CalTV Comedy crafts original sketches for online station

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A group of four students walks down Dwight Avenue, west-bound.  Between them, they carry two cameras, PVC pipes, multiple shopping bags, and a flurry of costumes.  Rain starts to fall. As others on the street take out their umbrellas and seek shelter indoors, these four are unaffected by the adverse weather conditions.

“This’ll be great!,” they say with ironic excitement. “It’ll set the mood for this scene.”  As pedestrians slowly disappear from the streets, the troupe sets up on a street corner.  They check their cameras, put on makeup and costumes (complete with artificial blood) and begin to shoot a hysterically unusual love scene between an elderly woman and robbery victim.

This group of dedicated actors, videographers and playwrights is CalTV Comedy, a division of UC Berkeley’s only student-run online television station. The organization was initially founded in 2005 as The CalTV Project. Over the past nine years, CalTV has grown from 13 to over 100 members annually, and become a major presence on campus.

“Comedy is unique because it’s the only group where we develop our own original material, rehearse it, then film,” said CalTV Comedy director and third-year economics student Andrew Lindh. “Collaboration is really important. It’s like making a blanket — it’ll be so much better if everyone sews one thread and works together. More like a quilt actually…or an afghan.” He digresses, “But afghans are totally uncomfortable though, I don’t know who would ever sleep in an afghan.”

Even with deadlines to meet and working under time constraints, members of the comedy troupe still managed to enjoy the company of one another.  Fourth-year sociology student Amber Cognata said, “It’s a great group to be a part of … we’re like a family. And we get to do what we really enjoy — keeping students laughing. It’s a lot of fun.”

But keeping students laughing isn’t as easy as it might sound.  Being a comedy-based organization also poses a number of challenges.

“We tread a fine line. Your first instinct is to be defensive and argue that what you’re doing isn’t wrong. But sometimes that just dilutes your message.” Lindh commented, “We deal with major social stereotypes and we understand that, but there’s definitely an appropriate way to play with those stereotypes without being offensive.”

One of the group’s most-viewed productions, “Boss Ass Bitch,” a parody on PTAF’s viral music video of the same name, illustrates this fine line between humor and disrespect.  “We got a lot of backlash because people thought we were being insensitive by doing a parody with three white guys,” Lindh explains. “But we know where that line is, and we’re not going to cross it.  By nature some people are going to be offended. So it’s a weird balance to find — and we have to be mindful of it.”

CalTV Comedy releases new videos every Monday and Thursday.  From awkward dates to unorthodox classroom experiences, the group’s productions poke fun at a variety of unique college-student experiences.

Before filming on Saturday, Lindh stood in a costume shop on Bancroft Avenue.  He searched the shelves for artificial blood.  After finding what he was looking for, he removed the package, perused it for a moment, then observed, “Hmm. Ages 14 and up.” He turned to those around him, and joked “Hey…you got an ID we can use?”

For CalTV Comedy, the humor isn’t constrained by the camera. From acting, to filming, to screenwriting, the members of CalTV Comedy have found their own love in expressing creativity, emotions, and humor. For this group, it is a lifestyle of bringing themselves and others together, like the threads of a carefully sewn afghan.

Contact Nick Cotter at [email protected].