Just shoot it. That’s what I’ve learned from Matt Levy, creator of this week’s featured series, Lady and the Damp. As “creatives” (writers, producers, actors, symbol smashers, etc. etc. etc.), we spend so much time agonizing over perfection. We batter our brains to mush with our ceaseless internal monologues, our harsh self-interrogations. “Is this funny? Why is this funny? Will other people think it’s funny? Is it edgy? Is it relatable?” and so on. Though no one wants to release unpolished content, there’s something indisputably limiting about professionalism. Especially for products we’re hoping lots of people will watch and love and share. The fear of failure, of not becoming an instant viral sensation, can sometimes halt us from doing anything. I’m not putting out a call for rushed, sub-par work here, but there’s A LOT to be said for releasing videos because you think they’re good and you want to. Lady and the Damp is a perfect example of how going that route can yield A really SPECIAL END RESULT.
Starring the improv-adept Michael Margetis and Jamie Sandomire, created and directed by Levy, and shot by his longtime DP Joseph Lao, Lady and the Damp was born from the classic Lady and the Tramp food-share visual gag. Levy thought it would be funny to see two people “lady and the tramp” a banana, wrote a sketch about it, corralled some of his friends, and just started shooting…and shooting…and shooting. What started as a single piece became an eight-part series chronicling a cartoonish couple’s relationship. And, here’s the best part: all the footage, for the entire series, was captured in one afternoon.
Lady and the Damp isn’t impressive because it’s funny, well acted, or nicely produced (though it’s all of those things). It’s impressive because it’s the result of raw passion and curiosity. It wasn’t made to market. It was made for the love of the game. In a competitive web video field that’s turning many everyday Joes into Hollywood up-and-comers, it’s easy to forget that making comedy videos is, at its core, really fucking fun.
Levy, a guy who says he made over 70 videos his first year at Arizona State University, reminded me of that during a phone call we had to discuss his series.
So, what inspired this series, and when did you start working on it?
I was talking to a friend about lady and the tramping a banana and I said “I’m going to make a sketch about this.” And then I shot this sketch, and I ended up with about 4 hours of footage in a day. And now that’s what it is. It’s a little different than what I originally intended but I like it because I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it on the Internet lately.
I think it definitely has a unique voice and like that it’s brief. How did you find your actors?
Well, Michael, the main guy, I met at Arizona State University, where I went. Now he’s in an improv group called “Dawson’s Queef.” And they actually performed at the Del Close Marathon this year.
Yeah, he’s fucking hysterical. He was in my first video on Vimeo, and he’s just really fucking funny. He’s got a weird voice. He’s like a really fucked up Kelsey Grammer. I feel like Kelsey Grammer mixed with Chris Farley, which is a fucking weird combination. And Jamey was also in the underground comedy troupe, but this one was called “Farce Side” at ASU. And she just had this extremely likable quality about her, and I thought the two would play off of each other really nicely. And it kind of guided itself. I was there and I threw out lines, but a lot of it was from them. I give them a lot of the credit.
So was most of it totally improvised? What was your scripting structure like?
I wrote it as a sketch, and originally I was going to be in it, with four of my friends. But the more I thought about it, I was like, “Nah. I think this would be a lot funnier if I had people who were just really cartoony instead of just playing it straight.” So I kind of wanted to go over the top, and I think they both bring that. So I’d say I wrote each scene. I guess more than anything it’s like with Christopher Guest, where they just filled in all the blanks, and made stuff stronger.
That’s really cool. I find it so amazing that this all came from four hours of footage. I mean, is that right?
Yeah. Well when you work with actors that are that good, it’s not hard. And this was not a difficult shoot for me at all, compared to other stuff that I’d done. So, to me it’s not that impressive, but I’m definitely enjoying the process of putting one out a week and seeing what the response is.
Talk to me a little bit about where you see this going, and how you want to market it. Or is this just something you’re doing for fun?
In terms of marketing it, I’m not going to. I’m using all copywritten music. But as for where I want this to go, I’d love for it to go viral, like everybody in the world. But I don’t know if that’ll happen because it’s so weird. And I’ve shown it to co-workers, and they get kind of uncomfortable. Like the first two episodes they’re really fun but the next one is a little unsettling. So I wanted people to watch it and think, “Wow, this is fucking different.” And, if it doesn’t work, at least it’s an interesting idea. There’s very little character development in sketch, usually, and I wanted this to be character-focused.
So what about you, Matt? Where are your aspirations? And where do you want to be in a couple years in this comedy game?
The only thing I have ever wanted to do, since I was 10, is write for SNL. It’s the only thing I want to do. That would be the dream, just sit around with funny people all day and come up with funny shit. Making jokes. I don’t think there’d be anything better.
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Before you use your iPhone to start shooting your every move for the rest of the afternoon, check out Lady and the Damp’s first three episodes and check YouTube every Monday for new installments. Here’s why you should.
3. Strong improv
Organizing any quality production is commendable because it’s never easy. But shooting a web series in one day when you planned on shooting a quick sketch, all because your mojo’s working and you don’t feel like calling it quits? That’s beautiful.
As the series goes on (I was lucky enough to sneak peek ‘em all), Levy allows his actors to explore darker comedic territory without losing the kooky tone that makes the series attractive. In doing so, he fills a tall order.
Nothing beats good off-the-cuff chemistry. For a series shot in four hours, improv’s an absolute essential and, if it’s improv you require, Margetis and Sandomire are clearly good players to have in your corner.