TSJ Talks to Sketch Comedy Team The Imponderables

Canadian sketch troupe The Imponderables — made up of Jon Smith, Eric Toth, Tony Lombardo and Dave Brennan — have made comedy their career for the past decade. They’ve earned Canadian comedy awards and a spot on Variety’s list of comics to watch. Now they’ve joined up with writer/producer Mark De Angelis for the always funny and envelope-pushing web series “Bill & Sons Towing,” which stars The Imponderables alongside famed Canadian actor Nicholas Campbell.

I recently spoke with Mark, Tony and Eric — after some technical Skype difficulties — to talk about their show.

The Smoking Jacket: Did we get it?

Mark De Angelis: Sorry, Kyle. We’re just getting the Internet up here in Canada. [laughs]                                                                                       

TSJ: No problem at all! So, I’ve watched the “Bill & Sons Towing” web series twice through. It’s so incredibly funny. I really loved it. For people who might not know, how would you guys describe it?

MD: Well, it’s a 10-part web series starring The Imponderables as thirty-something sons who take over the family’s floundering tow truck business. The only thing they have in common are differing opinions on how to run it.

TSJ: Mark, you created it?

MD: Yeah, myself and Charles Ketchabaw. We had worked with The Imponderables on some projects and thought it’d be fun to do something bigger. There was this fund called the Independent Production Fund that had an application for a web series. Charles thought it’d be a good opportunity so we started coming up with ideas about what works naturally with The Imponderables comic sensibility and the act they’ve honed onstage over the years.

At the time I was developing this idea for TV about a tow truck company. For some reason, we latched onto it and started thinking of it with the guys in mind. It really developed naturally.

The Imponderables: The Mechanic

TSJ: Did you build the characters around their personalities?

Tony Lombardo: We’re not acting. That’s us. [laughs] We’ve tried to act for years and then said ‘fuck it’ and decided to be ourselves. Would you believe I don’t have any sleeves on right now? [laughs]

Eric Toth: And I’m still not wearing a belt with my jeans. [laughs]

MD: These guys are very humble. They went above and beyond in terms of acting. But we certainly knew these guys from years of watching and working with them. The characters aren’t exactly them but are very close to their quirks.

TSJ: How about Nicholas Campbell? How did he come into the story?

MD: Nick Campbell is a guy who has a huge list of credits. We just thought he’d be perfect. He has that look of a guy who’s seen better days. [laughs] We reached out and sent a couple of scripts along with a mini bible that gave an overview of the series. Luckily, he thought it was cool. Charles and I met him over coffee and pitched. He really loved the characters and jumped onboard.

TSJ: How was it filming with him?

TL: We got him high a lot. [laughs]

TSJ: That’s the best way to do it!

TL: Yeah, we did a lot of stunts marijuana-wise.

MD: Episode 7, there weren’t very many props if you know what I mean. [laughs]

ET: And we didn’t even shoot episode 10 yet. [laughs]

TL: Watch episode 10 again knowing we’re all just fucking baked. Then the unaired episode 11 where we’re all on Quaaludes. [laughs]

TSJ: Are you filming anymore?

MD: That’s the goal! We certainly hope there’s a season 2. We’re talking with people about the possibility of turning it into a TV series.

TSJ: Do you think that would at all hurt it?

MD: No, because we sat down to create it almost as if it was going to be a glorified pilot. The way we left the last episode with the cliffhanger helps too. It’s just opening the stories up and giving them a chance to breathe.

Bill & Sons Towing: Bikini Calendar

TSJ: What is the writing process for you guys?

MD: I wrote six episodes and Eric wrote four. Before he jumped onboard I had only written two scripts, but once we got the green light Eric was there from the get go.

TSJ: For The Imponderables, you guys write all of your sketches together. Was it weird stepping back to being not so involved with the writing process for the show?

TL: I didn’t even show up for about three-quarters of the filming.

ET: [laughs] Yeah, we used the same technology they use on Tupac.

TL: [laughs] Coming into it as just an actor, it’s something I haven’t done in probably ten years. It was really interesting. I was doing scene analysis, thinking how does that work; what does this mean; and just asking questions. It took me back. It’s funny because it is me in that script. I remember having a conversation with Eric saying, “Yeah, I would that!” The show is very character driven. That really helped in understanding who these characters were. But all in all, it was a lot of fun. It scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. Most of the fun—I think for all of us—was we got to live in the characters for ten whole episodes where as usually we’re just doing our two and a half pages per sketch.

TSJ: There seems to be a lot of benefits with doing things online as opposed to having to go through the rigorous and tiresome process of a pilot and such.

ET: Absolutely. We’ve shot pilots before and done scripts that have never been made. In this particular case we used the project to our advantage and thought of it as a backdoor pilot for TV. We knew this was going to get made which was fantastic. We knew we could do what we wanted and could write what we wanted, not having to deal with development or networks or anything. We wrote a show that we love and are doing it on our own terms. I’m sure there can’t be a better way to work than that.

TSJ: With doing the first season on the web you can also build the characters.

ET: That’s right. We’ve developed the chemistry and such.

MD: Plus a pilot costs you so much more money. Here, we knew these guys had certain chemistry and knew what their strong points were. We still learned stuff on the floor, especially with Nick because none of us had ever worked with him before. But now, having done so for ten episodes, you get to see how he interacts with each of his four sons. So should the series go forward, it’s an incredibly useful tool. We can see what worked and what didn’t work as well.

Eric: Also, taking the show forward either on TV or the web, we know what kind of comedy we can get the most mileage out of. I hope we get to a second season so we can get the mothers into the story lines more.

TSJ: Absolutely. I’m curious to see what happened to Tony’s mother.

ET: [laughs] That’s a second season storyline for sure. Mark did a really good job putting in B plots between the A plots, which is so difficult to do in such a short episode.  They’re anywhere from six to ten minutes. So, Eric getting fired; Tony looking for his mother; Eric trying to get Cynthia back, all those little pieces. I thought it was a real quick way to fit in a B plot into a six-minute episode.

TSJ: I would agree. It wasn’t forced. Do you think the Internet is perfect for comedy because it’s so easily broadcast?

ET: I think that’s part of it. It’s the Wild West to a degree. It’s still being discovered.

MD: It’s both exciting and frustrating. There isn’t a model right now. Some people will say comedy works best if under five minutes but then there’s an appetite for a longer-form narrative driven comedy series. It’s tough. There’s so much stuff out there.

TL: There’s really no way of understanding it because it is so new. The Internet is a different beast. We have friends that have millions of viewers but their show lasted one season. It seems there’s no correlation. You’d think there’d be logic to it but there isn’t because no one understands it just yet.

MD: The other challenge was we wanted to do ten episodes, something that’d be good for television. To get Nick and the moms, we didn’t have much money left over for publicity. So we’re throwing it up on the Internet like another tree in the forest. It’s difficult.

TSJ: True, but in watching it, there’s something very unique about your show.

TL: That’s great. What is it that you as a viewer find unique?

TSJ: I think it’s the characters. They work so well together; nothing is unnatural. And even though each episode is under ten minutes it’s perfectly seamless. Nothing is out of place. You can get the whole story within those ten minutes and you don’t’ feel cheated. The comedy, also, is incredibly funny and risk-taking.

MD: Thanks, Kyle

TL: That’s really awesome.

ET: We just wanted to get a compliment from you. [laughs]

TSJ: Do you guys have a favorite episode?

ET: I think we agree episode four, the bikini calendar episode, is.

TSJ: I love that episode! It was so well done and really took a risk but super funny. When the actress takes down her robe to reveal she has no arms I couldn’t believe you got away with it. It was very funny.

ET: We have to give her a lot of credit. She had very little acting experience but knocked it out of the park. She’s awesome and had a really dark sense of humor, which was great.

MD: She’s a stand up comic in Toronto that I found through Craigslist. I put a posting up and tried to make it sound as un-perverted as possible. I promised it was a legitimate web series. [laughs] We were totally forward with her from the beginning. She loved it! She said it was awesome and agreed right away. When the day came to shoot, I was the only one that had met her. We didn’t know what to expect. We knew it was going to be awkward on the floor. She has no arms, you know? I’d say for the first hour or so it was a little awkward. The crew didn’t know if they could laugh or not. But she was fantastic and made everyone feel good about it. By the end we really felt that it was turning into a very special episode.

TL: I found that the only way to deal with it was to embrace it in the character. I figured that even when we yelled cut I’d leave because the character would be awkward. [laughs]

ET: I guess that leaves me being the only guy that was super horny?

Check out The Imponderables’ YouTube show, “Bill & Sons Towing.

Related on The Smoking Jacket:
Interview with Comedian Jon Dore
11 Best Comedy Albums of 2011
TSJ Talks to Author/Illustrator Chester Brown 

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