We’re all nervous, constantly. I am and you are. Follow me on this. We’re comedy nerds, right? That means we like comedy (duh) and it also probably means that we’re fascinated by comedians’ ability to make others laugh and in harnessing their powers so we can hone our own chops as jokesters. Why’s that? Because laughing’s fun, yes, AND because, in many cases, laughter begets approval — the elusive prize all human kind seeks in one way or another. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The entertainment industry’s built on, by, and for insecure people like us. The trouble can start when we make the jump from comedy students to practitioners, from quiet appreciators to content creators. Then, the question becomes: “Am I as funny as I thought and is what I’m doing worthwhile?” In the Wild West of web videos, the self-aware creator must ask himself (or herself) this question all the time. “Am I making an impact? Are people watching? Is the web a viable Hollywood domain or is it TV’s ugly stepchild — a middling venue that I’ve cooked up to be more influential than it really is?” Etc., etc., etc. To that concern and all like it, I say: worry not, Rob Riggle and JB Smoove are here to dispel your fears.
Newly released Coogan Auto, created and written by Rob Riggle and Andrew Secunda and produced by and starring Riggle and JB Smoove, is the latest major vote of confidence that the Hollywood powers that be have placed in Internet video. Airing on Electus’ YouTube channel, Loud, in partnership with Principato Young Entertainment, Coogan Auto is a long-form, one-location web series featuring some of the biggest names in the funny game — many of whom have lucrative careers in major movies and TV shows.
This project isn’t a newbie’s hopeful attempt at capturing public attention and it isn’t a desperate grasp at the last fibers of unraveling fame. It’s a viable contribution from two of comedy’s biggest stars and it’s meant specifically for the web not because it needs to be, but because they want it to be.
Principato Young executive producer and digital entertainment aficionado Corey Moss doesn’t see the web series model slowing down anytime soon. Good news for us comedy nerds.
Talk to me a little bit about your background in comedy.
I run the digital division at Principato Young, a management company. We work with all kinds of writers, actors, directors, and we also have a ton of great comedians like Ed Helms and, of course, Rob Riggle. I work with our clients to develop programming for the Internet and we go out and find a home for them. We also set up a production infrastructure with our partners Kids At Play where we produce that content. Coogan Auto is actually the 18th digital series that we’ve done in the last year and a half or so. I came from Yahoo! I was basically the same thing there; I created Primetime in No Time, and that’s still going for them. Basically, I’m a producer focused on the digital space.
In working on this show with Rob, what was the focus was for a 10-minute-per-episode series? That’s lengthy for the web. What makes you think it’s going to hit?
The idea of Coogan Auto is entirely from Rob Riggle’s brain and it’s actually based loosely on people that he knows from his hometown of Kansas City. He brought the idea to me and had the characters in his head and had already written out some episode ideas and character ideas. In my business, things aren’t structured like television or film where this is a half-hour sitcom or that is an hour drama or this is a romantic comedy. In my business it’s much more loose. So what we like to do is take the projects out, even before they’re scripted, and weave them into the format that’s requested. That’s exactly what we did with this. We took it out to some places, got interest right away from Electus’ YouTube channel, called Loud, and they were the ones who said, “We’d like to do six 10-minute episodes.” So we wrote it into that format based on what was required. But I’ve done lots of different series and we’ve done everything from five-minute episodes to ten and everything in between. That’s kind of the beauty of the web—you can be really flexible.
Do you think that having Rob and J.B. Smoove kind of helps that along? I’d think that viewer engagement is going to be heightened because they’re two big names and funny guys. The star power has something to do with the probable success of a longer episode format, right?
I think we will see and maybe it’s a little bit of an experiment but I think you’re absolutely right. Having some proven entities like Rob Riggle and J.B. Smoove in there will hopefully get the audience engaged, and keep them that way. There are multiple storylines in Coogan Auto and it’s fun to work them all out. I’ve been working with this content for the last few months and I don’t feel like the episodes are ten minutes. They still go by quickly.
What advice do you have for content producers, creators, writers who are new to the game and looking to get eyeballs on their videos?
I think the most important thing is having something that’s funny. The funniest stuff, ideally, in a perfect world, will rise to the top. Of course it isn’t an ideal perfect world and it is difficult to get people to watch things. We’ve made a lot of things that we love that have been a struggle to get people to see. I think one thing we’ve found is it’s helpful to get a blogger to write about it and there’s definitely a proven record for fans to know when to come back and when to expect something new. I’ve done series where we’ve posted at the exact same time every Monday and the Monday when it’s over, there are people on other message boards of other videos asking “Where is it?!” So I think it is important to be consistent with when you’re releasing the content so that your fans can be ready. I understand the struggle that everyone faces when they make funny content for the web—there’s a lot of it and a lot of different places to see it and it’s hard to stick out. Our game plan is to work with known commodities. Still, it’s always a bit of a gamble.
Do you think that anybody in the next 2-3 years is going to be looking at web content as a TV replacement? There’s been a lot of talk about web video getting longer and more involved, having B and C stories and, ultimately, the computer supplanting cable. Do you see that trajectory as realistic?
My view on it is that TV’s not going away but that we’re getting to a point where content is content. I have a son who’s almost nine years old and when he comes home from school he turns on our BluRay player and watches videos on YouTube and Hulu and Crackle through our TV. Then he switches to Direct TV and watches shows on Disney Channel. Then he picks up my wife’s iPad and plays games or watches content on that. He doesn’t differentiate any of it. If I asked him what did you watch that was a web series and what did you watch that was a TV show, I don’t think he would know. It’s all just all stuff that he watches. There’s too much good TV out there for TV to vanish but the stuff that people are doing online is going to become more and more a part of the outside world. If you decide to stay in on a Friday night and watch old Arrested Development or Breaking Bad you’ve kind of stopped differentiating between that at this point already. I think that digital is going to be like that and I think part of that fact is attributable to content getting longer.
Can you give me the names of a couple of web series being broadcast on the web right now that you’re into?
Burning Love was amazing last year and I’m excited that they’re coming back and doing more. Jon Stern who produces that is someone who I look up to a lot and he worked with David Wain to create Wainy Days, which I think is sort of the classic, great web series. There’s also a web series that we do for Yahoo! called Sketchy and every week it’s a new one-off video and, not to toot my own horn too much, that’s one of my favorite destinations on the web. We’ve done 50 of them now and you can go back and spend a few hours watching those. I think they’re highly entertaining.
What’s the one thing that you look for in a fresh pitch or project?
I think it’s hard to say that there’s one thing, but there are a handful of things that make a good web series. One is that the characters are instantly likeable or the opposite that they’re characters where you can see who they are right away. If you can have a total sense of who that character is in the first 10-15 seconds, I think that’s an important part. For me, as someone who produces these, it needs to be contained. It needs to be an idea that is producible at a lower-sized budget or a medium-sized budget. I love a web series where you have an opportunity to, within the set piece, bring in a lot of guests. I think the perfect example would be Wainy Days where every episode is David Wain on a different date and it just allows them to bring in these amazing guests—it really keeps it fresh. With Coogan Auto, we shot the entire thing in one location but it feels very versatile because we’re bringing in different people. We have Jake Johnson in episode 2, Tawny Kitaen is in an episode. All different kinds of people pop in and out. Those are the kinds of stories that I’m most attracted to in the digital space.
Here are your 3 reasons to watch.
I always say that having big names attached helps web content rise to the top of a crowded sea and that holds true here. What I don’t say often, because we don’t see it often, is how much of a format endorsement it is for two comedy heavyweights to EP their own web series.
For celebs like Riggle and Smoove, a series with episodes in the 1-3 minute range would’ve been a token project, something they could’ve banged out in a day or two. But a project of this length and magnitude required serious production efforts at all stages. Coogan Auto is really something these guys stand behind and that’s good news for the rest of us starry-eyed web folk.
Web series are an everyman’s medium right now. It’s comforting to have big dogs coming to play in this ring because it shows us that there’s glitz outside more traditional outlets like TV and film.