Sketchfest is infiltrating Bumbershoot this year and injecting a dose of Seattle sketch comedy! We’ll be highlighting the selected performers in this space all month long so you can get a sneak peak before they take the stage on August 31! We’re kicking off our BumberBlog feature with local darlings Drop the Root Beer and Run! We recently sat down with Matt Hatfield, Zak Nelson, Bailey Freeman, and Matt Olson (Caitlin Obom couldn’t be bothered) to pick their brain about performing, writing, and rehearsing sketch comedy.
How did your group form?
Matt Hatfield: We were part of another group called Generation Friends in 2007 at Evergreen State performing improv and sketch comedy. DTRBAR started in 2010 with me and Caitlin Obom along with two others as an improv troupe born from that group. We performed at a dive bar in Olympia known as the Royal Lounge. We literally did a sketch once just to get into Sketchfest.
Zak Nelson: I don’t think we’ve had any improv scenes turn into sketches. I feel like they’re different animals, and if you try to fit an improv scene into a sketch, it turns into something different and you kind of lose what made it special.
Matt Olson: Every year we put on Improlympia and improvise together, but for the most part we don’t do improv together any more.
Zak: Matt Hatfield performs regularly with Comedy Sportz, and we like to keep those muscles strong, but we spend most of our time writing sketch.
Bailey Freeman: I did improv for a bit in college, and knowing those fundamental rules and having those skills definitely help inform my performances, but it’s not really my bag so I don’t actively seek it out.
Matt O.: Our sketches change a lot during the rehearsal process, and I think our improv experience really helps that. But after awhile we noticed our sketch shows were getting much more attention than our improv shows, so we just sort of followed that feedback.
What is a typical writing process?
Matt H.: We usually write solo. Occasionally we’ll pair up or work on something together, but generally we write up an idea and bring it to the group for a critique. Sometimes it goes back for revisions, but a lot of the times we’ll throw it up in front of the audience.
Bailey: A lot of the time we put on a show at the beginning of the year, and then we’ll pull elements or sketches from that show for performances throughout the year.
Zak: There’s sort of a sink or swim vibe. If the material’s good we might tweak it a bit, if it falls on its face we’ll throw it in the “needs work” pile, which at times is pretty large.
Bailey: It’s more of a scrap pile sometimes.
Matt H.: Knowing each other for so long, we can be brutally honest with feedback.
Zak: We all usually know based on the response it gets whether a sketch needs a little work or is kind of a lost cause. Sometimes no one has to say anything, which can be a blessing. We don’t usually have to say, “Hey this sketch sucks.” Based on the laughs you get you know.
Matt O.: I think we prefer to edit on our feet rather than workshop something back and forth endlessly trying to perfect it.
Bailey: None of us are afraid to pull punches, and we go into this with the expectation of honesty that “if this doesn’t work, they’re gonna tell me.”
When you write, do you write for each other or cast them as they need them?
Matt H.: More and more often, I find myself writing a character and thinking, “Oh this is definitely a Bailey part” or “Oh this part is definitely for Caitlin.” The more you work with people the more the writing is informed by them.”
Bailey: Look at me. Who else is going to play Peter Pan?
Matt O.: I find a lot of the time it’s not so much “oh, this part is perfect for Zak,” it’s more like we start writing the sketch knowing “this part will be Zak.” But we do have those meetings where we have to evaluate a show and make sure everyone’s got kind of equal representation.
Bailey: So many of the roles are interchangeable though, we can perform a show with any combination of members. We kind of have sets planned out based on who’s available to perform in a show.
What’s your favorite part of sketch comedy as a whole?
Matt O.: You spend months and months working on this thing, and when the first time a sketch goes up it’s like opening a present. Seeing it come to life after being a conceptual thing in your head for so long is amazing.
Zak: I really like friendship. One of my favorite things is going to someone’s house and hanging out, pitching ideas back and forth, and writing a sketch. It’s so gleeful! You read it back and there’s this feeling like, ‘we did this guys! This is ours!’ It makes going to work the next day more bearable.
Matt H.: For me it’s the honesty and the rawness of it. I came from a theatre background and it always felt sort of fake and a bit pretentious. You don’t really find that in sketch comedy. Sketch knows what it is, and it can be brutally honest about it. All of the people in the community are very welcoming and it feels like a very different world from dramatic theatre because people have a real sense of humor about what they’re doing.
What kinds of comedy do you like?
Matt H.: I’m a big fan of the absurd. Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, Adventure Time.
Matt O.: I have kind of a dark sense of humor, I like sort of subversive humor. Kids in the Hall is a big influence in that regard. I really like a British sketch show called Jam, too. It’s like the darkest possible thing that you can still call comedy. It walks that line.
Zak: I appreciate weird and absurd comedy. I think Kids in the Hall is really the common theme among us. I also really loved The Tick, the animated series, and obviously The Simpsons. But at this point saying you like The Simpsons is kind of like saying you like The Beatles. It’s just accepted.
Bailey: I tend to go for the manic, really high energy kind of stuff. I like a lot of British stuff like League of Gentlemen and Fawlty Towers. Also Monty Python. Really anything with John Cleese is my jam.
Describe Seattle Sketch Comedy in One Word
Matt H.: Unique
Matt O.: Family
Matt O.: It dawned on me at the Fund Fight, that show was like hanging out with 40 of my best friends.
Matt H.: It was a fierce competition, but at the end we were all hugging and shaking hands and laughing.
Bailey: Everybody was really stoked, even when someone else won, and it was so fun. It was competitive, but everyone was really happy to be a part of it and there wasn’t a jealous vibe. It’s a really great scene to be a part of.