As creatives, we’re encouraged to think outside the box, prompted with loosey goosey questions like “If you could make anything in the world, what would you make?” and “What happens when you take away all the barriers?” These are great thought exercises, usually propagated by drama teachers with flowing scarves and extreme halitosis, but the hard truth of the matter is: real world creativity has a limit…and it’s always green. Yet, stunning creative feats can still be accomplished if the artist is talented enough to work within the confines of limited resources. In fact, it is often under these circumstances that the simplest and most laudable ideas are born. Anyone can make something cool with all the money in the world. Few can no it with next to none. Just ask Alex Herrald, creator and star of Business Time and a most strategic creative mind.
How did you get into comedy?
Alex: I got my start in comedy by watching SNL with my dad since I was a miniature creature. Then as a social self-defense mechanism in middle school, high school, college, and now.
Did ya get teased, Alex?
Alex: A little bit, there was a little bit of a harassment that happened that everyone puts up with. Every superhero has their special power and this is mine. I also started doing plays in high school to attract the attention of girls who I thought were the babes of 8th grade. I skipped soccer practice to audition for my first play and I got cast but none of these girls did. Which at the time was a real disappointment, but then when I started doing the play I realized there were other girls, too.
What was the play?
Alex: It was called The Man Who Came to Dinner. I think Nathan Lane did a Broadway revival of it like 10 years ago. It’s the old farcical comedy about this rich New York celebrity who’s in this small town over Christmas and has an injury and this other guy offers to house him and he brings all these different crazy characters from all over the world to this Christmas party. I played an Axe murderer. Beyond that, I did a lot of other plays and a few web series. So experience-wise I like to say that “I’m an actor who is also funny.” I wouldn’t call myself a comedian first. I feel like I’m finally moving into new territory right now with impressions. I always did impressions growing up but they were always second hand impressions like Will Ferrell doing Harry Caray or something like that.
I was doing Harry Caray 15 minutes ago in my office.
Alex: I used to carry around Harry Caray glasses in a jacket in college and at parties would just bust them out and start screaming. I have a very dim memory of going to New York with my friends and we were in the elevator at the Gansevoort hotel–not a place I usually frequent–and I just remember putting on my Harry Caray glasses and screaming and we were asked to leave shortly after that.
Are you in LA now or New York?
Alex: I’m in New York
Do you act full time?
Alex: I’ve worked at a restaurant as a server for about 7 years, ever since I moved to New York. They’re pretty great because I’ve worked there the entire time I’ve been here. I’ve been there longer than the head chef, longer than all of the managers. There’s like a busboy and a runner who have been there just as long. It makes it nice for scheduling because they have a certain amount of trust in me so I’m usually able to make any crazy acting schedule change work. I’m hoping for the day when I can do this full time and not have to go in there anymore and serve people fancy black sea bass and can just act all day, which would be pretty awesome.
How did this series come about?
Alex: I was first doing this web series called Wiggles with the awesomely talented Khristopher Knight, who directed Business Time as well. We did Wiggles for Channel 101 and we ran for 6 months getting voting back for show after show. Then we self-cancelled because it really started straining Chris’s pocket book and schedule. So we had to kind of bow out, unfortunately. Last night was the Channy Awards at Channel 101 and we actually won 5 out of the 6 awards we were nominated for.
Alex: Yeah it was cool, I won my first acting award since high school, I think.
And it was for Wiggles?
Alex: Yeah not for Business Time. Once Wiggles ended I was kind of going through an acting period where I had a couple interesting auditions but nothing was happening and I was getting kind of antsy and then I just realized I had this great production community from the Wiggles production crew that could help me make anything if I really wanted to. Everyone was just so nice. I came up with a couple episodes really fast and offered Kristopher like $500 to do it and when I showed him my ideas and asked him if he could do it he told me, “You’ve been working for me for free for a year and I think this is hilarious, so I wanna come and do this.” He even came on as a co-producer and helped shape the show and spent a lot of his time for free doing it. He’s just a super talented guy. I feel like it’s so much more well-polished and put together than if I had just put it together myself.
What made you want to do this specific idea?
Alex: Well, I had a couple of ideas I was playing around with but it really came down to practicality. What I had to work with was where I was trying to write from. We filmed in this huge office space where we had filmed for Wiggles and Kristopher had freelanced for this company in midtown Manhattan and on the weekends, so he would get the entire floor for himself. So right off the bat I knew I had a place where the production value was a million times better than it could’ve been. I feel like there are so many web series where people film in their apartment because they already pay rent for it. But I didn’t want my web series to be another actor trying to make it or another web series about goofy roommates. So I’m like “What other kind of world can I have this live in where I don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to build a set or rent a location?” It worked out perfectly with this office space. I was also just trying to think about, if I was going to act in my web series, what’s a role I would want to play? I also had a nice suit that I really wanted to showcase. It was mostly about looking good in a suit.
How much money did you spend on it, if you don’t mind my asking?
Alex: It’s somewhere around the $1500 range.
And how many episodes?
Alex: There are 7 episodes and we filmed almost all of it in one crazy day.
Where did most of the money go? Craft?
Alex: Yeah most of it was for food and I took a few people out to dinner afterwards as thank yous. There was $500 that I spent in getting all of the footage into a rough cut kind of place because Kristopher didn’t have a lot of time right away to work on editing because he had gotten a full time job so I had to find someone else who could get the editing process started and get us in a good shape before we started the detailed editing process. That was actually Chris Donahue; he plays a minor role in this and was one of our camera operators. And it just so happened that he was in between jobs at the time so the editing work was really helpful to him. Oh and we also, have a rap music video in the 6th episode for which we had to get the editing done quickly so that was another thing we farmed out to someone. I was surprised how quickly the food budget can add up but when you’re making something so low budget ya gotta keep ‘em happy with nice food whenever you can.
Did you write all of this or did you write with Kristopher?
Alex: It was interesting. I wrote them last spring, I wrote about 20 episodes all together but I had no history on screenwriting at all, I just wrote it in the notes section of my MacBook with no kind of formatting at all, which I’m sure was madness for him to look at because he’s a total professional. Also, the two main characters have the same name so I just had both the characters be A or B and I would send the scripts over to him once I finished them and he helped me figure out how many I wanted to do, how many I could do, and how many we could reasonably accomplish in our time period. We also wanted to make sure that we weren’t repeating any jokes in any episode and that no episode was similar to another. We tried to whittle it down to what was unique and what was funniest. He would send me notes on each episode and then we would do rewrites up until when we were filming. He was really helpful with helping me learn how to use Celtx and how to write dialogue and write for visuals.
What’s next for you, both in terms of the series and personally?
Alex: We’ve been getting a great response and we’ve had a connection at Funny or Die who did a nice little feature on it which helped get us a few more views. My friends in the UCB community have been saying really positive things so I’m hoping that we’re gonna take a little more time and get some more people to see these episodes that we’ve done and then write some more and film some more. Try to figure out what would be different if we did a second season. I’m not really sure what that would be yet, it might be a change to a new office, or some new characters, but for me what I like about the idea is that each episode can really be about anything. With these guys, the comedy comes from how passionate they are about the oddest things and how serious and emotional they can get about everyday things. And also that they don’t really ever get any work done. They’re in this little bubble by themselves and there are probably people around them getting work done but they’re just having these dramatic happenings.
It’s very Tim and Eric’y. I imagine you like those guys.
Alex: I do and I’m a huge Childrens Hospital fan.
This feels like something you would see on Adult Swim.
Alex: Yeah and like Comedy Bang! Bang! We hope to make some more episodes and we might also make some new Wiggles episodes as well. The recognition we got at the Channel 101 Channys kind of relit a fire that had gone out for a while, but that would be really cool for us to re-explore.
What advice would you give to people looking to break into the web comedy space?
Alex: I would say: first of all, don’t just assume that you have to get a Kickstarter put together and raise an extravagant amount of money. I think what’s very helpful to do is to take stock of your relationships with people who are doing similar things and try to figure out what you can put together instead of just throwing money at the most expensive people and equipment you can find. I have nothing against using Kickstarter for productions, but I think a lot of people feel it’s such a hurdle to do any kind of self-generated work. It is so intimidating and that’s why I didn’t do it for so long, but you just have to work with what you’ve got. That’s the best way to go about it.
With that, here are your three reasons to watch Business Time.
Episode #1: It’s Business Time
I’ve never met a pair of Genes I’ve loved to watch more than Gene (Alex Herrald) and Gene (Curran Connor). Their chemistry is top-notch TV-grade.
Episode #2: Bananas
Business Time is one of the weirdest, most incongruous series I’ve seen, and it’s going to be missed by a large swath of the viewership because it’s simply “too weird.” That’s fine. It’s just this kind of unbridled oddity that will allow Herrald to continue creating unabashedly original, quality work. Eventually, I’ll bet his lack of shits given for traditional comedic form will be rewarded on a larger scale than this column.
Episode #3: Crunch Time
Lots of people try to channel Tim and Eric. Few but Gene and Gene are worthy, and even fewer are as capable of expanding on the elements in that insane repertoire.
Luke is a writer for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.