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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. READ MORE

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This Week In Web Videos: 'Small, Medium, Tall'

We’ve discussed the adage “write what you know” many times in this column and have provided well over 100 examples of creators following it toward fantastic results. “Write who you know” has never been covered and that’s a huge oversight on my part. While writing what you know allows for the construction of believable worlds and set pieces, writing who you know brings these to life through the mouths and motions of characters without whom there would be no story. It occurs to me after watching Samantha Schecter’s Small, Medium, Tall  (starring Schecter, Danya LaBelle, and Elyse Brandau and shot by Russell Hasenauer) that writing who you know is the most important part of penning believable, nuanced material. So the next time you try to color a character, don’t think so much about celebrities on shows you watch or movies you’ve seen. Think about your friends, family, and co-workers and write to make alive the quirky brilliance that can only be inspired by real people.

How did you guys get your start in comedy?

Sam: I got started when I first moved to the city from Boston after college at the Boston Conservatory for Musical Theater. I moved here to be on Broadway and the month that I moved here I instantly started doing comedy instead of auditioning for theater and then I started taking sketch classes at UCB after seeing Sketchfest. I was super inspired after seeing that and took all the sketch classes, did that for about six months, did all the improv levels, and met all my friends along the way. I met Donny and Elise at One-on-One classes for camera stuff and it was fate.

Elise: I was that drama kid, always doing that stuff. I did theater throughout high school. Came up here to do American Academy of Arts and even in my scenes, my dramatic Tennessee Williams scenes, people would laugh. I remember the first night I came up to NYC, when I was in my dorm, everyone was getting together and saying, “You’ve gotta go to this show, we’re going to Asssscat, come see the show with us!” I went down into the UCB basement and I was like, “Dayum, this is… wow.” I was blown away but I kept saying “No, I’m going to be a serious actress,” but it always kept coming back to comedy. I graduated and a friend of mine who was working on some comedy shows was telling me that I needed to do more comedy. Just to have that person who was higher up believing in me inspired me to start taking classes at UCB and then everything else kind of snowballed after that. READ MORE

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The 5 Best New Web Videos/Series You Almost Definitely Haven't Seen

We’re doing things a bit differently this week. Instead of profiling one web series or one really hilarious, merit-worthy sketch, we’re grouping some of the top submissions we’ve received over the past few weeks and uniting them in an ode to what’s beautiful and great about those pieces that, up until now, have flown under all of our radars, untouched by the hand of virality or comedy nerd buzz (yet) but still really really good. Today at Splitsider, we’re becoming kingmakers of sorts. At least, that’s what we’re telling ourselves as we wear these huge crowns we bought from Party City. READ MORE

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This Week In Web Videos: 'Esther with Hot Chicks'

Esther Povitsky doesn’t give a fuck, and that’s why I think she’ll be very famous. Let me explain. You see fame, at least as I see it, so often tends to lie just beyond the grasp of even the most talented people if those people fall prey to charting their upward progress like an investment analyst. Making it BIG requires constant attention and work, of course, but it also takes a person able to create a marketable body of work while remaining true to their art—the thing that got eyeballs on them in the first place. That means being able to say “no” to offers you’re uncomfortable with even if it they’re flashy. It also means feeling secure enough with your style to bring to life the weird inner sanctums of your mind without really caring about what the suits say. Not…giving a fuck. And the irony is: that sort of thinking often brings about massive fame. Maybe Esther with Hot Chicks– created by Esther Povitsky, directed by Doug Lussenhop, and produced by Annelise Hewitt—will catapult Povitsky and maybe it won’t, but the impulses that drove her to make it—and the way she interviews—tell me we’ll be seeing her on a much larger stage sometime soon.

How did you get your start in comedy?

Esther: I started doing comedy just by taking sketch and improv classes at Second City and then at iO Chicago when I was in high school and then when I moved to college, I started doing standup because I didn’t get into any of the sketch or improv groups in my college and I thought, “What is something I can do by myself that is still related to comedy?” Then I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do that full time at any capacity in my college town and that’s when I ate way too many cookies one night and decided to quit college. READ MORE

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This Week In Web Videos: 'Being a Better You'

Creative feedback is paramount, especially in comedy. That’s because very few people have the comedic equivalent of perfect pitch — that special ability to pinpoint what will work from a funny POV without actually working on it with anyone else. Most of us need partners to brainstorm, to write, to revise, and once a script is set, most of us need help producing, directing, lighting, and editing it. Most of us are not Being a Better You creator Zach Broussard. As a matter of fact, none of us are. Just Zach. And he really knows what he’s doing.

How’d you get started in comedy?

Zach: Well I’m from Louisiana and went to LSU for college and I did some video stuff with friends, but I feel like that’s kind of something everyone just casually does in college. And as I got towards the end, I found I was the only person left who wanted to keep doing videos, so I started plotting my escape to New York and then when I got here I didn’t know anyone, so I did stand up just as an alternative. Slowly through that I started meeting new people, I did a two-man sketch thing with Zachary Simms called Zach and Zach and we did a little web series and had a sketch show once a month in Williamsburg. So I did that for a while and also did some guest performances with the group Meatsteak, I don’t know if you remember that group. I was buddies with a lot of those guys from stand up so I just started doing a lot of different bit parts in their shows. I think my biggest part was in a show they did called “Meatsteak Goes to Hell.” And from there I got on a UCB sketch team, a Maude team. I was on Fambly for 3 years and now I’m on Ripley. Those Fambly years were pretty pivotal and everybody on that team was doing a lot. Just being on a team with Marnie Hart and watching her kill it every week was pretty awesome. READ MORE

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This Week In Web Videos: 'The Actress', Season 3

I told myself I’d never cover the same series twice, but when I made that promise, I hadn’t conceived of a couple like Ann Carr and Warren Holstein — the hearts and brains behind one of the web’s longest running and consistently excellent series, The Actress. In a digital environment saturated with folks making shameless grabs at quasi-fame and fleeting HuffPo notoriety and then trying something new if they don’t get instantly huge, this series stands out not only because it’s quality, but also because its creators are so apparently committed to putting the time in, nurturing The Actress in its native state to make it the absolute best it can be for them, not for a development executive who may be scrolling through this site.

Tell me about how you each got into comedy and what the beginnings of this series were? 

Ann Carr: Everything really started with this one-person show I did at UCB probably about 4 years ago. It was called “Use It”; it was just a bunch of different vignettes of different experiences from my day job and auditions. Then after that stage show was done, it ran about a year, I was kind of at a loss. I was really missing it and wanted to do more. I felt like one of my vignettes from my show would make a good episode so I put it online and we sort of started from there.

Warren Holstein: Me and Anne have been together for twelve years. I don’t really do a lot of acting, but I do do standup and writing so even when she was doing the stage show I would help her with punching it up. Just putting jokes in it. About four of the episodes come from the one woman show that Ann did and it’s kind of strange because in the show the characters were all played by Ann but for the web series we had to cast people to play these characters Ann had played in the show. We would get into arguments about what should happen in episodes because we both were so invested in it and the compromises we ended up making ended up making the episodes even better. By the second season the arguing became less, it didn’t become as heated, and we both got into this process where either Ann or I would write the first draft and then we would go back and forth between the two of us. Eight times. This is probably the most regimented that we’ve done it, this season. Like this season, “The Dermatologist,” is based on my real dermatologist that I recommended to Ann. We did exaggerate but that scene where he’s squeezing her face, that guy really did that to her, he really squeezed Ann’s face. READ MORE

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This Week In Web Videos: 'Reporter Slapped in the Face for Upskirting'


Making a fake thing look real is one of the hardest things. And I’m not talking about “scripted” real, as in movies and TV, as in mediums that evoke the reaction “Yeah, I suppose that could theoretically happen in real life.” I’m talking real as shit real, as in “Holy hell, did you see that reporter just get slapped for trying to take an upskirt shot of a woman walking down the street?!” That’s the kind of real that gets people talking and when that kind of real is totally fake it’s one of the highest art forms I know. (I know VERY little about art.) This week’s featured piece, recently produced by the great Matt Evans, is a nod to that kind of startling verité.

This video deserves a whole lot more views and you’ll soon see why.

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This Week In Web Videos: 'Clench and Release'

It’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to an artist. You have a great idea for a project, you toil over its creation and then, you step back and realize “It’s really, really bad.” So bad that you can’t release it for public consumption. So bad that it feels like everything you’d worked so hard on — obsessed over during countless conversation lulls, subway rides, and sleepless nights — is a giant waste. Okay, maybe that’s not the worst thing that could happen (cancer is bad), but it’s a pretty terrifying prospect that either quells creative urges from the outset or forces spiteful artists to release every dud they make just because they took the time to make it.  In well over 100 editions of this column, Charla Lauriston is the first person I’ve spoken with who resisted the urge to release a product she wasn’t 100% satisfied with. She’s the first who scrapped months of work to go back to the drawing board and create something truly worth sharing. Clench and Release is certainly that.

Tell me about how you got your start in comedy. 

Charla: I’ve been doing comedy for 4 years. I used to work for a political office and then I started doing improv at the PIT and became obsessed. Then I did stuff at UCB and now I mostly do standup and writing.

Are you working full time in comedy now? 

Charla: Not yet. I have a part time job now.

What was your inspiration for this series? 

Charla: I really wanted to see my standup come to life. I think my standup is so relatable, it’s just about things that have happened to me, and so I wanted to do something showing that. Also I’ve never seen a woman doing standup on TV, like Louie or Seinfeld, and I sort of wanted to see if I could experiment with something like that on the web.

What was your biggest challenge in producing the series? 

Charla: I think budget is just such an obvious hurdle because I work part time and do comedy. There’s not a lot of dollars to be had. That said, I want it to look really good so I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it look really good. It’s also New York City so there’s a ton of really talented people who are willing to do stuff for really cheap. Beyond that, I think the biggest hurdle was my own writing. There was a lot of learning on my feet about what looks good. What goes from being written to being in video that looks good and plays across really well.

What’s your writing process like? 

Charla: I had done another web series at the beginning of last year and it was horrific, it was so bad. It was way too long and it came across really dramatic even though it was supposed to be funny. It was also really writing intensive so this time I just wrote outlines and then I went from outline to dialogue. Like really basic dialogue, just trying to get in as many jokes as possible, but keeping it very very simple and to the point. I cut a lot of fat in this one and it came across much, much funnier. Each one opens with the joke so that you immediately know what’s happening. It’s nothing like my first one, which is never going to see the light of day.

Oh, so you didn’t even release it? 

Charla: No, it’s so bad. I watched it and I was like, “This is unwatchable.” It was just not funny and I’m not gonna put out something that’s not funny.

What advice do you have for people looking to break into digital comedy? I usually hear people say “Just put stuff out there,” but it seems like you may have a different perspective. 

Charla: My advice is just that you should love it. If you love it, then you’re good. When I was watching Clench and Release and editing it, even though I hate seeing myself on camera and I hate hearing my voice, it made me laugh. The other one I hated watching. I think you just have to trust what is funny.

What other projects do you have going on? 

Charla: Well I’m working on continuing this series and trying to promote it as much as possible. I’m also working on a half hour of standup and I’ll see what I can do with that. I really want to get more episodes of Clench and Release out.

How many more are you looking to do? 

Charla: I’m really not sure. One thing I’m also looking to do is a pilot episode, but I think that would be too long and extremely hard for people to watch unless it was very engaging. So I’m going back and forth over whether I should write a pilot or four more little episodes.

I imagine shooting a pilot would be more of a show piece than something that’s gonna get a ton of views. 

Charla: Yeah I’m debating it. I do have ideas for continuing the series, I’m just trying to think of what move will be best for the series. It’s also super new; it’s only been out for 2 months. So it’s a total baby and it’s not like it has a huge audience.

What’s your promotion strategy? 

Charla: Well I’m trying to see who really likes it and then I’m just promoting it to those people who really like it. So far it seems like black women really like it. This political website called The Root posted it and that got it a lot of traction. I’m trying to start with people that like it and then hopefully I can reach out to other places that have a wider audience. I think Black women really like it in part because I am a Black woman, but I’m just responding to whose responding to it.

How do you feel the comedy landscape has changed for women, of all ethnicities, over the last five years or so? 

Charla: I straight up love the landscape right now. I think it’s a ripe time for women to really shine. I think it really started with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler putting an end to the stupid idea that women aren’t funny. I’m lucky to be in a circle of comedians where I consider a lot of the male comedians to be very smart and feminist. In my circle of guy comedians, I’ve never heard them say something stupid about women. They’re just people who are aware of what’s going on. For the most part I’m not introduced as, “The one lady on the show” or anything like that. It happens sometimes and it’s usually when I’m outside of my circle or out of town.

When you’re outside of New York or LA or Chicago do you find it completely terrifying? The audience changes so much. 

Charla: It is very different. I don’t find it terrifying as a woman of color; I find it terrifying as a comic. Just like I hope these people think I’m funny. I’m going to Nashville in two weeks and I’m a little nervous. I’ve never been to Nashville and a lot of my jokes are about chicken and dicks and slavery and I don’t know how that’s going to go over. I just try to think as a comic, “How can I be the kind of comic that does well anywhere?” I want to be the kind of stand-up that is just funny.

******

Here are your three reasons to watch, ya’lllllll:

1. Standup
2. Honesty
3. Charla

Episode 1, “The Code”: The interplay between Charla’s stand-up and each episode’s narrative adds a texture not often seen on the web.

Episode 3, “Roots”: The best comedy is rooted in truth — pain, idiosyncrasies, insecurities. Clench and Release is true.

 Episode 4, “No Arms”: For a new kid on the block, Charla’s writing and performance is more believable than many who are far more seasoned. As viewers, we instantly trust her. Maybe more importantly, we like her.

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This Week In Web Videos: '101 Ways to Get Rejected'

Fire up your Internet and go on a web series hunt. What you’ll probably find are the creative outputs of twenty and thirty-somethings—folks clamoring to express sensibilities seasoned by the years of pain that drove them to become comedians. Much less common are web series created by teens. (I’m looking past the YouTube glut of make-up tutorials and weekly twerk sessions posted by 13-year-olds and met with unfailingly creepy fanfare.) Created by and starring Susie Yankou, 101 Ways to Get Rejected attracted me not because it’s flawless, but because it’s an anomaly and because this Freshman effort is as impressive as it is brave and pure.

How did you get your start in comedy? 

Susie: I got obsessed with the TV show Friends at a very young age, probably too young, and then from there I just fell in love with comedy and it all just sort of snowballed into me deciding to go to school for screenwriting. I was kind of an awkward kid in high school so I wrote a sort of exaggerated version of my high school experience and that turned into this web series.

Where did you go for screenwriting? 

Susie: I’m at USC right now; I’m still a student actually. I’m a junior.

Is this the first big project that you’ve done? 

Susie: 100%. I made a short freshman year and this was my first thing after that. The summer between Freshman and Sophomore year I decided to shoot this. I wanted a project under my belt that I could show to the world. READ MORE

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This Week In Web Videos: 'Ramsey Has a Time Machine'

Good comedy is made when creators mine their personal passions for a subject that other people will care about and find funny. Fantastic comedy comes when creators take those personal experiences and present them in creative ways that are as interesting as the narrative insights themselves. Created by Ramsey Ess and directed by Chris Donahue, Ramsey Has a Time Machine is fantastic.

Talk to me a little bit about your comedic background and how you got started.

Ramsey: I always had a big interest in comedy as far as I can remember. When I was in college I took an intensive class over the summer at Second City, before moving to NYC. Then I started taking classes at UCB. I made friends through that and I was on a couple of Maude teams for a couple of years and I just kind of powered through comedy from there.

What’s your day job?

Ramsey: I am a high school English teacher by day. It’s a lot of fun. I’m also writing as much as I can in my free time. I’m a submitter to Weekend Update and I do a podcast, just trying to create as much as I can.

What was the inspiration for this series?

Ramsey: Well I knew I wanted to do a web series; I had been thinking about doing one for a while and then decided to combine two things that I love, history, and a really stupid character doing dumb things. I squashed those two things together and created Ramsey Has a Time Machine. READ MORE

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This Week In Web Videos: 'Uninspired'

News of Harold Ramis’s death this week rocked the comedy community, and a bunch of folks posted uncharacteristically heartwarming things about the effect Ramis had on their careers and lives. The one that stuck with me most was by Jon Perry, who excerpted this Ramis quote from comedy writer manual Here’s The Kicker:

The only thing totally unique is you. There's no one like you. No one else has had your experience. No one has been in your body or had your parents. Yes, we've all had the same cultural influences. We've all lived at the same time, watched the same shows, gone to the same movies, listened to the same music. But it's all filtered through our unique personalities. And I honor the things that have influenced me. I'm grateful for whatever it is that became the particular lens that's allowed me to put out what I have.

I interviewed Becky Yamamoto about her series Uninspired last week, before Ramis passed away but, in retrospect, it’s a perfect example of the kind of relatable, yet uniquely personal comedy product that resonates because it rings so true. As comedy writers, we’re often afraid that our audience won’t “get it” if we allow our unfiltered thoughts to spill out on the page. In reality, that’s probably the best way to be remembered and Mr. Ramis is shining proof of that.

How did you get started in comedy? 

I started comedy in LA. I took improv classes at the Groundlings and UCB and then wanted to do stand up so I started doing that and then I did theater for a little bit but then decided that I like comedy the best and I moved to New York to pursue that out here.

Ah, the old reverse move. 

I think I read some actory book when I was just starting out that said in New York you can go out and try stuff and in LA it kind of feels like you have to have your game on. I don’t know if that’s the truth or if people still feel that way.

I feel like New York is a testing ground where a lot of comedians build up their credentials and then make the move back out. 

Because there’s just so many opportunities out here, there’s like a billion little shows, so many ways to just try out something and see who you are.

What was the inspiration for Uninspired?  Haaa. 

It’s a couple things, like about being a lady and growing up and getting your shit together. Buying homes and getting married and having kids, you start to remember, “Oh didn’t I want to try this career thing?” and then it feels like maybe you’re too old for that. READ MORE

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This Week In Web Videos: Bill Stiteler's Vines

Six months ago, I didn’t know what Vine was. I mean, I knew in the way that I know what brain surgery is. I knew it existed, but I didn’t know the first thing about making or even critiquing one. So being the man I am — a sniveling victim of fear and cowardice — I steered clear of reviewing them in this column. Then, this past December, while home for the holidays, I was inspired to watch some Vines. And by “inspired,” I mean I got sucked in by YouTube click bait, the legion of ass and boob screenshots that serve as cover art for what seems like hundreds of “Best of 2013” Vine compilations. Lots were terrible, but a few were really brilliant. No-frills, original, and instantly funny. So when my pal Matt Visconage recommended I take a look at Bill Stiteler’s work, I was primed. It may be the first time in the history of the Internet that looking at digital boobs has (albeit indirectly) led to something so wonderful. READ MORE

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This Week In Web Videos: 'Movie Title Breakup'


Going viral. Everyone wants to do it, but few people deserve to. I’m not saying that there’s not a lot of funny stuff floating around the Internet, because there is. But busting through that elusive barrier that separates the very funny metropolitan-centric cringe humor video sure to get 10,000 views and the “Why didn’t I think of that?” universally relatable, instantly understandable, blow up your Facebook feed video that’s sure to get in the hundreds of thousands or millions? That’s like catching lightning in a bottle. This week, sketch group POYKPAC Comedy has done it with one of the most brilliantly obvious concepts. In their Movie Title Breakup, two people break up while out to dinner, using only movie titles to communicate. It’s a near 4-minute-long marvel of share bait that anyone who has ever seen a movie (or knows what a movie is) is guaranteed to love. Most importantly, sharing it makes you feel like you’re breaking some fantastic piece of news, some cutting edge cultural phenomenon. It’s so different and cool that it makes you want to take a little bit of undeserved credit for discovering it when passing it on to your mom, girlfriend, boss, whoever. Ladies and gentlemen, THIS. IS. VIRAL. And I’m JEEEAAAAAALLLLLOUS.

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This Week In Web Videos: 'Written It Down'

When it comes to web series, relying too heavily on improv is a very dangerous thing. It’s so tempting to birth a series idea, gather some funny people together in front of a 5D, and yell “Action!” just to… ”see what happens.” But most times, the people you thought were really funny when the camera was off, turn out to be sort of stiff or long winded or they deviate too far from the heart of the highly complex narrative you’ve developed and expected them to “make funnier.” Unless you’ve got Jeff Garlin and Larry David at your disposal or Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara, there’s usually no substitute for writing down what you’d like your series to be so it actually becomes that. One of the only lower profile exceptions to the rule that I’ve seen takes the form of Dave Zwolenski and Matt Saraceni’s series Written It Down. READ MORE