Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Comedy

August 15, 2012

Put a Bridge on It

With their web series Brokelandia, comedy duo Eric Silver and Sue Smith show that even the coolest place on earth has its flaws.

Cat Wolinski

Most reading this have experienced “white people problems.” (Or, if you prefer your hashtag more politically correct, #firstworldproblems.) Not getting cell phone service, running out of bucks on your Starbucks cards, searching fruitlessly for a pharmacy within two blocks; such are the indignities of the leisure class. Others, however, suffer still worse, struggling with difficulties as horrid as—god forbid—not knowing if the chicken they’re eating was grass-fed.

Media response to such, shall we say, "spirited" types has popped up in the form of books, blogs, and memes. It was only a matter of time, however, before TV responded to the lifestyle choices of vegan feminist hippie bookstore owners and bird-obsessed arts-and-craft fiends. And so, Portlandia was born. White, awkward, and hopelessly complacent, Portland, Oregon made an obvious target (and a successful one; a third season of the sketch comedy series, with 12 episodes, will premier in January 2013), but as any member of the young-and-educated clique knows, self-satisfaction knows no geographical bounds. There is Austin, Texas, San Francisco, California and of course, Brooklyn, New York—the coolest borough city in the world.

Unsurprisingly, Brooklyn-based comedians Eric Silver and Sue Smith saw more than a bit of their own home reflected in the funhouse mirror of Portlandia. This past January, the duo released the first episode of their Brooklyn-style spoof, Brokelandia. A twist on the Portlandia skit "Did You Read?", in which protagonists Fred and Carrie race to "finish" the news, Smith and Silver's version, "Did You Eat It?", ridiculed the pissing contests in city foodie culture.

Sue Smith and Eric Silver. Photo by Emily Paup.
"As soon as Brokelandia came up, I knew I did want to act in it. The only hope is that people don’t realize how shitty of an actor I am."—Eric Silver

Sue Smith and Eric Silver. Photo by Emily Paup.

Silver and Smith first met as writers for Brokelyn, a popular budget and humor blog about the borough. The two then solidified their comedic relationship as members of the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), the Amy Poehler-cofounded improv theater in Chelsea that has launched the careers of many New York funnypeople. As students and performers at the UCB, the budding comedians recognized their similarities, and joined forces in December 2011. Their inkling that “it felt like a good mesh” has proven accurate thus far—"Did You Eat It?" has over 60,000 views, and the numbers continue to climb. Though they have only completed three videos so far, the duo are garnering the attention of hipsters and squares alike, and have a lot more on their plates than the fancy food they make fun of.

Gelf caught up with Silver, 32, and Smith, 30 (conveniently, both Brooklyn residents) to get the scoop on the new series. In the following interview, which was conducted in person (Smith) and over the phone (Silver) and has been edited for clarity, the comedians give us their perspective on why—and if—they are making fun of Brooklyn.

Gelf Magazine: Why Brooklyn? Why is it so easy to make fun of?

Eric Silver: We don't feel it's any easier to mock Brooklyn than any other place, except for the fact that it's become so well known as a particular brand—which is not accurate in any sense, the same way that you can't take someone from Indiana and call him a "typical American." I think when it comes down to Brooklyn, we chose it because it's what we know, and what we love. Just like LCD Soundsystem sang "New York I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down," we choose to explore the things about Brooklyn that aren't known to people from France who talk about Brooklyn culture. Consider it a love song to our—in some cases—adopted home. We're exploring our space, and to be honest, I don't know how many people had opinions about Portland before Portlandia. I certainly never knew it as a hipster haven. There are a lot of things I like and dislike about modern-day Brooklyn, and my hope is that our web series either discusses this or opens discussion about some of these topics.

Gelf Magazine: What's the relationship between Brokelyn and Brokelandia?

Eric Silver: Sue and I both write for Brokelyn.com. We are members of the staff and are good friends with them, but Brokelandia and Brokelyn are separate entities, for all intents and purposes. Initially a few people jumped on the idea, and we wound up making the first video as a Brokelyn venture with Brokelyn people working on the video. Then we amicably separated from Brokelyn. They’ll still publish our videos, but we’re our own thing…like a side project.

Gelf Magazine: How do you finance your videos?

Sue Smith: We’ve all done a lot of web videos and we’ve never been paid as actors or as writers, so there’s this vibe in the community that like, “yeah, I just want to help out, I just want to be in your funny video.” So many people offer and just want to be a part of it. With the third one we started paying for some of the technical stuff, but anything that we pay is out of our pockets. This one was our most expensive and we spent like $500. We do it super cheap…I have a friend with a web series who raised $5,000 on Kickstarter, and another friend who has very rich parents who rents all this equipment, but we’re super bare-bones. We take cabs and cram into Eric’s car. So, we haven’t had a lot of expenses. Since the first video had so much attention, people are really excited to help us out with it.

Gelf Magazine: Your first video for Brokelandia is clearly a direct parallel of Portlandia; are all of your videos intended to parallel the show, or do you plan on branching out and making it your own?

Eric Silver: The first video is definitely directly related to Portlandia. What we’ve been trying to do with the others is kind of just doing our own thing and using the Portlandia aesthetic, less so than trying to just use, say, "but a bird on it" (and say "oh, put a bridge on it.") In terms of this series, we’re just going to keep going with it, and at some point people will start thinking of it on its own, maybe in conversation with Portlandia, but I don’t want everyone to see it as a Portlandia rip off. But, we do have to keep the same name to keep the same viewers.

Sue Smith: We [based] Brokelandia strictly on Portlandia for the first one because that was the easiest structure to map; it’s called “Did You Eat It?” and their original sketch was “Did You Read It?" was super- easy to go off because it’s such a simple sketch and it’s so well-written. But not all of their sketches are like that, and I think to try to parody every single one of Portlandia's sketches is not as funny as trying to create something original to Brooklyn that people relate to. We found with “Did You Eat It?” that people responded with, “oh my god, that’s so true about Brooklyn,” so we try to create things that are like, “that’s so true, I totally have been there and I know what that’s like.” So that’s kind of the vibe of the series. We don’t really stick to the Portlandia thing necessarily, so that it doesn’t limit us.

Gelf Magazine: Do you have any other acting experience?

Eric Silver: No, not really. I never actually wanted to act; I always thought that I would just not be a good performer. I used to get terrible—not stage fright—but very flustered with public speaking. I thought, “let me just leave it to the professionals.” I really had no aspiration. When I started studying at UCB, I started doing sketch, so I was thinking I would write sketch and hopefully get on one of the house teams there. At one point, I was like, “I guess I should just take improv,” and that basically was the start of me performing. I realized I wasn’t so bad at it, and then I stood in for a sketch show when a friend asked me to fill in for somebody, and I wound up doing the sketch show every month as an actor and not a writer. I got into it, I enjoyed it. As soon as Brokelandia came up, I knew I did want to act in it. I’ve embraced the fear. The only hope is that people don’t realize how shitty of an actor I am.

Sue Smith: I did a lot of improv when I was in high school, and did all the school plays, but there weren’t a lot of opportunities because I was in a really small town. I’ve mostly been acting since I’ve been at the UCB, so for like five years I’ve been serious. When I did my solo show I realized I really like having all the attention on stage, but I really had to find my voice and know what I thought was funny in order to be funny, or be ok with my performance. You’ve got to be comfortable in your skin.

Gelf Magazine: What’s your day job?

Eric Silver: I work in a software company as a "solution architect." The job title is the coolest thing about it, and everything else sucks. I’m a problem solver, basically; the one who figures out how the company is going to use our processes.

Sue Smith: I wait tables for a living—that’s real. I don’t think we’ve done a sketch about that yet, but we need to.

Gelf Magazine: Are you going to continue working together on Brokelandia?

Eric Silver: Yeah, we decided this should be a series and not just a playful thing. There are very Brooklyn-specific things that can be talked about in funny ways.

Sue Smith: We’re definitely interested in continuing Brokelandia together because we work really well together. We want to monetize the situation. We have our own channel, but we want to be on YouTube's Official Comedy channel. We’re looking for sponsorship for something like that to happen.

Gelf Magazine: Portlandia makes fun of Portland hipsters and hippies and such, and Brooklyn hipsters and Williamsburg are obvious funny targets these days. Is that what we’re going to see in the rest of Brokelandia's videos?

Eric Silver: I mean, the intent is not to target Williamsburg. Obviously it comes up because it’s a huge target and it’s easily relatable for people, but for me, Brooklyn is much bigger than Williamsburg. I grew up in deep Brooklyn where you didn’t take the subway lots of places because you drive, you walk, you ride your bike…The L was never a thing for me, really. I barely rode it. There’re a ton of places that I go to on a regular basis that I just remember from my childhood that I wouldn’t know how to get to without a car. They’re integral for my childhood but have nothing to do with what’s hip about Brooklyn.

Sue Smith: It’s not that we’re making fun of Brooklyn—we love Brooklyn. We’re just pointing out things that are funny about Brooklyn and things people can relate to. I feel like with Portlandia, it’s not that they’re making fun of Portland, they’re like, “this is hilarious about this city, and that’s why we love it,” and that’s kind of what we try to do for Brooklyn, too.

Cat Wolinski

Cat Wolinski is an editor for Vision Monday magazine in SoHo, New York.







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Article by Cat Wolinski

Cat Wolinski is an editor for Vision Monday magazine in SoHo, New York.

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