Comedians aren’t usually great at relationships. We’re hyper-introspective, natural loners who live in a perpetual state of mild discontent. When we’re around other people, we’re thinking about being alone and how nice that will be. When we’re alone, we miss the feedback of an audience and wonder if we’ll ever have one again. It seems clichéd, but that’s usually the funny M.O. and—mental health be damned—it often creates pretty decent material.
Things become more complex when comedians find another human with whom they want to spend their life. You know, like a real normal. Then the special brand of selfishness that drove them to do what they do needs to be altered, and that takes Trying. This week, actual, real-life married couple Laura Willcox and Don Fanelli bring us a pitch perfect, partially autobiographical series all about what happens when two very different people fall in love. Move over Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, this some real shit.
How did each of you get into comedy?
Laura: I’ve liked doing plays and all that kind of shit since I was a kid. I’ve always loved attention and performing and I feel like I got into comedy because being funny was kind of the first thing about myself that I liked, if that makes sense. I feel like a lot of people [me included] get into comedy as sort of a defense mechanism. I did theater in high school and musical theatre and sketch comedy in college. Then, as soon as I graduated, I moved back to NY and started taking classes at UCB right away. That was in 2008 and I started performing on a team in 2010, and that’s where I met Donald.
Don: That’s right. My background is a little bit different; I did engineering in college and did that for a little bit after college but was feeling a little lost. I had played music in high school and college, I was in a band, and I missed being on stage. I did some school plays as a kid where I was the lead and they were a lot of fun, but I didn’t really think of them as a thing. I did sports so I couldn’t really do any plays or acting in school. I was feeling lost after college and made a gut decision that I wanted to be on stage again and wanted to do acting. Then I met one of my dad’s friends who was an actor and we drove in from New Jersey to NYC and saw a show at UCB, and my dad’s friend told me, “You know if you take a class you can get on stage at the end of 8 weeks and see if you like it or not.” So I took a class at UCB and then really just went into comedy.
Laura: ..and became obsessed with UCB.
Don: I don’t know if I became obsessed right away but eventually I got bitten by the bug and really started committing to it hard core in 2008-2010.
Laura: I had worked in production, doing some production jobs like line producing for this small production company and it was really frustrating to work parallel to what I really wanted to be doing, which was writing and performing.
Don: I worked so many odd jobs before I got into comedy. I was a headhunter, a permanent substitute teacher, and then I moved to a middle school. It really was a crash course in humanity, I’d say. I think it really helped me in the long run. Subconsciously it’s there for creating characters and stuff. It really helped to teach me what not to do. I got introduced to a lot of great people and lots of not so great people.
Where did Trying come from?
Laura: It’s primarily based on how we really did first meet each other.
Don: We flirted with each other and really liked each other but in my head I thought, “No fucking way would we ever go out with each other.” Because we had never gone out with that kind of person before.
Laura: If we had met when we both were in college, we would’ve been repulsed by each other. Don’s neck was thicker than his body just from pure muscle whereas I probably didn’t own a single pair of high heels in college. We were really different people.
Don: We had been joking around about that and we also really wanted to write something together because we really like improvising with each other.
Laura: We felt like it was our own version of The Odd Couple. The series is based on a lot of the experiences that we both have had, especially during that first year when you’re dating someone and committed to them, but things are still new and you have to reveal sides of yourself that maybe you don’t love. You’re still trying to figure out how this thing works.
Don: We went through a lot of fucking shit that first year because we were so different. We were different people coming in from different backgrounds. There were a lot of funny things that happened to us that at the time didn’t feel very funny but, looking back on them, they were very funny. Some of the episodes are just based on real things that happened in our relationship and then we heighten them.
Laura: This was really therapeutic for us.
This is just really, really cheap therapy
Don: We have a lot of therapists, which is everyone who is watching.
What was the writing process like, did you guys write each episode together or did you split them up?
Laura: We would write most of them together.
Don: We complement each other really well when writing together. Normally we’d do one pass through and then the other person would do a punch up pass. Then we’d sit down together and improvise it a little and record it and a few of our jokes popped up out of that. Laura is really good at writing up a draft and I felt really good doing a punch up and writing in new little jokes.
Laura: We had to make sure the characters’ voices sounded like us. The first episode we wrote was the, “Meet The Friends” episode and we wrote it because we had the idea but then weren’t sure if anyone else would find it interesting. So we wrote that first episode and submitted it into this script writing festival at UCB.
Don: You’d do a stage reading of it at the end; it was a UCB web series writing competition.
Laura: We made it to the finals and then we won, so we were like, “Ok, other people find this relatable too.” So it seemed like “It’s not just interesting to us.” Hopefully anyone who’s been in a relationship can relate to this series.
I think it’s the most relatable thing.
Don: No one wants to compromise and it’s really funny when two people who don’t want to compromise want to be in a relationship together.
Laura: They are both very opinionated just like we are in real life.
I’ve wasted years of my life, believe me. So, what was the biggest challenge for you guys in making this series? I imagine you did it on a pretty low budget or no budget?
Don: Making it was the hardest part
Laura: We really believed in this and invested in this and, as a result, were able to get a lot of talented friends who helped us shoot, edit, direct.
Don: We have a lot of different directors and actors and friends who helped out. The UCB obviously has a plethora of talented people that you can call upon.
Laura: You start to feel bad because you wish you could pay these people what they’re worth.
Don: We feel horrible. Basically everything was out of pocket for us and we decided together we were gonna invest in this and maybe something will come out of it. As far as actually shooting it goes, it was incredibly fun and collaborative. We’re open-minded people and we love working with and improvising with other people. We definitely relied on the help of our friends.
Laura: “How do we make this not look like it has no budget?” That community did.
What other series are you guys watching right now?
Don: I really love The Actress. Unique New York and If I Was In It. Will and Paul are great.
Laura: UCB comedy is putting out a lot of really great stuff. Gary Saves The Graveyard. I also love anything and everything that Captain Hippo does. We work with them a lot and they’re crushing it in the online world. They do really weird original stuff, and I feel like their voices are really unique.
Don: Everything looks good and they direct, shoot, and edit really fucking well. I always think funny comes first but if you can make it look good and edit it to look compelling, that’s always so impressive to me.
Laura: There’s a lot of stuff out there, which makes it really hard. There’s a lot of stuff out there and it seems like everyone has a web series, so why would you want to make one of yourself?
What advice do you have for people looking to do what you do?
Laura: If you can find a community of like-minded people, which for us has been UCB in New York, [that’s key]. We could not have done this without them. I couldn’t have made this or anything that I’ve done. It’s all been because of the community and collaborators I’ve been able to meet.
Don: On a smaller level, I always try to say, “Do what you think is funny.” Don’t put something out there just to try and impress people, you’ve got to be really jazzed about it. It’s got to make you not feel like you’re working. Whatever you’re doing, even if it’s not comedy, do it through your voice and through what’s interesting to you. Don’t be upset if people don’t laugh immediately, you might still be finding your voice. Start at the core of what makes you laugh.
Laura: If you’re doing this for yourself and spending your own money on it, it’s got to be because you’re excited about the idea and it’s got to be satisfaction in just making the thing, as opposed to satisfaction from the response you’ll get.
Don: No excuses just do it.
Only two episodes of Trying have been released, but we’re featuring it anyway because it’s that good. New episodes come out on UCBComedy, every Tuesday. Here are your two reasons to watch and, Jesus, there are so many more.
Episode #1: Ex-Girlfriend
“Weddings suck my dick.” Unfiltered phrases like these are just the kinds of things that spill out around the fourteen-month mark. In real life, they can be pretty make or break. In this series, they make you laugh out loud.
Episode #2: Meet the Friends
Opposites often attract. They don’t usually stay together very long. Trying episodes like “Meet the Friends” nail exactly why.
Luke is a writer/director for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.