Sketchfest is spreading Seattle Sketch Comedy across Bumbershoot this year, so we’re talking with all the performers playing under our banner at the festival! Check out this space as we drop not one but TWO Bumberblogs leading up to the big show on Saturday (seriously? You don’t have tickets yet? Go here and get them!) This week: chatting with Charles! Read more
Sketchfest is giving Bumbershoot a taste of Seattle sketch comedy this year! We’re highlighting all the performers in this space all month long to give you a special inside glimpse into the who’s who of our Bumbershoot acts. This week we talk with the woman named “Best Comedian” by Seattle Weekly’s 2013 “Best of Seattle” and our esteemed host for the Bumbershoot show: Jen Seaman! Read more
Sketchfest is infiltrating Bumbershootthis 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. Read more
In our first ever online chat interview, we were lucky enough to learn more about the crazy kids behind Drop the Root Beer and Run; one of the Seattle’s hardest working up-and-coming sketch groups to hit the scene. No matter how many cliche questions we asked, they kept at it with the enthusiasm of a group that’s going places.
I HAVE TO ASK, HOW DID YOU GUYS MEET AND START DtRBaR, AS IT’S LOVINGLY CALLED?
MO: I saw that question coming. BF: Super obvious. ZN: We met at the Evergreen State College. That’s where this all started. BF: In a group called Generation Friends. MH: We all met via the college. We all went to Evergreen and were a part of the sketch/improv group Generation Friends. MO: Let’s answer every question the same in 4 different ways.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMEDIC STYLE?
MH: Dark Whimsy. ZN: Yep. MH: Only two words you really need there. MO: That’s a term we’ve always used to describe it, I don’t know if it still applies as strongly as it used to. BF: Pretty much. MO: All of my sketches are people yelling at each other usually. BF: We’re still pretty freaking weird. MH: I always aim to be as weird as possible.
DO YOU THINK THAT’S PART OF YOUR APPEAL?
BF: Never too much. MO: I think we’re more silly than weird, but that’s just me. MO: Appeal? MH: If that isn’t, nothing is. ZN: Maybe, I don’t really understand the concept of appeal. ZN: I just want to be friends. MO: I think they just like us for our bodies. BF: Yea, we just want to be friends with everyone!
(At this point, we briefly lost connection with Bayley. Technology.)
ZN: Baylie fell in a Gcal hole. ZN: It’s okay she got back up. BF: But I climbed out for what it’s worth. MO: Does that answer your question? BF: Okay, super focused. ZN: Appeal.
I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULD LOVE TO BE FRIENDS WITH YOU GUYS. DO YOU THINK THAT COMEDY IS LESS ABOUT APPEALING TO THE AUDIENCE AND MORE ABOUT AN AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE? OR IS IT SOMETHING ALTOGETHER DIFFERENT…
MO: We’re all thinking very hard about this question. BF: I’m leaning toward the altogether different part more. BF: Nothing wrong with that. ZN: I think comedy is basically about having fun, between group members and the audience. MH: It’s all pretty important, you want to give them something they haven’t seen before and you want to make them happy in the process; at least that’s what it is for me. BF: But making ourselves happy is important too. We just like to perform stuff that appeals to us.
I LIKE THAT. SO YOU PROBABLY KNEW THIS ONE WAS COMING: LOTS OF GROUPS HAVE WILD NAMES, BUT YOURS IS PRETTY UNIQUE. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
ZN: Get ready. ZN: Here. ZN: It. ZN: Comes. ZN: Soon. ZN: Maybe? MO: Cut it out, Zak. BF: Zak’s stacking up too much pressure. MH: Stack. BF: Hatfield’s gonna blow! MH: So when I started the group along with Corbin Smith, who is no longer in the group, he came up with the name while watching Mad Man, apparently there’s a scene where a kid has a bottle of root beer that he drops and then runs. ZN: Ahem. Mad Men. MH: At first I thought the name was a little anti-Root Beer so we were Root Beer Harvest for a bit, but DTRBAR had a better ring to it.
WHAT IS THE STRANGEST PLACE YOU’VE PERFORMED – INDIVIDUALLY OR AS A GROUP?
MO: We’re used to performing in bars, which is not a great improv venue. MH: This isn’t so much a place… but we once did an improv set for only my parents… that was pretty awkward. MO: In the Generation Friends days we did a show in a bar and had to warm up in the adjoining hair salon because we were underage, and had the police called on us by the crazy, drunk owners. ZN: We also once did a sketch set only for my family. And a family friend. BF: The last rehearsal for our most recent show resulted in me hitting my head on a chair leg because it’s stupid to do physical comedy in tiny kitchens. ZN: Also the band we were opening for at that bar ended up tuning up behind us, BEFORE we were done with our improv set. MO: I did an improv show in a backyard, opening for jugglers once.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IMPROV AND SKETCH COMING TOGETHER? DO YOU THINK ONE LEADS TO THE OTHER, LIKE A GATEWAY DRUG?
MO: They should, but sadly that’s not always the case.
BF: Not for me, improv’s never really been my bag but I will say that certain elements of one are useful in the other. BF: …Is one of them so you can pick up a scene in case you fumble in sketch? BF: I’ve read enough about improv and done a little and it does help me a bit. MH: I did improv first, and found sketch much later. Occasionally we’ll get a sketch idea from an improv scene, but that doesn’t happen too often. ZN: If you’re willing to go over an improv scene a bunch of times until its perfect, then melding the two together can be better. Personally writing whatever comes into one’s head has always worked for me. I think that both complement each other, and there are elements of one in the other. MO: I think knowing how to do improv makes writing sketch much, much easier. I would not know how to write sketch comedy without using improv techniques. MH: Game theory applies to both, so once you’ve gotten that down in one you’re good in the other. ZN: Yes, I think having both in your bag of tricks is great. If for nothing else, when you mess up a line you can cover it up and no one will be the wiser. MO: To answer you’re other question, I really don’t know why there’s not more fluidity between the improv and sketch scenes than there is, especially in Seattle. BF: I started in traditional acting so sketch comes easier but I’m glad I studied improv. I think it makes for a stronger performer in many situations. It also develops your versatility and confidence. MH: We’ve changed chunks of sketches spontaneously during a show a few times, and that’s always fun. ZN: Yeah, sometimes ad-libbing for the last night of a show can be fun. ZN: My whole outlook to that has kind of changed though recently. Kevin McDonald did a workshop here in Seattle that I got to attend and he basically showed you how to turn improv into sketch. MO: Goddamn name-dropper. ZN: I will not drop Kevin McDonald’s name ever…I’m going to hold it close to my chest and let it keep me warm at night.
WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF WORKING IN A LARGE GROUP? WHAT THINGS SHOULD NEW TROUPES WATCH OUT FOR?
MO: Scheduling between 4 or 5 people is a big problem. ZN: Lots of ideas happen in a large group. MO: Especially as some of us work nights and some of us work days. MO: We can never meet as much as we want/need to. MH: Best part is all the voices that are contributing at different angles, we all see things when writing that others might not see. ZN: The writing is much faster because you have lot’s more sketches coming in. BF: Well we’ve been such good friends for so long the ideas just flow out effortlessly it seems. MO: Everybody in the group is also great at picking up production roles. BF: It’s also good for developing chemistry on stage because we’re so comfortable, really anything goes. MO: All the scheduling, logistics, and tech stuff doesn’t get tossed on one or two people, because we’ve all been producing shows long enough that any one of us could pick up pretty much any task and get it done. It makes us a lot more efficient. BF: And we can trust each other to be really critical when we need it.
WELL, I CAN TELL YOU GUYS HAVE A PRETTY GREAT RELATIONSHIP AND THAT IS SUPER IMPORTANT. ON THAT NOTE, NO MATTER WHO’S TO BLAME, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SKETCH YOU’VE PERFORMED? WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE? WHY?
MO: Tough one. ZN: Wow, here come some hurt feelings. BF: Also, this could take a while. MH: I’m a pretty big fan of performing Carrying Monologue, because the audience always eats that one up. ZN: I’m a pretty big fan of you performing Carrying Monologue, too. MO: My favorite to perform is called Parrot Fell Detective. It’s not our most popular sketch by a long shot, but it’s pretty much just for me. It’s just so much fun to do. MH: Also “All Aboard” because I basically just get to be adorable. MO: Yes. MH: Yes. BF: The salmon sketch between Olson and me, because it is so ridiculous and such a fun build. MO: Carrying Monologue might be my favorite sketch to watch though. ZN: My favorite sketch to perform is probably a new one called Emergency Broadcast. ZN: I really (for some reason) like roles that are non-speaking. ZN: Least favorite one I’ve performed is probably one we did called Protest. ZN: I liked the idea, but Olson never liked it period. We still made him put it in the show.
HERE’S A REALLY BIG ONE….WHAT IS SO IMPORTANT ABOUT SKETCH COMEDY?
MO: What else is there? MO: To me, sketch comedy has more potential than any other form of narrative, to really go anywhere, really quickly.
MO: I mean, you could have a short scene with jokes in it, that isn’t a comedy sketch. MH: To me it’s important to take the time to approach whatever you’re writing at an angle you think is new, and to keep working at it until you have the moment of “YES!” “THIS IS A NEAT THING.” ZN: I think sketch comedy is really good at turning negative ideas, thoughts, or feelings and being able to hold them up for us to laugh at. Thereby making them positive. MH: Surprise. Surprise is so important. MO: Sketch comedy is all about patterns, games being played, ideas taken to impossibly high conclusions, and it makes it really easy to get away with writing the stupidest ideas you’ve ever had in your life and make them seem credible. BF: For me it’s all about showing people something they’ve never seen before and taking them somewhere they never expected. I don’t write so for me it’s all about jerking them out of their seats with your energy. ZN: Sketch comedy is like playing jazz with a ruler, artistic, but mathematical at the same time. MO: That’s beautiful, Zak. MH: Good use of words. BF: also it is amazing to me that these guys can come up with new things all that time despite the magnitude of material already out there. ZN: There’s never an end to the possibilities.
We had the chance to catch up with Courtney Kocak and Jesse Case; the abnormally hilarious comedic geniuses behind the web sketch series NORMAL as they shared with us their thoughts on sketch comedy, Seattle’s incomparable coffee scene and Courtney’s lady parts.
Alright, let’s not beat around the brass tacks. How’d you guys get so funny? (i.e. when did your love of comedy begin?)
Jesse: We had really different paths to get where we are today. I’ve always loved comedy. I mean, it’s really hard not to; it’s an art form that just creates happiness. Of course you’re gonna love that. But I never worked on being funny or anything before I started standup. Maybe I was a little funny naturally, but I think mainly just annoying. I started standup out of pure arrogance and boredom; I was 19 and extremely miserable and looking for something to do. Thinking of myself at 19 sends a shiver up my back, but I’m really glad the standup stuck. That was a great thing to pull out of the wreckage of adolescence.
Courtney: I think trying to be funny is rarely effective. My dad has one of the best senses of humor I’ve ever encountered, and he just revels in the eccentricities of life. I would always delight in recounting absurd experiences to him, but they were always based in reality. I was a straight actress focusing on classical theatre before I stumbled onto the comedy scene, but it’s really not much different. You know…tragedy plus time equals comedy. Also, Chekhov had quite a funny bone.
Tell us about the birth of your web series Normal.
Jesse: It was a natural birth. We had a midwife on hand the whole time but barely needed her at all. The breathing exercises were key.
Courtney: And my super loose vagina. Just slid right out.
Jesse: SO loose. In truth, it happened the way all sketch shows start: we got a great deal on a good camera. That kicked the whole thing off, really. We both have a way of adapting our ideas to our resources at the time, and the environment had just given us a kick ass camera. Before that, I only had a kick ass microphone, and at that time I had a podcast.
Courtney: It was a natural progression. It started as a one-off idea, which led to other brainstorming in that vein, and, ultimately, we thought it all worked well under the abnormal coupledom umbrella that we’re using now.
I have to ask Jesse, is it great working with a not only beautiful but utterly hilarious cohort like Courtney Kocak?
Jesse: Courtney’s an awesome collaborator. We have two very different backgrounds with entertainment, but we find the same things funny. She’s, like, a legitimate actor. Not the kind that was in one play in middle school and then got implants and moved to LA, but like a legit actor, trained in classical theatre and all that. So it’s a little intimidating working with her for how subtle and nuanced she is, and I’m just balls out funny faces and weird voices. Every time we film I learn something new from her. And she is really beautiful, and that’s fucking weird, too. She’s gotta have macular degeneration or something to be with me. I don’t get it at all. I really don’t know how I pulled this off, nor do any of my friends or family. I keep thinking she’s just a super long-term call girl and I’m going to be billed a few million dollars at any time.
Courtney, how do you concentrate on your work while staring into Jesse’s gorgeous face on a daily basis?
Courtney: I turn him over. Staring at his ass is a great reminder of how much remains to be done. JOKE. JOKE. Everyone relax. God, people get so uptight when it comes to male standards of beauty. Seriously, though, Jesse is amazing. The first time I saw him, he was performing, and I’ve been in awe ever since. He’s a total pro. He works really hard, but he makes everything look so easy. We do this weird foreplay thing where he makes me call him a comic genius. Don’t tell him this, but I’d totally do it on my free will.
You spent some time in Seattle. Do you miss us terribly?
Jesse: Courtney and I spent this last Christmas in Seattle, which was a blast, but I lived in Seattle for two years before I moved to LA. Honestly, I miss it with all my heart. I find myself going to places in LA that remind me of it. It was a crucial time for me, too – that 22-24 period – as it is for anyone, so it made a life-long impression on me. I miss walking around Capitol Hill and Ballard, I miss my old crappy apartment, I miss the comedy venues, I miss my friends; I even miss the weather. And, yes, the coffee in Seattle actually is the best in the world. The baristas in LA are a joke.
How do you feel about YouTube as a vehicle for sketch comedy?
Jesse: YouTube is not so much a vehicle as a garage that everyone can hang out in, waiting on their vehicle. It’s an open cloud, so it’s basically just a corkboard that you hope people will stop to look at. It’s no secret that most of YouTube is terrible. Anyone with a camera has a voice, so there’s very little validation in it. Having a YouTube channel is like having a Facebook page; it’s easy. But that makes it a level playing field, and that’s a good thing.
Courtney: Needless to say, we want more. Our views aren’t exactly off the charts, but a lot of great things have come out of YouTube for people, if the content is solid. Our main concern is making great sketches. The cream rises, and hopefully we’re learning to make great cream. We’re learning a lot and the sketches are getting better. We’re getting better and faster at producing them and establishing our workflow. We’re going to keep doing it and see what happens.
Jesse, what is it you enjoy the most about doing both sketch and stand-up? What do you find the most difficult?
Jesse: This will sound really diplomatic and fake, but they’re two different beasts and equally difficult to do well. Stand-up is more nerve-wracking, that’s for sure, which I think many people would confuse for difficulty. There’s no wall, and you’re all alone. Every audience is different. With video sketches, the environment is completely in our control. But that adds more pressures in it’s own way. As a standup, the results of your labors are immediate, in the form of a live laugh, but you have to fit into this persona box or else it becomes “performance art”, which is usually garbage. With sketch, the possibilities are endless. So I guess I love standup for it’s limitations, and sketch for it’s lack of them.
Courtney, do you prefer performing sketches you have written or do you enjoy acting out sketches by other writers?
Courtney: Gah, I hate either/or questions. Both. They’re different (see above). When you work on classical texts, each word is so important. I come from memorizing very precisely and any deviation from that is jarring to me. It’s liberating to perform my own shit because the reverence isn’t there. Performing is always fun, though. What’s awesome about being in a sketch that isn’t yours is that after you’re done playing, you get to go home, and it’s not your job to get it out the door. Sometimes it’s fun to have the control and sometimes it’s fun not to have the responsibility.
What is your favorite sketch you ever performed?
Jesse: Well, there are sketches that I think are the funniest, but then sketches that were the most fun to do. When that overlaps, it’s awesome. If everyone involved is ruining takes by breaking character and cracking up, then you’re on the right track. The first one we did, “Japan,” is really solid I think. We couldn’t stop laughing when we were filming it. We save all of our outtakes, which we’ll probably release at some point, but I did about 30 takes of just the annoying slurp of coffee that opened the scene. Subtle stuff like that is way funnier to us than “whacky, zany” comedy. We’re trying to do more micro, nuanced stuff. We have some doozies coming up, if I say so myself. But all of our favorites involve food. Just overeating, basically.
Courtney: We’ve been in LA too long. Eating has become utterly absurd.
What do you find is the most important reason for keeping sketch comedy alive?
Jesse: Sketch comedy is alive?
OK, point taken. Any upcoming projects the world needs to know about?
Courtney: We finished a screenplay recently, and we’re working on a TV pilot and a million other little things, as well as our separate endeavors. But we have a few ideas each week that we decide to commit to, because we have no concept of time.
Jesse: We’re morons, but stuff’s happening. Nothing’s a thing until it’s a thing, though, so right now, a lot more NORMAL.
Where can fans learn more about you and find out where to watch you perform?
Jesse: Well, I think all of our “fans” know us personally, so they can just call us. But if anyone loses their phone or something, they can go to the YouTube channel or follow us on twitter at twitter.com/jessecase and twitter.com/courtneykocak. Thanks!
Check out the latest episodes on the NORMAL channel or if you have an irrational fear of commitment, just let yourself get hooked on the video below and we promise you’ll be back for more…
SketchFest Seattle is the world’s original sketch comedy festival and has established a reputation for presenting the best and most original comedy from around the globe. Our mission is to promote sketch comedy as a performing art by providing a venue for groups to network and showcase their talent.