British/American sketch comedy duo (and married couple) We Are Thomasse have been producing short form comedy content for the web between New York and Los Angeles since 2010. This year saw them become a viral hit on sites such as Funny Or Die and ShortList. Nick Thomas and Sarah Ann Masse talk to us about how their sketch comedy content comes together, creatively and practically.
We have produced a few dozen sketches in just over a year as We are Thomasse, releasing them every other week since the beginning of 2016, and for the first few months we were reaching a small, dedicated audience, getting a lot of good feedback but not managing to hit that magic tipping point where enough people share the video to start a viral knock-on effect.
But our first big breakthrough finally came in May. Sarah's Feminist Fairytales series was picked up by Funny Or Die, and suddenly it was their number one trending video for almost the entire month, garnering nearly 1 million views in the process. There were a lot of lessons we learnt in a short space of time. One was that a huge number of views doesn't necessarily translate into many extra subscribers; but more importantly we saw first hand how much more interested people are in sketches if they link to a topic that is already being talked about.
This creates an interesting situation: how do you tap a topic that may be here today, gone tomorrow? How do you get something out in time? How can you make something of lasting value if it's so apparently ephemeral?
For us, it's a particularly tricky balance, because we create high-concept, witty, evergreen comedy which in theory should be as funny ten years from now as today. The comedy is based very much on strong comedic concepts and rich relationships between characters, rather than simply being satirical about today's news. In fact, from our point of view, there's no difference between a comedy sketch and a short comedic film at all. We always try to make sure that the production values, including the sound, are as high as our non-existent budget can possibly allow, and we've more than once axed projects completely when the recorded material proved not to be good enough to make a decent edit.
We seemed to have stumbled across something special when we released a video just in time for the Fourth Of July (American independence day); a sketch about Britain turning up, uninvited, to America's birthday party, and because they're exes it's awkward. We wrote the sketch specifically because Nick suddenly realised that the Fourth of July was coming up in less than two weeks and that we really ought to do something for it, since what day could be more relevant to our brand of British and American humo(u)r than that?
Nick had an idea about Britain coming back to visit America that was kicking around for a few years and Sarah had an idea about America and Britain behaving like exes. So, Almost immediately, Sarah sat down and churned out the first page and a half. Nick then tagged on another page, and the rest we thrashed out between us, all in less than an hour, more or less in finished form. We filmed Awkward Exes: Britain and America a few days later and had it ready to release on July 1st, giving it a few days to find an audience before it really went viral on July 4th itself, although interestingly the fastest growth was in the days after that when people were back at work and presumably looking for distraction!
Weirdly, most people seemed to remember the sketch as being a “Brexit” sketch rather than a Fourth of July sketch. Brexit was big news in America, and for many people represented Britain's independence from Europe so it was thematically linked. But in truth we didn't even mention the work “Brexit” in the film, and there was only one line in the sketch about Britain's relationship with Europe. Nonetheless, we played upon that little connection in our press releases, and it seems to have been enough of a link to something so current to cement the idea in people's minds.
This gave us a clue about how we could take our high-concept comedy and connect it in to current events, at least enough to get a boost from the public interest in those events. Because we have a live sketch show that we perform at least once a month, we have a good backlog of rehearsed material to tap into, and because we keep a list of ideas for future sketches, we're never short of ideas to work on if inspiration dries up. As a result all we need to do is figure out which events in the calendar would line up well with each of our ideas, and then push that sketch up to the top of our production schedule.
For example, one of our most popular sketches from the live show is called Murder Room, and for a while we thought this might be the best sketch to follow up the viral hit of Awkward Exes: Britain and America; but then someone pointed out that it would be ideal to release Murder Room at Halloween, or perhaps to coincide with the new season of American Horror Story, and so we're planning to release that sketch later in the year to see if we can get a boost by being 'relevant', relying on more than just the strength of the comedy alone to get hits.
This week we're releasing another sketch in the Awkward Exes series, and this time the relationship is between a Devil and an Angel. We're really pleased with the sketch, and because of the supernatural element it is our first experiment with special effects, courtesy of some great film-making by the director Sara Newton, editors Luke Lakin and Tom Bacon, and special effects designer Andres di Bono.
The sketch itself actually originated from a show we did with our friend Billy Galewood at The Belly Up in San Diego, and was only ever going to be a one-off performance. However, the relationship between the Devil and Angel was so successful that we realised it would be an ideal follow up to the Awkward Exes: Britain & America hit. We rewrote it to be a much richer script (this time taking five or six painstaking rewrites to get it up to scratch), but in and of itself it would have merely been a relationship sketch had we not introduced the character of an athlete wrestling with his conscience about whether to dope or not. Curiously, the idea for this character came from looking for a character who might be suffering a moral conundrum, but we immediately latched on to the doping athlete not only because he provided the moral issue the sketch required, but also because doping has been a big topic recently, and with the Olympics coming up it is almost certainly going to be in the public eye for the next month or so.
Even so, we made the sketch general enough so that it should still be relevant once the Olympics are concluded and the next big doping scandal breaks. We don't want to make comedy that is funny this week, but then redundant next week. We want to leave behind sketches that will still feel relevant and funny years from now.
Find out more about We Are Thomasse and keep up with their work at their website.