Sketch comedy is enjoying a TV renaissance of sorts thanks to the major Canadian broadcasters. CBC has Punchline, where comedy fans can go online to check out original material, Bell’s Comedy Network offers up Letterkenny Problems and stand-up specials, and City has Sunnyside.
Now Shaw is getting in on the action with The Second City Project, an online entity that grabs the primetime spotlight on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT. The TV project celebrates the long-running sketch troupe with never-before-seen sketches and comedy pieces from the company’s cast—alumni writer-performers Marty Adams, Tim Baltz, Caitlin Howden, Sam Richardson, Kayla Lorette and Steve Waltien, along with showrunner Bob Martin—in a half-hour special.
The Second City Project has a companion piece in a YouTube channel (check out one of the segments below) that embraces all things out-there while skewering social mores. Online clips include a wheelchair-bound werewolf—played by Adams—who finds it hard to hunt down victims because he can’t gain access to buildings, and a skewering of network executives who tell Martin one of the girls on the cast has to dye her hair blonde.
“The one about the hair was actually a real conversation we had with the network,” Martin says with a laugh. “They did come up and say, ‘One of them has to change their hair because they look too much alike.’ We had this whole awkward conversation and I had to go up to Caitlin and Kayla and say, ‘The network would like one of you to become a blonde.'”
Martin is a hot property right now. In addition to The Second City Project, he’s begun work on the second season of HBO Canada’s Sensitive Skin with Kim Cattrall and Don McKellar, and CBC’s reboot of Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays. But he jumped at the chance to flex his sketch writing muscles alongside comedy veterans like Adams, who sees Canadian networks committing to online content as a backdoor to getting funny stuff on TV.
“I think the only way to get on TV as a sketch production is to have already done stuff online,” Adams says. “You have to go on YouTube and get a million or 2 million hits to prove it can be successful. Sketch series have been a hard sell for a long time. You have Saturday Night Live, but now with shows like Key & Peele, it’s booming now. But you have to prove yourself to the network. They won’t sink money into a project just because they liked your showcase.”
Adams and Martin note sketch has advanced in the way it looks thematically, with Martin explaining the goal for The Second City Project was to make all of the content looks great online and on TV. Martin also wanted the sketches to be standalone vignettes with no through lines or characters recurring between segments.
“I love Portlandia, but I don’t want to play the same characters,” Adams says. “Unless it’s a rich character that you can mine, you can beat it to death.”
The Second City Project airs Sunday, April 19, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Global.