Sketch Comedy in the Time of COVID: A Q&A with Edmonton’s Girl Brain
Like all of Edmonton’s artists, sketch comedy group Girl Brain has had to deal with venue closures. That means they’ve become familiar with Zoom, which they've used to create comedic content for their new YouTube channel. We talked with them about what they miss, what they’ve learned, the joy of not wearing pants and their love for a certain prime minister.
When was the last time you were on stage in Edmonton?
Caley: February 29.
Alyson: It feels like centuries ago.
Are you going through theatre withdrawal? How’s the artist community holding up?
Alyson: We’re a little more optimistic, starting to feel better. I definitely think it made us realize how important it is to come together and experience theatre as a community. We’re all thinking about that and itching to get back. I cannot wait to be sitting in a theatre again, and sharing moments with the audience, whether we’re on stage or part of the audience.
Once the lockdown began, did you talk about starting a YouTube channel right away?
Caley: Not right away. We knew we wanted to start a YouTube channel and film some stuff. So this was a good catalyst for that. And then a friend of ours (and former Top 40 Under 40), Fred Kroetsch, approached us and said let’s use this new Zoom platform and see what we can do with it. So we wrote a bunch of sketches and have been doing that since!
How does the format change the comedy-creating process?
Ellie: It’s been an adjustment to kind of understand the medium and understand what it is to act together and produce stuff over Zoom. I feel like we’re finally starting to find our stride, but in the beginning, it was really challenging. It felt really counterintuitive, because so much of what we do is dependent on one another’s energy and the energy of the audience. And so to take both of those integral things away from the process, for me, I wasn’t sure if the whole process was worth it or working until we saw the final cut of the first sketch that we shot. And I was like, oh good, we’re still funny!
Alyson: And when you’re making comedy on film, so much of that is dependent on editing, and the comedic timing that goes into that. So luckily, Fred has that experience, and he’s a genius. It was like working with a fourth creative partner, because that was so much a part of the comedy.
Do you miss improvising, breaking and trying to make each other laugh mid-sketch?
Alyson: Yeah, we were just talking about that yesterday with Fred about how some of the best parts of our live shows are when we crack each other up, and you can really tell that we’re enjoying it. If something goes wrong, sometimes that’s the magical, most memorable part of the show. So we were just talking about how we can do that more, and maybe do a live Zoom sketch, somehow, but we don’t know how yet.
Caley: Also in a lot of our sketches, we’ve had some improv built into the process. And with Fred, there are definitely sketches where it’s like a straight run through recording and we see what happens.
How often are you planning to put out new videos?
Ellie: We’re hoping for about one per week, although that might be ambitious. We were chatting yesterday about different directions we could take the YouTube channel in, and the new sketches that we’re working on. So people can expect all sorts of new and exciting things.
Have you discovered any comedic advantages to Zoom, in terms of the technical stuff? I’m thinking specifically the FaceTime Date sketch where you make the camera pause while you hold an ugly face.
Ellie: So that was written into the sketch, but it was hard to communicate the humour just through the writing. So much of that was the offers Alyson was giving and her facial expressions that she was making, and Caley’s reaction to them, but you can’t write that on the page. And so I think it was kind of hard to trust that that one was going to be funny until we were all recording it together. And [our director] Belinda [Cornish] was giving suggestions, and so much of the success of that sketch was the editing by Fred taking the stuff that Alyson offered and knowing what to include in the scene.
The common joke is that the best part of Zoom is not having to wear pants …
Caley: It’s been so great to only get dressed on the top half!
… right, and it seems like you embraced this trend, at least in one sketch about your love for a certain prime minister. So, on the topic of no pants and Trudeau, if you could choose only one, would you pick his hair flip or goatee?
Ellie: Hair flip.
Caley: Hair flip.
Caley: Gosh, that hair flip was one of the sexiest things I’ve seen all year.
So the goatee is more to draw on yourselves, purely for comedic purposes, right?
Ellie: Well, we wanted people to know that we were Trudeau, and so we did our totally accurate goatees, and we looked exactly like him. I think Alyson started ogling herself in the mirror after seeing her reflection.
Alyson: We had no choice — it was during quarantine!
Ellie: Yeah, I mean if you can’t make Trudeau come to you …