In mainstream America, when you think of Mormons in comedy, it’s often as the butt of the joke. Trey Parker and Matt Stone alone have made a cottage industry of poking fun at Mormon beliefs and habits, through episodes of South Park and their Broadway hit The Book of Mormon.
Mormons probably don’t think these jokes are funny. What do Mormons (and others in the market for family-friendly content) think is funny? A TV show and YouTube channel called Studio C.
The sketch show is available on BYUtv (tagline: “See the Good in the World”), an increasingly popular Mormon-owned network producing family-friendly content; the show’s sixth season premiered last week. Studio C‘s YouTube videos have collectively garnered 200 million views; one viral hit, about a beleaguered soccer goalie, became a global viral hit, earning over 30 million views.
We caught up with series co-creator Jared Shores to learn more about how he turned Studio C into a hit, about the dearth of clean-but-funny comedy, and about the “minefield” of trying to learn from Amy Schumer while avoiding her dirty jokes.
When was the first time you saw Divine Comedy, the Brigham Young sketch group that would grow into Studio C?
Early 2011. When I went to see them, I was wondering how hokey it would be. Is it gonna be silly, campy? I went in and was really surprised and impressed. It was fresh and edgy, given the constraints of still having to be clean. There were no overt sexual innuendoes or vulgarities. They were really clever and witty.
BYUtv is a Mormon-owned station, but your goal is to create family-friendly comedy in general.
Our goal as Mormons is to be a positive people. If you watch a movie that’s riddled with the F-word, is that gonna uplift you? Probably not. But there’s not a lot of family-appropriate comedy that’s trying to be fresh, intellectual, and witty. On one side there are people like Amy Schumer and Will Ferrell who are extremely talented individuals, but their humor can be sexualized, vulgar, a little base. On the other side there’s comedy that’s more tween, more silly, more cartoonish. Then there’s this dearth in the middle. If you want clean comedy and intelligence, it’s tricky. Our goal is to create content where people don’t have to do, “Should I share that with my son or daughter? It’s super funny, but there’s a sexual joke I don’t want to explain.”
Do you watch Amy Schumer? If your beliefs constrain what you’re supposed to watch, how do you as a comedy programmer figure out what’s in the zeitgeist?
You hit the problem right on the head. How currently aware does one have to be to participate in the media landscape? It comes down to a personal gut check for me. Amy Schumer is everywhere right now. Can I be ignorant to that fact? Probably not. So how much content do I need to consume to be aware? Well, I probably need to see something to know who she is, what her style of comedy is, who her audience is. So I go in with specific goals in mind. If I watch five pieces of content, I can get a decent idea. It’s a tricky balance. In short, I try to avoid as much inappropriate content as feasibly possible, but at the same time I can’t be completely ignorant of what people are doing.
So what work of Amy Schumer’s did you watch?
I’ve seen several things on YouTube. Sometimes I watch stuff, and I say, “No, this is getting into an area I don’t like, there’s too much sexual innuendo.” It gets to a point where it’s no longer going to be helpful for me, or it’s just going to distract me or go against my personal convictions. It’s navigating a mine field: that’s the game I have to play.
It seems like your job is to constantly scandalize yourself, then quickly hit pause.
I’ve never thought about it in that regard. I don’t go in with the intent of crossing a personal line. I go more in with the mindset that some of these people are extremely talented, and once I feel like I’ve learned the lesson, I move on. I don’t need to go see Trainwreck to benefit my comedy. I feel like I understand her enough.
In the Studio C writers room, how do you make sure you don’t cross over into risqué territory?
A lot of times the line can become gray and hazy. But like anything, it comes down to a moral compass. A good gut check for us is that we want to make content that a grandma would feel comfortable sharing with her 10-year-old grandson. We want families to be able to sit down and watch together.
This interview has been condensed and edited.