So You Want to Make a Quarantine Comedy Video
It's Nice to Laugh

So You Want to Make a Quarantine Comedy Video

Across the nation and world right now, people of every age and creed are picking up their iPhones and wondering: Am I funny? Then, without really pausing to think about it, they're going live on Instagram anyway. Now that online validation is the only kind that exists, no one is above contributing to the daily glut of amateurish video content that helps make up our soul-destroying new normal. Karlie Kloss is doing it, as is your old boss from that call center job you took after college graduation.

As content hysteria takes hold, we turn to established experts for guidance. A bunch of creators were busy perfecting comedy's rising front-facing camera trend before the pandemic arrived, and their talents have been thrown into starker relief of late. These videos, though deceptively skillful and tricky to pull off, are characterized by lo-fi production and off-the-cuff riffs. A hallmark of the genre is an abrupt mid-sentence ending. Also popular: fake movie audition tapes.

PAPER asked some of our favorite selfie comedians to give us their hot tips for creating clout-y quarantine clips.

Tess Gattuso

What's your favorite video that you've made, and how did you make it?

My favorite video I've made is "The Truth About Gay Best Friends." Usually I make everything on my own, but with this video I got to direct my best friend (Cameron) for part of it. I'm used to following internal instincts and talking to myself, but having another person physically with me added a lot of joy.

I had the idea for this video when Cameron kept saying "maybe" to yes-or-no questions, which led me to the thought, "only gay men do this to me." I asked if he had notecards, he gave me some, and I began writing a "presentation." That took 20ish minutes. Then I shot my presentation on the couch in around 10 minutes. After that, I coaxed Cameron into agreeing to be on camera and instructed him on the actions to carry out for the cutaway scenes. I have tons of footage of us laughing for no reason and me adapting a maternal voice to keep us on track. It looks like I'm his mother, saying "one more take and you can return to Netflix, sweetie." I cut it in Premiere Pro (which is always the most time-consuming part), threw in a jazz song, and uploaded it the next day.

What's your usual balance of improv/scripted?

It totally depends. A video like "Insta Poet" is 90% improvised, whereas "Queer Girl Meet Cute" was 100% scripted and I made a shot list for it based on the song I used.

However, on average, I'd say my usual balance is 70% scripted, 30% improvised. As I'm performing lines I write, additional jokes will pop up in my head and I'll say them without a second thought. As I was shooting "Gay BF," I thought of the line "gay men are teenage girl mean, enhanced by male privilege" as I was filming and cut a decent amount to fit it in. And in the "Student Film French Girl" video, I said "loose lace silk pants" as the words occurred to me. Or I'll try to incorporate unexpected factors, like the wind blowing in my hair at the end of the "Pretentious Artist" video. That being said, no improv is possible without the ~foundation~ set by what I took the time to write.

How long does it take to make one short video, from brainstorming to editing?

It varies. "Queer Girl Meet Cute" took forever but "Self Help Instagram" was super quick. Whatever the concept, I typically think about it as long as I need to so that sitting down to write it takes 20-30 minutes at most. Then around 20 minutes to shoot. About an hour or two to edit. Oh, and finding music is an intense process--sometimes I get lucky and find a track on the second or third try. Other times, I'll end up listening to like 30 public domain songs. I will not settle on a song until it fits perfectly.

Sometimes, I'll decide in the edit to redo the whole thing. That adds a decent amount of time. I reshot a majority of "Feminist Because It's Cool" after finishing a cut because my nipples were hard in all the clips. That was frustrating. My body betrayed me! I almost posted it anyway with hard nips, but decided I wasn't trying to make that a part of the character. So I changed back into the tight outfit despite it being 11pm and feeling like a Krispy Kreme donut. I decided not to wait until the next day to reshoot because I do NOT like waiting. The nips are still kind of making themselves known, but not as bad as it had been — trust me.

Which social media do you prefer and why?

The first "successful" content I posted were memes on Instagram. I also appreciate that Instagram is hashtag friendly and I've found there's more room for experimenting. I love the stories feature--the other night I posted like 40 stories begging major ice cream brands to sponsor me. I'm also excited to have people following me on Twitter now. I love sharing jokes and thoughts and seeing what works and how people respond. If someone who's been active on Twitter for longer than me, with more followers, is reading this then they're probably cringing. Oh well. It's still new to me and I'm excited.

I made a YouTube channel, but haven't uploaded any videos. I filmed myself telling a story, took four days to edit it together, then began to worry the story was too personal for YouTube this early on in my career. It's the kind of story that makes people ask "are you okay?" I am okay, but I'm not trying to scare away potential employers right now. I gave it a second try by filming myself as I cleaned my room. This video also ended up being weird because I had put off cleaning my room for so long that I freaked out and went on a rant about mental health. Life has been getting in the way, but I might throw it up there for fun when I have a moment to edit it.

I recently started making TikToks. Someone stole my "enhanced by male privilege" joke, literally played my voice over their video, and I thought it could be wise to have a presence there. Not sure how I feel about it yet!

What equipment do you use? Is there a specific tripod or camera you'd recommend? What's your lighting set up?

This is embarrassing. My equipment is my phone. I use premiere pro to edit. I do not use a tripod, I use a thick feminist methodology book, balance my phone against the wall, or hold the phone with my hand. I know there are affordable phone-tripods out there, but I don't want to wait for it to arrive or take the time to shop for one. I have this issue with other areas of my life. I do not have the patience to adjust physical circumstances unless it is 100% necessary or someone else is willing to do it with me. Like, I still don't have a bed frame. I think it would be nice and I could go buy one, but why? One day.

My lighting is literally the sun or my roommate's lamp. There are all these memes right now about people developing relationships with lamps, and I feel that.

While isolating, have you changed the way you make these videos - are there now additional constraints?

I lost my job a few weeks after quarantine began. Having structure and stability helps me creatively, so now when I have an idea I try to make it happen as soon as possible because otherwise I'll lose steam to anxiety. EDD if you see this, please answer my calls.

On the other hand, I now have all this time to bring ideas to fruition. I used to follow a strict "nights are for content" regime. Now, I can be more flexible. You win some, you lose some.

Many celebrities, minor Twitter blue checks and other members of the tasteless masses have started filming front facing camera videos under lockdown. As an expert in the form, what is your advice to them?

I always try to make stuff that only I can make. My advice would be to ask yourself "what can I make that no one else can?" This might seem intense for short-form digital content, but it's also the question I ask myself when I'm writing screenplays or standup. It's a solid prompt for any creative expression.

Jeff Wright

How long have you been making comedy videos for the internet?

I've been making videos for six years.

What's your favorite video that you've made, and how did you make it?

My favorite video has to be the one I made about aliens or interacting with God in heaven.

How do you come up with the concepts usually?

I'm not sure, I just always had a vision for filming, comedy, and acting.

How long does it take to make one short video, from brainstorming to editing?

Four to six hours. It can be a lot, but if you love it you'll do it.

Is there a specific tripod or camera you'd recommend?

Whatever you have is your best tool honestly. I think what you're trying to create and what you have dictates how it comes out but creativity makes up for lack of equipment so being creative is the best equipment.

What's your lighting set up?

Lol, I need more lights, but a ring light.

You often film yourself as different characters from different angles. Do you get friends to help you film or do it solo?

Friends for the most part, but a tripod if I have to do it by myself.

While isolating, have you changed the way you make these videos?

The things that have changed are just shooting in the same location, after a while you feel like you've seen this setting enough.

Any advice for your imitators?

My advice is to do what makes you happy, be original - be yourself because thats what the world wants to see, and stay positive.

Meg Stalter

How long have you been making videos for the internet?

I've been making videos for probably a little over a year and a half? For the first couple months on Twitter to build followers I would announce a fake game like "The Butler's Treat" or something and say that whoever I tag gets to retweet a tweet of mine and I would always tag someone with a ton of followers. It was so funny to me, but probably incredibly annoying to my more-famous friends that would get tagged daily in something like "The Princess Surprise!"

What's your favorite one that you've made?

It's hard to pick a favorite, but I did do one recently where I'm in my mom's backyard announcing the importance of Earth Day. Every time my brother Nick films me the video is ten times better because he does all these very funny shots/ zooms in on the perfect moment. I'm also in my bra in the video and it makes me laugh so hard making him film me in my bra while my moms inside cooking us dinner. Being in quarantine is high school all over again.

How do you usually come up with concepts?

Usually I take a few minutes to write out an idea and then when I film it's half scripted and half improvised. Lately I've been just thinking of a general idea, throwing my camera at my brother and then just having him film whatever nonsense flies out of my little mouth. It's so much more fun to play off of someone filming you than filming yourself, but only when that person is your brother and you two think everything you say is the funniest thing you've ever said.

What would you like to see more of in internet comedy, going forward?

In comedy videos online, what I love to see is something that looks really real. Like when you're watching it you're like, wait.. is this a sketch or is this a viral video of a family fighting? Im also a whore for a cool background or look, like a full stylized video.

What would you like to see less of?

I would like to see Instagram Live videos pause less, which has nothing to do with the performers. Please, Instagram: pause less, because you are now the hottest comedy club.

Any tips for coping with viral fame?

It's hard not to read the comments, but I would say if you do read them and there is a bad one, know that that person is jealous of how hot and funny you are and their mean words are a huge indication that they want to have sex with you. Also, people will start to recognize you on the street (at least in New York) and it will only be when you are wearing a horrible outfit.

Caleb Hearon

How long have you been making videos for the internet?

Well, I was doing really innovative work on Snapchat for an audience of like 20 friends in 2014. And by innovative I do mean bad.

What's your favorite video that you've made?

Probably the one where I'm affirming a friend who is clearly in the wrong. I made it walking around downtown Chicago on a lunch break at my day job. I was upset about something I didn't have the right to be upset about and trying to think of which friend I could call who would agree with me.

How long does it take for you to make one video, from brainstorming to editing?

Sometimes I have the idea, improvise a take and then just post it. Other times I think about it for a few days. I feel completely insane anytime I put more than two concentrated hours into a Twitter video. Like, they're not gonna play this in The Louvre, dude.

How do you explain the value of Twitter clout to your parents?

Haha, I haven't tried. My mom's a nurse. The idea of sincerely explaining almost any part of my career to somebody who literally saves human lives is so mortifying.

What filming equipment do you use?

Most of the time I just hold my phone and sit by a window. Extremely Little House on the Prairie vibes.

As an expert in the form, what is your advice to aspiring front-facing camera comedians?

If you're hot, walk away. You don't need this. And if you're ugly, I'm rooting for you babe.

What would you like to see more of in internet comedy videos?

More than just white comedians getting attention for it. Actually, DeWayne Perkins tweeted about this and said it much better than I can.

What would you like to see less of?

Gay comedians. That's my thing.

Any tips for coping with viral fame?

When you beg for attention, some of it will be negative. And a lot of it will be gay sex lubricant brands DM'ing you to do unpaid promotional content for them. At least, that has been my experience.

Holmes Holmes

How long have you been making comedy videos for the internet?

Not long at all. I started maybe a year ago because people backstage at an improv show were like, "I try to tweet once a day." And I was like... oh, maybe I should try to tweet.

What's your favorite video that you've made, and how did you make it?

I've never thought about my favorite one. I like different ones for different reasons but I'll say my favorite is the first solo video I posted because it gave me the confidence to do more. I had the flu last fall, and I was going through old videos in my phone and liked one of me practicing a character for the very, very first round of SNL showcase at [Chicago improv institution] iO. I decided to post it, thinking I would delete a few minutes later. To my surprise, it started doing well and then I kept posting solo videos.

While isolating, have you changed the way you make these videos?

I actually haven't been making many videos in quarantine (uh oh, she cuts my interview). My rule is that I only need to create on Twitter right now if I feel the urge. I have definitely been not feeling funny during this, but really enjoy others' comedy who are able to right now. I think the key with social media is using it when you feel it is giving you more joy than anxiety or stress. So I guess the main restraint is my brain is too sad and processing the pandemic to feel in a place to record silly humor right now, but occasionally I get to that space and enjoy it. I have been trying to create in different ways during this time. In the past year, the internet has made me feel like I need to present constant ideas and fast and I am remembering right now that I can sit with ideas for a while longer.

What's your advice to the celebs and randos who are trying out video content right now?

Some celebrities definitely do not understand that other people don't live in mansions with pools right now but what can we do? SIGH. My advice to their followers is to go follow the funniest people around with no blue check marks :) Or get off Twitter, and call a friend :) And if your content is offending masses: lose your pride, delete it and apologize. I think a lot of people are learning how to "read the room" for the first time right now.

What's the best and worst thing about going viral?

I think the best thing about going viral is the opportunities that can come from it. You can often make connections with people you didn't know before, and for that I'm very grateful. It is also, obviously, nice to know that your comedy is being enjoyed by lots of people haha. The worst thing I'm sure is different for everyone. For me, it is that I have anxiety in real life, and online can definitely heighten that because it all feels very powerful but also fast and gone within seconds. It is easy to focus on numbers, when you just need to focus on if you are enjoying your content. Basically the internet is just a very easy place to overthink anything, so I had to learn tools to turn off Twitter brain. It is harder in quarantine to switch from internet brain to real life brain, because you can't go to a bar with your friends, but I am getting better at it!