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A Good Sense of HUMORdy

The filmmaking collective spreads the word of Austin comedy to the World Wide Web

By Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Oct. 12, 2012

Star chamber: (l-r) Kirk Johnson, Ramin Nazer, Mike MacRae, Sam Eidson, Byron Brown, Ashley Barnhill, Lizabeth Waters, Jack Dreesen
Star chamber: (l-r) Kirk Johnson, Ramin Nazer, Mike MacRae, Sam Eidson, Byron Brown, Ashley Barnhill, Lizabeth Waters, Jack Dreesen
Photo by John Anderson

"Who was it, Warhol or Huxley, who said '15 minutes of fame'?"

The question is asked by Ramin Nazer, this year's official Funniest Person in Austin, who knows very well who said that thing about 15 minutes but is commenting on the way the Internet can bestow sudden celebrity on the previously unknown – and maybe on how difficult it is to keep names straight in these days of constant information overload.

Nazer's not just the latest FPIA; he's also one-third of the triumvirate behind HUMORdy, a collective of comedians, actors, and filmmakers operating in Austin with the goal of creating comedic videos ranging from sketch to stand-up and song parodies to anything else they find funny at the time. The other two-thirds of HUMORdy's star chamber are stand-up comedian John Ramsey and a fellow named Ralph Smyth. Except that Ralph Smyth is actually four people.

OK, hold on just a goddamn minute.

Ralph Smyth Entertainment is an Austin-based film production company comprising the talents of David Ward, Andrew Lee, Bradley Jackson, and Russell Groves. Some configuration of this quartet and their friends were responsible for the locally lensed stoner epic Austin High and the multi-award-winning short called "The Man Who Never Cried." And they – Ralph Smyth – are a third of HUMORdy's governing body, and HUMORdy is the team that's brought the world such gonzo video diversions as "Dead Celebrity Magazine," "Guy Can't Find Wallet," and the growing Do Anything Stoned series via its website (www.humordy.com) and dedicated YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/humordy).

Now do you get it, about HUMORdy and who's in charge?

"We don't really, technically, have any one person in charge," says David Ward. "We have a HUMORdy board, essentially, so if there's any kind of legal decision that has to be made, we can work it out and keep growing. So there's Ralph Smyth, and there's John and Ramin with the other two votes. And that works in the case of a tiebreaker, because we're all very different personality types. And when we're figuring out what we're gonna do, we bring it up and talk about it with everybody."

"I would say that, if there's a de facto leader, it's Dave," says Bradley Jackson, sitting at the HUMORdy boardroom's large table, around which are also seated Ward, Nazer, actors Mike MacRae and Byron Brown, and your reporter. "Because it was Dave's brainchild," says Jackson, "and he's the one of us, I think we can all agree, who does the most work."

"And he has his shit together," says Nazer. "Like, consistently – more than any other human being I know. Not that the rest of Ralph Smyth doesn't, but you guys are focused on other things."

"I don't know if it's about having my shit together," Ward demurs. "It's just that I obsess over things a lot."

"Everyone here can write and direct," says Jackson. "And Dave can do that, too, but he's also the only one who can, like, edit it and do the visual effects, the sound design, compress it to all the various bit-rates it needs to be compressed to."

Mike MacRae's deep voice booms out across the table: "He can compress the footage!"

"And he's developed these relationships over the years," adds Jackson. "He has people who are like, 'Oh, Dave Ward makes really good stuff – let's put it out there!' So without Dave, we couldn't really do this."

And how did Ward fall in with this cabal of new-media jokers?

"I didn't meet any of them until I moved to Austin from Indiana about five years ago," says Ward. "Bradley, Russell, and Andy – the four of us have been making short films together for the last four years or so. I started doing shorts with them, editing for them, and everybody else I met just working together on the set. Like, Mike was there, and he was a stand-up comedian I'd heard of before I moved here. And Russell produced this feature called Austin High that Kirk Johnson and Will Elliott co-wrote, and they're also part of this group Beef and Sage. And Byron was in Austin High, Sam Eidson, a lot of other people we work with were in that. So we were already kind of doing stuff together. There'd be contests and stuff that we'd do, we'd collaborate, and then, when everything was done, it was like, 'What channel do we put this on for YouTube?' Because I have one, Byron's got one, we all have one. It's like five of us collectively made this one video, and we end up putting it on all five channels. So, instead of just having five different places for the video, we decided to make one centralized channel. That way – I have ten subscribers, somebody else has however many, we put them all together – we can build an audience together. We can build a bigger audience that way than any one of us could by ourselves."

"And so far," says Jackson, "it's actually working, ah, marginally well. We have 5,000 subscribers."

"In less than a year," says Byron Brown.

"It's been, like, five months," says Ward. "We started at the beginning of 2012, then hit it hard around South by Southwest, and then didn't do anything for a while. We'll hit it hard for six weeks, then not do anything for six weeks."

And they're gearing up for a lot more. And where do they intend to go with all this industry?

"Ideally, a lot of it right now, we're doing it to build a kind of showcase for us," says Ward. "One of the things we all believe is that Austin is, comedically, just as important a town as New York or L.A. We have just as good comedic actors, just as good filmmakers. I mean, whether that's true or not, we think it. But still, Austin doesn't have the reputation yet. Everyone says, 'Well, you have to do that in L.A., you gotta be in New York.' But we figure if we're just consistently putting out funny stuff that does really well online, and it's only from Austin, and we say it's from Austin – if you can put some of what we're doing up against, say, Second City or Upright Citizens Brigade or anywhere else, and our stuff is just as funny or funnier – eventually people are gonna be like, 'Hey, people in Austin are doing some great stuff.'"

"And if it has its own voice, too," says Nazer. "Did you hear Google's quote – well, not Google's quote, but what Larry and Sergey [Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin] said in '98? What their goal was? They said, 'We wanna be the place where people come to search.' Which seems a preposterous idea, to be the only place people go. And now Google's synonymous with 'search.' So our giant, huge goal would be to make Austin its own important hub like New York or L.A."

"And we love all kinds of comedy," says Jackson, "but we're not all good at every type of comedy. For instance: I love the Tim and Eric style of comedy – but I can't do that. But I feel like Byron and Sam and Kirk are really good at it. They have a sketch called 'Coffee Breath' that I watch so often and I laugh so hard. It's the weirdest thing I've ever seen, but it's sooo funny. So that's another thing – how the collective has this interesting cross-section of styles."

"We're still bringing people in," says Ward, "and we tell them, the only rule for HUMORdy is: Don't put anything on there that you don't want a casting director in L.A. to see. Or if you're not willing to send that video off to show somebody when you're trying to get cast on Saturday Night Live, don't put it on our channel. Because that's the kind of audience we want to have seeing our videos. Because we know people like that are watching – we've had them email us and tweet at us. People in the industry are paying attention, so we wanna make sure that what we're putting out will help change the perception of Austin."

And, lest someone not get Nazer's earlier joke and misperceive that Austinites are ignorant fools, MacRae points out: "It was Warhol who said that about the 15 minutes."

Yeah: definitely Warhol.

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