This past year, we had Brokelyn’s resident Comedy Dad Eric Silver tell you all about how to self-produce your career in comedy by hosting your own show. But what if, despite your diligence and ambition, you just don’t feel funny on your own?
Luckily, in the wide world of self-produced comedy, there exists a very trendy solution to that problem: pairing up. Dividing to conquer. Co-hosting a comedy show with someone whose voice is different than yours and who might suggest things you’d never have thought of otherwise. Sound easy? It isn’t. In the same way that having a roommate can quickly become a nightmarish coexistence, so can sharing a comedy show. But somehow, SJ Son (28) and Ginny Leise (27) have made it work for the past five years, and they show no signs of letting — or splitting — up. You might recognize this pair of funny women from their very viral “Drive-by Street Harassment” video on YouTube, their popular live show The Shame Game (which later became a webseries) or any number of other video series they’ve self-produced over the past few years. Most recently, the girls have set their sights on a TV pilot with Urban Teach Now, the satirical story of an “achievement-obsessed” Asian-American graduate who takes a job as a teaching artist with urban youth.
With such an impressive CV of co-made comedy under their belts, Brokelyn wanted to get the skinny on just how these women found such a perfect pairing together, and whether there was any hope for the rest of us looking to find The One.
“It’s a lot of trial and error, and it helps if you’re already friends,” Leise told Brokelyn. “But when you find the person you work well with, never let them go.”
These women aren’t actually in a romantic relationship, btw. But they might as well be; Son and Leise’s origin story reads like a Judd Apatow meet-cute. The girls met in a Level 3 improv class at the PIT, and ended up on the same indie team (“Das Buttvürk”) for another two years after that. Leise told us that improv was “a fast-track to friendship,” citing it as an experience that showcased each of their vulnerabilities and formed the cornerstone of their collaborative relationship.
At the time that Son and Leise were taking classes together, Leise was already hosting her Shame Game show at the PIT Loft (née Treehouse Theater). Leise told us she hated hosting alone.
“It’s hard to be creative in a vacuum, inspired in a vacuum,” she explained. Miming a microphone under her chin, she added, “I was alone in my apartment saying, ‘Let’s get psyched!'”
Having worked with her in class, Leise knew she wanted Son co-hosting the show. So during the Del Close Marathon, while the girls were waiting on line together for a Gravid Water performance, Leise proposed the idea—literally.
“She said ‘So I’ve been thinking about something,'” Son recalls. “And she got down on one knee with a straw wrapper made into a ring.”
From that moment on, the girls were inseparable. The Shame Game moved to Park Slope’s Union Hall. Son quit her job as an account executive at a boutique ad agency — “I was using the excuse that it was a ‘creative business,'” she laughed — and Leise left her administrative position at Meetup.com in order to focus on the show.
“We became obsessed, it became our number one priority,” said Son. “We [got] side-jobs, but no more nine-to-fives.”
Now, this is where my inner cynic shines. Sue me, but I can’t imagine getting along with another human being 24/7, especially not when it comes to deciding what’s funny. And yet, regarding their own collaboration on The Shame Game, Son and Leise seemed both utterly transparent and completely satisfied.
“We were open to each other’s ideas,” Son explained.
“We were really ‘Yes, And’-ing,” Leise added, referring to the improv practice of accepting a scene partner’s suggestions unconditionally.
As Leise and Son realized weird idea after weird idea, The Shame Game got steadily more writing-heavy on interstitials and demanding in its technical needs. Soon the girls realized they wanted more than just a monthly appointment to do comedy together. “Every month, we’d have a Doc of b-sides that didn’t make it into the show,” Leise said. “That’s why the [live] Shame Game ended up folding. You get to be so involved that you actually feel constrained.”
Despite fewer public appearances, the “SJ & Ginny Comedy” biz is still going as strong as in the girls’ scrappy Shame Game days of leopard-print dance breaks and pubic hair-inspired costumes. They’ve produced three webseries, written a play (Great Gig, which ran at the Annoyance for a month in 2015), and are working on their first TV pilot. Nowadays, their collaboration is far more than a mere Yes-And. It’s about professional growth and creative momentum. With Urban Teach Now, for example, Son and Leise have switched gears from sketch comedy and improv to long-form satire. Slated to shoot in New Orleans in May, the show will cast both local high school kids in NOLA and professional New York actors to play alongside Son and Leise.
But even as a power couple with business savvy, the ladies have faced a lion’s share of rejection in the industry. Son and Leise lead independent lives as commercial actors, and during our conversation they each shared grim stories from their respective audition experiences.
“I feel like being an actor would be unbearable if you weren’t making your own work,” Leise mused.
Leise and Son’s Hearts of Gold (HOG) webseries, despite great production value and very admirable weirdness (in one episode, Leise plays a loofa who avoids eye contact) only got 400 or so views after it launched on YouTube.
“That’s still one of my favorite things that we’ve ever made,” Leise said. Both girls were nonchalant about the series’ flop (relative to the millions-viewed success of their drive-by harassment video, anyway). They shared their tips on how they stayed positive when their efforts got crickets.
“The internet is so fickle and fame is so elusive,” Leise told us. “We’ve always just been very ‘on to the next thing,'”
Next to her, Son nodded. “First, get tacos. Second, go to sleep. Third, nobody cares about it.”
At the end of the day, Leise and Son’s recipe for a successful collaboration in comedy isn’t all that complicated to replicate. It’s basically just a matter of listening, communicating and rolling with the punches. All the same, we asked them whether there were any key ingredients people should know about.
Leise thought for a moment, then said, “Feed each other. Like, have good snacks at your apartment.”
And while feminism isn’t a title the girls were looking for, they’ve happily adopted it as a descriptive term for their signature brand of script-flipting alt-comedy. Son admitted that she probably does have a deep-seated disdain for the patriarchy, since she often finds it leaking into her improv work. “Anytime a tall white man is in my scene, I make him my intern.”
Kickstart Urban Teach Now to guarantee another SJ & Ginny original in July!
And follow Sam on Twitter for more tales of New York’s weird comedy scene: @ahoysamantha
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