“Even though I’ll assume from your two last names that you are a bro, I hope you’ll still enjoy our POV on this matter.” That was the last line of the email I got from #YouUp producer/writer/star Teresa Lee, turning me on to the series she created with writing partner Melanie Owens (DP’d by Alissa Crist and Alex Tepper). Despite my two last names, I made the transition from “bro” to self-loathing quasi-hipster during my Freshman year of college when a member of the lacrosse team yelled “Get a room, faggots” at me and my best friend, Sam, from the open window of his hunter green Rav 4. All this is to say that Teresa’s concern about my not appreciating her series was for naught – first because I’m not a bro and second because her collection of vignettes is so infinitely relatable for any twenty something living in New York, that I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying – or at least having a strong opinion on – her “POV” on matters of metropolitan womanhood.
How did you get started in comedy?
Teresa Lee: I studied screenwriting at NYU, but I didn’t really start in comedy specifically until I started interning at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and a lot of the writers all said I should take classes at UCB. So I’ve been taking classes there for two years now, and writing and producing on the side. And I actually did some stand up, which I really enjoyed but I just felt like wasn’t for me. All my friends are doing it every day and really want to be a stand up comedian. I want to write and tell stories. So I come from more of a storytelling side. Now I just do sketch comedy and improv.
How did the idea for this series come up?
Teresa Lee: Melanie is my writing partner in this series, and we do improv and comedy together and just through girl talk we realized that we were in situations where we had been with guys who didn’t want to define anything [relationship-wise] and just wanted to “keep it casual.” So we sort of came up with this idea inspired by this cycle that we found ourselves in. We were inspired by girls in their 20s who try so hard not to care. Generally speaking, I feel like that is actually very hard for girls. I’ve heard guys our age say, “I’ll sleep with a girl on the first date but I won’t respect her if I do.” And on our side it’s like, “Well, I wont sleep with anyone unless I really like them.” So that’s where the idea came from. It’s funny, but true, inspired by real life experiences. We just decided to write it out and make them into these little bite-sized videos that people can relate to.
And what’s the response been so far?
Teresa Lee: I have a lot of girlfriends coming up to me and telling me that they can relate and it’s funny. You can tell people relate to it because the premise is both very general and very specific – it’s a good mix of broad and pointed comedy. I don’t think the girls in our series are losing; we think of them as winning, even though they’re going through all this stuff, it’s supposed to be seen as triumphant that they’re going through this.
What was the thought process behind making them so short?
Teresa Lee: The thought process was that we’re writing for the Internet and we know that our audience is more of a broad audience. We know that this audience is more the Twitter-generation and a lot people watching are browsing on the Internet when they see it, so we wanted to keep it short. They’re almost like video-tweets in a way. You can capture each one in a sentence. We wanted to make them so short that you could capture them in one sitting or a lot of the time when people are watching it with their girlfriends they might think, “That happened to me too” and then they’ll share it.
What’s next on your project list?
Teresa Lee: We have a couple more of these written out so we definitely want to shoot more, but currently Mel and I are writing a live show and we’re actually shooting a pilot tomorrow at YouTube. It’s more of a hosted segment, done in that realm where we interact with other scripted characters. It’s called Sunday Morning Anxiety and it’s more comedy segments and guests.
And that’s gonna live on your own channel?
Teresa Lee: Yes. Right now we’re shooting tomorrow and then we’ll await our fate. But either way we want to get it off the ground so we’ll probably hear in a few weeks.
What advice do you have for people looking to break into the comedy web space?
Teresa Lee: I would say, “Just do it.” That’s the advice I got when I started. It really doesn’t have to be good when you start. You just have to care about it enough to make it. The first time you do something, it might not get anywhere. You just have to keep making things and sending them out. Also working with passionate people, I think if you surround yourself with those kinds of people you will naturally grow.
Do you have a specific strategy for promoting your work?
Teresa Lee: I produce a lot too so I’ll look at things from a producing standpoint and see case by case what I have to do. For this series, Mel and I decided we didn’t want to blast it on our Facebook. So we did a promo shoot and then we put it up a week before the series release. But these characters kind of have an “I don’t give a fuck” kind of attitude, so we try to put all promotion in that voice. We aren’t saying, “Please watch this.” It’s more like, “Ugh woke up hungover, fuck my life, watch this.” I think online promotion helps a lot with getting your web series out there. For this, we tried to keep it more on Twitter and not Facebook to keep with the voice of the show.
How much did you spend shooting #YouUp?
Teresa Lee: We shot this basically for free because we have friends who are in the industry. They helped us shoot it and they had their own cameras. Aside from that, we just spent money on pizza and McDonald’s. It was very low-fi.
And, your three reasons to watch.
Simple comedy is boring, unless it’s true comedy. Then it’s the best kind. (Stole that from Confucius.)
Everyone has found themselves in every one of the situations in this series (guys, don’t act like you haven’t bought your fair share of expensive Plan B). That fact is a testament to Lee and Owens’s adeptness at making relevant, subtle cultural commentary…that’s also very funny.
If you’re going to make a blackout sketch, you better make sure your joke target is damn good because you’ve only got one shot to make an impact. The #YouUp team understood this and delivered.