Pretty boys is a sketch team from new york city. They perform monthly on maude night at the upright citizens brigade theatre. We sat down with them to talk about process for the asf hot seat! Their answers are below!
When did you first start working together?
For the most part, we've been working together since January 2016 (with a few exits and new additions in January 2017) as a part of a sketch show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater called Maude Night. Actors auditioned, writers submitted sketch packets, and we were all placed together (happily) against our will.
How did you come up with your team name?
When we were first assembled as a team for Maude Night, we were assigned the name TROLL, which wasn't incredibly flattering I suppose so we decided to go with the polar opposite name of Pretty Boys. I looked through the original email thread from last year, and apparently, other contenders for a name change were "Cornish Hen" and "t.w.a.m." but I don't remember what the latter stood for.
What was the first sketch idea you can remember having as a group or an individual?
Our writing process involves a pitch meeting where everyone kind of just comes in and spitballs their half-formed ideas, and the group kind of hashes out the few that seem like they might have legs to stand on. Some really fun early ones were a person at an office who was still waiting for their Secret Santa gift in February; the classic trope of the devil appearing on one shoulder and an angel on the other during a moral dilema, but then also a third guy named "Todd" who just encourages you to binge watch Netflix and order Thai food; and a heated police-style interrogation where the perp is being harassed about who they have and haven't invited to their wedding. The sketches we've often found most exciting either border on (1) a pretty personal topic or (2) something completely absurd. Or some happy marriage of the two.
I remember at our first pitch meeting, I didn't really know anyone in the group and I was incredibly nervous, so I reached the end of my pitch list and, trying to get a laugh out of the group, I said, "Also, I just wrote down 'whale legs.'" It killed. Like, is this a person with... whales for legs? Or a whole whale where their legs would go? It's a funny visual. We've never produced the sketch. To this day, that pitch is more fondly remembered than any of my sketches that actually went on stage.
What's your creative process like? How do you generate ideas and keep it fresh?
We produce one show a month, so we generally meet eight times before each show - one pitch meeting, three writers meetings, three actors rehearsals, and then one tech rehearsal in the theater. A month seems like a generous amount of time, but it can be tough to turn around new drafts and really get sketches where you'd like them to be by the time we get to the first actor's rehearsal. The actors basically become de facto writers once we start reading sketches aloud and getting them on their feet. Their choices really inform the material, so sketches generally continue to change and find their footing all the way until the night of the show.
In terms of generating ideas, writers generally bring in premise-based sketch ideas, while actors bring in character pitches. This rule has become a little more amorphous for us as we've gotten to know each other's voices so well, and as we've continued working together we've also started working towards making our shows more cohesive, either thematically or in terms of structure, rather than something that feels like a generic sketch revue. Constantly challenging ourselves to find new ways to collaborate has been what makes the process fresh and fun.
Who are your influences? Who are some of your favorite sketch comedy acts performing today? Who has blown your mind?
I think a list of influences would be a little too long to list, but there's a lot of amazing talent in our own community in New York, and I think we'd probably agree that we're each other's biggest fans. Our team is full of people who tend to write material that's personal or about something happening in the world, rather than just random standalone pieces, so I think anything that tends to have a bit of smart commentary attached to it is something most of us gravitate towards.
Do you have any fun "worst show" or "worst audience member" stories?
Haha, uh, well, um, I don't know if I can speak for everyone in terms of what our "worst show" might have been, but my guess is that those of us present for 2016's "The Comedy Central Roast of the All-Knowing Orb" might say that was the toughest. We had a couple extra weeks to work on the show, and the writers decided it would be fun to try collaborating on a themed show. I pitched the title as something I'd kind of had swimming around my head but wasn't sure what to do with, and we ran with it.
It was very different, and I think most of us went into it very nervous. It wasn't a conventional sketch show in that there were six three-to-four minute sketches in a row; we wrote a half-hour Comedy Central-style Roast that took place in real time, with the actors playing fictional characters on the dais, and the Guest of Honor being an evil space orb that took over the planet. The show was super bizarre and while a lot of people enjoyed it, I think a good portion of the audience was confused. The pacing of a roast is also different from that of a sketch show, and twice as convoluted when you consider that all the characters, premises and the world are made up. I'm very proud of that show, but we definitely all pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones with it.
Do you have any fun "best show" stories?
There are too many "good" stories to count. Any show when a sketch goes up and it's not 100% certain that it will hit, but it does, feels pretty great. We recently did a sketch about Cupid being a 2nd Amendment rights advocate that felt like we were consistently riding a line from being hilarious to possibly off-putting, but it wound up bringing the house down. Just being present to watch a sketch crush surprisingly is always a treat.
Are there any ideas that you've had that you can't seem to make work or convince the rest of the team / troupe is actually funny.
What sucks is my answer is "Whale Legs" but everyone LOVES the idea, it's just like, what IS Whale Legs, you know?
Whale Legs will probably always be my sketch comedy white whale. Legs.
What should people interested in comedy know about performing sketch that you didn't know when you started?
The key to success as far as I can tell is always striving to be a great collaborator. It seems like "people 101," but I've noticed over time that the basics are the difference between you doing well in this kind of environment and failing. Aside from bringing your best work as an actor, writer, or director, the basics are crucial: Be on time. Turn out rewrites as promptly as possible. Don't complain. Listen. Get off-book. Learn to write for your actors, and learn to act for your writers. Don't be a dick. With something as collaborative and time-consuming as sketch comedy (our team has about eleven members, total) you should always find new ways to go above and beyond for your homies.
What else – comedy wise – are you looking forward to this year? What do you have cooking?
The most exciting part of being on this team is getting to see what my teammates (past and present) are working on. Joanna Hausmann is a correspondent on Bill Nye the Science Guy's new Netflix show. Nicole Silverberg, who wrote for us last year, is out in LA writing for Iliza Shlesinger's new talk show. Our actors continually come into rehearsals with updates on gigs they've booked or new live shows they're working on, and our writers are always working on a variety of online projects, specs, pilots, new shows outside of our team, the list goes on. The work ethic of the people on this team is inspiring just to be around, and reminds you to never stop crankin' out the funnies, ya know?