Featured on Thundershorts, the comic web series "American Viral" pokes fun at the so-called YouTube celebrity trend. Co-Creator Jennifer Suhr calls the show, "Kind of 'Balloon Boy' meets 'Charlie Bit My Finger'." Along with AnnaRose King and Shandor Garrison, they shot five episodes for "American Viral's" first season, leaving a bit of a cliffhanger at the end, teasing at a second season. In their own words, this is how they got there, and find their videos at the bottom of the page.
Tell us about yourself! How did you get started in comedy?SG: The three of us were classmates in the NYU Grad Film program, which people may know as the place where Spike Lee, Martin Scorcese and more recently Sundance darlings like Cary Fukunaga and Dee Rees got their start. It's a great program where we're all trying to become the next auteur filmmaker. But perhaps as a result, it's not terribly well known for it's comedy writing (John Hamburg, a mentor of ours, is one exception). We all liked comedy, but because of where we were, we were making coming-of-age, angsty student short films like everyone else. Then in our last year at NYU, the three of us signed up for their first ever TV writing lab, which was taught by Michael Showalter and then In that class we discovered that we really liked writing comedy together. Our classmates and professors saw the stuff we were doing and said "You should do more of this." But we still want to be the next Darren Aronofsky and Debra Granick...just funnier.
What inspired your online series?
AK: Like most people, we watch a lot of dumb internet videos. Some of our favorite videos led us to the idea for American Viral. ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’, for example and ‘David After the Dentist.' We wondered, what happens to those kids? Some lazy internet research showed us that Harry and Charlie now have their own blogs and video series, and they live in a new house paid for by their YouTube stardom. David After the Dentist’s father is hawking merchandise and coaching his son to make awkward video responses to Christian Bale (true, check it out). All of this seemed like a rich world for a web series: combining viral videos, really bad parenting, and the fact that anyone can now become famous for anything.
What's the key to getting noticed online?JS: Be a really cute furry animal that does something human-like...or if that's too hard, just move your snout in ways that can be easily dubbed over.
AK: Yeah, cats are really popular online. I'm usually allergic, but not to internet cats. They're great! Everyone likes them. Even better, be a cat who knows some internet celebrities with millions of followers. Or who is related to a Disney star and who you creepily plot to figure out how to have them retweet your link.
SG: In all seriousness, though, it also does help to have a company like Thundershorts behind you, putting your show on a platform with other good shows and helping to get your word out.
What separates online short form comedy from longer form TV/film comedy? Advantages/disadvantages?AK: With short form you can really do whatever you want if it's funny. Longer form tends to have expectations of the format, especially film.
JS: Being able to play with length also gives you more freedom. You could spend all of your resources into making some epic, tricked out, and hilarious video that's only 15 seconds long if that's how the spirit moves you.
SG: With our show we wanted to be pretty ambitious with the story. We're almost trying to pack a half hour sitcom's worth of comedy into a 5 minute episode. A lot of successful web series just have a setup that's repeatable (High Maintenance, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee) and expand on that, which is great. But I think coming from film, we're really trying to pack some story into our show, because that's what gets us excited.
What advice do you have for people who want to succeed in the online comedy market?JS: Are we successful yet? I'm not sure we have the authority to answer this, but generally, do something that makes you and at least one other person laugh, surprise yourself, listen to your actors and collaborators, and have a million Twitter followers.
AK: ...And have someone attached that people already know. Obviously I'm biased about our show and think it's great, but it helped to have been backed by Michael Showalter. Having him on board helped us get people like Zandy as well as be able to get cameos by actors like David Wain and Janeane Garofalo. The right marriage of material and personalities will give you the best shot...and casting people with Twitter followers.
What IS funny to you?
JS: My boyfriend has identified that I seem to have a particular weakness for women acting in ways that some may call "unladylike" i.e. aggressive interpretive dancing, potty mouths, funny voices, general goofiness...I'm a simple girl.
AK: People falling down stairs. Laughing babies. Misunderstandings. Miscommunications. Missed Connections section on Craigslist.
Watch all episodes of "American Viral" below: