With short form comedies being the most popular genre of indie web series, how does a filmmaker concoct an entertaining product that grips the viewer in seconds? How can any comedy show creator make audiences laugh as much at eye-popping sight gags as they do at funny dialogue?
The co-creators of the bizarre yet visually appealing sketch comedy MARMALAISE have responded to those questions by making a series where headless pajama wearing housemates, beer-guzzling werewolves, perverse puppets and other oddballs unite in a dizzyingly paced series of offbeat skits and music videos.
Conceived by longtime friends/actors Nick McAnulty and Sean McKay, MARMALAISE’s six episodes (all on YouTube) appeal to anyone who thinks comedy should be as much of a feast for the eye as it is a feast for the funny bone. A substantial part of that appeal comes from MARMALAISE’s wacky characters, some of which are played by McAnulty and McKay.
“The two of us play The Pajamas, who receive a mystery VHS tape on their doorstep. Sean also plays (notorious serial killer) Charles Manson, who (in MARMALAISE) is a laid back music lovin’ surfer dude, quite unlike the monster he was in real life,” recall MARMALAISE’s co-creators. “Nick is usually hidden behind the camera doing voices like Tab the puppet and Bob the fish, except for when he’s partying as ‘Bier Wolf’, who is a party wolf that, as his name suggests, really loves beer.”
McAnulty and McKay also tout the talents of their collaborators, whose characters in MARMALAISE’S cast fit in perfectly with the eccentric vibe of the series.
“Paul Rost plays Dinky, the world’s worst clown, as well as the show’s villain, ‘Can’t You Read Man,’ who is a musclebound enforcer who hates when people don’t follow the rules. Jesse Todd plays all of our historical figures, as well as Frank the fish and a bunch of the talking food in the show. Branko Salinovic (plays) Cob the puppet and “A Dracula”.”
McAnulty and McKay’s creative influences for MARMALAISE include Jim Henson and his iconic Muppet characters, plus the upside-down surrealism of PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE and REN AND STIMPY. Yet, their motivation to put MARMALAISE on the screen came from a deeply personal source.
“The real inspiration (for MARMALAISE) is all the stuff we’ve bonded over after being friends for over 25 years,” McAnulty and McKay remark. “Previously, we worked together on the short-lived animated series HERE COME THE PAJAMAS and this was the next logical step to us in how to build on some of those ideas that we liked and create something bigger, better and weirder. We were really looking for a way to showcase ideas we’ve each had previously as well as the many (and sometimes hidden) talents of our friends.”
During pre-production, authentic sources of inspiration were plentiful for MARMALAISE’s performers and crew. “…The series was frankensteined together with ideas from silly drawings from old high school sketchbooks and from sharing ideas back and forth in the form of hundreds of text messages, emails, phone calls and meet ups – jotting down every idea that came swimming into our heads,” add McAnulty and McKay.
Though the creative process for MARMALAISE had as much trial and error for McAnulty and McKay as it did for their peers, their respective skill sets helped to smooth out the rough spots that popped up in every potential concept.
“We would pitch each other ideas and they would either die right there or we’d start down the path of expanding on them,” McAnulty and McKay reply. “We come from two very different backgrounds in film (Nick) and design (Sean) which allowed us to bring two different styles and strengths (that) we mashed together.”
Though every episode of MARMALAISE starts and concludes within 5 minutes, the series’ rapid-fire vignettes take audiences on a quick yet hilarious ride.
“We wanted to create great worlds and characters, get in a good moment or two and then move on to the next bit leaving people wanting more instead of growing bored and impatient,” McAnulty and McKay explain. “MARMALAISE comes into each episode swinging and breezes through half a dozen different segments before you can even blink.”
Considering MARMALAISE’s all killer-no filler speed of comedy, McAnulty and McKay labored to make the show’s skit to skit transitions seamless. “One big challenge was trying to cram as much as we could into each episode which meant we couldn’t rest our laurels on how great one segment came together because it was only going to last 30 seconds before we’re on to the next skit,” they remember. “Running time and number of episodes didn’t seem big, but it added up quickly when we realized how many different skits we were actually doing.”
While time management concerns were on McAnulty and McKay’s minds throughout production of MARMALAISE, so were their worries about capturing perfection in each skit. “You’re literally gluing on the finishing touches to costumes and characters at the same time you’re setting up the shot they’ll appear in. While you’re worrying about making sure you can get things done on time, you’re also worrying about making it great – does this shot work? Was that funny enough? Will people find this man and giant cat off putting?”
Adorable puppets populate MARMALAISE, but when they’re used in a show whose style its creators describe as “digestibly weird”, no one should expect anything close to childlike innocence from any of MARMALAISE’s characters. However, as McAnulty and McKay note, the “homemade” construction of MARMALAISE’s puppetry allows for discarded inanimate objects to be rebuilt as new puppets.
“A lot of the visual elements come from seeing treasure in trash. So many of the elements were built from filling shopping bags with random stuff from various dollar stores and then going home to try and mash it all together,” the series’ creators say. “Where you see a yogurt container, we see the shape of a new character’s head. Where you see a couple of fish heads, we see two new cast members.”
Another pivotal layer of MARMALAISE’s “digestibly weird” mix is its original songs and score.
“The very talented Charlie Hack composed a wide variety of themes that had to range across so many different styles and genres that still felt coherent when stitched together,” McAnulty and McKay add.
When added to MARMALAISE’s visuals, what you hear is as impressive as what you see. Says McAnulty and McKay: “Music was so important to us that we literally have an animated Charles Manson stop the show just to point out what he’s listening to! Wes McClintock plays (and recorded the fantastic music sung by) ‘Mouth Eyes’ who is literally just that – a man with mouths for eyes who sings catchy earworms.”
McAnulty and McKay consulted frequently with the other members of Team MARMALAISE to make sure the show’s brief comedic asides were unique to each other.
“It was important for us to make sure that every skit had its own look and feel, too. We would figure out what elements we were using for each skit (stop motion, green screen, puppetry, etc.) along with how it would look and sound,” says McAnulty and McKay. “We also got a lot of input on stuff from our cast and crew which really helped make everything come to life even better than what we’d imagined in our heads.”
Though MARMALAISE has the same proudly bizarre approach to comedy practiced by sketch-heavy shows like WONDER SHOWZEN and TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!, McAnulty and McKay believe fans of fast-paced dark humor will get a taste of MARMALAISE. “We think there is an audience out there for this type of show and our hope is that they find it and enjoy it, and hopefully anyone who watches it gives a second thought before breaking the rules of any sign they come across.”
(NOTE: MARMALAISE’s creators say that they will work on adding closed-captioning to the series.)
ON THE WEB: http://marmalaise.com/