301. Sometimes 302. These are the points at which YouTube videos’ viewcount meter stalls as it verifies the authenticity of looks above that number. For the site, the process is nothing more than a precaution, an anti-fraud activity conducted by the overseer of a marketplace in which seconds watched directly affects dollars made. For content creators, it’s the point at which our hearts race fastest in anticipation of how many views will be registered when the verification process is complete and the count finally updates. Many feel that number, and the one that settles out over the next 3-7 days, is the final verdict in the court of Internet law — the one undeniable web signifier of video success or failure. Conner O’Malley and Mark Colomb don’t think about it that way at all. They’re in the web video game to have fun, learn, and make comedy that they think is funny. If their recent Fleetwood Mac Men sketch is any indication, the duo may be on to something pretty fantastic, 2,200 views aside.
Talk to me a little bit about your respective backgrounds in comedy.
Conner: I’m in New York now, but I started doing comedy a couple years ago in Chicago at the Improv Olympic Theatre and the Annoyance Theater — I worked in improv and sketch and narrative plays, stuff like that. I started collaborating with Mark about a year ago and now I’m in New York and on a Harold team at UCB called Good Girl.
Mark: I’ve been in Chicago for about 5 years and also studied at I.O. and Annoyance. I’ve known Conner since I interviewed him on my podcast, The Poor Choices Show, and we hit it off and started making videos after that. I think right now we have 20 videos that are up and another 10 that are in various stages of editing, waiting to be released.
How did this idea come about? It’s weird and great — what was your inspiration?
Conner: I had the idea for the video and it came from listening to Rumors a lot and watching some documentaries on Fleetwood Mac. It’s an album that I’ve really only heard in gas stations and on weird soft rock stations and it seemed like they didn’t really put too much thought into it but, watching these documentaries, there was a lot of shit going on while they were recording and, now that I’m older, I think that I can appreciate the music in a different way. It’s got all these weird, interpersonal, adult relationships in it that you’re not really into when you’re listening at 18. Fleetwood Mac likes to jam but also Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were dating, it’s got a weird vibe to it that’s like 70s dads who smoke joints and drink red wine.
Mark: Usually what will happen is Conner will say something like, “Fleetwood Mac Men” and I’ll ask what is that and he’ll say, “I don’t know, it’s these dads and they all listen to Fleetwood Mac” and then we’ll sit down and come up with this idea of what we’re doing. We have a pretty loose process. A lot of it comes out in the edit. And luckily we’re friends with a million funny and talented people and we can just turn the camera on them and they’re great. There’s a particular group of people that we work with and we always get a ton of great stuff. In this case, 45 minutes of good material for a four-minute shoot. Not a bad ratio.
Was all that confessional dialogue ad-libbed or did you write it?
Conner: I emailed a bunch of people and had them come down and told them about the concept of the video and then we all set up their interviews and they improvised those lines. The actors kind of knew the back story or the direction and Mark would ask the questions to lead them in places but those lines are all improvised by those dudes. They’re all really, really funny guys.
What advice do you have for web content creators who want others to actually watch their stuff? What’s the secret to not getting buried?
Conner: When we’re doing stuff we’re not trying to get a ton of hits, we’re trying to build our comedic voice and put out stuff that we think is funny. We’re already in Chicago and doing 3-4 improv shows a week, but those performances are fleeting — they only happen once. Because we want to make things that last, Mark and I have transferred our talents into doing video stuff and it’s more rewarding.
Mark: Like Conner said, if we can do 3-4 improv shows a week, why not take that kind of energy and put it into video? Over the course of a year, we’ve put 30 videos together. Some of them are going to be good, some of them are going to be mediocre, but we’ve learned from each and if you were to watch them all in progression you would see they’ve gotten better. It’s just about being less precious about video because, like you said, there’s so much stuff on the web where even if something is good, it’s gonna be gone in a week and you always have to focus on the video that you’re going to be doing next.
There’s something to be said about building your own voice and sensibility through video.
So what are you guys watching on the web right now?
Mark: Conner’s a member of a group of guys in Chicago that moved out to LA called Sad on Vacation and they’ve got some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen.
Conner: I’m really into Kyle Mooney and Good Neighbor, also there’s a comedy collective thing going on in Chicago called Kill All Comedy, Joey Dundale and Steph Cook run it. They have a website and they put all of their stuff up. They also do live material at The Upstairs Gallery but they’re making a big video push. One of the big contenders over there is this guy named John Reynolds and he inspired this video called Dadz. He’s a really talented guy and he’s only like 22 or 21.
Do you think that more people will be turning to the Internet as their main source of entertainment in the coming years? Is the web going to take TV’s place?
Mark: We’ve talked a lot about this. I think people want to follow a model that already works so I think you see a lot of people doing web series not because they have the best idea but because that’s what they think people have to do. If you look at how most people consume things on the web, it’s in short bursts but there’s also really long stuff like Ted Talks or shows like that that are an hour or half-hour long and people will watch that. It’s really that intermediate stuff that people ignore. But I think you’ve got to do whatever is interesting to you, whatever the length. When you do things for the wrong reason or because you’re chasing a trend, that’s when people give up on it.
Conner: The Internet now is like the railroad system before the days of set gauges on rails. There are so many different things going on that it’s hard to determine what the future will be, but I do think that people are becoming more patient with watching longer content. When I started doing videos it had to be fast because people would only watch the first minute, and then it was fine if it was 3 minutes, then 4, and then 5 minutes, etc. Now, the people we know are doing whole pilots and short films that are 30 minutes long. We even know a guy, Joe Avela, who did a movie, all by himself, on his own budget. So they keep getting longer and longer and it feels like there are no set rules. It’s a very interesting time to be doing comedy.
And your three reasons to watch, my dear fellow comedy nerds…
Your parents probably won’t understand why this is hilarious. Neither will that friend who swears that Larry the Cable Guy is part of the 21st Century’s comedy vanguard. But you’ll know and so will I. That should be enough.
2. Straight-faced slow burn
Fleetwood Mac Men is not the kind of laugh generator that elicits giggles from a group while streaming in the background. It can’t play second fiddle to a conversation about the hidden artistic merits of Instagram or a game of kings. To be fully appreciated, it must be the main event and you must pay attention throughout its subtle duration to discover the golden nuggets all along the way.
In a piece where there’s lots of intercutting, good improv is the producer’s most powerful comedic tool. Conner and Mark are clearly familiar with this strategy, as is their diverse stable of funnymen.