Casting ain’t easy, but it’s necessary: wise words spoken by…no one in particular, but felt deep down in the heart cockles of everyone who’s ever produced any piece of performance art. Strong writing is nothing without human vessels to bring those words to life. This is especially true in faux-reality content that lives and dies on characters who must inhabit a world much closer to the messiness of actual life than the delicately crafted chaos in most TV and film. When creators need real, they usually mine the improv set. Few have the cojones to stake their project’s success on a bunch of randos solicited on Craigslist, but The Amazing Gayl Pile creators Morgan Waters (Gayl Pile) and Brooks Gray are cut from a different cloth.
What are your comedy backgrounds?
Morgan: My start was making stupid videos with my video camera with my parents and then learning how to edit, learning what cuts to make and what music you could add to make it funny.
How old were you when you started doing that?
Morgan: I guess I was about 12. I think I did a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers spoof called Mighty Moron Power Rangers. Pretty advanced level of satire for a 12-year-old.
And you taught yourself to edit?
Morgan: Back then, it was editing using two VCRs so I taught myself.
Brooks: I guess I have a similar story, when I was in high school, any chance I could get to get my hands on a video camera, I took. It was basically turn every video that I was assigned into a comedy video and basically kept that going to university and met some like-minded buddies. They were majoring in film and I was a history major but I learned about everything by helping them out with their projects because I just naturally gravitated towards that. Just making videos and using those two VCRs to edit.
Morgan: And Brooks, you would do prank phone calls to religious call-in shows and mess with them.
Brooks: Yes, I am not too proud of that chapter in my life.
I would be extraordinarily proud of that chapter; that seems like the best chapter.
Morgan: There’s a prank element of Amazing Gayl as well because the people who are on air with Gayl don’t really know that it’s a joke, they think they’re really auditioning for a real shopping channel.
How did Gayl come about?
Morgan: I guess the idea came from how on home shopping networks people just have to blab about these products for hours and they have to keep it so pleasant that it’s kind of real creepy to watch. Especially if you’re watching it stoned, then you feel like you’re watching Reptilian Shape Shifters. It’s just so pleasant that you think, “Wow, there must be something dark going on in these people’s souls.” That’s where Gayl came from—the darkness in our souls.
Brooks: Also, the live element is very funny to us. Home shopping is pretty much one of the only live TV events any more, and shit goes wrong all the time. The fact that everyone has such a contrived and stupid happiness on home shopping networks, it just leads to that kind of thing.
When did you guys start developing this?
Morgan: I think all of us like low budget, terrible television and people trying to do things that they really aren’t that good at. A lot of watching home shopping and infomercials growing up went certainly into it.
Brooks: This is an idea that we’ve had floating around for a while,and then when we made it, we realized it was a perfect fit for Jash. When I was kid, I remember my grandmom watching the Home Shopping Network and always buying me stuff and just thinking it was funny. This is just something we think is really funny.
Morgan: And extremely creepy.
Tremendously creepy. What advice do you have for people looking to break into digital comedy?
Morgan: Just make it. Basically we have all the tools now, there’s no excuse anymore. You can pretty much do anything and don’t really need a budget. Just make it.
Brooks: I think there are tons of things out there that cost zero dollars that are super popular. Obviously ours has a bit of a production value because we were doing it with Jash, but there’s stuff out there that’s way way more popular than Gayl that was made super cheap. If you have an idea, find a way to make it cheap and make it.
Morgan: And learn how to edit your own stuff, that’s key too.
What other series are you into right now?
Morgan: Brooks showed me Esther with Hot Chicks and it’s pretty amazing. The blend of real and scripted is what makes it so good.
Brooks: I’m personally a fan of Broad City, the show and the web series. There’s so much great stuff out there. We’re fans of all the Jash shows as well. They’re just so many great web series out there.
Morgan: Too many. We want to take some of them off the web.
I agree, let’s slim it down. So, what’s next for you guys?
Morgan: We’re aiming for a season 2 of Gayl and then we’ve got a couple other series we’re working on, but mainly just trying to extend Gayl into a world dominating enterprise. Gayl towels, all branded Gayl products.
What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever ordered from a home shopping network or that your grandmom ordered for you, Brooks?
Brooks: She actually ordered me this polyester bracelet that you were also supposed to put your money in. When she first gave it to me, I was actually really unsure of what it was and she had to explain it to me. I wore it oncem in front of her, and then just put it away in a drawer forever. That kind of thing is just a pure invention, someone just made that and then I never saw it ever again.
Morgan: Wait, what was it for? To protect your watch?
Brooks: It was like a wristband that was really sturdy so you could put your watch in it, but it also had a zipper so you could put your money and stuff in it.
So, like a fanny pack for your wrist that also has a watch on it.
Brooks: Yes, a wrist fanny pack.
How did you find the people who were on Gayl as home shopping guests?
Morgan: We just posted on Craigslist, asking people if they wanted to be on TV and then just had everyone who responded show up and, when we filmed it, they thought it was live.
Brooks: We actually got some people who were really good and had goo chemistry with Gayl. Also, a lot of people who were not.
Morgan: There were some people whose personalities actually out-shined Gayl’s and that kind of got in the way when I was trying to do jokes with them. Trying to be in control and realizing that their real personalities are over powering your fake personality. It’s a real depressing wake up call.
And now, dogs and dogettes, here are your three reasons to watch The Amazing Gayl Pile:
Dark comedy is difficult to pull off in any medium, especially in a short-form digital series, because it’s a challenge to keep it authentically gritty without sacrificing an audience. Gayl manages to walk the line between weird and accessible.
The home shopping subculture is recognizable to anyone with a TV but, in comedy, it hasn’t been probed to the extent that other social niches—like hip-hop or acting—have. Deeper exposure to this new, weird environment is part of what makes this series so interesting.
Most of the people on this show didn’t know they were on a show, but we’d never know it were it not for Morgan and Brooks speaking up. That’s innovative production.
Luke is a writer for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.