Where does a brilliantly funny and original new web series come from? In the case of Very Mary-Kate, the imagined life of grown-up child star Mary- Kate Olsen, it started with an impression.
“I came up with the impression about 2 years ago. It was just this impression that I did for auditions. I really, really loved it. I performed it live a few times, and I got such a great response, I was like, ‘How can I develop this further?’” says Elaine Carroll, the comedian and actor behind Very Mary-Kate.
This magazine profiled Carroll 2 years ago, along with several other rising comic talents who were showing that online video was a shortcut to comedy success (“Funny Business Goes Online”).
Back then, Carroll was creating online shorts with her comedy troop Dutch West and auditioning for Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Today, while she’s still doing plenty of auditioning, she’s given herself a career boost by creating her own ideal role. After getting strong feedback for doing her Mary-Kate impression onstage, she took the character further.
“I thought maybe make a web series about one of the Olsen twins. Arbitrarily I just picked Mary- Kate. I didn’t really know a whole lot about their lives, because they’re remarkably private for people so famous and successful. There’s not a lot of coverage on them, and so that kind of gave me room to be creative and to make up this web series fantasy with this whole cast of characters,” says Carroll.
The series is made up of 2- to 3-minute comic shorts that show the super-rich, overly medicated Mary-Kate dealing with school (she’s majoring in ponies), her sister, and her bodyguard. It’s gotten attention from The Wall Street Journal and AOL, and its fame is still growing.
Carroll had a childhood anyone would envy: Her father worked for the company that made Girl Scout Cookies, among other varieties. For the record, she loves Somoas and Thin Mints, and yes, her friends were jealous.
She even got to play a part in the development of another major cookie brand:
“I was in my kitchen—me and my sister—when we were really little. We lived in New Jersey, and my dad came home with this box of prototype cookies that he wanted my sister and I to try. He was like, ‘What do you think of these cookies?’ And Sue (my sister) and I just loved them; we thought they were so good. It turns out they were the prototype to Teddy Grahams,” she says.
Both Girl Scout Cookies and Teddy Grahams seem like perfect metaphors for what Carroll does online: Her videos are sweet and so irresistible that you can’t stop at one.
“Fortunately, they’re fat-free,” Carroll says.
Creating a Show
Part of the reason Very Mary-Kate took off is that Carroll is already a seasoned veteran at creating humor for the web.
“I started out in the comedy world when I was in college,” she says. “I got together with a few of my friends, and we started making videos and putting them up online, and so I’ve been making web series for, gosh, about 7 years now and worked with CollegeHumor and websites like Super Deluxe and Bud.TV. I’ve been taking classes at UCB [the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater] and performing there for a while.”
While she’s been writing and performing in skits for years, Very Mary-Kate was the first time she took her own character and built a site and a world around it. It’s also been her most successful project.
While her impression might seem to have little to do with the actual person, Carroll researched the role before beginning her show.
“It was really sitting down and watching a lot of footage of them, reading a lot of interviews, watching some of their older episodes of Full House and some of their straight-to-VHS tapes, but it was also looking at pictures of them. They have a book that came out called Influence. They’re photographed all over magazines, and they have this kind of caricaturish sort of smile that I was able to parody,” explains Carroll.
All she needed were some outlandish kimonos, wigs, hats, and rings, and she was ready to perform.
“The character kind of came alive from there,” says Carroll.
To make her characteristic Mary-Kate expression, Carroll pulls her face to resemble someone who’s had a little too much work done
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