With Montreal’s Sketchfest within our sights as a highlight of May, I wanted to get to know some of the groups performing. Employees of the Year is one of the newer groups — they performed last year at Sketchfest and I caught but one skit of their act. It made an impact, and I wanted to find out who these two are. Well, aside from their first names, which happen to be Ross Wegschedier and Emelia Hellman
Rachel Levine (RL): How did you get started as a duo?
Emelia Hellman and Ross Wegschedier (E & R): We started doing comedy together a year ago, but we met in theatre school in 2011.We actually weren’t really close in school, and it was when we both ended up living one apartment above the other in the same building, and working at the same restaurant and then coffee shop (and now restaurant again) that Employees Of The Year became a thing. We just both think that the other is the funniest person we know, so our comedy came naturally from being around each other.
RL: Are you interested in things beyond sketch comedy?
Ross: I used to do a lot of improv, and lately I’m getting more into mime and clown work. I’m also an actor so I will literally do anything for money.
Emelia: Same. I’ve been lucky to do lots of great theatre this past year, Shakespeare and contemporary stuff with some awesome companies. I’m going to start directing and writing more too, and stalk Ross to his mime classes.
RL: What is the process you use to develop your sketches?
E & R: Our comedy always comes from us hanging out, basically. We usually just start talking about ideas we have and things we find funny and that turns into brainstorming, which turns into getting on our feet and flailing around, seeing what works and what doesn’t. We’re not as character driven as I think other sketch can be. A lot what we do is heightened versions of us and some pop culture satire, with lots of movement. We always do what we call Mime Songs, where we pick apart pop lyrics and try to highlight what is ridiculous about them.
RL: Do you have a philosophy about comedy, and if so, what is it?
E & R: We really just never take it too seriously, or ourselves. Ultimately you’re trying to make people laugh, we’ve found that if we’re having fun and playing as much as possible, the audience will respond to that. Instinct is important too. We’ve done shows where we try to do something that doesn’t come naturally to us to try and please a certain type of audience and it never goes well.
RL: Do you have any mentors or teachers that you’d like to mention?
E & R: Not mentors per say, but some people who have been overwhelmingly generous and supportive are Erin Hall and Danny Belair, the creators of The Sketch Republic who invited us into their community having never met us before Sketchfest last year. Alain Mercieca at TSC too, who calls us “comedy poets” and makes us feel cooler than we are. Kenny Streule who gave us a stage to try stuff out on opening for his improv troupe WFIIA at M Bar one Wednesday every month.
RL: Do you have any other sketch comedy groups or improv groups that you recommend or admire?
E & R: Yes! So many! We ADORE Peter n’ Chris, Elephant Empire are geniuses, Kirsten Rasmussen is a goddess! And then there’s all the local people who inspire us constantly, everyone coming out of Montreal Improv and Theatre Sainte Catherine; Easy Action (brilliant storytelling), Cousins (hilarious!), Ladies and Gentlemen (such gentlemen!), Big Mall, Marv, and honestly we could go on and on.
RL: What is the best part about performing live?
E & R: There is nothing that compares to making a room full of people laugh at something you came up with in your living room at 3 a.m. Oh yeah, we live together too. We’ve both done lots of different kinds of theatre, but there is something so gratifying about making people laugh at your own words (and for us, movement), rather than shocking them or making them cry. There’s so much ugliness in the world, and while there is totally value in material that reflects that and provokes discussion, evoking laughter and joy is just as important. And so much fun.
RL: Any horror stories from performing? Horror stories are usually the best.
E & R: Oh yeah! We used to perform in our underwear and coffee shop aprons! People always ask why we did, and the only reasoning behind it was that we thought it was weird and funny. Turns out, bombing really hard in your underwear is considerably more intense than bombing fully clothed. There’s nothing like dancing around in little more than food-printed boxer briefs for a room that is NOT vibing with you. Let’s just say, a cheerleader chant of “Gimme a B!” “B!” “Gimme an O” “O!” and so on to spell out the words BOWEL MOVEMENT when you’re the only ones doing both the call and response feels reeeeeaal long, and makes you re-think some stuff. We try to love the bomb though; we learn lots from those long silences.
RL: Do you have recommendations to people getting started in sketch comedy what they should do or how they should approach it?
E & R: It sounds cliché, but just be yourselves. Do you, but try to be honest with yourself. As much as you may love a bit, if the audience and people around you don’t, re-work it or let it go. You’re just going to feel crappy about something you loved. Edit lots! Sometimes our sketches are the same from the start of rehearsal to a show, but often they’re completely different by the time they get on stage. Don’t forget to play, it’s comedy!
Check out Employees of the Year at Sketchfest MTL on May 5 at 8 p.m. at Theatre St. Catherine. This is opening night, so the sacred comedy conch will make an appearance, along with Ladies & Gentlemen, The Don’t We Boys, and MARV. $12. Tickets HERE.