Happy 2015, everybody! Are you feeling reborn? Are you feeling resolute? Are you feeling insatiably horny? Good, me neither. Well, I’m kind of horny but that comes and goes. I’m also inspired after speaking with Abby Holland, writer and creator of The Return of Saturn (mightily directed and edited by Geoffrey Stevens). Motivated by a hard time in her life, Abby turned to creating as a therapeutic outlet…as many artists do. In the process, she achieved what many artists cannot, an honest picture of a life in the throes of crisis. She took a risk in putting her whole self out for the world to see and ended up with a brave series that’s as funny as it is crushing. Most of all, her efforts teach an important lesson: No matter what happens this year – good or bad – every single experience can be turned into a comedic positive if you’re willing to go balls (or vaginas) out.
How did you get your start in comedy?
Abby: I grew up watching a ton of comedy movies; I was obsessed with Jim Carrey as a kid. I was always the one making jokes in my friend group. Then, in college, I did theatre and then I started doing comedy and sketch at the end of college. My first improv group was called, “Yes, And” which I am very embarrassed about. After that I was like, “Yeah, I’m really going to try and do this comedy thing!” I was living in Buffalo at the time and decided to move to NY to take improv classes at UCB. So I came here and started taking improv classes and I actually got to be an intern at the first Best Week Ever and then I was hired on as a PA so I got to see a lot of awesome comedy happening on TV in New York, which was really cool. My goal once I moved to New York was to do comedy in whatever capacity I could. I’ve now been here for about 8 years doing comedy in various ways. I do improv, I’ve done musical improv, I write, I’ve done solo live stuff, I had a sketch show with my sketch group. I’ve always kind of gravitated towards video. Whenever I have a thought, my mind kind of just gravitates towards putting it in video form, like I see the shot in my head. I decided to push more towards the video stuff because I felt like I was better at it and I understood it more, it just made more sense to me.
How did this idea come about?
Abby: I was kind of really struggling in a way. I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life or my career. I had been in New York, doing it for a long time and I was like, “What am I doing? I need to not feel like shit anymore.” And I was going through some personal stuff, like break up stuff, and just going through the existential late 20s crisis phase.
One of my friends had told me about this term, “The Return of Saturn” and was telling me about how when you turn 30, Saturn returns to the same spot that it was in when you were born and apparently huge things happen to you and I was like, “Holy shit, that is exactly what I am feeling right now.” Originally I wanted to write a series about happiness and about what makes people happy. I really love philosophy too, my brother is a professor in philosophy and we always have these really cool conversations and I really love bringing that into my comedy, to delve into different issues and talk about really existential stuff. So I was like I’m gonna do this series about happiness and then it kind of molded into something else, which it is now. It has a lot of elements of the original idea. It’s about this time period so it can be about a lot of different things like career, sexuality, alcoholism, all of these things. The imaginary friend part came because I was feeling really confused and like nothing made sense in my life and I don’t know how I got to this but I was reading about how the actor who played Fred in the movie Drop Dead Fred and then that got me thinking about imaginary friends and how cool it would be to have one. Having an imaginary friend just show up and hang out with me made about as much sense as what I was actually doing with my life at that moment. Nothing makes sense in my life and the only way that I can show it is in this crazy fucked up way because that’s just how it feels to me.
The first 40 seconds of the first episode with you in that sort of exit/you’re fucking up interview was so, so good.
Abby: I love that scene so much because I really love weird shit. Not just for the sake of being weird, I want people to think differently and for this to open their minds. I don’t want people to be able to predict what is going to happen next. Do you get what I’m saying?
Yeah definitely. It feels like this show is heavily reliant on rawness and impulse.
Abby: I have these very weird things that I think of, but in my brain they make sense and I think, through the web series, I’ve been able to kind of show all of these weird things and finally be okay with doing it. A lot of the episodes I was really afraid to release because I was like, “Oh my god, people are going to think I’m really fucked up.”
Which one were you most afraid to release?
Abby: I was afraid to release the sexuality one and the one right after it because it’s very vulgar and is all about fingers in butts. So I was afraid obviously for my mom and my dad to see that and my brothers. I’m the youngest in my family and the only girl and also the youngest in my whole distant family so I’m seen as the baby. It’s a weird thing for those family members to see me do stuff like this because I feel like, in their eyes, I’m still just this little girl with big red hair and an eye patch, but now I’m getting better at being less afraid. Now I’m just like, “Okay, it’s out there, my mom still loves me, she doesn’t think less of me now.”
We have these weird hierarchical arrangements of parents not having the thoughts we do, but they do, they think the same fucked up shit.
Abby: I’ve only recently started to realize that. It’s been great. This has been great because a lot of the series comes from my real life so to be able to share that and then be open with my mom and then talk about it, it’s an opener.
That’s what life is all about. Fingers in butts. Did you find that this series helped you to come to terms with what you were struggling with?
Abby: Oh my god, yes! I just turned 30 in August and I feel like the bulk of the shitty Return of Saturn stuff has worked itself out and I feel better. Personally and also career-wise because I’m proud of myself for doing it and allowing myself to be vulnerable in a lot of different ways. Before doing this, when I was writing I just didn’t like writing in the traditional sketchy sketchy punchline punchline style and I just couldn’t figure out why I didn’t like it. I wanted to go a little deeper. A lot of things are sad but I want to be able to feel that sadness too and be able to make fun of them and then be on the other side and feel happy. For instance, my idea wit the behind the dances at the end was to show the fun side of myself. Sometimes the topics I discuss in the episodes can be a little heavy and I wanted to show that everything is not always so sad and you can be happy too.
And your three reasons to watch are…
2. Filmic quality
3. Guest stars
Episode #1: “What is Happening?” feat. Henry Zebrowski
There are a lot of moments in this series when we feel like Abby opened her laptop to keep herself from sobbing uncontrollably. That’s the best time to open your laptop.
Episode #2: “Beauty” feat. Lauren Adams
From music to direction to storytelling devices like voice over, The Return of Saturn feels like something larger. In addition to being attractive and unusual in the web space, this kind of scope gives a very heartfelt project the texture it deserves.
Episode #7: “Psychic” with Livia Scott
Abby Holland has a lot of very funny friends who trust her instincts enough to give their time to an unknown web series quantity. They and all others can now consider it known.
Luke is a writer for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.