Thursday, April 27, 2017

You Look Like Money: Craig Brewer Teams up with the Memphis Comedy Community

Posted By on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 at 3:54 PM

click to enlarge unnamed-1.jpg
I can't remember when I've been in a happier, busier room. Everybody was grinning wide, and laughing, except for the writers — a who's who of local comedy talent — who looked grave and anxiety-ridden, which is how you could tell they were in the zone and having a blast. Memphis' man in Hollywood, Craig Brewer, has a plan. He wants to transform Katrina Coleman and Tommy Oler's You Look Like comedy show/podcast, into digital content for streaming providers. The popular game of competitive comic put-downs has fantastic web-sharing potential. It's exactly the kind of thing the internet was made for.

On stage the comedy is vicious. Things change after the loser makes a filmed "walk of shame."

"You got robbed," the winner of one round says, chasing down his not terribly disgraced opponent. "I know, I totally beat you," he answers. Nobody's mad. Love is thick. They're all in this together.

"I'm not drunk enough to cry," Coleman says, as the camera crew prepares to shoot the last five episodes of a ten episode trial season. "But set your watches."
click to enlarge Katrina Coleman, Morgan Jon Fox
  • Katrina Coleman, Morgan Jon Fox
Coleman, who looks like the person most responsible for assembling the big tent of modern Memphis comedy, gestures to a ridiculous crown spinning on a turntable just offstage. That's the winner's prize. "It's still the You Look Like show," she assures the "studio audience," acknowledging her shoestring budgeted show's many physical upgrades. "I made that motherfucker in my living room," she says, with a catch in her throat. A machine pumps fog into the room, standing in for the P&H's famously thick cloud of cigarette smoke. Local writer/director Morgan Fox orders the cameras to roll and the games begin in earnest.

The rules couldn't be more simple. Two comics stand face to face trading appearance-based insults like, "You look like heroin might improve your life." That's mild. Comics being comics, and built the way they are, the meaner it gets the more respect you can feel radiating from the combatants. When a roughing session ends the audience chooses a winner and the loser has to gaze into a mirror of shame and play the game all over again with his/herself. Simple. Perfect. And Memphis insult hero Tutweezy makes for an affable master of ceremonies.
click to enlarge Comic Amanda Walker and Craig Brewer.
  • Comic Amanda Walker and Craig Brewer.
Brewer discovered the You Look Like Show by way of the Memphis Comedy Festival. He had no idea that such a mature comedy scene had grown up in the tavern at the center of his own origin story. "I felt like grandpa," he says of the revelation. 
click to enlarge Memphis Flyer cover art by Memphis comic/artist Mitchell Dunnam.
  • Memphis Flyer cover art by Memphis comic/artist Mitchell Dunnam.
It's epic deja vous seeing Brewer at work in the P&H Cafe. That's where I met him. He was working on his first feature film, The Poor & Hungry and had had come into the bar to screen "rushes" of  footage he'd recently shot. Seemed like would be filmmakers were everywhere, back then, but Brewer was different. He was devoid of pretension, and radiated so much excitement for the work he was doing there was no way to inoculate against the infection. When The Poor & Hungry was accepted into the Hollywood Film Festival, I followed him and the P&H Cafe's late great proprietress Wanda Wilson to LaLa Land to watch an emerging local talent be reborn as a hot commodity. And there he was, big as life, back at the old smoke-stained bar — the place where it all began — doing the kind of thing he fantasized about as a penniless beginner, driving around L.A. looking for a strip joint that might run his credit card and give him enough cash for dinner and parking.  
click to enlarge In the "writer's room" with Richard Douglas Jones and Hunter Sandlin
  • In the "writer's room" with Richard Douglas Jones and Hunter Sandlin
Brewer has always looked for opportunities to export Memphis talent and weirdness. In the 90's he shot the city's bourgeoning burlesque scene. His team-up with MTV on $5 Cover brought a semi-fictionalized version of the Memphis music scene to the masses. In some ways Brewer's plan to turn You Look Like, into a streaming success is enhanced by a largely united comedy scene that's already accustomed to collaboration. As soon as a comic advances to the next round he or she is in the back room working with a solid team of local comics including Hunter Sandlin, and Richard Douglas Jones.

"I get paid the same if I win or lose," keystone comic Josh McLane says, praising a spirit of collaboration that brings competitors together to come up with the best worst things they could possibly say to each other. It doesn't matter who wears the crown. All that matters: Is it funny? To that end the whole atmosphere feels a little like old-school Memphis wrasslin'. The outcomes aren't predetermined, but everybody's working together to bring serious pain from the top-rope.
click to enlarge Tommy Oler looks like a very handsome comedian. Hunter Sandlin looks like he shouldn't have coveted the lost Ark.
  • Tommy Oler looks like a very handsome comedian. Hunter Sandlin looks like he shouldn't have coveted the lost Ark.
For financing Brewer turned to past collaborator David Harris, an executive for Gunpowder & Sky, an LA based digital first studio  Harris had previously worked with Brewer on "Savage County," a horror web-series. BR2, the "digiflick" company originally founded to market The Poor & Hungry is producing, as evidenced by a pair of director's chairs printed with the company's classic logo.

"We didn't have chairs the first time," Brewer quips as a Memphis media super team including co-producers Fox and Erin Freeman, Editor Edward Valibus, and Director of Photography Sarah Fleming all work the room.

I wish I had an appropriate insult to end this post. But all I can say is, You Look Like looks like it was a lot of fun to make. It's bound to be a lot of fun to watch. Now it's all about putting the pieces together, and taking it to market.
click to enlarge Fake smoke, real comedy.
  • Fake smoke, real comedy.

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