April 20, 2024

Watchlist : Second City’s Testing Ground in Cyberspace

O.K., maybe short-form humor doesn’t belong on a list of ecological scourges. But sometimes it appears to be proliferating as quickly as any of them.

Web sites like Funny or Die, College Humor and My Damn Channel post hundreds of short comic videos. On television, “Saturday Night Live” chugs along, “The Whitest Kids U Know” is in its fifth season on IFC, and “In the Flow With Affion Crockett” arrives in August on Fox. And new sketch and improv groups keep popping up, filling out the lineups of live events like SketchFest next month in New York.

In this overgrown landscape, it might seem as if there wouldn’t be space for an institution as venerable as the five-decade-old Second City. But the troupe, which long ago expanded from the stage into television and film, hasn’t budged. Last year it took the fight to the Internet, establishing its own YouTube channel and then a dedicated Web site, both labeled the Second City Network.

“Second City’s desire to get into video was based on a desire to interact in an online format to develop the brand, as well as test-pilot character and plot concepts,” Robin Hammond, a spokeswoman for the group, which is headquartered in Chicago and Los Angeles, wrote in an e-mail. “We were focused on developing a site which curates well-produced online content to stay true to our style and brand — rather than just let anyone upload content.”

That “anyone” can be read as a jab at sites like Funny or Die, which allow users to upload their own videos (which may later be removed if not deemed worthy). It seems only logical that the popularity of the relatively new comedy-video sites would steal some of the oxygen from veterans like Second City, but Ms. Hammond disputed the notion of a direct competition, at least in a financial sense.

“We aren’t trying to compete with Funny or Die with our Web site,” she wrote. “Our business model is primarily based on selling TV shows, feature films, commercials and product placement deals.”

Product placement? Yes, that’s another way in which Second City is embracing the modern world of comedy.

Among the roughly 190 videos uploaded to the YouTube channel so far, the most popular are episodes of “Sassy Gay Friend!,” a series of one- to two-minute skits starring Brian Gallivan as the sassy friend of the title. Two of the earliest installments, in which S.G.F. materialized in Shakespeare plays to talk doomy-gloomy characters like Juliet and Ophelia out of killing themselves, have registered well over four million views.

As Mr. Gallivan branched out from Shakespeare — earlier this year he produced “Sassy Gay Friend: Black Swan” (“Kill yourself? It’s ballet. Ballet! I’m gay and I don’t even care!”) — his hits, and his buzz, declined. Then Kraft Foods decided to use the series to promote a new product called MiO, a “water flavor enhancer.”

Mr. Gallivan, still in character, now conducts man-and-woman-on-the-street interviews while clutching a vial of MiO and reciting product plugs so quickly that they’re almost unintelligible. His numbers have sunk even further, but his show is safe, for now.

“The product placement deal we have with MiO enables us to keep producing the series,” Ms. Hammond wrote. She added, “Fan feedback has been very positive — many of them are even thanking MiO for bringing back ‘Sassy Gay Friend.’ ”

There’s a lot more to see at Second City Network beyond the 12 episodes of “S.G.F.,” and as amusing as Mr. Gallivan and his “What, what, what are you doing?” tag line are, some of the lesser-known videos are more substantial and substantially funnier. (Others, as you might expect, are complete misfires.)

Worth checking out are Danielle Uhlarik’s “Advice for Young Girls” episodes, fairy-tale rules for living delivered from the perspectives of the Little Mermaid (“Never be comfortable in the body that you’re given”), Belle of “Beauty and the Beast” (“You don’t need to have fancy people friends, things around your house can be your friends”) and Snow White (“If you’re wandering alone, you should walk into the first house that looks open”).

Second City is not alone among long-lived, nationally known sketch troupes with YouTube channels. Videos from the Upright Citizens Brigade can be found under UCBComedy; the Brigade has had its channel since 2007, but trails Second City in subscribers, 76,000 to 27,000, and in total views, 31 million to 23 million. (The brigade’s views are bolstered by the popularity of its oil-spill satire “BP Spills Coffee,” which has nearly 12 million views on its own.) The IFC television network’s channel includes videos by the Whitest Kids U Know.


The Brooklyn filmmaker Will McCord’s 10-minute “Miyuki,” shown at New Directors/New Films this year and winner of an audience award for short films at the recent Scene: Brooklyn festival, can be streamed online at the Shooting People networking site (shootingpeople.org).

Mr. McCord’s uncomfortable poker-faced comedy is one segment of a planned five-part ensemble feature in which each story involves Internet personal ads. But “Miyuki” is less about modern love than the squirmy, toxic subject of Asian fetishism, which it treats in an interesting way.

The young, attractive and lonely Miyuki (Dana Shiraki) is more sympathetic than the white people she encounters, an abrasive roommate and a friendly-creepy guy she makes a date with online (they meet at the Milk and Roses cafe in Greenpoint, Brooklyn). But while her tormentors come off looking like jerks and buffoons, Miyuki isn’t spotless. Mr. McCord uses her inability to speak more than rudimentary English, and her resulting cluelessness, to comic effect, but he doesn’t make them charming — we feel some of the same irritation as the characters in the film who are trying to communicate with her.

‘My Future Girlfriend’

Steven Tsapelas’s five-episode serial, “My Future Girlfriend,” completed this month at YouTube and myfuturegirlfriend.com, is a cheap, cheesy, charming science-fiction romance about two hot women from the future fighting over a floppy-haired Angeleno as part of a larger battle over the future of the planet. (“Two incredibly attractive females have shown interest in me in the past 24 hours,” he says, “and for that to make any sense, there has to be a sci-fi component.”) Brigitte Hagerman has a quirky, sexy presence as the geeky-sexy terminator, and Dan Ingala’s songs are infectious. Over all, about 40 minutes of harmless fun.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8c10211cacfdd40badea2e9cfd2e2edb

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