn comedic territory. In an industry where everything’s been done to death and over again, that’s a skill that’s as valuable as it is courageous.
I caught up with Lauren and asked her a bit about herself. Here’s what she had for me. READ MORE
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