In four years of doing this column, we’ve only doubled up on a show profile two times. Once for The Actress and now, for Charla Lauriston’s Clench and Release. So that’s two out of like 150 pieces. To beat those incredibly shitty odds, series not only have to be strong in their later seasons, but those seasons also have to beat their debut efforts. Clench’s second quadruplet of episodes certainly does that. More, it charts the early rise of a woman I believe to have one of the most exciting and original voices in comedy. For the second time on This Week in Web Videos, we are very happy to welcome back Charla Lauriston. Hell, we may even see her again.
What have you been up to since the last time we did this whole thing?
So much has changed. Literally right after the show was put up on Splitsider the first time I got a call from someone who wanted to be my manager and we set up a meeting and they signed me. Then, almost like a month into having a manager, Tina Fey’s production company reached out to me and asked me to submit a pilot and I was accepted and hired on to write for the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Then I decided not to go back for season two and had a few months of unemployment where I was pretty scared and unsure of what I was going to do with my life, and then ended up getting hired to write for Hannibal Burress’s new show. I really feel like I was a student of his. I think every standup comedian has one older comedian that they look up to and, for me, that was him. People like Hannibal and John Mulaney were the people I looked up to, so getting hired to write for Hannibal is one of the best things that could’ve happened to me. I’m so happy Clench was able to take me this far.
You’re an extraordinary talent.
I couldn’t have done it without people like you. If my manager didn’t see it on Splitsider they wouldn’t have signed me.
This season’s production values are crazy. How did you get a pharmacy and a short-order restaurant?
I definitely invested way more in this season than I did in the first season. I don’t want to say exactly how much it cost. I called in a lot of favors and that’s how it looks so much better, production quality-wise. As far as [specific] locations, the pharmacy came about because I was walking through Brooklyn looking for pharmacies and found this one that looked like it was independently run. That’s one of the things you have to look for – independently run places, because they might let you film in there as opposed to big name places which will never let you. I just walked in asked to speak to the manager and they were real nice. We paid them but we told them it was a web series and kind of lied and told them I was a student. We’re all students at some point, you know what I mean? They let us do it for like $100 an hour.
I feel like New York is really conducive to that. There are places you could go where owners feel happy that you’ve singled out their place and put a spotlight on their business. And we gave them a hard out. “We’ll be in at 1 and leave by 6.” We tried to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. The pharmacy was hard because it is a 24-hour spot, so there are always real customers coming in and we shot it in the middle of the day, because that’s when they wanted us to come in. And then, for the restaurant, my director J.J. Adler found a producer who found that place and then I did the standup part at The Stand. They were super nice, they charged us even though I really tried to pull some favors and get in for free because I had performed there before, but it was still really cool. I’ve found that in New York, if you want to get something done, people will bend over backwards for you.
So, I was at a show a couple of weeks ago. An all-female show and it was really bad. Terrible. I was with a couple female comedian friends and they agreed. But when we walked out of the theatre, all we heard were people praising it and it seemed like it was just because they were women. Do you find that some people view female comics through a different, too forgiving lens?
You can’t trick comedy; you’re either funny or not. Women are able to enter into comedy more easily now because the waters have changed just enough for them to get in and come out and do this now, even though they’ve always been good at it and always could have done it. Now that the opportunities are there, more and more of the culture and ideals are changing a little bit more, you can just be a funny person [regardless of gender]. Society has changed just enough to let women be more involved in comedy.
I think you’re right, but this show bugged me because I felt like the audience’s response cheapened all the women who really are funny because everyone was like “This was amazing what they did” and I’m just like “This is shit, this was a bullshit show.” I think that’s the core of the question. When you bring gender into comedy as a measuring factor, isn’t that shitty because it cheapens people who are really good and who are women and killing it?
I feel like some people are getting put on because this is how the industry is currently moving, but that that’s part of the progress. I feel like people shit on the industry for determining what is hot and what is not but I think it really comes from who is out right now and who is doing the funniest shit. Just because there’s a bunch of movies in Hollywood with women in it, like that awful Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara movie, as soon as the industry realizes something can make money they will always pounce on it, but that kind of stuff starts at UCB. Funny women and guys always start in comedy clubs or UCB and we knew it was funny before everyone else knew it was funny.
You can’t cheat comedy. Even if unfunny people get a show because of some kind of affirmative action, it’ll get cancelled because it’s not funny or something like that. In comedy, it really does come down to: Are you funny or are you not? If you’re not good, get your shit together. Especially if you’re in NYC because NYC is not as polite as other places, which is what forces you to either get good or get out.
LA is a little bit more bullshitty; I think you’ll see. Everyone is like, “Oh my God, you’re fantastic!”
Yeah, I feel like New York is a real boot camp. I’ve seen some of the best shows of my life in a basement or in the back of a bar in New York City. I think the best comics come out of New York City.
There’s a realness and a torture that comes from it.
Yeah. There’s just something about the northeast where no one is kind. Because then when you do something or put something out there, like this web series and you tell me it’s awesome, then it’s like, “Yes, I’m glad.” I had to work to get to a point to make something like that and New York made me that way and I’m glad.
That said, welcome to LA.
Happy to be here.
Here are your – and everyone else’s – three reasons to watch Clench and Release, Season 2.
Season 2, Episode #1: The Date
Lauriston is honest without being preachy, relatable without re-treading worn ground, and daring without sacrificing the narrative groundedness that keeps us caring about her.
Season 2, Episode #2: Plan B
Season 2 is a huge, expertly executed production undertaking.
Season 2, Episode #4: Sisters
Simply put, Clench director/editor J.J. Adler is terrifically skilled. What she’s done here—tonally and stylistically— achieves something we don’t often see in digital.
Luke is a writer/director for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.