27 Dec 2013

Web comedies

Writer/Director Tristram Baumber
A lot of comedy films and comedy TV series are rubbish. That's a fact no matter what country you live in. How Adam Sandler became a Hollywood star remains a mystery to me. As it stands the fact is that douchebag humour has become a hit in recent years, where deeply unlikable, hairy guys like the type who would pull your bra strap in high school,  are the protagonists.

However, every now and then there's a comedy so good that it stays in our memory for years, you talk about it with friends and family, watch it regularly on DVD and even end up memorising bits of it.

This Christmas I've been introduced to an Australian comedy classic: "The Castle."  Although it's clear that it was filmed cheaply the movie is pretty funny.

I think talent comes through even when there are not many resources available. That's why I like to check out web comedies.

There are three Spanish web comedies I'm fond of: Enjuto Mojamuto a very surreal cartoon developed by the comedy team who also did Muchachada Nui, Malviviendo and Chica Busca Chica.

In Australia, an original and hilarious web comedy called The Cleanists has recently been launched. It premiered on December 8, 2013 on Showcase TV in the United Kingdom. I talked Tristram Baumber, its creator,  who, in addition to writing all the scripts directed the ten 5-min episodes that form the 1st season of the series.

How would you describe “The Cleanists”?Halfway between Great Expectations and Garfield the comic strip. But then I'd probably slapped for describing it that way and say The Cleanists is a surreal situation comedy following four partners in a house-cleaning company through their daily trials and tribulations.

How does it compare to other web series?There are a lot of different web series out there, with all kinds of different styles. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of web comedy series seem to have just one setting, often with only one or two people. I think ours is different in that we've tried to make a full-fledged sitcom and fit it into less than five minutes. I think it's worth giving a try if you're a fan of sitcoms in general, if only to see how well/badly you think we've pulled off fitting the form into such a short running time.

Do you think there’s a particular style to Australian web series? Would you say “The Cleanists” is a particularly Australian show?I don't think there's a particular style to Australian web series. Australians have made every kind of show and put it out there on the web and I for one salute the diversity of their ideas. It's hard for me to say if The Cleanists is particularly Australian. The humour in the script has been influenced more by American and British shows than anything Australian, I think, but obviously that's then coming out through an Australian filter. And then there are the actors, who interpret their characters in an Australian context that's going to be different to the way actors in any other country would do it.

What are your favourite TV comedies?I love shows like Curb Your EnthusiasmSeinfeld and The Larry Sanders Show. There's something unique in the American Jewish perspective that's just hilarious. The Simpsons has had some of the best comedy writing ever. Sketch shows like Saturday Night LiveUpright Citizens Brigade and most recently Key & Peele are fantastic for seeing writers and performers exploring ideas in a way that's freed of narrative concerns. Cheers and Blackaddeare excellent old-school comedies with great characters and classic stories and set-ups. The first season of Eastbound and Down is perhaps my favourite season of comedy ever. It's like this dark, depressing character drama, but it's hilarious all the way through. The first few seasons of British show Peep Show were great for that depressing humour too, which seems to be something I love. It's a big part of my great admiration for Chris Lilley's work, particularly Summer Heights High, which is brilliant. Currently I'm enjoying American shows Parks and RecreationBrooklyn Nine-NineCommunity,The Neighbors and Rick and Morty. So I guess it's mainly American stuff with a sprinkling of British. And Chris Lilley.

What are the biggest challenges to producing a web series in Australia?I think the biggest challenge for us was the feeling that we'd have to do it on our own. It didn't feel to us like there were many sponsors or channels out there that would stump up the cash for us to make a show. We just had to say "Okay, we'll make it all happen alone." Once you do that though, it's not that hard, because there are so many filmmakers, actors and crew people in Australia who just want to work. They're totally dedicated and desperate to do something other than wish there was a bigger industry.

What next?
Next we'd like to make another season of The Cleanists. I've started writing episodes and plotting out the season. If we can get some funding from somewhere, we'll definitely go ahead with it. I don't think we'd work on another season for free though. It's a hell of a lot of time and effort for something you're not being paid for.

Where can people watch The Cleanists?YouTube! The whole series is up at youtube.com/thecleanists. Or just Google "The Cleanists" and click on whatever comes up. It'll probably be us. People in the UK can watch the show on a TV channel called Showcase, who repeat the whole thing from time to time. We love the people at Showcase. They're amazing.

You can listen to an ABC Radio interview with The Cleanists team here: