Whenever I look back at my early freshman days, way back in the strange and distant year of 2012, one of the most striking moments of that exciting period was when I stumbled into the Wesleyan Combo Comedy show on a warm Saturday night. What astounded me was not only the number of comedians and actors displaying their talents, but also the diversity of the groups present. From stand-up to sketch comedy, short-form and long-form improv, and even musical comedy, it seemed as if Wesleyan’s funny people had every base covered…except for video sketches. Sure, Wesleyan has its collection of immensely talented filmmakers, but there was no group that produced material at a consistent level. Thus, an opening had presented itself.
When Peter Cornillie ’15, already a member of Desperate Measures and Punchline, came up with the idea for WeSNL, the concept was fairly simple: a group that produces sketches via YouTube on a weekly basis. As it turns out, however, producing a short film every week, and a funny one at that, can be really damn hard. Ultimately, the six-month-long process, from initial auditions back in the fall to going live last month, required creativity to be matched with sensibility and practicality.
When the group began last semester, consisting of myself, Peter, Jesse Brooks ’16, and Adi Slepack ’16, we had a lot of lofty ideas, but we had trouble bringing them to fruition. We struggled to produce any actual content up until this semester. That was when we learned our first core lesson: the necessity of maintaining a schedule. Consistency is key; as such, whenever a new sketch is written, it’s essential to ask whether it can feasibly be put to video within a week with the limited resources available. For this I’d need to give a lot of credit to Adi, who’s not only a talented writer and filmmaker, but who also assumed the role of the group’s whip: the person who keeps us all in check with schedules and deadlines.
It’s taken its time, but video by video, we’ve started to learn how to make these shorts right, and how to make them fast. Whereas “Closing Time,” our sketch about an elf living within the library stacks, was shot over two nights and took well over two weeks to edit, “Conflicts,” our most recent video, was shot in one Sunday morning in the WestCo lounge, and the editing was finished by the following Thursday.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the process comes simply from starting a group from scratch. When we held auditions earlier this semester, we managed to gather an immensely talented group, including charismatic actors Lex Spirtes ’17, Emma Hagemann ’17, and Jessica Wolinsky ’17; and talented writers and filmmakers such as Peter Hazel ’16, Paola Maseda ’17, and Sofia Taylor ’17. Within this group, there’s no real limit for what we can and can’t do, so long as we follow the two basic rules: keep it feasible and keep it funny.
There’s an immense freedom to what style of humor we want to infuse the videos with. For example, with “Conflicts,” we realized after shooting that the long shots of extended dialogue made the sketch move at too slow of a pace, so Lex and Paola took over the editing job to turn it into the bizarre and bombastic piece it is now. For some of the sketches, such as “TMI Voicemail,” which Jess and Paola are currently working on, creative control is given mostly to whoever conceived the idea, which leads to some interesting results. However, at the same time, there’s a certain joy that comes from a sketch such as “Conflicts,” which incorporates the acting and creative input of literally everyone in the group. It’s almost hard to describe the satisfaction of seven different senses of humor combining to create one cohesive script, but when it comes together, it feels downright beautiful.
On May 29, after months of stockpiling videos, we finally went live. We all spread the word through Facebook, email, and word of mouth. From there, we just sat and watched as the YouTube views steadily climbed. One of the interesting things about our medium is that we almost never actually see the audience’s reaction. We don’t hear the laughs, so we mostly need to rely on our own retrospective judgement to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Yet at the same time, there’s something to be said about quantifying the number of people viewing your work, and it was downright euphoric to watch the views for “Chomp” and “WeShop Training Video,” our two flagship sketches, steadily climb over the course of the day.
Now, we’re just trying to keep the momentum going. A lot of ideas are being tossed about, such as mini-sketches to pepper the regular release schedule, and possibly even bringing our sketches to the live stage. In the meantime, however, we’re going to keep working hard in the hopes that we can actually make some people laugh with the material we put out there. If nothing else, it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.