A woman swipes her gym membership card. Unexpected, celebratory sounds ring out of the machine—it’s her birthday. “It didn’t do that last year,” she manages, but the receptionist gives her a knowing nod—”last year you weren’t 40″—and leads her to a section of the change room that’s flush with nudity and similarly-aged women with a decided lack of concern about decorum. “Welcome to your 40s, Kelsey,” she’s told. “Welcome to not giving a shit at the gym.”
The sketch—”Locker Room Birthday”—was the first one that Baroness von Sketch Show offered up into the world ahead of the CBC comedy’s shows premiere earlier this month. It offered both a calling card of its sensibility—wry, contemporary, sharp—but also, for its creators, an early sense of reaction.
“When we were putting it out on our Facebook, sharing it with all our friends, we had to take a deep breath,” Aurora Browne, one of the show’s four creators, says. “‘The last couple years online have not been the greatest for women: there’s tons of trolls, there’s gamergate—what are people going to say about our bodies, and how old we are? Is it trivial, what we’re talking about?—that kinda stuff.
“But I don’t even know if there was anything,” she continues. “I think one person thought we were being inappropriate online, but everybody else was just so into the humour of the sketch that they didn’t talk about us, or how we looked, or any of the things we expected. We’ve been really troll-free so far.”
As it should be: Baroness von Sketch Show looks to be some of the sharpest televised sketch comedy the country has offered up in years. Another sketch documents the anything-goes rules of being “at the cottage” (if you have family in Ontario, this rings particularly true); another extols the virtues of dry shampoo to an absurd extreme. Observational in tone, It’s created, performed and produced by four top comic talents, all women: Browne, Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill and Jennifer Whalen. They all had various histories together before Baroness—Browne had performed at Second City with Taylor, who wrote with McNeill on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. It was while working together there that that pair conceived the idea of an all-female sketch show, and brought the others onboard.
“Meredith had just come from the UK, where there actually is all-female sketch on television,” Browne recalls. “Certainly there are all-female sketch troupes here in Canada, but it hadn’t been on television in the same way.”
After deciding on some key ideas—sketches shot on location rather than in studio, no laugh track—they found Frantic Films, a company that understood that vision, produced a demo reel of ideas and fired it off to the CBC.
“I think they called us back within a day,” Browne notes. “They didn’t follow any of the dating rules, where you’re supposed to look really stand-off-ish. They were right in with us.”
From there, the process seemed to streamline: the official green-light came at the beginning of last year, and now the show premiered in early June.
“The first thing we always start with each sketch, is what’s the truth of it?” Browne explains, of the show’s voice. “We wanted to make a relatable comedy that people could look at and really recognize themselves. So that always starts with us looking at our own lives: what is the truth of a situation? Is there something funny to be taken out of that?
“So we’re always trying to be very rigorous, be very honest with ourselves, about what makes a person awful, or what makes a situation bizarre,” she continues. “Part of that is also speaking from our own experience, and not being off-hand, or cavalier. If we’re going to write about it, we’ve at least really thought about it.”
Tuesdays (9:30 pm)
Baroness Von Sketch Show