Welcome to relationship hell, population: Taylor and Jared.
But first, the funny backstory: The YouTube series Broken People, by comedians and actors and real-life couple Taylor Orci and Jared Nigro, was recently picked up by CC:Studios, Comedy Central’s in-house digital development division—and neither Orci nor Nigro can figure out why.
In Broken People, the couple plays sort of bizarro-world versions of themselves, two people whose barbed tongues and murderous stares will make you appreciate the relationship you have or be grateful you’re not in one. The humor is bone-dry. The quality of the clips are a step above lo-fi. So how did the duo get its show greenlit for ComedyCentral.com? Because of all of the above. And more.
Orci and Nigro spoke with Fast Company about navigating the world of online platforms and how an amateur porn they made may have sealed the deal with Comedy Central.
Where did the idea for Broken People come from?
Orci: We did this sketch on Funny or Die [parodying We Bought a Zoo], and it seemed like such a ridiculous thing to buy a zoo–what if you bought it just to spite your partner?
Orci: We had such a fun time with that idea. Personally, I was in a really low place. I had gotten laid off of my job and I was cleaning out what little retirement account I had, and started to think about all the horrible things I said to people. Our Broken People characters are very much people that we could’ve been. It’s this alternate reality where we were really upset at ourselves and create these characters to make fun of that.
Nigro: The thing that we always do in our actual relationship is we communicate just not verbally but you can tell when the other person is upset. Here’s this flip where these two characters never pay attention to each other. Or if they do pay attention, it’s only to the extent of “how does this affect me?” It was this fun thing to escape and be like, “While I’m working through these problems, here’s the bad version of what I could do.” It was nice to have an outlet to actually make that into a show.
Your friend Scotty Landes, writer for Workaholics, was your connection to Comedy Central?
Orci: I did a video a few years ago called Bitchy Resting Face, and Jared and I got to do the Today show–we ate all the cheese backstage. We were like, “What’s going to happen?” This is the coolest thing that could happen to a video, and then I got a Facebook message from this guy I had met at a party eight years ago.
Nigro: He said he loved the Broken People videos.
Orci: We were doing the show for ourselves. It was sort of like a friend favorite. We had a lot of friends who were posting about it, but we just thought it was going to be an obscure weird thing we did and nothing more, and when Scotty said this is something he believed in and could be on a place like Comedy Central, I would never have put those two things together.
How did you pitch Broken People to Comedy Central?
Nigro: It was still such a shock for us that people would like the thing. We tried to figure out what the hell is this specific show? It took us a long time and a lot of panic attacks. The thing that clenched in the pitch is Taylor and I filmed a cold open where the two of us have sex and it’s not bad sex in the sense of like we’re thinking about, Did we leave the oven on?; it’s the bad sex where it’s like two flopping fish smacking against each other, the most disgusting, disconnected kind of sex. We essentially filmed a porn for our pitch.
Orci: YouTube banned it! Even in the pitch with [Eric Abrams, director of digital development at CC:Studios], we were like, “Let’s just have two other ideas in our back pocket.” And one was like “Gina Sure Loves Rollercoasters!” We thought it seemed more along the lines of Comedy Central, these high-concept, goofy ideas. Eric contacted us later and said, “No, we really like Broken People.” And we’re like, “What the fuck is wrong with everybody?!”
Your broken selves are the absolute worst–what was your process for developing those characters?
Nigro: The thing is to figure out what our characters aren’t. What I mean by that is it would be easy for me as a male to start talking like a man-child.
Orci: When Jared goes out for parts as an actor, he gets typecast into this “Bro, how ’bout if you just tickle her vagina and order a pizza?”
Nigro: Yeah, and the girl’s always nagging. She’s either a sexless joke machine or she’s a sexy bitch who is nothing but sarcastic and emotionally removed. We kept trying to write that, and it wasn’t working. It got to the point where, why don’t we write the way we actually talk? It wasn’t our intention to set out and make something that’s specifically different; our intention was to write the thing that was most truthful to who we are.
Orci: We had to talk a lot about: Are they always pissed at each other? What is the tone? We felt it would really be one-note if we just had that same attitude over and over again.
Nigro: And they wouldn’t seem like a real couple. What’s nice about the YouTube thing is that it feels authentic because they’re just little moments and you can sense so much of the relationship in those moments. We decided to start and stop the episodes with those YouTube moments of just the stares and silence, but they’re allowed to talk to each other like regular people.
Orci: We realized this is a show about a couple dealing with perfection. They want to be perfect–they want to be like this couple across the hall that’s a little offbeat but loves each other and they’re happy. And instead of confronting the darkness, they just pile on trinkets upon trinkets of things that look perfect to them, and get pissed and take it out on each other.
Has CC:Studios had any input on the series?
Orci: It’s been by and large hands off. The production company [Abso Lutely Productions] we’re working with, they also were very much telling us to do the show we want. When you get that from a place like Abso Lutely and Comedy Central, that’s awesome because that’s all you ever wanted is the freedom to do what you want! But also it’s like, “Oh, shit–what do we want?”
Any advice for someone looking to take their web series to new heights?
Orci: Make the show you want–don’t make what you think will sell. Because there’s so much content out there, you really need to push boundaries and take risks, and YouTube is such a fantastic platform for that because you can throw anything up against the wall. In the case of Bitchy Resting Face, when it got to number one on Reddit, we didn’t do that–someone else found it and promoted it, and other people liked it. I think there’s something there about having faith and believing that if you put something out there that’s personal and funny to you, other people are going to find it.
Nigro: People are looking for some kind of purity of voice and an honesty of what you’re trying to do. And I think that may cut through all of the excess amount of videos out there, because I know that’s the thing I can connect with. I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m fingering myself.
Orci: He is–he is fingering himself.