Since moving the Muskets! franchise to Hollywood, I've discovered the truth in that old adage: it's not what you know, it's who you know. For example, I know Javier who runs the avocado booth at the weekly farmer's market, and now I literally take baths in guacamole. It's only a matter of time before I leverage that relationship into a film deal (I mean aside from that guy from the fetish website who came and filmed me in a bathtub of guacamole for four hours).
But that's how it works out here; you've got to schmooze. So I decided, what better way to make friends of the other sketch troupes out there than to arbitrarily rank them from worst to best, in an article whose title implies that even the best aren’t nearly as good as my own troupe?
So enjoy losing the next several hours of your life (and possibly weeks, if you bookmark this page).
The Troupe: According to his “Bio” section, “Scott Gairdner is a Los Angeles-based sketch comedy group comprised of Scott Gairdner and Scott Gairdner.” I was first drawn in by his spot-on Michael McDonald impersonation, but quickly grew to love his sharp, caustic wit, ravenous devouring and regurgitation of pop culture, and judicious use of fake facial hair. Seriously, the kid looks like he’s fourteen.
The Sketches: In many ways, Scott is a comedian’s comedian. And by that I don’t mean to imply he has sexual relations with other comedians—although this could certainly be the case—but rather that his funny tends to come from incredible premises and textbook joke deployment. His are the kind of sketches that sound funny just in the video description:
Hey, don’t mess with the classics.
Crude TV Equivalent: If the better SNL writers were given a website and no budget whatsoever.
If You Only Watch One, Watch: I’m going to say “My Super Sweet Funeral,” for two reasons: it shows off what Gairdner can do with some animation work, and it features a dynamite performance from Perry Smith, Gairdner’s own private “that guy.”
The Troupe: Derrick is comprised of NYU grads who honed their skills at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, which is a description you could apply to a startling number of Internet sketch troupes. Skills honed, they proceeded to unleash their hardy, classicist brand of sketch onto the public. The Derricks remain faithful to their UCB roots, and more than any other troupe spawned by the school, their sketches and style stay true to that sensibility. Plus they’ve got Donald Glover, arguably one of the best physical comedians on the web.
The Sketches: The Upright Citizens’ Brigade philosophy is all about throwing one thing in reality out of whack, building upon that impossibility, and exploring from there. With few exceptions, Derrick Comedy sketches do just that with ruthless efficiency. There’s not a lot of meandering or free-flowing artsy crap here. Whether on the topic of bro rape, shitting yourself in class, or a jazz man who farts into his trombone, these gentlemen are here to present sketches in a conservative and professional fashion.
Crude TV Equivalent: As you could have probably predicted, Upright Citizens’ Brigade. But with, I don’t know, a pumpkin I guess.
If You Only Watch One, Watch: After all these years—almost two so far—this sketch remains the most convincing evidence I have that girls are not to be trusted.
I feel incredibly lazy right now.
The Troupe: Waverly Films is more a collective of filmmakers than a troupe, and they’ve worked on projects as diverse as music videos for The Rapture and Fatboy Slim and commercials for FedEx, McDonald’s and MTV. They’ve even had a failed Comedy Central pilot, something most sketch troupes would shit a kidney for.
The Sketches: Through a somewhat regular series called “Clip Of The Week,” Waverly has put out an astounding number of sketches that, despite being basically side projects, are chock full of filmic know-how and impressive effects. The sketches definitely give the impression of being created rapidly though; most of them are wacky, stream-of-consciousness clips that seem to have evolved out of whatever fun camera trick the guys wanted to play with that week. Then there are COTW’s like “most expensive clip ever,” that make your fanciest After Effect efforts look like a poorly animated bucket of dead carp.
Crude TV Equivalent: If the Channel 101 TV show, Acceptable.tv, had stuck around long enough to get funny.
If You Only Watch One, Watch: Sherlockbot, the sketch that won the Youtube Sketchies II competition, defeating our own entry and making all the Musketeers weep hot, bitter tears.
The Troupe: A trio of performer/writers and a filmmaker, the blokes at Good Neighbor somehow manage to inject homebrew friendliness into everything they do. Their site features colored pencil work reminiscent of your 8th grade notebook doodles, they call you “friends” at all times, and even their edgier sketches—like the one where a couple of WWII soldiers and a nazi get in a tickle fight on the battlefield—feel like putting on a warm fuzzy sweater of laughs.
The Sketches: If you grew up in the 80’s, Good Neighbor’s penchant for nostalgic humor and synth-driven soundtracks will make you feel right at home. And if you didn’t, they’ve got a sketch where a five-year-old girl plays a freshly impregnated Jamie Lynne Spears being harassed by paparazzi. Add in the fact that they actually care about their cinematography and several near-magical editing tricks, and you’re looking at a group of young filmmakers with skills that can pay the bills (not literally; they’re still miserably poor).
Crude TV Equivalent: If The State only had three guys in it, and their cameraman moved around.
If You Only Watch One, Watch: "Fate of the World" is the perfect appetite whetter: admirable production value, and accomplishes more funny with only three jokes than most of us do armed with an entire Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader.
The Troupe: BriTANick, the young pretty boys who have slowly but steadily encroached upon Muskets! territory with their fast-paced sketches and smug, bastardly faces, are…sorry, this sentence kind of got away from me. I meant to say that we’re proud to share the Cracked front page with such talented up-and-comers, even if I have it on good authority that Brian was once arrested on suspicion of paying a homeless guy to drink detergent while he masturbated in an alley. Him, not the homeless guy. That costs extra.
The Sketches: Your average BriTANick sketch features a complex premise, snappy dialogue, and some kind of middle school-ish ska shit at the end. But this is counter-balanced by the kind of awesome two-man chemistry you can usually only get from Abott and Costello or a really good gay porno. Also, if you click out of the page quick enough, you can usually avoid it.
Crude TV Equivalent: If Monty Python had written for Laurel and Hardy and then that got remade years later and updated for today’s streetwise youth.
If You Only Watch One, Watch: Well, if you’re a Cracked fan, you’ve probably seen it. But you know what? I don’t care. The concept of a herpes medication that causes random teleportation deserves a second viewing, dammit.
The Troupe: POYKPAC’s home site is an abrasive, blocky grid of neon dayglo, and that goes a long way towards acquainting you with their energy. The cast of five Brooklyn-ites produce hip, happy, daring, and often manic sketches that are, above all else, smart. Or maybe funny, then smart. Of everyone on this list, they seem the most like an actual "troupe," which is to say an abusive, dysfunctional family that you imagine all live together in a gin-soaked circus tent. They also seem to be the most dedicated to producing what they want, how they want. The results are often hilarious, and occasionally bizarre beyond description.
The Sketches: Arguably, POYKPAC’s crown jewel is their Good Morning Internet!series, a morning talk show hosted by people who used to host a TV show and couldn’t be less happy to find themselves on the web. Now that that’s wrapped a glorious 15-episode run, we can hopefully look forward to more sketches like this doo-wop ode to the utility of the blowjob, or this mind-bending sketch about a self-fulfilling eulogy.
Crude TV Equivalent: If The Muppet Show had been live action, and also Rod Serling wrote big hunks of it.
If You Only Watch One, Watch: POYKPAC have several sketches adroitly lampooning the strange relationship between America’s vision of masculinity and attendant homophobia, but Gristlemania ‘87 features by far the most puns and screaming (which is saying more than you’d think).
2. Fatal Farm
The Troupe: Fatal Farm strike me as the two weird kids who used to get together every day after school and tool around in one of their basements on something no one was allowed to see. Then they grew up, discovered the Internet, and put those things on public display. Turns out their habit of lavishing massive amounts of time and effort on a two-minute Internet clip makes for some awesome, if mind-fucking results.
The Sketches: Like any true artist, Fatal Farm explores themes more than they produce sketches. Their site is built around several massive sketch projects. There’s Infinite Solutions, the social experiment that convinced thousands of Youtube users they could recharge their dead batteries by taping them together. Then there’s the TV Themes, which are basically re-imaginings of your favorite old shows’ opening sequences, though by “re-imaginings” I actually mean acid-fueled descents into the twisted underbelly of your deepest fears. And, of course, Lasagna Cat. More on that below.
Crude TV Equivalent: Andy Kaufman lives.
If You Only Watch One, Watch: All of Lasagna Cat. It’s one of the more brilliant ends to which the Internet has been put. Plus, I’d like to think Jim Davis will see it one day and realize that his life’s work wasn’t totally without merit. Here’s one of my favorites.
1. Olde English
The Troupe: Olde English are five guys from Brooklyn boasting probably the widest range of work on this list. One thing that stands out about them is their constant willingness to do tedious, time-consuming work for the sake of a joke. They’ve got stop-motion, computer animation, a plethora of song covers, even a continuous eleven minute shot of them flipping off the camera. Screw firefighters; that’s dedication.
The Sketches: Olde English are the most mature group on this list, both in terms of time spent making videos (in web-land, six years of doing anything is pretty impressive) and in terms of content. They’re a little older, not quite as interested in rebellious subversion, and much less obsessed with dick jokes than the rest of us. This leaves them free to explore such important topics such as what Michel Gondry’s house looks like (Hint: it’s made of dreams), what a date between mathematical concepts would involve, and what Pixar movies would look like if the entire staff of Pixar lost interest in computers. Luckily for us, that will never, ever happen.
Crude TV Equivalent: If the male cast of Friends did a sketch spin-off. In a good way.
If You Only Watch One, Watch: With a backlog a hundred and fifty deep, it’s hard to pick a sketch that encapsulates the troupe. A sampling would give you a better idea of their incredible range, but since that would be patently unfair to the other troupes on this list, I’m just going to go with the one about the machine that turns food into poop.
If you watched all the videos linked in this list so far, you will have successfully wasted roughly six and a half hours of work time (don’t bother checking; I did the math). But what of the next hour and a half, you ask? And what of tomorrow? And are you sure that you don’t want to use this opportunity to suck up to any more people in the industry?
Damn straight. Here are the troupes that would have made the list if only their bribes had been slightly more substantial.
Comments are below. Enjoy the debate, friends. If you’re trying to think of something terrible to call me and can’t seem to find the words, may I suggest--
When not cementing his standing in the sketch comedy community, Michael serves as head writer and does other stuff for Those Aren't Muskets!