There’s nothing funnier than a lady with a handgun- when sketch group Onassis writes the sketch. Written by Mike Scollins, this particular sketch was inspired by a New York Times Magazine article about guns marketed to women. “There's not a crazy wacky character to it,” said Onassis member Sue Galloway. “Just people reacting to something strange in their world.”
Onassis "I Bought a Gun" sketch from their FrISC-winning performance at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater
I spoke to Onassis members Lauren Adams, Jocelyn DeBoer, Sue Galloway, Fran Gillespie and writer Emily Altman about writing sketches and the spectrum of laughs they elicit. The name “Onassis” was chosen because the team wanted an elegant moniker. “We all voted,” said Adams. “I think Fran wanted a name that had the word 'tooth'… Emily said we needed a name that sounded fancy or regal.” “I wanted to be called ‘One Big Toof,’" Gillespie told me. “I begged and begged, but no dice.”
Onassis will be showing their new film Onassis at The Friars Club Comedy Film Festival, which will run Oct 12-16 in New York City. The group was awarded Best Sketch Group at the Friar’s Improv and Sketch Competition in June, along with $5,000 to make a short film for the upcoming festival. With influences that include Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Rachel Dratch, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Drefus, Bea Arthur, Betty White and Cloris Leachman, the group has 15 current members and alumni including: Lauren Adams, Emily Altman, Benjamin Apple, Eric Cunningham, Jocelyn Deboer, Sue Galloway, Fran Gillespie, Frank Hejl, Rob Michael Hugel, Corey Johnson, Dawn Luebbe, Drake Miller, Ben Rameaka, Jason Saenz and Michael Scollins.
Their sketches play with the absurd in everyday life. Altman is proud of a sketch where Onassis member Corey Johnson plays a dad who is angry at his kids. He is “yelling at them about their messy home but he just keeps saying ‘What do you think this is, a fucking ski lodge?’ said Altman. “Which makes no sense.”
“I definitely think a lot of our sketches, and our style, has to do with starting from a very real place and heightening from there,” said Altman. One Onassis sketch features a fresh-faced college student entering his first class, taking his seat and promptly realizing that he is in the wrong class. His reaction is pretty memorable. “In that sketch, that anxiety is real of course, but its fun to see it taken to the extreme,” said Altman. “We focus in on that specific thing that is funny about it and then blow it out in an interesting, insightful, totally hilarious way,” added DeBoer.
Similarly, Gillespie pointed out their tendencies to focus in on personality quirks; “I like being able to identify a weird behavior and knowing that someone else might find it weird or recognize the behavior as something they have felt. It can be embarrassing to see a sketch where you know that the actor is exaggerating a trait you might have, and I like that.” Altman added: “Sketch brings something extra satisfying with it, which is watching a joke go from just a line to something more full, multi-layered, more interpersonal.”
Galloway sums up the sequence of Onassis sketch shows when she said, “I like how in a sketch show you can do something completely absurd, then something completely normal with one strange element, then something that seems like it shouldn't be funny at all but for some reason is, then just dance, then a big fun spectacle of a scene.” But it is important to build different levels of hilarity, Galloway adds, in order to produce a well orchestrated symphony of laughs. (Refer to Appendix A for her rating system!)
The multilayered and complicated construction of a truly hilarious sketch show also provides some integral interaction for one Onassis member; “I also like interacting with boys,” said Gillespie. “Which mainly happens in sketches.”
With six ladies in their group, Onassis is optimistic about a future for females in comedy, in all aspects of comedy. “Right now I am very interested in and inspired by the women that are not just the face of the joke but write, direct, and produce the comedy as well,” DeBoer. “I am confident that we are going to see many more female driven comedies coming out in the next decade; better roles for women, more women in writers rooms, women behind the camera, and women involved in making the big decisions in comedy.”
If you’re in NYC, Onassis’ film will be premiere at the Clearview Cinema in Chelsea (23rd St at 8th Ave) on Friday, October 14 at 9:00pm. Tickets are on sale now.
What will their short film be about?
“Maybe it will be about a billionaire playboy, an underwater diving dog, a rickety old talking car, and an iTunes update?” Sue Galloway confided in me. “Or will it be a stunning tale of magnificence and ruin in mid-19th century Addis Ababa? Or does the owner of a shoe factory find a time portal buried beneath a sole-maker?”
Here’s hoping for the iTunes update!
Ap. A: Sue Galloways’ Laugh Rating System:
1. You laugh inside your head and appreciate it, but don't make a sound.
2. You make a bit of a sound (huh-huh) and you are delighted, but still feel in control of yourself.
3. A pleasant giggle, lasting 5-15 seconds, wherein you feel like you've traveled by hot air balloon to several quick locales.
4. OH NO. This one attacks you really fast and you didn't know it was coming. It almost hurts. It's big, it's loud, it comes from a part of your body you didn't know you had – deep in the gut where a gang of children live.
5. IT'S HAPPENING. This is the dragon laugh you are always chasing. You lose it. You may or may not fall out of your seat. But you don't care. You don't care about anything anymore. Something has attacked you and you love it. This one definitely hurts. You tumble over. You grab your body. You cry. You can't breathe. You never want to recover.
“An ideal sketch show isn't all 5’s... It's an awesome combination of all the laughs because they are all worthy,” Galloway clarified.
Photo Credit (Sue Galloway, Fran Gillespe, Jocelyn DeBoer): Benjamin Apple
Photo Credit for film still: Benjamin Apple
Photo Credit: Robyn Von Swank