May. 4, 2012 11:30 am

For talented, dedicated and hilarious local online comedy scene, where’s the audience?

It’s a total run time of 11:11 of pure black-and-white video, sitting in the center of a black page on an interactive flash website. “I’m wrapped up in the custody battle over our dog Wrango. I mean, I don’t know who should get [Wrango] because I did all the walking, but she did all the […]

Part of the crew of Wrapped discusses their new web-based comedy series

It’s a total run time of 11:11 of pure black-and-white video, sitting in the center of a black page on an interactive flash website.

“I’m wrapped up in the custody battle over our dog Wrango. I mean, I don’t know who should get [Wrango] because I did all the walking, but she did all the feeding.”

Punch line after punch line of comedic humor, the new online comedy series Wrapped is just one of a handful of local shows that have found a home on the web recently.

Fueled by mice clicks instead of laugh tracks, Philadelphia’s online comedy scene has been growing and evolving. From sketches to webisodes to Twitter one-liners, local comedy has taken a big turn toward technology.

Wrapped made its online debut on April 20, parodying the stressful parts of life as a production assistant on set.

“Putting our videos out on the Internet leaves you open to everyone who wants to be a part of it,” said Mike Dean, the character Dean on the six-episode Wrapped series. “You’ll find people interested in working with you just because you leave yourself open.”

Wrapped is a solely online production, with a cast list of 21 actors and 10 crew members. Shot around Philadelphia and at Media Bureau in Northern Liberties — which was sold in late March by founder Ben Barnett — it is one of a handful of more recent examples of how visible the online comedy scene has become.

Down the Show Episode 3 Premiere

  • WHAT: Live debut of the new episode
  • WHEN: Tonight, Fri. May 4, 8 p.m.
  • WHERE: Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St.

Tonight, Down the Show, a Philly-focused sketch comedy show that in its two-episode run has featured a handful of known local sketch and improv comedians, will debut its third episode at Underground Arts in Callowhill.

“I slowly gathered email address from every comedian and sketch group, and said, ‘hey, let’s do this strictly-Philly thing,'” producer Abigail Bruley told Technically Philly last fall. Bruley said she’s connected with more than 100 local performers and behind-the-scene technicians.

In larger comedy scenes like New York’s, groups like Improv Everywhere reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of viewers per video. But YouTube view counts number “in the thousands” for Down the Show, Bruley said. And other members of the scene note that the scale of audience locally is often lower than in larger comedy markets, leaving one to question the viability of Philly’s ecosystem to sustain local projects.

How can Philly hold onto local talent and keep the views growing? A strong local network is trying to figure it out.

Episode 2 of Down the Show. Episode 3, being debuted tonight, is not yet available.
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BEFORE YOUTUBE

Countless online comedy hubs have played a part in cultivating the online scene, providing a platform for other inspired comedians around Philadelphia and helping to build audience.

“There was never humor in a web video until I was sitting back with my feet kicked up with a top hat on and a corn cob pipe and I thought, you know, we should make funny videos and put them online,” said Ryan Kelly of GrownManTV. Started in 2003 by Kelly and his partner Juan Vasquez, getting videos on the web was not always an easy task.

Before sharing sites such as YouTube took the stage, Vasquez and Kelly used applications like QuickTime, Windows Media Player and RealPlayer to compress and upload video content to the web.

“You just had to send it out to people on a personal level,” Vasquez said. “We really started out recording for us and for our friends.”

Another local online comedy hub experienced a similar start. In 2004, a group of comedians formed Secret Pants — which writes, produces and directs its own shows — and found themselves struggling to use the Internet as a way to reach success.

“In 2004, pre-YouTube, having videos online was difficult. Flash wasn’t even perfected yet,” said Paul Triggiani, active actor and producer for Secret Pants. “Back then, we would put stuff on message boards, forums and Friendster.”

The group found success in 2005 with the outbreak of podcasting, as portable media devices that supported such media grew in popularity. Secret Pants became a source for some of the first video podcasts, finding itself in the top list of podcasts on iTunes for more than two years.

GrownMan TV saw a different path. In 2005, they formed a partnership with YouTube, which enabled them to broadcast, stream and monetize their videos, earning the founders close to five million views.

“It’s good and bad that we were online early. We established relationships and saw where the trend was going, but because we were so early, there wasn’t a lot of station platforms,” Vasquez said.

A LOCAL COMEDY ECOSYSTEM EVOLVED

Now, with the boom of YouTube videos, social networking sites and better technology, more online comedy groups are utilizing those online connections in Philadelphia, creating new and diverse audiences.

Camp Woods is a sketch comedy group from Philadelphia whose viral videos have helped create a diverse audience that a live show may not provide.

“Being creative writers, we want to bounce ideas off as many people as possible and doing videos online is the quickest way to find out if your work is good. People tend to seek out comedy more online,” said Rob Baniewicz, an active member of Camp Woods.

With sites like Youtube, CollegeHumor and FunnyorDie, people are looking online for comical content. According to YouTube, approximately eight years of content is uploaded to its site per day, broken down to 48 hours of video uploaded per minute.

“Comedy fans will go on sites like FunnyorDie. If you can link yourself up to those websites, it definitely leads to more views,” Triggiani said. “I also have a list of blogs I send everything to.”

However, with the increasing ability for anyone to shoot and upload to the web, more unprofessional videos pop up on sites every day.

“One of the great and terrible things about the Internet for comedians is that it creates opportunity. Anyone that is good can get good stuff out there just as easy as someone with not so good stuff,” said Aaron Hertzog, contributor to the Philadelphia comedy scene blog Witout. “Anything flies.”

THE PAYOFF

Many of these local sites put extensive time, effort and thought into their productions, which are shot with advanced technology such as DSLR cameras, studios, green screens and professional sound equipment.

In Down the Show’s case, it’s a painstaking, four month production process. Comedians send in scripts, which Bruley vets, before they are filmed and edited, and eventually debuted before a live audience before hitting the web. “The amount of people that come to screenings is pretty unbelievable,” she said.

Reward for the hard work is weighed more by impact, and less by metrics, Bruley says. “People are excited to contribute stuff to [Down the Show] because they see where their hard work is going,” she said. “They come to screening and see people laughing like crazy.”

And for many of the comedians investing time into these projects, it’s a chance to lay pathways for careers. Both Wrapped and Down the Show began as television pilot pitches before they evolved into dedicated projects.

How are these groups finding their audiences amidst growing online competition? Social networking and search engine optimization. Tagging videos properly can make a substantial difference when users search for keywords.

A Secret Pants’ video Booty Shorts for Men was tweeted by Justin Timberlake, boosting the video to 35,929 views. Similarly, Camp Woods’ video Mystery Science Andre 3000 was retweeted by The Roots drummer ?uestlove.

“There’s a billion logistics to making a multimedia show now. Something may have a hint of what I want to do, some things 1,400 people have already done,” said JP Boudwin, an actor for Camp Woods. “Now you can’t just put a video up and expect it to pop overnight. When we started it, you could,” Vasquez said.

The importance of being authentic, organized and dedicated is what Vasquez believes will bring a new local online comedy group success.

“I think a lot of people see a video and think they can do it. Then they try it and it’s a lot harder than they think. There’s a certain level of dedication,” Vasquez said. “It takes a lot of work nowadays to make a video go from 100 views to 100,000 views.”

For a veteran comedian like Triggiani, sticking to authenticity is key for success in a community that could reach millions. “A lot of sketch groups in Philly don’t really write for a topic. We’re not looking at what’s popular right now and doing specific comedy based off of those topics. We want to write what we want to write,” Trigianni said.

Kelly has his own personal advice: “I have a three-part plan. It’s subliminal, liminal and super-liminal. I just tell people ‘watch our videos!'”

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Coming Monday, May 7: a look at the blogs that have evolved around Philly’s comedy scene.

The report was done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods program, the capstone class for the Temple’s Department of Journalism.

Technically Philly co-founder Brian James Kirk contributed to this report.

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