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The Jester Interview: Devon Coleman and D’Arcy Erokan

D’Arcy Erokan and Devon Coleman began working together in fall 2004 after meeting in an Upright Citizens Brigade Theater improv class. Since then, as the duo called Frowned Upon, they have channeled those improv lessons into an improvised talk show called Cocktail Hour, a sketch comedy show called Jetpack Go!, and most recently, a web sitcom, “Three Percent Enemies.” Coleman specializes in writing the duo’s material, while Erokan is the more visible personality in their work, especially the web sitcom. Jester spoke at length with the duo in early June -- at the very Starbucks location where they first independently met outside of class to work on their own projects -- about their comedic path to their present project and beyond, catching a lot of the type of banter they often channel into their material.

Devon Coleman: The reason we met here was because we were going to do … [someone else’s] show; he never really got into the whole thing, but he asked me if I had any sketches and I did. … It was a Spiderman sketch about Spiderman’s daughter.
D’Arcy Erokan: I loved that sketch.
DC: But it’s a very premise-y sketch. He wanted me to get a girl from our class to do this. And I had D’Arcy, who would probably be pretty good for that, and so we ended up meeting, here, to discuss that sketch, and I vowed …
DE: We sat at that handicapped table, keeping it from some poor handicapped woman, I’m sure, and we sat and talked, talked and talked, and five hours later, I said, ‘wait, don’t you have to go to work?’ And he said, ‘Nah.’ He quit his job.
DC: The job was at a Borders. Like all great historical documents I don’t remember exactly what was said, but by the end of it, we decided to be a team. I don’t remember any of the bits. And the name ‘Frowned Upon’ …
DE: Frowned Upon is Darcy and Devon, but like ‘Mr. Show.’
DC: It’s like the Bat-family. There’s Batman and Robin, and there’s Batgirl. But at that point we were still part of ‘School Night,’ and we needed a name. I had two names -- ‘Last Year’s Power Couple’ and ‘Frowned Upon,’ and D’Arcy like Frowned Upon, and I said let’s do it. We had no idea we’d still be doing this four years later. If we did, we’d probably still be trying to think of a name. It was a one-shot thing, we needed a name for School Night.

Jester: How long have you been working on the sketches that you had and brought into Frowned Upon?
DC: Some of it was from college. They were a little like one-act plays I had written in college, and a ‘Futurama’ spec I had written. That was in there. The sketches I started writing when I did level 1 because I met one or two people who were interested in doing shows and it never really happened so I wrote these sketches. Interestingly enough, we’ve never done any of the sketches that I wrote that were in that packet. We pretty much just did a brand new show. The original show was called ‘Triangle of Suspicion,’ at Gotham City [Improv].

But first we … did a couple open mike nights. We took premises. We did a radio show thing as ‘Buster and Samantha,’ who were morning show people.
DE: You were so mean to me, why were you so mean to me?
DC: That was our thing. I was kind of a jerk in that show, and she was really nice. That goes back to UCB and our improv class -- we established that in the class. We only did one scene in class together and it was about me being a bouncer at a dentist’s office. You were British. You were not very smart and I was mean.
DE: That was probably not a good scene -- a lot of conflict.
DC: But it was the genesis of our entire dynamic. A sad, smart person and a happy dumb person is what we do.
J: Do you want to amend that?
DE: What could I possibly say, we all know the truth.

J: When did you first do Cocktail Hour?
DE: That was first done at Juvie Hall. We booked a sketch show there and at the last minute, they told us the show after us canceled and we would have an extra hour. My thought was ‘Hell, no -- we’re not just going to do … so we decided to do a talk show.’
DC: Amey Goerlich, Jessica Delfino, Michelle Dobrawsky and a fourth person. Basically I went on Improv Resource Center and asked who wanted to be guests on a talk show. That’s how we got the people so I don’t have that clear a memory of it. Amey and Delfino did the show a couple times. That was after Gotham -- I went to Juvie and met Eric Marcisak. He was doing a ‘produce your own show’ workshop and I met him that way. Then we talked and he put up our show ‘Triangle Of Suspicion’ at Juvie Hall. That’s when he asked us to do another hour.
DE: He said, the sketch show was great but they wanted to give us a run of the talk show not the sketch show.
DC: Which didn’t have a name at that point. There had been a lot of happy accidents for us.
DE: We did Cocktail Hour … for a couple years.

DC: Later, Cocktail Hour went to The PIT. Alex Zalben had either heard about the show or seen it. We were doing midnight shows so not many people were really beating down the door to come to our midnight show. He heard about it somehow and e-mailed me and asked if we wanted to do Cocktail Hour at The PIT.
DE: That was a fun run at the PIT. It was our first time doing a prime-time show -- not trying to make people come to a show at midnight. So that was really fun.
DC: It was good because we had Saturdays at 8 a couple times there.

We had pretty much stopped doing sketch at that point. We were just doing the talk show. It was a difficult show to put together because we were doing it bi-weekly in character so we had to be working on the next show as we did the show -- getting the guests. By the time you saw it, we had dropped doing sketches.
DE: We were doing tiny little sketches in between. I loved them but we kept getting the idea that the actual talk show guests interacting with each other, and us interacting with the guests, that’s what [audiences] responded to.
DC: It was hard to get people to be characters in the sketches. … We also did Saturday Night Rewritten (SNR) at Juvie Hall for a little while too.
DE: SNR had a good framework.
DC: It kept you on your toes as an artist.
DE: It wasn’t memorizing a show that week, it was memorizing a show that day. I can’t even believe we did that when I think about it. It sounds unreal.
DC: Seat of your pants type stuff. All my sketches were very pun-based … All my sketches pretty much came from the “Joke and Dagger Dept.” of Spy Vs. Spy in Mad Magazine. I did “King of the Hills Had Eyes” and stuff like that, just things I could think of that minute. I was the “Weird Al” of the show. Actually I did a pretty good “Weird Al.” That’s where I met Lauren Zinn too. She was in one of my sketches, the Weird Al parody of the Michael Jackson trial. I wish I had never written that sketch.
DE: Why? I wish I was in it.

DC: That’s pretty much it. We did ‘Cocktail Hour’ at The PIT, and then “Jetpack Go!’
DE: Alex was not afraid to say, ‘We believe in you, go ahead.’
DC: We’ve been lucky in that sense. The places where we’ve done shows … have all been very supportive of what we do. They throw it out there and if we can do it, we do it.
DE: Devon would come up with an idea and then I smile really big, ‘How can I resist that smile?’
DC: That’s pretty much our racket, like the Pet Shop Boys’ song ‘I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks, let’s make lots of money.’ That’s our song.
DE: I have some brains [protests].
DC: I have some looks [laughs]. We all play to our strengths.

J: What’s your opinion of all these different spaces?
DC: We really like The PIT.
DE: We walked into The PIT and (sigh of wonderment). It has kind of sort of a backstage area, and they obviously clean up after themselves. We were pretty impressed by The PIT. It felt like moving into a mansion.
DC: Juvie Hall, god bless it, was kind of like a frathouse.
DE: It sure was -- it was a great place, fun and everything but ‘twas dirty and …
DC: It was fun in that sense, like ‘let’s get crazy.’
DE: Like let’s get crazy in the attic.
DC: Or the basement.
DE: We don’t have basements in California. … Or attics.
DC: Really? I guess you don’t.
DE: We have attics but everyone’s scared of them.

DC: The one important thing with ‘Cocktail Hour’ was we didn’t want people to come do characters because then it would be hard to differentiate between the sketches and the fake guests. We wanted the show to be fake in a sense and the guests to be real.
DE: So these two guys come on, and maybe they knew us for 15 minutes, and we would try to get in with our [questions] and they did their thing. They were the first guests, and when they were done, they just walked out of The PIT. … and it was so obviously that type of show where the guests would sit down and watch or take part in the rest of the show. But they walked out of the theater with their posse …
J: Their audience?
DE: Yeah, … so then we basically just talked shit about them for the rest of the show with the rest of the audience. It was awesome.
DC: We established a weird sort of back and forth with the audience from the first show, where the audience was OK with yelling things at us, just responses to questions and things. The audiences got comfortable doing that because we would respond to them and not just say ‘Shut up! Let us do it.’ The weird thing was … we didn’t have a huge following. We had lots of different audiences, but they would all do the same thing. It wasn’t like we had the same people coming back saying, ‘this is the show where we can talk.’ Something about us makes people comfortable saying things to us during the show. It never really happened during the sketch show, but during ‘Cocktail Hour’ it happened all the time.

J: You were creating a (rapport) with the audience when you were doing those shows?
DC: It is kind of our favorite thing to do.
DE: It’s like a bigger version of just us riffing with each other. The more the better. That’s our favorite thing to do with the Cocktail Hour, when we get on a tangent, just the two of us … and ignore the guests.
DC: We block out the guests sometimes, which is our sort of thing -- that it’s us, against each other, against the world. We would bicker a lot but if someone agreed with one of us while we were yelling at the other one, we would say, ‘What did you say?’ (escalating). We whispered to each other a lot on stage. The audiences were very kind to us. We did a lot of isolating them.

J: So you had some of your best experiences, and your worst experiences, all in Cocktail Hour?
DC: Yes, pretty much.
DE: Sometimes in the same show…
DC: That was another reason we (dropped) the sketches, because the guests -- people liked the interviews, but the interviews were an extension of me and Darcy riffing. There was that joy of not having to learn the lines, because we don’t really learn lines, even when we do sketch shows -- we’re good at turning a seven-minute sketch into a 13-minute sketch. It works sometimes. It works the majority of the time, but there’s always that risk of getting too insular, I think.
DE: There’s a (chance) we can turn something into a 35-minute sketch. I don’t know where the nuggets come from.
DC: For some reason we don’t write it down ever. … Despite it being a sketch show it’s probably not going to be the same show twice.

Continued 

   

     

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