The Canadian comedy series BARONESS VON SKETCH SHOW brilliantly skewers every day life situations from an unapologetic feminist viewpoint. Daring to call-out the absurdity of how women are treated and pandered to in all aspects of their lives — even in modern times — BARONESS VON SKETCH SHOW is bracing and bold. Currently airing its third season both in Canada and on IFC in the U.S., BARONESS VON SKETCH SHOW has not slowed down or even toned down its searing portrayals of women. In an interview from the set where the show is filming Season 4, Meredith MacNeil, Carolyn Taylor, Aurora Browne, and Jennifer Whalen candidly talked about how much they appreciate the chance to unflinching do comedy their way.
This year has been kind of pivotal in comedy, particularly comedy for women, because of the #MeToo movement. Has your show taken on anything to illustrate some of that in your world?
MEREDITH: [Laughs] The #MeToo movement was happening well before this wave of #MeToo.
CAROLYN: We were shooting Season 3 when during first hashtag #MeToo and we’d done all our writing for it by then, I guess, the Spring before that. But we were tackling issues that I don’t think we’d realized at the time or that of course Harvey Weinstein would go down — all of that which it started happening in the November. But, yeah, the writing for that season was done in May of 2017.
MEREDITH: It was funny how it worked out to reflect like that. But then, I think, being a woman in your forties and growing up — of course, what’s being said and what needs to change is something that we all want at the same time — and I think it was good, obviously.
CAROLYN: And we were kind of in line with where it was headed.
AURORA: It’s not like that was the first time — remember the year before, or two years before, there had been the women walking around New York dealing with the catcalling. It had been coming. But it was just the first time that the consequences were different.
CAROLYN: We tackled some in Season 1 and Season 2, and Season 3 just continued to grow on that. What’s interesting, one of our writers in Season 2 had a dream — Mae Martin had a dream — she was like, “I dreamt that our writing was part of the resistance” and that really stayed. It was like, “Yes. We’re gonna continue to work with that within the greater model of the show.” And it’s manifesting in all different ways.
MEREDITH: We have a couple sketches — and I think the whole show in where it’s like how we see life and how it sees us. Then we have a couple sketches that particularly talk about really specific things, like assault.
CAROLYN: Assault and homophobia.
AURORA: It’s not often that we’re topical. It’s not like we’re doing it the week of, or anything like that. I think at the time, politically what was happening was like more a, “whoa! whoa!” kind of thing. But then it’s just happened. Women have been so aware of for so, so long. We’re just kinda coming to the fore[front]. So I don’t think you want to call it a happy accident — or is that an unhappy accident — it’s like, “Oh, it’s still a good thing to talk about.”
CAROLYN: It’s funny. I wonder if it is an accident. I think we’re all in this together, and there is a consciousness that we’re all sort of tapping into.
MEREDITH: I think with more shows — where you have female producers and channels and support teams that let women talk about the things that they want to talk about, or let them speak about how society affects them — that the messaging is only going to get stronger and better. We’re just in the very fortunate position that we’re all executive producers and we have an intense support team and developing producers that support us in saying this messaging. I think that is rare. I think that’s why we can get it down the field. So we can write something with all of us — and the lovely Mae Martin — we can start originally, and then because of being an executive producer, we get to see that message all the way through. I think that’s what’s a little bit different about our show.
AURORA: When something big like that — that is quite universal — it’s happening. It just means that everybody in the audience is that much more on the same page. We’ve always been interested in power dynamics and strangeness and unfairness and things like that. So it just means that people are maybe more aware of like, “Oh yes, this is a big thing.” But I think that that’s always been a theme for us.
MEREDITH: I love THAT was just one question! Welcome to BARONESS.
Can you also talk a little bit more about the show, not just being so topical — it’s kind of got a timeless feel that these are truths that stand up? We’re behind than the United States, and yet the jokes are not old or they’re out of date or anything. They feel very current.
AURORA: Well, if you’re talking about the socio-political, really, it’s talking about, for the most part, we talk about the small truths that happen in people’s lives — the “isn’t it funny that …” stuff that happens. So I think that stuff stays integrated. Generally, when we’re writing, what will happen is when we start pitching ideas and someone will say, “you know, I had this thing happen to me.” And a bunch of other people will go, “oh, yeah!” Then it’s like, “OK, that’s an area that a lot of people are going to resonate with.” So that’s a great way to know. So one of the things is that everybody has relate to it and I think we’re more of the same than we are different. Really across the world — we are just talking about what it’s like to live in a city and our problems are the same problems as other city problems. Other than the first year, where we were actually doing the press in the States, there was a woman that interviewed us who didn’t realize that we were Canadian and she was like, “oh, they showed that sketch you did, that was about the housing market going up” and she was like, “my God, you must have talked to somebody from Chicago, how did you know?” I was like, “oh no, that’s happening everywhere.” So I think we have commonalities there.
CAROLYN: Not being topical — we are not topical in the sense of, “the politics of the specific day” like somebody got impeached. It’s greater thing at things like: misogyny, unfortunately, and chances are it’s still going to be relevant six months from now or a year from now when we re-write it to, sadly, some of the topics that we tackle. They’re not going away, just like climate change and the devastation of planet. Yeah, know what? Pretty sure that’s going to be relevant a year from now and I think there is a bit of sadness behind some of the stuff we write.
MEREDITH: I think as far as the human dynamic, I think empathy travels a long way. I’m a big lover of that and that idea that we love to play to the awkward moment. I embrace that a lot because it’s just so devastating sometimes to play. And what we’re happy about — and I think what’s happening is people are really responding to — is that at the same time, they are seeing themselves in that. I think that’s also what makes it feel extremely topical. It’s just like telling the truth for a situation like, “I just needed to buy groceries” or “I just didn’t want to come to my friend’s party and didn’t know what to say.” It’s like those are going to always be timeless. And then, obviously through the arts, we realize that it is actually storytelling. I mean looking back at other stuff there, it’s always human dynamics that seem sort of topical, isn’t it? That’s never-ending.
CAROLYN: The idea that we’re complex is what I’m often drawn to. I think a lot of us are. That idea when your head and your heart are in different places and your head says, “I believe this, politically and this is my position” but your heart’s like, “oh, damn!” You know, like, “I’m feeling conflicted.” So it’s really fun to go into that area where there’s not always a clear villain and a clear victory. That we mine the areas within ourselves that are conflicted. You don’t always, clearly, know where you stand in a scene. We do often have very strong points of view, but there is room to reflect on the conflict that we can all have internally.
AURORA: If there’s one thing that going on the internet, like topics, then it is likely that I feel something that at least a thousand other people are feeling the same thing. So I think when we write from our guts, like “I really feel this” it just worked out — and yes, there are other people that feel it too.
Do you want to weigh in on the topic of whether “late night” comedy is relevant for women anymore? There isn’t a lot of women voices on “late night” comedy. In fact, it’s that dearth that’s created a need for your shows like yours.
MEREDITH: Let’s just talk about Trevor Noah. Have you watched any Trevor Noah lately? I feel like the “late night” circuit, obviously, is really important and I think it’s doing a lot of wonderful things. I think sometimes it’s telling the truth more than certain public outlets, but I get it’s on late and the fact that there’s not a lot of women in “late night.” More women, everywhere, is better. Let’s be honest about that. But I still really stand behind what Trevor Noah is doing right now on The Daily Show.
CAROLYN: And Sam Bee is killing it. We were in the States for another promo for IFC, I was with a girlfriend, and we were in a hotel room and we were able to have access to Sam Bee at the time. Sam Bee was talking about women dying in child birth and in hospitals, like really personal stories that are extremely political and that don’t get told in the media. At the moment, it’s our comedians that are putting forward political thought. It’s incredible. It’s fantastic that it was raising awareness. I didn’t realize that. I certainly knew women died in child birth, but not to that extent. I can’t believe it’s the comedians in many cases that are doing full on pieces. This wasn’t like one little coffee joke, like a quick joke, this was an in-depth report at the same time.
JENNIFER: Maybe the answer to this is that the United States needs more Canadian women! And, you know, we could probably do any of the hours from primetime on. There is some swearing content, but I think that is probably alright. [Laughs]
Do you think, perhaps, women as your audience, aren’t looking to “late night” comedy for anything that reflects what they are interested in and maybe are looking for content at a different time?
MEREDITH: I can’t answer that honestly, because I don’t really know how many women are tuning into “late night.”
CAROLYN: I have no idea either.
JENNIFER: We’re in the middle of filming right now, so we’re getting up at five in the morning. So I’m like “late night who”?! [Laughs]
AURORA: YouTube is your friend. There’s Seth, there’s John Oliver. But you would really have to ask them. I think that they are really thoughtful. Like with Sam Bee, they did an incredible job. The amount of points per minute that she makes are incredible. But I find John Oliver is the same way. And I think that when you have an emperor wearing no clothes or terrible clothes or doing terrible things, I think that’s why you have this glut of comedians saying, “Guys, this is messed up.” I am not in their homes and I’m not in their minds. But, if they are anything like me, they are looking and listening and taking breaks because it’s so overwhelming. I dip in sometimes and I think I can’t do this right now, so I’ll come back.
JENNIFER: A good joke makes you feel like you’re not alone though and a good joke makes you feel like, “Oh, my God, this is so crazy.”
MEREDITH: Men standing up for you and saying their piece and speaking towards us is a wonderful thing. There is a lot of great things that are happening. They’re probably just saying stuff, but I think it’s great.
You are very political in your writing and some more overly than others. Like we were just speaking about UNFOUNDED and I know that hasn’t been aired long enough to see the fullness of the public response to it.
MEREDITH: We’ll find out today. It aired already. But a lot of our audience lives online and that’s a different type of audience that will watch it. They are more likely comment and leave feedback. That’s where our audience has always been built. We’ll share a video and we’ll trend and they’ll turn into CBC.
You know how it felt to film and to put it out [BARONESS VON SKETCH SHOW], I wonder if just that feeling of being heard about issues that are so important that makes you feel like that’s the direction you want for future seasons to continue?
MEREDITH: It’s a direction that I, personally as an artist, want to see myself in. I think that’s the best place you can be. Being able to be in a space where you can talk about things that effect you or you might be able to support someone else that’s going through something.
JENNIFER: We’re reflecting the culture back, right? So we’re always going to talk about the things that are happening in the culture and the things that people are talking about. So as the culture gets more political, I think necessarily, it will just be.
MEREDITH: What I find extraordinary, I feel like one of the reasons this feels so new is just because, again, we have the support of the channel, we have the support of the producers, and we have an intense team support. To get it down the line, that’s why in our show it’s happening. I guarantee, like Sam Bee had a wonderful speech about, “There’s other women writing stuff, when talked about, do they have the same support network all the way down the line?” You know what I mean? Is that what’s happening?
AURORA: I think it’s weird alchemy that every season we look at stuff and we also look at what bubbles up and sometimes taking a large issue and boiling it down to something. We have to find a way to make it seem that it’s personal — that it’s real. So much of women’s politics end up manifesting in their bodies and about their bodies. What happens in your daily life? Like all those secret little moments. That’s often where we find, “oh, I was doing the thing”… and then it’s, “oh I got a sketch!” It’s where they manifest. For Season 3, there were a lot of overtly dark things. Then for this season, when we were writing, I noticed I had a lot more scenes of women and men talking. I think that was a reflection of gender stuff. Just think, how do the genders deal with each other? What does that mean? So it has to kind of translate through that lens of, “what is a woman’s life?” And so it’s hard to predict. I think that because women’s lives — kind of everybody’s lives — but women’s bodies are such a political thing sometimes that it is through that, and our daily lives, that we are writing scenes. And I can’t even tell you what we’re going to go through.
MEREDITH: I think it’s really exciting to be able to do. It’s like a format that’s set up. To be able to take a sketch and take it and shift it talk. Are we going for the laugh? What are we going for? What is a laugh? What does this mean? Like “this is the stuff.” What’s the reaction? It’s okay to have a sketch that can make you feel really uncomfortable that you might get moved by. Sort of like that animal from THE MUPPET SHOW [trash] can. We had people online like, “send me your favorite sketch of all” and mine was like when Gonzo says “goodbye” and sings “My Way” and I remember as a kid thinking THE MUPPET SHOW made me feel like I could fit in. Everything was going to be OK. They were breaking sketch format constantly. They knew those rules inside out, didn’t they? And then all of the sudden they would be like “oh” and then you would be bawling. You would be singing with Julie Andrews or Mah-na Mah-na or anyone in the band. And then we’d be bawling and then the show was done. Tell me that wasn’t the best sketch?! You know what I’m saying?
CAROLYN: And our show, over the seasons, coming into Season 3, that it’s only halfway out and not even out in the States yet, it’s about building trust with our audience as well. So, when we do tackle certain issues, we’ve been building a trust over these seasons to be able to go somewhere. Almost like a recipe, not that it is, but I always think of baking when I think of the show. Like you can’t just throw something in if you haven’t built [that rapport]. There is a chemistry and there is something where you build a trust and you build layers. Now it’s like, “OK, are we ready to try this? Have we built that trust?” And as writers and as thinkers and as comedians and actors, are we ready? And to keep moving forward and build on the audience.
MEREDITH: The audience has really helped us learn that, because of the trust and the love they have given us. When we go to events now to talk, it’s actually really moving, because it’s not just like a “thank you,” it’s like a real moment that they have with you.” It’s like a real, genuine, “someone sees me.” And at the same time your like, “no, thank YOU.” I could have seen you on the street and be like, ‘I’m going to write that.” It’s like it’s a real 50/50, but it’s a constant, genuine thing and I feel like the trust has been built up and we are having a real relationship with them and I’m like, “It’s so exciting” and at the same time I’m like “this is so cool as women.”
JENNIFER: We were talking about political [aspect]. Let’s just remember that, at a baseline, we are still in a place where presenting women as fully-realized humans is political. There still is this kind of thing of just showing women’s lives that aren’t through a male lens. Most of my creative life has been as a writer in rooms that were largely men and to see how that voice gets co-opted into things that you’re just like, “but — …” So I think it’s just so political to be able to do that and just be like, “Oh no, I feel really good about what I did today.” I feel like we did something funny and I recognized myself in these characters and I recognized my friends in them. That I think is just amazing. What a gift to be able to be part of something like that. It’s huge.
MEREDITH: We were talking about it. They were like saying, it’s almost the norm to be insulted as a woman. It’s unfortunate, but saying your were is revolutionary. That to me, with the movement — with what’s happening —is a lot either way. To stand up and just say to the criticism around me and to whoever chooses to do that… it just throws me. People were just saying they were assaulted and look what it’s done. Look at the amazing things it’s done and look at the fear it’s created. And I’m like, “Is that all it took?” And it’s like, “Here we go.” A lot of stuff that’s happened recently in politics, it’s been proven these aren’t even the same times. I’m like, “They are scared! They are terrified. We’ve got them on the freaking run.”
JENNIFER: We had elections in Toronto this week. They were saying, “You know what, in our running there is an old white guy and a young white guy running and those are our choices” and they said, “You know, we’re gonna go with the young guy. The old white guy had his chance… and yeah, you know what? We’re feeling it. Let’s go with the young white guy.” And I was like, “Hello!”
Coming back to the formula, I like what you said about that, about the Muppets breaking the mold, and that’s what I feel every time I watch your show. I feel like every sketch is a different length and it’s as long as it needs to be. It’s not trying to fit or stretch or bang a joke into the ground.
MEREDITH: It’s hard. Like sometimes you’re watching it and your like, “ah, man, that’s good.” When we first came up with the show, we used to talk about how we built it like a mixed tape for your buddy.
CAROLYN: Then you throw in the thing that shows that you are actually in love with them.
AURORA: When you are doing a sketch and it’s up on stage, you can feel when it’s time. You can feel that impulse to edit. So we pay attention to that. When we are reading it aloud or we are on the moment. Nobody wants to overstay their welcome. We are here to make you laugh.
MEREDITH: We play the trick with the thing. We kinda do it more and more every year. Like, we don’t have to reach for the laugh. You only have what you are creating between the people who think: this is what you are giving the scene and you make it happening in a sense, and you displayed the truth of it, the absolute truth of it. That is always a better laugh.
CAROLYN: That’s where the comedy is.
We heard that you do about 200 sketches per season and then only about 150 actually make it to what we see on screen.
CAROLYN: The numbers are a little different that that, but usually it’s about — for Season 3, I think we shot 180, and it was maybe in the 140 range of what actually aired. We have done some [sketches] that are coming out on the internet, exclusively, later. So 500 actually get written. You have to have the room to over shoot. Because some of what you are shooting, you may have something that is no longer topical. Like the conversation has moved on and it doesn’t feel relevant a year later. Or another sketch group maybe tackled it. Or you just go “eh” or “oh shit, someone else has done that” You just don’t want to do that. Or some component was off and it didn’t work. Within the writing room, gives us the ability to say, “Hey, I really want to do this thing” and you go, “I don’t know if that’s gonna work” or “you know what? Let’s do it.” And then it’s win/win. They’re like “it works” and you’re like, ”great!” or it doesn’t and we will tackle it next year. We have the room to make mistakes — mistakes not really the right word — but to take chances in the writing room — to know that the whole show isn’t riding on the success of this one scene working. If it doesn’t work, the show is going to be OK. But you got to try it and you got to give it a shot.
So you write the sketches, but do you then also have input in the editing?
MEREDITH: Yep. Like, how lucky is that?!
By building the trust, it seems like you would really need to be hands on and like planting the seeds for future.
MEREDITH: If this model works, let them take their content, they’re going to give it to you. They’re going give you that thing that you loved in the pitch, if they’re good and they put their work in. If you like their messaging and you know they’re hard working, let them go for it — especially ladies in their forties — they’re going to bust their ass.
To see the wickedly funny season that the women of BARONESS VON SKETCH SHOW have prepared to unleash for Season 3, be sure to tune in for the premiere on Thursday, November 8th at 9:00 p.m. on IFC.
BARONESS VON SKETCH SHOW Season 3 promo:
More of the BARONESS VON SKETCH SHOW can be previewed on its YouTube Channel: