Laugh Track: Nov. 5, 2010

Laugh Track: Nov. 5, 2010

As of this week, Laugh Track will have a weekly home on The A.V. Club’s blog. With so much happening in the world of comedy, and at such a quick pace, it made more sense to cover the videos, stand-up comedy, sketches, and other projects as they arrive. The sorts of topics Laugh Track includes will not change; only the frequency. To reiterate something from the original Laugh Track introduction, it’s a great time to be a comedy fan.

Internet: Full Benefits, Very Mary-Kate, and Hello My Name Is
Although CollegeHumor is best known for its epic prank wars and timely parodies, last month it began an experiment with three series divided into “seasons,” somewhat mimicking a traditional TV schedule. The site already had a few longer video series, but this was the chance to launch three at once, all with an eye toward serialized comedy.

The first was Full Benefits, about two CollegeHumor employees, Sarah Schneider and David Young, who hook up, then struggle to determine the status of their relationship and hide it from their judgmental co-workers. Very Mary-Kate, a series created by Elaine Carroll about the outrageous world of Mary-Kate Olsen, was given a second season and some added production muscle after Carroll independently produced its first season. The series least like the other two is Hello My Name Is, during which CollegeHumor’s Josh Ruben is put into an elaborate costume, shown the result only when it’s complete, and then has just a few minutes to come up with a character based on the get-up for an improvised interview. 

Full Benefits ended its five-episode run just this week, and as Schneider told SplitSider, provided an opportunity to think about the arc of the story and its characters over more than a few minutes of screen time. And even over just this first season, it’s clear the writers are having fun with the new form. The first episode focuses on only Schneider and Young as they deal with what happened the night before, but later ones add characters to amplify the tension between the two leads. 

Of course, viewers enjoy coming back to comedic worlds because of the characters in them. On Full Benefits, the story shifts between the two leads equally; Young will battle insecurity in one episode, then later it shifts to Schneider. Each episode builds on what’s established, and jokes need less setup to hit.

Very Mary-Kate is purely a humorous character study. Carroll plays Mary-Kate with a boozy drawl and sort of a swooping gait, and though she’s oblivious to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lecherous advances and the depths to which she angers her bodyguard, Mary-Kate is strangely savvy in creating funny ways to call her professor fat. (He’s not, and it angers him more and more each time.) It’s fun to watch the development of this discrepancy between Mary-Kate’s blind spots and areas of unexpected sharpness, and CollegeHumor has provided Carroll with a massive four-month, twice-weekly schedule to let that happen.

The odd man out is definitely Hello My Name Is. The only serialized aspect of the series is the setup, putting Ruben in “ridiculous make-up,” as the intro states. Each episode has the same setup: one minute each of make-up application, Ruben's initial reaction, and initial character work, then about three minutes of interview. It’s not a lot of time, and unsurprisingly, the videos that work best are the ones where Josh makes the character clear right from the start. Barq Dogg, for one, wants desperately to plug his community outreach program, except he got in an accident on the way over and now one eye is popping out. The most recent video is a Native American drug dealer. Usually, the true nature of the interview doesn’t really reveal itself until the end.

Still, this is a positive step for CollegeHumor and the droves of comedians working on their own videos. The more comedians test the patience of online audiences, the longer that patience is going to get. There’s also the case of Adult Swim: With Childrens Hospital, the network found a web series it could turn into a TV show that emulates a web series. Between that model and the one CollegeHumor uses, there’s a lot of uncharted territory worth exploring. 

Bonus: Nick Vatterott on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
New York comic Nick Vatterott performed on Fallon a few weeks ago, but it’s worth checking out if you missed it. Vatterott avoids traditional stand-up sets. As part of the New Faces showcase at the 2010 Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, he performed a few jokes that made sense, a few that didn’t, and in the middle spent three of his allotted six minutes trying to remember the rest of his act. He repeated the fearless performance on Fallon, demonstrating that Vatterott always has his eye on the bigger comedic picture.

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