Have you ever watched a show and thought, “These people just get my life!” That’s the sentiment many viewers are having after watching just a few sketches from the Baroness Von Sketch Show on CBC. Created by Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne, and Jennifer Whalen, in partnership with Frantic Films, the half hour comedy is also written, executive produced and starred in by this lively foursome. When it comes to original comedy, it’s all about looking at life from a familiar perspective then taking risks, and the team at BVSS does exactly that.
Not All Men (Jenn, Aurora, Meredith, Carolyn)
Each of the creators has an extensive background in comedic writing and acting. Three of them have credits working on This Hour Has 22 Minutes and three have graced the Mainstage at The Second City, yet it was Carolyn that brought the troupe together. Crossing paths in the industry, back and forth across the country, she had the privilege of working with Aurora, Meredith and Jennifer on separate occasions.
As Carolyn and Meredith were discussing new ideas, Meredith realized that there was a space for a female-centric sketch show. Carolyn met with Frantic Films and they also saw the gap in the market. She then reached out to the others and together they made a demo. Shopping it to broadcasters, CBC was a match.
In addition to this need for female-driven comedy, there is a notable addition that has aided their success. As is evident in the room, they are all very gracious and kind to each other. As Jennifer put it, there’s “a magic and an alchemy here. We’ve been doing this long enough to know that this doesn’t come around often.”
Police Report (Meredith)
Covering topics that range from a world leaders’ summit to hipster coffee shops, the ladies provide a satirical slice of life that is not only hilarious but relatable. And pretty much everything is up for grabs when it comes to material. Living and working in Toronto, the rush to work becomes fodder for a sketch, as does a dinner out, a social occasion and pretty much any fashion trend. Whenever an idea is pitched by one writer, the others can’t help but wonder: “Is this sketch about me?” And people often come up to them on the street to give them ideas. “People are looking at their own lives in a comedic way” says Meredith. From there they ask, “What captures the zeitgeist moment?”
Another character in the show is Toronto itself. “Yes, we live and work in Toronto. No, we’re not showing the CN Tower.” Filming around town in both iconic and lesser known locations, from the famous Trinity-Bellwoods Park to Midfield Wine Bar, the show is Toronto-centric enough for Canadians without alienating other big cities. In fact, the show’s “transportable truths about emotions and interpersonal dynamics,” recently sold to IFC. And with an increased order from CBC for Season 3, the team will be shooting 10 episodes this summer.
For the first time in their careers, these talented performers and creators have an actual sense of work-life balance. “We get to stay in our homes, in our neighbourhoods, putting money into the city’s economy,” Jennifer explains. In Aurora’s case, her husband has also worked on the show and her kids participated in the opening credits. Meredith, who also lives and works in Nova Scotia, describes this as the “best job I’ve ever had.” Jennifer concurs: “It’s a civilized place to work. We can pick up the kids from school and it’s not a big deal. Part of it is that we’re the Executive Producers as well as the writers and performers so we can create a schedule that is more balanced than most TV shows. We are really lucky.” And the natural way that the rest of life informs their work is a much-appreciated bonus.
The most popular sketch from Season 1 featured the unveiling of the mysteries of the women’s locker room - for those over the age of 40. In it, the Baronesses appear in the buff. When they wrote the sketch, it didn’t really occur to them that it might be awkward. “In our 40’s we can write and do more of what we want on TV. It’s so story-driven that we weren’t worried about that” explains Meredith. Aurora adds that “in comedy you have to be willing to look unflattering.” But when the day came for the episode to air, they had a bit of trepidation.
Following the online discussion and comments on social media, they did expect a certain amount of negativity. The reception however was overwhelmingly positive. The majority of responses were a resounding “Thank you, thank you, thank you” from women and a request from guys to do a similar sketch about men! There was an “outpouring of love online. We expected haters but it’s so loved. No one really talked about our bodies,” explained a happily surprised Meredith.
Pride Bank Float (Carolyn)
Another area where the show takes risks and challenges expectations is in the length of the sketches, with bits ranging in length from 30 seconds to five minutes. As the Showrunner, Carolyn gives the analogy of a mixed tape, where some sketches “didn’t need to be so long. Others could be parsed and broken down. The key is to not outstay your welcome.” That is especially true when dealing with a sensitive or political issue. As Aurora puts it, “One poke to make you giggle.”
Working with a team of writers, they pull from a variety of sources in their comedic community. Some were people that “hadn’t written for TV before, some were stand ups, humour columnists, bloggers, graphic novelists, etc. It’s very exciting for us, how it wasn’t a formula” explains Carolyn. In addition to great writers, the set decoration, costuming and make-up departments pay extraordinary attention to detail. From “Aunt Sheila jeans” to literally out-of-control hair, the crew endeavors to heighten the hilarity of every scene.
Aurora, Jenn, Meredith and Carolyn
Aurora describes how “the whole community is nourished when we work here. We wouldn’t be able to access that if we had to go away to another country. The more doors open, the more the scene will develop. People will gain more experience. There’s trust there, and trusting Canada’s artists is a good bet.” The team is grateful for the funding they’ve been able to access through the Canada Media Fund that has helped them to create this environment. Already achieving accolades, the show won Best Variety or Sketch Comedy Program, Best Writing and Best Editing at the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards. The show was also nominated for a Rockie Award at the Banff World Media Festival and the cast received a nomination for Outstanding Performance – Ensemble at the 2017 ACTRA Awards.
Season 2 is now airing Tuesdays at 9pm on CBC. Catch up at CBC online and starting this August on IFC. Look out for the crew around Toronto as they shoot Season 3 later this summer. Then join the hilarious conversation on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.