Funny Business Goes Online

This article first appeared in the August/September issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription.

"NBC sent us an e-mail one day out of the blue saying ‘Hey, you guys want to make a pilot?’" says Luke Barats, one half of the comedy team Barats and Bereta (www.baratsandbereta.com). "Of course, we typed back as quickly as we could ‘Yes, yes, we would like to make a pilot.’" Barats’ and Joe Bereta’s lives were changed, and all because of online video.

The pair met when they were students at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. Both were members of a campus improv group, and Bereta was a broadcasting major. When Bereta needed to create some videos for a class in 2006, it seemed natural to record some of their sketches. They posted the results on a personal website so family and friends could see them.

And then their lives changed. YouTube was a rising cultural force at the time. One of the site’s editors picked the duo’s sketch "Mother’s Day" to run on the site’s front page on that holiday. The video exploded in popularity. YouTube featured Barats and Bereta on its homepage several more times. After that, they got an agent and a manager—and then NBC came calling.

Figure 1
Figure 1. A college video project by Joe Bereta (left) and Luke Barats blew up on YouTube in 2006; since then, they’venot only produced a run of successful online follow-ups but also been asked by NBC to produce a pilot.

"I’m sure we’d both be up in the Northwest right now, happily enjoying something completely different, if none of this had ever come about," says Barats. They weren’t trying for internet celebrity and might easily have spent their lives working in local commercial production. But a few well-received videos gave them a whole new career.

"The fallout is that we’ve essentially been able to make a living making online video ever since," says Barats.

Fast-Tracking Success
Online video has changed a lot of fields and professions, but few as dramatically as comedy. Sketches have proven to be the perfect medium for today’s viewer, who prefers video in short chunks (3–5 minutes) and appreciates an offbeat point of view. The most-viewed online comedy videos look like nothing you’ve seen on television.

With the wave of online video has come a new generation of comedy-stars-to-be. They just happened to be in the right place at the right time, ready to serve hungry viewers with short-form comedy. They’re young and multitalented, but that’s all they have in common.

Elaine Carroll had a background in theater and began getting more into comedy as a college student in New York City. She and four friends formed the sketch comedy troupe Dutch West (www.dutchwest.tv) in 2004. Working before YouTube came along, the group was one of the first to put sketches online, doing so to build an audience for its live shows. The videos got attention, more than the troupe’s members expected, and before long, they were hired by BudTV (a Budweiser site), SuperDeluxe.com, and Atom Films to create original web videos. They were being paid for their comedy, and they were still in college. "Anyone who wanted to get into the online comedy world, anybody looking for sketch groups out there, they kind of came to us and said, ‘Hey, are you guys interested in maybe producing some segments for us?’ and we definitely jumped at the idea of doing that," says Carroll.

She learned while she earned, getting lessons on the set that she couldn’t get in the classroom.

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