Posted // 2013-04-18 -
When BYUtv reinvented its image and programming choices a couple of years ago, one of the major improvements they made was gathering programs geared toward a younger demographic that wasn't completely LDS-related or created in the public-broadcasting wheelhouse. One of the brightest spots to come from the new lineup is Studio C
, a sketch-comedy show created by a group of performers right out of Provo, taking a clean-cut look at pop culture, modern life and local happenings both on and off the BYU campus.
Today, we chat with the four founding members of the show to talk about their careers before Studio C, creating the show and finding success on the network, growing into their second season, thoughts on what lies ahead for them and a few other topics. (All pictures courtesy of Studio C.)
Jason Gray, Whitney Call, Matthew Meese & Mallory Everton
Gavin: Hey, everyone! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Matt: I grew up in Phoenix, and I don't tan. I freckle. Things that I think are pretty great: elephants, The Beatles, peanut butter, very large sailing ships, games, Chicago-style pizza and probably other stuff.
Whitney: I am graduating, this month, actually, with my master's in creative writing, so I'm trying to get a couple young-adult novels published when I'm not writing sketches. I love sad movies (or any movies, for that matter), grape juice, and Carol Burnett, and I'm getting married in May.
Jason: I was born and raised in Boise, Idaho. I have five brothers and no sisters (my poor mother). I graduated from BYU with a bachelor's in biology but decided that acting and sketch writing is far superior then pulling teeth, no matter how much those guys make. I’ve been married two and a half years to my beautiful wife. She thought I was a bit crazy pursuing this, but after a paycheck came in, she started to appreciate comedy more.
Mallory: Well, I grew up in Portland, Ore. I'm the youngest of six kids. I came to BYU with an eye to medical school, but found myself neck-deep in the film program by my sophomore year. I'm big into music and distance running.
Gavin: What first got each of you interested in comedy, and what were some early influences on you?
Whitney: Well, like I said, Carol Burnett was a big presence in our household growing up. My mom loved Carol Burnett and shared that love with me. I've always loved SNL (earlier seasons, that is), The Simpsons and, later, The Office when I was in high school. I feel like the more I saw, the more I appreciated comedy. I never really thought I'd write comedy until my sophomore year in college when I got into BYU's Divine Comedy, and I've become a propagator of clean comedy ever since.
Mallory: Haha, I think I sort of gravitated toward comedy without realizing it. If I'm gonna look way back, I first started doing comedy with Whitney, actually. We grew up together, and as 8- and 9-year-old girls, we used to stay up late recording commercial parodies (like the ones we saw on SNL), shorts making fun of The Guinness Book of World Records, and CSI/horror spoof videos. We'd often just turn on the camera and improvise until we laughed so hard we couldn't go on. As far as influences go, I grew up with a lot of SNL, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Friends and The Simpsons.
Jason: I started comedy my senior year in high school; my buddies and I were in a film class and we made several videos. One of the videos we made was called “Sean Connery’s 7 tips To Dating.” It’s a massive hit on YouTube with over 100 hits. I’ve always enjoyed doing impressions, so I’ve admired Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell.
Matt: Acting, in general, was always a draw for me, and the more I did it, the more I realized that I was pretty fond of comedy. It felt more rewarding. Early influences would be my dad and a couple longtime friends who could always make me laugh.
Gavin: What specifically drew each of you toward sketch comedy and scripted performances?
Jason: I like sketch comedy because of the variety. You can be a gunslinger one minute then a zombie the next. With sketch comedy, the sky is the limit, and you’re not constricted to keep characters and situations as realistic as you are with sitcoms or dramas.
Matt: A friend took me to a live sketch show on BYU campus one weekend. It looked like a ton of fun, and so I decided to audition the next year. I'd never written sketches before, so there was a lot of on-the-job training.
Mallory: Again, I owe this one to Whitney. I was a freshman at BYU when I went and saw her audition for Divine Comedy. It looked like fun, so I signed up to be the videographer for the group. I ended up auditioning a year later.
Whitney: I've never been great at improv. I get too in my head when I'm in front of an audience, so scripts have always been a comfort for me. Sketch comedy, though, has always seemed fun. Little scenes where anything can happen, and then it's done. It sort of makes concepts and situations limitless. Sitcoms are mostly about the characters; sketch is all about concepts.
Gavin: Individually, what had all of you done performance-wise before coming to BYU?
Mallory: I was big into choir and musical theater all through high school. I was also really involved in all the studio production classes; I made a lot of commercial parodies, ads and funny shorts for those classes. I also helped write a short satirical episodic series for our morning announcements, and I performed in that as well.
Whitney: I emphasized in theater when I was in high school and performed in plays and musicals, but I was actually drawn to performing dramas more than comedies. I think they were easier to get into.
Matt: I did some small things at school from time to time, but I didn't really get involved until my senior year. I took the theater class, auditioned for a couple plays and went to a speech tournament. All of it was way more fun than I had imagined.
Jason: Before BYU, my exposure was limited to my friends and ward. People told me I should do acting, but I always ignored them because I thought actors were weird. Now, I fully embrace my weirdness and wear it like a badge of honor.
Gavin: What made all of you choose BYU to study at, and what has your time at the school been like?
Matt: My sister went here, and when we drove up to drop her off, I fell in love with the campus. After that, I didn't bother applying anywhere else, which is colossally stupid, but it worked out. My experience here was very, very positive, but the hands-down highlight was being a part of Divine Comedy.
Jason: I was at BYU-Idaho, but then my high school girlfriend got into BYU. So I transferred to Provo after my mission, but then she transferred to Boise State and married another guy (that’s what is known as a cruel irony). But things worked out great in the end, and I have loved my time in Provo.
Whitney: Honestly, it was my parents. They told me they wouldn't help out with any of my tuition unless I went to BYU, so that made up my mind for me. But it felt good, too, and I know coming here was the right thing to do. Comedy and BYU will always be linked together for me, and I've stayed here to study creative writing in a master's program, so I think anyone could see I've enjoyed my stay here.
Mallory: Even though I was all set to study at NYU, BYU just felt like the right choice for me, and I haven't regretted coming here at all. I met so many wonderful, talented people, and my time in the film program was outrageous fun.
Gavin: All of you are involved with the comedy troupe Divine Comedy. What was it like meeting each other and becoming friends?
Jason: It has been wonderful. We all just clicked really well and our friendship came naturally and not obligatorily.
Mallory: I will always count working with Divine Comedy as some of the best days of my life. Everyone I got to work with was amazing, some of the greatest people I will ever meet, I think. Jason, Matt, Whitney and I ended up writing together quite a bit, so it wasn't long before we realized we could definitely work together long-term.
Whitney: Matt and I met in a play together the year before and Mal and I grew up together in Portland, so I knew both of them before getting into DC. In fact, it was Matt who told me to try out for DC, which is what got the whole ball rolling. But honestly, Divine Comedy is a wonderful atmosphere for forming true friends. It's not just comedy that everyone works for, it's love and charity. I've learned more about how to treat people from DC than I have anywhere outside my family. I guess because DC is a family.
Matt: I feel like we all got along really well right from the start, but it wasn't until we started writing together that we came to really work and think like a team. Everyone in DC was tightly knit, and if you found someone in the group who you could write well with, then all the better. It just so happened that the four of us really had a good writing chemistry, which we continued to work at for a couple of years prior to the creation of Studio C.
Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start up a sketch-comedy show and where did the title come from?
Matt: Honestly, this was always a dream in DC. We often talked about how fun DC was, and how great it would be if we could do it for a living. When the window of opportunity presented itself with BYUtv, we made sure not to pass it up. The title is the name of the actual studio where we perform the show. We came up with about 100 other names for it, but nothing really felt good until our producer said, "Let's just call it Studio C." It was perfect, and right in front of our noses, so of course no one had thought of it.
Mallory: The idea was actually long in the making. Members of DC approached BYU Broadcasting more than once, but it wasn't until Matt met Jared Shores and got him to come to a show that the ball really got rolling.
Whitney: Matt approached Jared about taking our on campus comedy group and making it into a TV show. We initially wanted to call it Common Room because we're all Harry Potter fans, but after a while, we realized that probably wasn't the best name, so Jared, our executive producer, made an executive decision and, luckily, came up with the best name ever.
Gavin: What was it like for you writing the first few sketches and formulating how the show would work?
Mallory: Well, I've learned a lot over the past few months about what will be funny in front of a live audience versus what will read funny on TV. I think that was the most difficult part of writing sketches for this show instead of Divine Comedy.
Whitney: It took a while to recognize how a sketch should work. It needs a plant, then build, then some sort of resolution, but it's more than that. You need to beef the story up with jokes throughout, and that takes hearing feedback from an audience. So it took a few shows to recognize where I should work on getting the laughs.
Jason: The hardest thing was thinking about the TV audience because we were used to only performing onstage. Also, we had never had a budget so we always wrote minimalistic, which works on TV but can get boring if overdone. We initially thought of only our peers when we wrote, but the show has really caught on with the younger generation and their parents.
Matt: We started by re-purposing a good number of sketches we had performed in Divine Comedy. It became clear though that writing for TV was different than for the stage. Once we started writing specifically for Studio C, I think that's where we started finding the voice and the feel of the show. The show format was kinda born out of necessity. We had a limited amount of space and resources, so we created a set that allows us to have very different looks and the option to change those looks within a matter of minutes. We've also done more work with our off-set sketches this season. We'll still make fine-tuning adjustments as we go, of course, but we're getting into a nice rhythm.
Gavin: What was the process like in pitching it to BYUtv and what eventually made them agree to produce the show?
Matt: I felt like this idea sold itself, so the best thing we could do was just get out of its way. I gave our now-producer, Jared, a couple of tickets to a DC show, and then met with him a week or so later. We already had a respectable fan base with DC, and it was nice to be able to show YouTube numbers and fan emails. My reasoning was, "If it works here, there's no reason to think it wouldn't work with a wider audience." That was another selling point for the show, the wide appeal that comedy has. We decided right up front that we wouldn't be a Mormon comedy show, with jokes specific only to our religion and culture. We wanted anyone and everyone to be able to watch and enjoy it. The whole process took about a year or so before we got anything in front of a camera.
Gavin: Prior to filming, you had to compile a cast beyond the four of you. How did you end up picking the cast and who are you currently working with?
Whitney: We actually chose people we'd all worked with before. They've all been in Divine Comedy at one point or another, so we can trust them because we know how to work with them and there aren't any nasty surprises as can sometimes happen in a creative setting when we're all vulnerable.
Mallory: And then Natalie and Jeremy, two old favorites who were still in town, and brought them in as featured cast. We knew what working with them was like already, so it made the decision really easy.
Matt: That's not to say that we won't work with others as well, but these people have already proven to be funny, contributing cast members that are great to work with. And they were each chosen because they each bring something different, so we have a nice variety of comedic styles and sensibilities that still mesh well together.
Gavin: How was it for all of you making that first season and essentially building a show from scratch?
Matt: A little crazy. Like I said, we learned pretty quickly that we couldn't attack this the same way we would a DC production, so we found a lot of things out by trial and error. Season 1 was a huge, huge learning experience, and I think Season 2 is evidence that at least some of what we learned stuck with us.
Mallory: I would compare the process to vomiting treasure. Really difficult, but very rewarding. We're all learning a lot. This is our first time doing TV, and this is BYUtv's first time doing comedy, so we're just blazing trail together. Sometimes the process can be grueling, but I've been really encouraged by the progress we've been making as a whole. I'm really proud of our team.
Jason: It was stressful, wonderful, terrifying and beautiful. Much like raising a child, I’m sure.
Whitney: It was a process. It still is. We're still figuring out how best to write for TV instead of live performances. We can play with more mediums and we have to actually step up our game, because when you're expected to write two sketches every week and you have a kind, but honest producer who tells you your writing's not funny right now, you have to come back next week with something better. It's turned sketch-writing into a full-time job. Luckily, it's a job I still love.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a sketch, from idea to final product?
Jason: I often just pick something that I want to do. For example, I’ve always wanted to play a cowboy, so I began to think of ways to make a spaghetti-western-type sketch. I watched some classics like The Good, the Bad & the Ugly and slowly but surely developed a sketch. I find if you’re passionate about something, you usually create your best work.
Mallory: It varies for every sketch. Some ideas write themselves; the minute you have the idea, you know how the whole thing will play out. Other sketches require careful planning, like song sketches, dance sketches or anything that requires more than joke-writing. Sometimes I'll let an idea marinate for months before I put pen to paper, and other times I need to write the sketch as soon as I have the idea. It really is different every time. After the writing, it's all about collaborating with the other actors and our director (Craig Camp) to make the sketch as funny as possible.
Whitney: Well, hopefully, as soon as I have an idea, I write it down. Then I usually let it stew for a few days before writing it out. After I think it's in an OK form, I show it to Jason, Mal and Matt. We all talk about our sketches and then bring a more finished version to our official pitch meetings with Jared, our producer. And if it's received well, it might get some tweaks fixed, but it's quickly shipped to the art department so that costumes, set and makeup can start planning how to make it come to life.
Matt: The ideas come from pretty much anywhere at anytime, so we've gotten used to just having our sketch-radar on all the time. After writing it up (sometimes alone, sometimes with others), we'll present our sketches to each other and our producer, director and production manager, for feedback. From there, we decide if it needs any changes, and then discuss what the vision is. It then goes to several meetings with various departments (lighting, hair and makeup, wardrobe, set design, props, camera ops, the House Budgetary Committee, etc.) so that everyone can get on the same page and offer their particular expertise. Then we rehearse them for about a week, do a tech run with all our props and wardrobe, and then we film it the next day in front of a live audience. Then on Monday, we start over. If we're still alive, that is.
Gavin: How much do you scrap before going to record and then how much is edited out before what you have on TV is finalized?
Matt: We probably scrap about 25 to 35 percent of what we write. Maybe a little more than that, but somewhere around there. And just about everything we film is kept the way it is. It's rare for us to edit something out.
Whitney: Oh, we only use one sketch for every 10 I write, probably. And I only submit one sketch for every three to five that I write. You just have some ideas that aren't good enough yet, and you have to be patient and put them on the back burner while you're coming up with better material.
Mallory: That's a great question. I don't have all the numbers exactly, but I'd guess about a third of the sketches we write, we never end up using. And then once the sketch is filmed, it's very rare that anything would ever be edited in or out. We try to give our live audience the exact experience the TV audience will get.
Jason: About 60 percent of what I write never sees air. And about half of what does get on the show is edited a lot so it is a lot of hard work. You have to learn to let go of things and not be so attached that you’re unwilling to change for the benefit of the show.
Gavin: I know you've been asked a lot of questions about the content and how you produce a clean show and still make it funny. What's your take on having a clean show in a society where most sketch comedy deals with risque themes and a lot of bashing?
Mallory: For me, this is the only kind of material I'm interested in writing. This might be just me, but once I realized how great it is to put on a show that makes everyone feel happy, included and totally unashamed of what they've just seen, I don't think I could ever work any other way.
Whitney: The thing is, everybody likes good clean comedy. It's the broadest possible audience for comedy, so of course we want to capture that audience. Certain shows have been getting very good at shock-value humor, but it's raunchy and crass and their audiences are downsizing. In addition to this, you don't feel bad when you laugh at clean comedy. We try to write sketches that are not only clean, but inclusive, too. We don't want anyone to feel alienated, but celebratory. Comedy is a celebration.
Jason: I think it’s a good thing for us because it’s what makes us stand out. There are dozens of sketch-comedy groups on YouTube and TV, but we are the only ones that are PG rated. I think it is refreshing to people; too many actors and writers think that people will only laugh if it’s crude. If that was the case, Pixar and other clean but funny companies wouldn’t be making billions.
Matt: I love it. There's something great about shows that the family can enjoy together. It gives them a shared experience that they can reference for a long time. My family and I still quote from The Cosby Show, which we watched all the time, and it's neat to think that other families are doing the same thing now with Studio C.
Gavin: The first season went over well and you were brought back for a second earlier this month. What was the general reaction from viewers and the BYU staff, and when did you know you'd be back?
Jason: Everyone seems to be really excited. We learned a lot from Season 1, and everyone is committed to upping the quality and hilarity of Season 2. Our expectations were much higher, but I think my friend said it best: “Season 1, you guys were good for being an original BYUtv show. Season 2, you guys are just good, period.”
Matt: Rioting in the streets. When that died down though, it was very encouraging. Everyone at the station was excited to see something like this on the channel, and our growing fan base was not shy about asking for more. We didn't officially know we'd be back until a few months after Season 1 aired. That said, we started writing Season 2 the day after Season 1 wrapped. We were pretty sure we'd be back, so we wanted to be ready.
Whitney: We actually knew back in November. We had to start writing enough sketches to film and air by April, so we needed the time. But the feedback has truly been awesome. We have families writing us letter and drawing pictures about their ideas for future sketches. I got to meet Nie-Nie
at our last taping in March! That was a surreal moment!
Mallory: You know, I try not to worry too much about reception either way (as much as I can, of course), because it tends to distract me from performing as well as I'd like. Too much negative hurts your confidence, and too much positive bloats your ego, so I try to just focus on doing the best I can. From what I gathered, the first season did very well, particularly for a budding station like BYUtv, so we knew pretty early on once the season was airing that the work we were already doing for a second season wouldn't be a waste of time ... because we'd do a second season.
Gavin: How has this season treated you so far, and how much do you have left to film for the year?
Whitney: I'm even more excited for this season than I was for the first. We've finished all of our studio filming, but we still have off-set shoots to complete in the next few weeks. I love the sketches we've come up with this season. I feel like they're fresher and more suited to television than the first season. It's really starting to come into its own.
Mallory: The second season has been so fun. I've got to hand it to Jared Shores for constantly looking for ways to improve every part of the process, Diane Mayne for honestly working every hour of the day, and Craig Camp for being the most well-fitting director I possibly could've imagined for us. And then to my fellow cast members/writers. The actual material is pretty important after all.
Matt: We only have a few more off-sets to film, and then we're officially done with Season 2. It's been a fantastic season. I would say without hesitation that if you liked Season 1, you'll love Season 2. Everything has improved. Everything. Including Jason's hygiene.
Jason: We are about 90 percent percent done. We are shooting our off-set sketches, which are a blast.
Gavin: What kind of impact do you hope the show will have, not just on the network, but on the local comedy scene?
Matt: Well, it would be great if it inspired more clean comedy, cause everyone needs to laugh, and it's more fun if we can all laugh together. A lot of BYUtv programming is focused on appealing to a wider audience than in years past, so my hope is that Studio C is right at the forefront of that effort.
Jason: Hopefully it will bring Provo and the station a little r.e.s.p.e.c.t. We know we are not perfect, and we are hungry to improve as performers and writers.
Whitney: I hope it will let people know that clean comedy always wins. I've seen a lot more clever shows coming out lately, and I love it. I hope it keeps happening, especially with social media being such a big determiner of what's popular. I feel like when the audience has a bigger say in what's popular, TV writers get more pressure to come up with clever writing.
Gavin: What is your goal for the show down the line? Would you like to see it go national or would you prefer to take your individual careers further?
Jason: Both. Obviously this wonderful gig can’t last forever for us as individuals, but hopefully it opens doors to spread good-quality clean humor. It’s not enough to just be clean you have to be funny, too. Otherwise, we’ve failed.
Mallory: Ah, man. I can't even think that far ahead right now. I'm honestly just trying to think of funny sketches at the moment. Now that you ask ... yeah, I have no idea.
Whitney: Either path would be wonderful. I hope the show gets better and more recognized, but I've considered whether or not I should pursue television personally. I think I'm going to take the plunge, but I'd love to stay with Studio C as long as I can.
Matt: All of the above!
Gavin: What can we expect from the four of you and Studio C over the rest of the year?
Mallory: Hopefully more of what you loved and lots of what you didn't know you wanted.
Matt: I think the show will continue to improve, and just kind of grow along with us. We're always playing around with different ideas and the options that TV can give us, so you can bet that the best is yet to come.
Whitney: Writing and more writing. Oh, yeah, and writing.
Jason: Buckle up! We’re getting crazier; we always want to push the funny. We have some great new characters and some fan favorites from Season 1. I’m particularly excited about "Awkward Avoidance Viking." If you thought he was funny last season, get ready to bust a gut because he is bigger, badder and more committed to stopping the spread of awkwardness.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Whitney: Hmm, if you know any YA publishers, I've got a couple books I'd love to send their way.
Jason: I want to be in a Christopher Nolan movie. Spread the word. Batman is my favorite movie of all time, and Mr. Nolan is a genius in my opinion.
Mallory: Audio Files, man. I love that show. If you're a music buff at all, check it out.