Hug it out: Troupe members converge in L.A. to form Bearhug Comedy

by Thea Byrd / Beacon Staff • September 26, 2013

Cover bearhug
Bearhug members (from left to right) Patrick McDonald, Kelly Voke, Roger Ouellette, Monica Baker, Ryan McGowan, Maggie Monahan, Jeremy Sender, and Robin Zlotnick.
Courtesy of Bearhug Comedy
Bearhug members (from left to right) Patrick McDonald, Kelly Voke, Roger Ouellette, Monica Baker, Ryan McGowan, Maggie Monahan, Jeremy Sender, and Robin Zlotnick.
Courtesy of Bearhug Comedy

Spending four years in college can quickly turn any novice spender into a professional penny-pincher. Living on a budget — or lack thereof — can force students to get creative with their money. It’s a lesson that seems to have stuck with  Bearhug Comedy, which currently is producing videos for its YouTube channel at $50 tops.

“I will say that we have more freedom, but less budget because we’re paying for everything ourselves,” said Emerson almnus Patrick McDonald. “It’s fun to figure that out.”

Hailing from different sketch comedy groups during their time in Boston, Emerson alumni formed a Los Angeles-based web sketch group. The goal was to create a postgraduate environment that embraced Emerson sketch groups’ comedic style and work ethic, according to McDonald.

Bearhug Comedy Troupe was founded last October, and since then, the group has been writing, performing, and producing comedy sketches for their YouTube channel.

 “We hadn’t really worked with each other because we were in different troupes [at Emerson],” said McDonald. “And then once we were out [of school], it was kind of this idea that none of us are technically in any troupe at this point, so why don’t we all come together and make something that we know we can do, because we speak the common language that sketch troupes speak at Emerson?”

McDonald, who had been a member of Jimmy’s Traveling All-Stars while at Emerson, was one of the founding members of Bearhug Comedy. The group started with a few Emerson alumni and other friends of his, but quickly became an exclusively-Emerson troupe.

“We found out that everyone from the different groups kind of operates the same way,” McDonald said. “[The non-Emerson alumni] didn’t have the same kind of ethic; they saw themselves out very quickly after a couple of days, and the Emerson people were the ones that stuck around.”

Not only does the troupe have a specific work ethic, it also has a signature comedic style. McDonald called it wacky, and the group’s sketches range from mocking acting class finals to advertising a school called The Institute for Figuring Out if You’re Adele.

Although there is a wide range of subjects in its videos, they all seem to target an audience of college-aged or recent graduate viewers, as they mostly stay within the realms of love, dating, and school.

And now, with less overhead and financial independence, work ethic and creativity are paramount to the group’s success in the cutthroat environment of Los Angeles, according to McDonald.

“[When we started] we thought, ‘we can either submit for live stuff in three or four months or we could, in a week, write, record, and put it up so people can see it,’” McDonald said. “So it was really the most viable option.”

The troupe pays for everything out of pocket, said McDonald. He said that it was a big adjustment from working within the Emerson comedy troupe community with a decent budget, although they already owned most of equipment to produce the videos.

“We’ve adapted, that’s what we needed to do,” he said. “We all like video; I certainly like live [performances] a little bit more, but video is fun to figure out. It’s a bit more of a puzzle.”

Soon after Bearhug’s inception, its four founders began causally recruiting other recently graduated Emerson students who had been in sketch comedy troupes, including Maggie Monahan, who said McDonald reached out to her when she moved west in January.

“I had just moved out to Los Angeles, so I was pretty excited to just get back in the habit of writing and producing something,” Monahan said.

McDonald said the group is currently working on assembling props for an upcoming video, asking friends for random items they need so they don’t have to buy them, including a giant teddy bear, as it works toward organizing its first live show.

They’ve been working together for over a year, Mcdonald said; the 10 members meet once a week to plan their writing, producing, and editing schedule, then shoot the videos themselves most weekends. According to Mcdonald, six of the 10 members are also currently taking improvisation classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles.

McDonald said the group’s goal is to produce one video a week, but more often they can only finish two or three videos a month due to scheduling restrictions.

Bearhug’s marketing recently attracted the attention of a Laguna Beach talk and variety radio show, KX93.5’s Magic Hour Radio. Cameron Wohlschlaeder, known on the show as “The Camshaft,” said he asked them to be on the show after seeing its skits on YouTube and after being attracted to Bearhug’s simple comedy.

“The videos they do, production-wise, I wouldn’t say they take a large budget or a lot of special effects,” said Wohlschlaeder. “They make funny videos without a huge budget. Their videos take everyday situations and make funny things happen.”

Wohlschlaeder said interacting with the troupe was just as funny, if not funnier, than he expected. He said its comedy is not too forced; during its interview on Sept. 16, he said group members just spent time hanging out with his co-host.

McDonald said he and the other Bearhuggers worked on producing online content with their organizations at Emerson, but not to this extent. Although many of the members trained with different troupes at Emerson, Monahan said they have been able to find similarities in all their techniques and standards of production.

“We were all trying to reach different audiences at Emerson, and it’s cool that now we’re all trying to reach the same audience,” McDonald said.

The audience, for now, is primarily family and friends, said Monahan. Their most-viewed video on YouTube has 1,143 views.

“At this point I’m not really worried about being an internet sensation,” Monahan said. “For me, the number of people we reach isn’t as important as the quality of what we produce.”

Although the members are busy with their jobs, both Monahan and McDonald said practicing sketch comedy after Emerson was a priority and they certainly see themselves continuing to dedicate time to the troupe.

“It’s a great art form and it’s really fun,” McDonald said. “I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s definitely accessible.”

 

Andrew Doerfler, managing editor of the feature, did not edit this article. 

 

Kelsey Drain, Beacon staff, contributed reporting.