Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview: Vag Magazine

Vag Magazine Episode 6: "Revelling/Reckoning" from Vag Magazine on Vimeo.

Today's video releases include the highly-anticipated season finale of Vag Magazine, the web series about a feminist magazine funded by one really spectacular Etsy sale. The series, created by UCBNY mainstays (and sketch teachers) Leila Cohan-Miccio and Caitlin Tegart, has been receiving a lot of Internet buzz, including coverage from Ms. Magazine, The Gloss, Crushable, Tres Sugar, Jezebel, After Ellen and more!

Prior to her foray into menstrual bucket humor, Caitlin wrote the UCB sketch show How Rude: Tim & D'Arcy Find the 90s and the one-act play Waiting for Obama: A Night at the Hall of Presidents. The latter show made a West Coast journey to UCBLA and the San Francisco SketchFest and was featured on Sirius XM Raw Dog Comedy. Caitlin currently writes for's The Pretty Good Sports Show, the weekend sketch show Beneath Gristedes and the Beta team Diamonds, Wow!. Caitlin has also served as writer and director for the Maude team Stone Cold Fox.

Leila currently writes for the Maude team High Treason. She wrote This Is About Smith, a sketch show about Smith College that enjoyed a six-month run on the UCBNY stage. The experience marked the first Tegart/Cohan-Miccio collaboration, as Caitlin directed the show. This Is About Smith's cast now forms the core of Vag Magazine: Sarah Claspell, Nicole Drespel, Jocelyn Guest, Kate McKinnon and Veronica Osorio.

Caitlin Tegart and Leila Cohan-Miccio (logo by Ramsey Ess)

UCB Comedy sat down with Leila and Caitlin and discussed the multiple definitions of the word "partner," creating a web series and attracting corporate sponsorship to their project.

You’ve said that you created Vag Magazine to continue working with the cast of your UCBNY stage show, This Is About Smith. How far along in the run did you start working on the series?

CT: It was about six months into the run or so into working with the full cast. Thank you, by the way, for reading our other interviews.

LCM: An interviewer asked us the other day if we were lesbian partners.

CT: It was so good. She goes, “Are you guys partners?” This was a conference call, all three of us in different places, with the most staticky connection, and it turns out Leila was making a feast at the time and banging pots and pans and shit.

LCM: I was making dinner.

CT: So, the woman asks, “Are you guys partners?” and I think Leila was like, “We work together a lot? What do you mean by ‘partners?' Romantic?” And the woman said, “Anything.”

LCM: I said, professionally, yes?

CT: I guess? Because we wrote this? But not romantically. Then she asked, “Well, so who is a lesbian in the cast?” We were like, “This is not -- OK. Bye.” It was for a lesbian magazine, which you think would be more, I don’t know.

Where did the feminist magazine idea originate?

CT: It was my idea. I wanted to do something about a feminist magazine because I thought they were funny. My friend from college, Lindsy, and I would always make fun of them -- about how it was mostly vegan sweet potato fry recipes and not a lot of feminist content. And we would always laugh about that together, and I thought, “This could be something great.” But I never had the right platform. When Leila first showed me stuff for This Is About Smith, I thought, “This reminds me of some jokes I wrote down for that.” And initially, I was like, “Oh well.” But then I thought, “Wait! We could all do this together.”

LCM: The Smith cast got along ridiculously well and had good chemistry and they’re all such individually unique performers that we wanted to do something with all of them together. As soon as Caitlin brought me the idea, I was so excited because I had been independently making fun of feminist magazines for a long time.

When you created the character of Meghan, the holdover from Gemma (a traditional women's mag), was it your intention to have a character that represents the audience’s “outsider” point of view?

LCM: I don’t think we came into it with that but we approached it as, what could each actor do really well? And [Sarah] Claspell had a little bit of that attitude in This Is About Smith. She’s so funny -- she has one of the best “bitch, please” faces.

CT: I don’t think I thought about it then. But I am so glad we did it. She’s a strong female character that is not part of their craziness, and I think that’s important to show that we’re not criticizing strong women with ideas. The ideas just have to be good. (Caitlin laughs.)

Both of you have addressed the media’s obsession with women working in comedy. Caitlin, you said, “Lucille Ball was a female comedian sixty years ago, why is this still a big deal?” Did all this media attention in recent years discourage you or encourage you to write a series about women?

CT: It didn’t discourage us because we believe in the idea and it’s so funny to us. We’re like every comedian, where if it’s funny to us, we’re like, “Ahhh! Gotta do it.” But it is frustrating that people treat female writers like we’re novel, or “this is out of the blue.”

LCM: Or “whaaaaat?”

CT: The media is only positive to the extent that it means female writers are getting attention. But it’s like, “We’ve been here.”

LCM: I don’t think “I’m a lady writer” instead of “I’m a writer.”

CT: I could see people thinking “oh, you do stuff with women” leading to a possible stereotype about my work. But for me, personally, I’m coming off touring the West Coast with seven dudes for Waiting for Obama, so no one can question my cred with working with dudes.

LCM: And you do The Pretty Good Sports Show.

CT: I have done mostly dude stuff since this project.

LCM: I write real girly.

CT: I’ve heard people say, the reason that there’s so few female writers for late night is because there are male hosts. There is a correlation between behind the camera and in front of the camera. So it only benefits us as women writers to have more women in front of the camera.

LCM: Exactly. When we sat down and started writing this, we didn’t talk about the feminist implications of this show. We sat down and talked about what we thought was funny. But I do think that we’re both into the idea of having a space for women where they could make these huge comedic choices. It bums me out when I watch TV or the movies and the girl is often reduced to playing the girlfriend or just “the girl.”

But we’re also not the only people at UCB working with women. Broad City, obviously. A lot of the stage stuff. And Shannon O’Neill’s show, Prison Freaks, is so -- I’m trying to find another word besides ballsy.

CT: Ha! Vagina-y.

LCM: Shannon O’Neill is vagina-y.

CT: [The Vag character] Fennel probably waits outside of UCB for Shannon to come out and then never speaks to her, runs into Gristedes and sits in there for an hour. She doesn’t want to be embarrassed.

Working with Shannon O’Neill was so awesome and I feel like there are people who are royalty on the stage, and people forget to ask them to be in videos. But don’t ask Shannon O’Neill to be in any videos because I want all of her time.

LCM: All of it.

CT: I do get nervous when we’re represented in the media as the “funniest women of UCB.” Obviously, we’ll take that because it’s good publicity and we love being funny and we love UCB, but it’s like, “This is a FRACTION of what UCB has to offer in terms of female talent.” This isn’t everybody. This isn’t the women’s review of comedy. It’s tiny. When we think about actors -- not even writers or directors we want to work with, which would be a whole other group -- when we think about the actors we want to have on the series? It’s nuts. There’s so many good people; we won’t be able to do it.

LCM: We’ll turn into a later season Will & Grace where every time there’s three guest stars per episode.

You've joked a lot about season two, but is it happening?

LCM: It’s in the works.

CT: It’s going to happen one way or another. It’s so funny because Leila and I have put a lot of work going into conferences on digital media and web series, and everyone is like, “Vag Magazine? Funny idea but won’t get brand sponsorship.” I don’t want to say anything specific, but we’ve had brand interest in representing us.

LCM: We did not solicit that.

CT: That’s been the biggest “fuck you” for us. Having guys -- yeah, I’m going to say it, guys -- tell us that brands won’t like us. And it’s like HA HA!

LCM: And if all goes well, we’re hoping to film season two in January and then hopefully release them next spring.

CT: We haven’t said anything about Zach Neumeyer yet, our director, but he works for UCB Comedy and the UCB Beta team Diamonds Wow, too. As far of the look of the show, and the high standards of what he does -- it’s nuts.

LCM: Caitlin and I were ready to borrow random people’s cameras and get a PA to hold a camera. And Zach was like, “This is a good script. What if we did it right?” We were like, oh, okay!

Talking about process, as you gear up for season two, how do you work on episodes together?

CT: I’m not sure how season two will work. During season one and our halcyon days of not knowing anything, we came up with the idea, outlined it, and sat down and wrote the first episode together.

LCM: In the training center.

CT: And then, I can’t totally remember, but I think I wrote episodes two and four.

LCM: We knew what we wanted to happen in each episode, so we divvied up the middle four episodes, wrote it, but did pretty substantial rewrites.

CT: We gave each other notes.

LCM: It’s funny because sometimes my husband will ask me who wrote a specific line and 70% of the time I have no idea. It helps that we have really similar voices in a lot of ways, so I don’t think it reads like it wasn’t written by two people.

CT: Zach also gave us notes.

LCM: Zach is a total dude, but he’s been totally on board with all of Vag. He sent us a really funny email the other day, because every episode title is a feminist album, and he sent us this ridiculous list of “outtakes.” He was like, “What about Call the Doctor? All Hands on the Bad One? X-Ray Spex Live At The Roxy?”

CT: He was determined to out-reference us.

What has been your favorite feedback from the show?

LCM: My favorite right now is from a comment on After Ellen, which is a lesbian blog that has been great to us and has posted all our episodes. On their episode five thread, someone wrote, “Am I the only person who sees something Meghan and Bethany romance blooming? Meghan obviously wants it.” Which I love! It makes me so happy. I was like, we have ’Shippers! We have people rooting for relationships on our show! I can’t ask for anything more than that.

CT: My favorite comment was one where the person didn’t know Kate McKinnon’s name but said, “I like the blonde weird one.” Or that one guy who commented on Vimeo that it was ironic that he was attracted to the whole cast. We haven’t gotten any negative feedback that has been “women aren’t funny” or “these chicks are idiots” or “these chicks are ugly” -- even on YouTube.

We haven’t gotten a lot of criticism but it is funny when someone my mom’s age will log in and will say, “Thank God someone said it about these young kids” or something. We’ll be like, “This is our age group but okay, fine.”

What has been the response of older generations?

LCM: My aunt-in-law is a lovely person who is a lesbian and a feminist, she was talking to me about the show. And she said, “I liked the show but I was shocked at the name of the rival magazine in episode four.” [Cunt.] I think for older women, that’s sort of more of a deal breaker, because it’s such an offensive word.

CT: That is true. My Dad’s favorite character is Jaybird, but he won’t say the name of her magazine either. Or remember the name of Jaybird. But he’ll be like, “I like the one that sits at the end of the table at the end of episode four.” And then I knew he didn’t want to say the other word. So I said, “The leader of the other magazine?” And he said, “Yeah, her. That’s my favorite.”

LCM: Ms. wrote a nice article about us and there was an immediate response that was a cut and paste from an older feminist that was like “younger feminists don’t appreciate the work we did.” She gave literally no specifics about that.

CT: In person, we’ve gotten awesome support. Susan Miller, who was a writer for The L Word and Thirtysomething and is huge into the web community, she’s been awesomely supportive and interviewed us. There are older generations of feminists involved in Internet culture who seem to like it.

What can we expect from season two?

LC: We get more into the exploration of characters when they are together. Like, what happens if you have Fennel and Meghan in a room together?

We’re also working together on another web series, about elections and a female candidate.

CT: In 2012. This is a long-term project.

Tell us more about Fennel’s menstrual bucket.

CT: Megan Lyons helped with set design and it looks so buckety. It’s perfect. I think she bought it at Kmart. It’s a good place to get props. If you go to the basement of the 34th St. Kmart, it’s like New Albany, Indiana, in there. They don’t specifically order items based on the location in the store.

We have not addressed Nicole Shabtai as an awesome, invaluable producer.

LCM: We started off producing it ourselves, but when we realized how far beyond our heads it was, we decided to bring on Nicole as a producer and I can confidently say this series wouldn’t have happened without Nicole Shabtai.

CT: She came through with our set designer, our location, our art director, our shooter, our gaffer, our make-up artist, Emilia Ademkiewicz.

I can’t say enough good things about Emilia. We did not shoot the episodes in order and Emilia would have to remember and redo their hair and make-up styles. She was a hero.

LCM: We filmed at Gin Lane Media, who have been very kind to us. Get your website done by them!

We shot in June, it was about 110 degrees and we had to turn off the A/C, in a 5th floor office with lots of windows. It was disgusting. Between every shot, Emilia was powdering them. It was crazy.

CT: Going from sketch comedy onstage to video is an adjustment. It’s hard. But I have no complaints about a hair and make-up person constantly being there.

LCM: The other person who deserves a huge shout out for their work in continuity is Stephanie Streisand, who was there for our first five episodes and made sure everything was exactly in place.

CT: She’d be like, “Oh, that notebook was on a different page.” It was crazy.

How did financing the project work?

CT: The four executive producers -- me, Leila, Nicole and Zach -- just personally fund raised it. It was more money than any of us were imagining but when you look at the quality, it wasn’t that much.

LCM: Interviewers have asked us about our budget and been shocked. It’s low for a web series but extremely high for our personal finances. But it was a great investment.

CT: Most people worked for free or cheap, cheap, cheap for the hours they put in.

What would be your advice for people who are interested in writing and producing their own web series?

CT: It’s so hard to give advice for me because we came into this as dum-dums, and we ended up with a product we are extremely proud of, and that’s not always going to happen with every project. I think you have to write what’s funny to you. So much effort and money goes in, so if you don’t love it, what’s the point?

LCM: I think we’ve gotten press and attention that we never would have gotten if we had sat down and thought, “What can we write that people will like?”

On the practical side, just do it. Just go out there and do it. And get a producer. Don’t do it all yourself. It turned out so much better because we delegated stuff outside of ourselves. And surround yourself with people you like working with, because it’s an intense, challenging experience.

CT: Ask people for help. We’ve been overwhelmed with the support we’ve gotten from extras and PAs. People want to do those jobs. They want to learn and be a part of things. Ask for help.

Haven't seen "Vag Magazine?" Watch episode one; the rest of the episodes can be found on the Vag website.

Vag Magazine Episode 1: "Fumbling Toward Ecstasy" from Vag Magazine on Vimeo.

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