State of the Arts: Comedy troupe HumanTown headed for CBC

Sketchy friends land comedy coup

Vancouver sketch comedy group HumanTown will see a half-hour prime-time comedy special of its creation aired on CBC Television next fall.

The team won $500,000 in production financing through CBC ComedyCoup at the Whistler Film Festival on Dec. 6.

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“This is our dream,” said Daniel Doheny, one of six best friends, three of them housemates, behind HumanTown. “It’s basically what we’ve wanted to do for the last 10 years.”

The sextet has been creating movies and videos since they met at Byng Arts Mini School at age 13. They’ve made videos for YouTube, have written six episodes of HumanTown and have been trying to get the sketch show made for two years.

What sets HumanTown apart is that the sketches are serialized. Characters reappear and storylines continue.  

“We just thought it would be nice to reward people for watching the show more,” Doheny said. “[We’re] trying to build a comedic world that has a little bit more value than just sketch after sketch, like when you’re watching Arrested Development and you learn a little bit more about the characters, every joke becomes funnier. It can still stand on its own but it’s a little bit deeper.”

Reoccurring characters in the dark and absurd world include Orthak the Ork, police officer Hawke and Howard the camera salesman, who reveals shocking personal photographs to customers, while his talk is all tech. “A lot of people die,” Doheny said. “We have a pretty big body count for a comedy show.”

The 23- and 24-year-olds behind HumanTown believe viewers appreciate exploring a united story world.

“People are more excited to watch longer stories than people give them credit for,” Doheny said. “A lot of people say that this is a YouTube generation with really short attention spans, but people are getting really interested in these long-form shows.

“We grew up watching a lot of TV but also a lot of movies and a lot of our sketches are inspired by cinematic tendencies,” Doheny continued. “We like poking fun at a lot of forms of movies, like film noir and Western and cop movies…In high school, we really liked those kind of movies but we couldn’t pull them off. We just didn’t have the ability to, so instead we like spoofing them.”

Drama students Doheny, Ki Kwiatkowski, Kane Stewart, Jack Heyes, Liam Macleod and Miles Chalmers banded together when they were 13 and made a 42-minute film in their spare time called Monkey: Dawn of the Ape. “It was basically the exact same plot as Terminator, but with apes.”

Teams competed for 10 weeks in the CBC ComedyCoup “digital comedy accelerator.” Fans voted online. Competitors were whittled down to the final five, which included another Vancouverite, Graham Clark. Then a panel, which included Michelle Daly, senior director of comedy, commissioned and scripted programming for CBC Television, and Dan Goldberg, who was instrumental in the development of Meatballs, Stripes, Old School and The Hangover series, chose HumanTown as the winner.

In a surprise development, Montreal team Depflies won an immediate development deal for its bilingual sitcom about a family run convenience store.

“My favourite thing about the competition was I got to see all this Canadian content and comedy that I’d never seen before, all these amazing, talented people I never knew existed in this country,” Doheny said.

You can visit HumanTown at comedycoup.cbc.ca/humantown.

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