From left: Jennifer Whalen, Meredith MacNeill, Carolyn Taylor and Aurora Browne Image by: CBC
What do you get when you bring together four comedians—who also happen to be women and best friends? A hilarious sketch comedy show for women... and just about everyone else.
The four stars and writers of CBC's Baroness von Sketch Show, Jennifer Whalen, Meredith MacNeill, Carolyn Taylor and Aurora Browne, are gathered together at Toronto's Gladstone Hotel writing the second season of their hit show and chatting with me on speaker phone. Their voices tumble over each other as I call out, "Say your names first! Please!" so I can know who's speaking and when—though they often forget and I've probably wrongly attributed all of the below quotes. (Just kidding. I'm fairly certain I got it right.)
It's obvious they're great friends and that the comfortable nature their relationships contributes to their ability to create great comedy. "Working with people you've known for so long is fantastic," says Carolyn. "You have a shared point of reference and you understand each other's comedic styling and aesthetics and taste. Part of the challenge in a writing room is to be comfortable with the people you're there with. Already having the connections means you get to skip all of the getting-to-know-you stage."
Below, we chat all about great ideas, choosing the write sketches and, naturally, most embarrassing moments.
How do you know when you've landed on a great idea that will resonate with a lot of people?
Aurora: When a sketch is really singing, it’s hard to describe. Sometimes you write a sketch that is beautifully structured and has a really clear point of view and it lands like a thud. And you can have another one that’s super silly and bizarre and it just works. There’s no foolproof way to tell, but something that really makes us laugh, first of all. We’ve also found that the more personal and truthful we get to something that we really know, the more it has a chance of resonating with other people.
How do you pick the sketches that make it into the show?
Carolyn: We probably wrote 300 sketches for season one and 90 made the show. It’s all about listening to the ideas. Is the idea relatable? Does it come from a true place? It doesn’t have to stay at a true place—a lot of our stuff goes to absurd places—but is it rooted in some element of truth? Can you point to it and say, oh I see myself in this character, or my sister, my mother, my cousin or my friend? And does it have some level of intelligence? We think our audience is smart and we want to make our friends laugh, who are smart people. Not to say all our sketches are super smart, but we aim high.
Do people ever wonder if you've written a certain sketch about them?
Carolyn: That's our culture; we all make it about ourselves. Even if there's a sketch with someone's name, like Janet, they'll say, Oh! Did you write that about me? It's like, No! We ran out of all other names we could possibly think of.
Meredith: It's a bit of a compliment, because that's the point of the show. We want people to watch it and see themselves or see their friends or parents.
Are there any topics that were really important for you to cover?
Carolyn: As a queer woman, it was very important to me that there be gay content in the first season.
Now for the juicy stuff! Do you have a most embarrassing moment that you can share?
Jennifer: I think all of my most embarrassing moments revolve around nudity. This one happened a little while ago: It was a hot summer day and I was going to park my bike. This gust of wind came out of nowhere and blew my skirt over my head and I thought, Oh my god. That is so embarrassing! I quickly looked around and thought I got away with it. But then I see there's a plate-glass window of a doctor’s office across from me... with just one person in the waiting room. It's a nun—just this little full-habit nun with a shocked little face. This is why I’m a writer. These things happen to me and I have to do something with them.
Carolyn: We were doing a sketch for episode three, I think, and I was supposed to be climbing over everyone looking for an outlet, trying to plug in my computer. So I’m climbing over everyone and by the time I get over Jenn, a fart came out. And of course we had to finish the scene and everyone held it together. We were filming and had to get the shot because we were running out of time. I mean, that's not really what you want to happen on camera.
Aurora: I don't think any of my most embarrassing moments are fit for publication...
Meredith: When I first had my daughter, I had hemorrhoids. So I went to the pharmacy to get hemorrhoid cream. There was a young male pharmacist and I felt like I was being seriously judged. He seemed really shy and awkward and he wouldn’t look me in the eye. I had my own internal monologue going on. “You’re supposed to be professionals here, not me. You should have a lot more class than you have right now.” Then I went home and realized, Oh my god, there’s poo on my neck.
Curious about the show? Watch this hilarious sketch: