The comic web series “Don’t Walk,” featured on Thundershorts, is the brainchild of Kemp Baldwin, Gates Bradley and Mike Laskasky. Depicting the bizarro world that surrounds common ‘Don’t Walk’ signs, it follows a guileless Midwestern transplant, played by the always-hilarious Max Silvestri, trying to get to his first day of work in NYC. As the creators explain, “anything can happen while you wait to cross the street because it’s a New York street.” So far, seven episodes have been released. Watch them below.
Tell us about yourself! How did you get started in comedy?
Comedy was sort of a fallback for all of us. Mike was a local sports anchor in Iowa before selling out to try to get a high-paying job in internet comedy. Kemp went to college wanting to become a novelist. But he quickly realized that he needed to be responsible and set more attainable and financially secure career goals like trying to be funny for a living. Gates is an amazing director and editor and stumbled into it comedy – in a pratfall kind of way.
But the three of us met working on a show that wasn’t funny. To pass the time, we joked around and tried to develop funny shows because that’s what we really wanted to do. With that said, we’re not sure Gates knows this is a comedy. We’re trying figure out how to break it to him gently.
What inspired your online series?
We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to shoot something quickly, relatively easily, and without paying for locations or setting it in our small Brooklyn apartments.
Street corners seemed perfect for a micro-sitcom. They’re free to use, which fit nicely into our budget. The Don’t Walk sign gave us a loose format that everyone understands – the hand flashes, people stop walking, people wait, the light changes and people continue on their way. The great thing is anything can happen while you wait to cross the street because it’s a New York street – nothing is bizarre because everything is bizarre; you just go about your day. And there are thousands of street corners in the city and they’re all their own weird little worlds whose populations change with every light. We liked that this gave us the freedom to “write what we know” while writing whatever the hell we wanted. And the Don’t Walk sign creates a tight structure to fit it all in, which seemed perfect for people’s limited attention spans and our limited budget.
But it snowballed a bit. A series of unrelated sketches became a narrative with a main character and a season-long arc. We also learned why people shoot in their apartments: you can regulate the heat even on three of coldest days of the year, thousands of strangers don’t walk through your set unannounced, and there are no cars whizzing by ruining takes.
What’s they key to getting noticed online?
Nudity. Cats. Clickbait. And then way far down the list is make something with really funny people. “Don’t Walk” was noticed because we crammed as many funny people into it as possible, starting with Max Silvestri. Having folks like Jermaine Fowler, Kate Berlant, John Early, Brooke Van Poppelen, Rob Cantrell, and Nick Turner involved really helped make it funny and also grabbed people’s attention.
What separates online short form comedy from longer form TV/film comedy? Advantages/disadvantages?
There’s a lot less competition from Judd Apatow online, which is nice. This isn’t groundbreaking news, but you can pretty much do whatever you want online without anyone giving you stupid notes. Nothing – but financial limitations – is standing in your way to go from idea to screen quickly. The scary part is because no one is giving you stupid notes, you’re sort of wandering out there in the wilderness and hoping to get someone other than your mom’s attention. The great thing about working with Thundershorts was they consolidated and highlighted a handful of very funny shows, so it took the pressure off a bit.
With that being said, we’d be happy to point out more of the advantages/disadvantages of longer form TV/Film if someone wants to give us a show or three-picture movie deal. We’re looking forward to finding that success and then complaining endlessly about how restrictive it is.
What advice do you have for people who want to succeed in the online comedy market?
We’re still figuring that out ourselves. It’s tough. But if people want to follow our road map, here it is: 1.)Try to write something a little different and funny (and hopefully succeed.) 2.) Cast the funniest people you know or know of (They’ll make what you wrote better and make people want to watch it.) 3.) Stop talking about the “great idea” you have and actually make the thing. (This is hard. But you can’t watch an idea.) 4.) Do it in a professional manner with an incredible crew. (If you take it seriously, other people will too.) 5.) Keep everyone involved happy. (Hopefully they will be as proud of it as you are and want to help you promote it.) But, if you’re looking for sage advice from us, you may have already made a grave error.
What IS funny to you?
Honestly, we were fans of a lot of the folks in our cast before making Don’t Walk. These are some of the funniest people in New York. We feel very lucky that they wanted to work with us. Max should be a household name. If that’s not clear from just watching Don’t Walk (please watch it over and over again. It’s got, uh, layers.) listen to his new stand-up album and watch Gabe and Max Have Issues. The guy is a comedic force. The same could be said about everyone in our cast. Copy and paste these names into Google and have fun: Jermaine Fowler, Nick Turner, Kate Berlant, Rob Cantrell, Brooke Van Poppelen, John Early, Murf Meyer, Matt Klinman, Don Fanelli, Shamikah Martinez, Siobhan Thompson, Justin Brown, Dan Ramos and Lawrence DeLoach. Besides our cast, Carlos Mencia was obviously a huge influence.