Producing a brand new hour of original scripted comedy each and every week is a challenge. In fact, to anyone who has ever had to wrangle an unpaid cast of actors, writers and comedians, it sounds like some sort of stupid dare. To Bad Example, on the other hand, it’s a fun way to spend their week, writing and performing sketches in front of packed houses.
Bad Example is made up of a cross section of Austin comedy veterans, from stand-ups to improvisers and beyond. They performed last year at Austin Sketch Fest at ColdTowne and the New York City Sketch Fest. We spoke to producer Jeff Whittaker about their process.
You guys have been cranking out a brand new hour of sketch comedy every week for a while. What have you learned about writing and performing sketch in that time?
Jeff Whitaker: Yeah, we’ve been fortunate enough to have had the right group of people that allow us to crank out a new show every week. It hasn’t been easy, but I think one of the biggest takeaways that we’ve learned is that sketches (at least for us) work WAY better when there’s room for performance. I started Bad Example with the idea of being a polished sketch show. After our very first show, that was thrown out the window because the cast played it so much funnier than what I envisioned. Even sketches that I wrote that I was proud of were outshined by the performance of the cast. I think the biggest thing we’ve learned about writing and performing is that we have the most success when we trust each other to add our own flavor to it.
Walk us through Bad Example’s week.
Jeff: A typical Bad Example week will start on a Monday with pitches. We usually meet, touch base, talk about ideas we have, maybe even do a group writing session. After this, we break until Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon is when scripts are due. We read through them that evening, they get cast out and then we have until Saturday morning to learn our lines. Once Saturday morning hits, we see our show on its feet for the first time ever, run tech, gather props and then do the show that night. It’s all incredibly fast-paced, but we trust each other to be ready for the show so it’s always been ready to go come showtime.
What are the draw backs to doing a show this way? The benefits?
Jeff: We haven’t really experienced a ton of drawbacks. I suppose if you dug hard enough, you could say that maybe some sketches would benefit from more rehearsals. However, the benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks. Without trying to speak for the entire group, we are in a unique position as writers to be given the chance to experiment. We have less pressure to make a sketch “perfect” and if something doesn’t land, there’s always next week, you know? It’s also been amazing to see the cast of writers hit their strides because they’ve been given an opportunity to quickly find their voice. We’ve performed an insane amount of brand-new shows already and to think how long it would have taken to write and perform the same number of shows is staggering. It would have taken YEARS to perform as much as we already have.
If I gave you a category, would you be willing to give me some bad examples of stuff in that category?
Types of cars
Jeff: There’s a taco place called Mercedes-Beans. It’s a jalapeño driving another jalapeño. That seems barbaric!
Jeff: “I Just Masturbated Rouge”
How did your group get together?
Jeff: As I mentioned before, the group came together because I was trying to find a way to create a show that had a polished feel to it. After asking if I could have a show slot at some of the other theaters, I found that stage time was kind of hard to come by. I noticed that The New Movement had some vacancies and I went over there. However, I did not really know any of the performers. Purely off of recommendations and seeing a small handful do sketch at one-off shows, I asked people. Thankfully, everyone said yes. We had some new sketch writers/performers, along with some seasoned veterans.
That was the first version of Bad Example. We have largely remained the same cast but lost Olivia Doud and Ariel Greenspoon. Since then, we picked up Kelsey Rogers and Stephanie Pace (of Zoology Club), and John Buseman (of AC Lerok).
Who are your influences? Who are some of your favorite sketch comedy acts performing today?
Jeff: We all come from very different backgrounds so when asking who are influences are, these are some of the answers:
-Kids in the Hall (we had the honor of playing with Kevin McDonald in January)
-Saturday Night Live
-Key & Peele
-In Living Color
-All That (yes, the Nickelodeon show)
The list kind of goes on, but as you can see, we all have very different backgrounds which shaped our mind.
What makes you laugh the most?
Jeff: I can’t speak for everyone, but I know what kills me the most is cast member Cody Cartagena’s scream. It is the loudest, most visceral scream and it kills me every time. Everyone should be paying attention to this guy. He’s the real deal.
What’s the best thing about the Austin comedy scene?
Jeff: Austin’s comedy scene is amazing and unique because the quality of the content is so high and the ability to put up almost anything is amazing. Stage time is abundant and the community is wildly supportive. It really has helped us find our footing and establish our identity.
Do you have any fun “worst show” or “worst audience member” stories?
Jeff: Worst show? I would say this one show we did in NYC could be the worst one we ever had. We were still newer when we applied so we got a 4pm show slot that was empty. We came out with some of our hardest hitting sketches that just fell flat because of poor audience attendance. I love that we stuck it out and I’m still proud of the show we did. It was so bizarre, though.
Worst audience members? Thankfully we’ve had good audiences, but we do occasionally get some like SUPER old people that are thrown off by some of our more crude sketches. It’s pretty great performing 2 feet in front of someone’s grandma holding a floppy penis prop in your hand.
Do you have any fun “best show” stories?
Jeff: I think our best show was in January when we performed with Kids in the Hall cast member, Kevin McDonald. It was a very surreal experience because we all looked up to KITH so much and to play with him was great. He loved our sketches, performed them well and was incredibly supportive towards us. It was a pretty magical time that we won’t soon forget.
What are you looking forward to at this year’s festival?
We need to increase the visibility of this article. Any suggestions for a click-bait headline?
Jeff: “We tried to get sketch rebels Bad Example to answer some questions. You won’t believe what happens next….they answer them.”
What else – comedy wise – is your group looking forward to this year?
Jeff: We just launched our YouTube channel and are releasing videos every single week. We can’t wait to see where that goes and share our humor with a broader audience. Also to be called “not funny” by anonymous internet strangers.
Bad Example performs at Austin Sketch Fest on Saturday, May 23rd at 7pm at Spider House Ballroom. TICKETS HERE.