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The Jester Interview: Becky Drysdale

In the past two years, Becky Drysdale has become an acclaimed member of the New York sketch and improv comedy community, all while focusing on solitary enterprises like her one-woman show, ďOne Woman In Several PiecesĒ (review) and a Web sitcom starting next month on HBO.com, ďTime Traveling Lesbian.Ē Sheís also a regular in the Magnet Theaterís ďUnder The InfluenceĒ and ďMade Up MusicalĒ improv shows, as well as the Upright Citizens Brigade Theaterís ďLetís Have A BallĒ all-star improv show on Saturday nights. Drysdale spoke with Jester about how she is navigating the world of Web comedy content and her evolution as a performer.

Jester: Does HBO intend to make its own inroads into Web-only programming?
Becky Drysdale: They have a broadband department now and are trying to get content for it. Like a lot of networks, they are trying to figure out the Internet comedy landscape thatís growing so quickly. When things like YouTube are out there, the networks are trying to figure out how to harness the popularity of that kind of content -- like SuperDeluxe, Channel 101 and Channel 102. Theyíre purely Internet networks. Comedy Central has Motherload.

The networks are really trying to crack the code. Some are doing it very successfully and some are just starting. HBO is in the beginning stages of it. But that works out well for me. I had a relationship with them for the past 2 Ĺ years and was in a development deal with them before my pilot idea kicked the bucket. This project started happening within that project accidentally, but itís been really fun. But HBO is trying to develop more Web content and have their own Internet designation.

J: Does working with HBO lend a certain stamp of approval to something, or a cachet, rather than just putting something on YouTube?
BD: There is an advantage to it -- one, that it was paid for! And it has that HBO banner on it. The disadvantage is that YouTube is really the peopleís network and thereís more freedom with that. No network has the distribution machine that is as trafficked as something like YouTube. Thatís one of the things networks are trying to figure out -- how they can get that kind of traffic to their site and content as they develop through the Web.

This is my first foray into this kind of stuff. Iím just really happy to have some content on the Internet thatís really well produced. But I never could have done that on my own. And these Internet deals -- theyíre not doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for these things. Itís a very cheap way for them to get a lot of content. I feel like there are a couple series now on the Internet that are being used as pilot presentations. These kinds of things will partially replace the pilot altogether. People can develop their own produced material and use that as a sketch for a pitch. Itís a very good idea. I plan to do it.

HBO will own Time Traveling Lesbian for two years, and then maybe they want to do something with it or do more episodes. Maybe then I get the rights back and use it as a pitch for somewhere else. I was just excited to get something on the Internet that looked good and was well produced and had some backing behind it.

J: From a performerís point of view, is that how you make material stand out among Web videos?
BD: I honestly donít know because itís my first time doing it. Until now Iíve very much been a live performer. Then I did this deal with HBO and wrote a pilot for them. My one-woman show was part of the development process for the deal I did with HBO. After a very long time, I finally wrote the pilot and after an even longer time, the whole deal finally died. But that was the first time I had ever really been in a development process. This is all new to me and Iím learning it as I go which Iím really thankful for. Thereís the people who dick around at home with their video cameras and then now there are machines set up like Super Deluxe or Channel 101, where thatís what they do. But there also is a chance for someone who has a video camera and a couple friends in their backyard making stuff, if itís good enough, they have a chance to do that too. Thatís whatís scary for the networks too, because if stuff is good enough, it will get seen.

South Park started as a five-minute Christmas card on the Internet. Thereís something to that. South Park was the first example that I know of, and that was years and years ago, before people even knew how to put videos on the Internet, and now anyone with a decent enough computer can do it. Itís exciting. Itís a really cool thing, to be around and doing comedy or doing anything when the Internet is this developed -- itís like being around when radio was invented. Itís a whole totally different kind of communication and distribution. Now by the time youíre a sophomore in college you know how to do it. The networks are trying to catch up. With iTunes and the rest, itís a different machine. Itís exciting. If a 16-year-old kid makes something really good, and puts it on YouTube, and gets attention from it, thatís great.

J: For you, do some ideas work better as filmed sketches or Web videos than as live stage pieces, or vice versa?
BD: Absolutely. The danger now Ö people are peppering their live shows with Internet-friendly content and itís difficult for people to do mostly live stuff, because itís very easy for a network to look at an Internet short in a show and just put that on their Web site -- put a bunch of them together and they have a sketch show. As a live performer, Iíve noticed that the people who have been going to Aspen in the past couple years [home of HBOís annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival] -- I went in 2005 -- is that thereís a lot more Internet-friendly content. It makes network development executives not have to use so much imagination to figure out how to translate something to the screen because that work is already done. People coming out of college or who know how to generate a lot of that kind of content have a huge advantage because they can show what it will look like. It makes it a lot easier to sell it.

Right now, half the people know what theyíre doing and half the people donít, and people are taking advantage of that in either direction -- if the performers know more than the networks do or if the networks know more than the performers. Itís an exciting time of a new thing. I definitely got the better end of that situation and was really happy with the way my deal went down with HBO on this project. On the other hand, it pisses me off because I know a lot of people who are really talented sketch performers, and some people come in with a bunch of videos and get a show. Thatís a shift thatís happening too. There seems to be a different category of stuff. What happens to a live performer when a college kid can make a half-hour of finished material thatís Web-ready.

J: Was your pilot originally your stage show, then it shifted to what youíre doing now?
BD: I did my stage show and the development deal after Aspen, and the pilot was a different idea. I had the Time Traveling Lesbian idea awhile ago and wrote a half-hour version of it, and was told no one would ever make it. So I wrote another pilot and worked on another idea, that I liked, that was built from a bunch of different peopleís ideas of what I should be doing. So I made a deal with my manager that I wouldnít pitch Time Traveling Lesbian, but I got to mention it at every meeting that I went to.

So it was in mentioning it in a different meeting with HBO that the broadband person was in the room and wanted to do it. Thereís a little bit of an ĎI told you soí wrapped up in there somewhere. By the time it came around to yes or no, I was so ready to be done with it. For the first year, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, and the last six months, it was please God, let this end. Itís hard because everyone thinks itís the most exciting thing in the world, but at the same time I was just sitting on my couch and waiting to work and wanting to be busy.

This little project which turned around in the course of four or five months was really fun, and made me happy to work on, and we shot it. Iím more interested now in actually working and being busy and doing stuff I think is funny rather than waiting two years for someone to give me permission to do what I want to do. It was a good learning experience, and I liked what I wrote. I think they have some Ö they get all this incredible talent and getting it from point A to point B is a little rocky. Sarah Silverman had a deal there for 2 Ĺ years and it ended and they didnít do anything with her, and she went to Comedy Central and they had a show on the air in six months. Development-wise theyíre one of the hardest places to be, but if youíre offered to do a deal a number of places, networks or HBO, of course you want to try to climb that ladder even though itís a really broken one. Why wouldnít I try for the possibility of having my own show on HBO rather than being in someone elseís pilot on CBS or elsewhere. It was reaching for the highest star and it didnít work. I felt good enough about what I did and how I handled the whole process that when it ended, I felt OK, Iím glad itís over, and I had the Time Travel show to shoot, which ultimately I was more excited about anyway.

Continued 

   

     

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