We’ve discussed the adage “write what you know” many times in this column and have provided well over 100 examples of creators following it toward fantastic results. “Write who you know” has never been covered and that’s a huge oversight on my part. While writing what you know allows for the construction of believable worlds and set pieces, writing who you know brings these to life through the mouths and motions of characters without whom there would be no story. It occurs to me after watching Samantha Schecter’s Small, Medium, Tall (starring Schecter, Danya LaBelle, and Elyse Brandau and shot by Russell Hasenauer) that writing who you know is the most important part of penning believable, nuanced material. So the next time you try to color a character, don’t think so much about celebrities on shows you watch or movies you’ve seen. Think about your friends, family, and co-workers and write to make alive the quirky brilliance that can only be inspired by real people.
How did you guys get your start in comedy?
Sam: I got started when I first moved to the city from Boston after college at the Boston Conservatory for Musical Theater. I moved here to be on Broadway and the month that I moved here I instantly started doing comedy instead of auditioning for theater and then I started taking sketch classes at UCB after seeing Sketchfest. I was super inspired after seeing that and took all the sketch classes, did that for about six months, did all the improv levels, and met all my friends along the way. I met Donny and Elise at One-on-One classes for camera stuff and it was fate.
Elise: I was that drama kid, always doing that stuff. I did theater throughout high school. Came up here to do American Academy of Arts and even in my scenes, my dramatic Tennessee Williams scenes, people would laugh. I remember the first night I came up to NYC, when I was in my dorm, everyone was getting together and saying, “You’ve gotta go to this show, we’re going to Asssscat, come see the show with us!” I went down into the UCB basement and I was like, “Dayum, this is… wow.” I was blown away but I kept saying “No, I’m going to be a serious actress,” but it always kept coming back to comedy. I graduated and a friend of mine who was working on some comedy shows was telling me that I needed to do more comedy. Just to have that person who was higher up believing in me inspired me to start taking classes at UCB and then everything else kind of snowballed after that.
What was the inspiration for this series?
Sam: I was working retail and there are all different kinds of people working retail and I became good friends with these two people, Jasmine and Whitney, who are real people in real life. They’re both into fashion and graphic design.
Elise: Not actors at all, but very funny people.
Sam: We always find ourselves talking about weird things that people wouldn’t normally say out loud, like something you’d say in your head or in your Tweet drafts. And I started writing them down, going so far as to copy and paste full text messages into final draft that were enough of a script for something like this. I wasn’t originally going to film any of it, it was originally going to be sort of a written down thing, but then when I met Donny and Elise, it became this really cool thing—a perfect dynamic that fit perfectly with what we were looking to do. From there it grew more into Donny and Elise’s personalities than Jasmine and Whitney’s and it’s become a way of really getting to showcase the things we weren’t getting to display in auditions.
Elise: Sam described Whitney to me and I was like, “This person doesn’t care she’s just out there living fast and loose.” But I’ve met Whitney and she’s a lovely person so it’s really become a mesh of the two of us. I like the scripts because they escalate and rabbit hole sometimes and just kind of go on a tangent. Just no filter.
Sam: Yeah they were all written with honest, weird perspectives and absolutely no filter. The sorts of things you want to say to other people but you cant because they’ll judge you. These two don’t judge each other at all.
What’s next for you guys?
Sam: Well as far as this series goes, I think we definitely want to do more of them. We’ll start a second season over the summer probably and it will definitely get weirder. We want to allow ourselves to take these characters even further. We’re already pitching ideas and coming up with more stuff. It’ll still have that same quick weird energy, just more so.
Elise: Yeah I think we can invest a little bit more so far as production values go. Let our stuff hang out a little bit more. Not to be extreme or brash, but just to be a little bit more like us.
Sam: Currently I have a running show at UCB Chelsea so that’s always something I’m looking to keep doing it’s called Womantown and I have another writing partner who I do a 2 person show with and we’re writing our next UCB show and working on some treatments and stuff like that. Just doing more sketch. Hopefully taking it to the big leagues.
Elise: I liked the response to the series. I wasn’t sure if it was too weird but we just decided to stay consistent and keep getting out content and it’s gotten a great response so I’m excited to keep going. I have another web series I’m going to drop called Lab Rats. It’s unscripted, clean comedy. I’ve also done a lot of shows at UCB like Characters Welcome and Sketch Cram here and there. My writing partner and I are also writing sketches and her and I are writing a pilot like series that we could either break up or make just one big series.
What were the biggest challenges in getting Small, Medium, Tall off the ground?
Sam: I guess we filmed these about a year ago so it’s been a long time coming. I’d say the hardest part was learning how to market the show. Because it is a little weird and we didn’t want it to be like Girls. And it’s not Broad City.
Elise: We are girls and some of the humor is specific to having a vagina but most of the humor comes from being a human. You could put any human in there, which is a different tone I appreciate a lot.
Sam: The other thing was deciding what tone we wanted the videos to have. The person who helped edit them did a great job of music with them and matching the cinematography imagery. It’s cool that each part has cohesiveness to it.
Elise: Russ edited them and put the music in, he was awesome. He’s got a YouTube channel and has a lot going on so after he filmed it he kind of had to put it on the back burner because of all the other projects. That was probably our main obstacle but we got a great person to package us well.
What other web series are you guys watching right now?
Elise: We’re big fans of Hot Mess Moves, we know the ladies very well on that.
Elise: Have you watched Hank at all?
Elise: Hank is amazing.
Sam: Triplets of Kings Country are kind of longer but they are weird and amazing. High Maintenance, obviously.
What advice do you have for people looking to break into digital comedy?
Sam: I feel like access to equipment is the hardest part and coming up with content isn’t easy but you should try to work with people who are better than you and let them inspire the rest of your work. Find something that really speaks from your point of view, even if it’s a character. Let your personal humor fuel the video content instead of trying to figure out what other people aren’t doing.
Elise: I’m realizing every day that I have so many opportunities to produce things because I have so many talented friends in all aspects of production and I’m a fool for not doing more than I am doing now because of the community that I’m in. If you’re the best in the room, be aware of that and then move to a room where you’re the worst. That’s in every book, period. Who said that? Abraham Lincoln probably. And if it isn’t your script remember to find the fun within it, you can tell when people are having fun. Commit to the bit; don’t let your idea die. There are so many ideas that I’ve let die because I just don’t do anything and I should’ve just jumped on them and did them once I got the idea.
Here are your three reasons to watch, friendly folks!
A comedy by girls that’s not for girls or about being a girl, Small, Medium, Tall will quickly shut up any one who says women aren’t as funny or as broadly relatable (no pun intended) as guys.
You can watch the entire series inside of 10 minutes. There are certainly exceptions to digital comedy’s brevity rule but let this be another mark in favor of the norm: shorter is better.
Schecter understands that strong, realistic dialogue is more batshit crazy than it is linear. The upshot is: watching Small, Medium, Tall presents characters you feel like you know, and you love them because of it.
Luke is a writer for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.