We had a chance to sit down with two cast members, Tori Pence and Dalton Johnson, to learn more about the inner-workings of Studio C, their thoughts about YouTube sketch comedy and advice for YouTubers trying to create a successful comedy channel. We then caught up with them and a few other cast members at the red carpet of a Studio C live taping in Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC on August 24th. The event was hosted by Emmy award nominee and Saturday Night Live cast member Kenan Thompson, who also shared his thoughts with us about the Studio C cast and his experience working with them.
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So how did Studio C get so popular, and how can you follow suit?
Since their launch in October 2012, Studio C has amassed almost 2 million subscribers and 1.5 billion views, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, they finished their 9th season earlier this year, and announced a 10th season at their live NYC event.
Studio C was born out of Brigham Young University sketch comedy team Divine Comedy. Divine Comedy had been a staple at BYU since 1994, and the group eventually started posting their sketches on YouTube. But in 2010 when they released a music video entitled “Provo Utah Girls,” a spoof of Katy Perry’s “California Girls,” things took an unexpected turn. The video received over a million views, completely topping their average view count of around 14,000 and bringing them into the internet spotlight.
Their videos garnered attention not just from the BYU and broader Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community — the LDS church owns BYU — but from the public at large. People found their sketches hilarious and were particularly happy at how family friendly the comedy was.
“Matt (Meese) and Jared (Shores), the Studio C’s creators and original cast members, saw that Divine Comedy was speaking not just to college kids at BYU but audiences of all ages and from all over the country,” Dalton remarked when we first sat down. “They saw an opportunity and were driven to share Divine Comedy’s humor with as many people as possible.
“They wanted, and we still want, the whole family to be able to enjoy our work. The more accessible it is, the more people end up watching it! It seems obvious, but we hit on something that worked for both kids and adults. Why cut your audience in half by adding content that might not be suitable?” It was a business decision too, Dalton told me. “It was different from what was already out there — most comedy channels compete on adult humor. And that’s not to say that we cater to little kids, because we don’t. But we do make our sketches available to them. We write for the adults, but in a way that doesn’t exclude kids, so kids watch us too.”
And how did Dalton and Tori end up on Studio C? “Everyone on the show is, at some point, a member of Divine Comedy,” Tori explained. “Dalton and I were both part of it during our time at BYU, but we had already both graduated and were working when Matt and the team reached out to us and asked us to join. I was working in a library and Dalton was at a sub shop.” Dalton chimed in. “Both of us had been into comedy since we were younger, so this was an opportunity to join an amazing, creative and hilarious cast and work on our craft.”
The cast, Tori and Dalton included, had a variety of backgrounds. For example, Matt, one of the founding members, was a psychology major. Others studied Spanish. Still others majored in theater or film. I was curious — how does such an eclectic group come up with such consistently incredible content? What was their process?
Great Comedy is a Group Effort
Studio C posts 2–3 sketch videos a week, many of which are quite different in style and content but all of which do really well. It’s not easy coming up with so many successful sketches, so where do all the ideas come from? “The writer’s room,” Tori and Dalton both answered almost in unison. Tori clarified, “cast members are asked to come to the writer’s room with first drafts of their own, original sketches. And sure, sometimes we bounce ideas off one another, but most sketches start out as purely our own since we draw from personal experiences.”
Once ideas are shared in the writer’s rooms, the editing begins. Tori explained, “After first draft edits, we bring them back if they are ready for peer [review] and approval. Very often, though, even second drafts maybe not be quite right, so another cast member might take a crack at editing together with the original writer. In the end it’s very much a team effort. After the writing is over, though, there is usually a lot of lead time in terms of the final product. For example, we’re already talking about writing sketches for the 2020 summer Olympics.”
But writing is not the whole story. “There are so many people involved in production, and the final product isn’t just a written sketch. Jokes are told through wardrobe, set design, music, lighting and more. Each crew member contributes and they’re all funny in unique ways. And of course there’s the editing — you don’t think about how much that has to do with telling the joke, especially with off-stage sketches. The joke very much depends on who is doing the editing.”
“It’s a big trust exercise,” Tori continued. “Everyone feels connected to their work and has a stake in the final product, so individual egos are always checked at the door. In other words, the joke is king.”
Despite the teamwork, each cast member goes through individual challenges. For Dalton, writing, not editing or acting, is the most difficult part of the process. “Writer’s block and deadline anxiety are very real for me — it’s challenging and frustrating. But when the script works, I’m so proud. When you know that your script was the foundation of a video, it’s an irreplaceable feeling.”
Tori felt the same. “I always liked performing and acting, especially with live audiences that I get to communicate with in real time. I always thought I wasn’t too good at writing, so it’s really cool and encouraging for me to look back and see my sketches doing well!”
BYU to NYC
Despite Tori and Dalton’s humble qualities, it was evident that they weren’t just doing “well;” they were crushing it. So much so that a few weeks after we spoke, they would be heading on stage in New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom — a 12,000-square-foot ballroom in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. Tickets were going fast, they were going to their very first red carpet, and the show was to be hosted by emmy-nominated Kenan Thompson.
What was the motivation behind this show in NYC? “It’s a love letter to all our fans,” they told me. “We’ve been in Utah this whole time but we have fans from all over, so we decided to come out to the east coast. We knew it’s also the home of SNL, and that challenged us to be even more creative for our audience.”
And a love letter it was.
We got to the venue at 4:30 and checked in with the press table. There was already a long line of VIP pass-holders young and old, eagerly awaiting to meet their beloved Studio C cast members. These fans didn’t seem to mind standing outside on one of the busiest intersections in all of Manhattan in the sweltering heat.
When the red carpet kicked off at 5PM, we saw Dalton and Tori walking with Adam Berg, another cast member who we hadn’t yet had a chance to speak to. It was Dalton’s first time in NYC. “I am not disappointed,” he said with a smirk. “It’s really fun and there’s a great energy to the city.”
“Everything is just bigger and better in New York City,” exclaimed Adam. “Yes! Yes!” chimed in Tori.
We were interested in their experience working with Kenan Thompson, an industry veteran. “You can tell he’s been doing this for a really long time, because he reads the script on the teleprompter like a speed reader! He’s been so great and incredibly nice,” Adam told me. Dalton added, “it’s fun seeing his style because he brings something so different to the table than we do yet he caught on so quickly and was able to improvise and adapt to our style on the spot.”
What was in store for the audience that night? “The people should expect a lot of…” Adam trailed off, but Dalton jumped in: “jokes!” The three of them broke out into laughter. “It’s a party!” said Tori excitedly. “Are you having fun? We’re having so much fun, and we hope the audience will, too!”
As Tori, Dalton and Adam walked off the red carpet, we got to exchange a few words with long-time Studio C cast member Natalie Madsen. “It’s been a fun experience. I started with Studio C way in the beginning, so it’s crazy to be here in New York, working with Kenan. He’s been so kind, so chill. I’ve watched him since I was a kid when he was on All That and Kenan and Kel, and now every week on SNL, so it’s been surreal. I’m such a fan!”
After the Studio C cast and crew made their way off the red carpet, we got a chance to ask Kenan a few questions, too. “[Studio C] can entertain whoever is watching,” he told us. “They’re living the true formula of setup and punchline, and because they’re smart about it, they can cycle that formula over and over again and it’s going to work.” One of the things Kenan was most impressed with was Studio C’s ability to keep their comedy free of vulgarity while staying incredibly funny and fresh. “They’re able to keep it in a real place. Like, what if this was really happening? How would you laugh at that situation in real life as opposed to wanting to see something more grotesque or raunchy? Their sketches aren’t ‘leaving anything out’ — they just don’t need it. They’re hilarious just as they are.”
The interviews came to an end, and in a few hours, we got a chance to see Studio C’s live performance. It was brilliant to say the least. They poked fun at New York’s idiosyncrasies, touched on both serious and light-hearted topics, and kept the audience laughing and engaged the entire time. Despite it being their first time in front of an audience this large, the cast and crew looked comfortable — a testament to their professionalism and confidence in their success.
Studio C’s Advice to fellow Comedy YouTubers
With the announcement of their tenth season and successful live event in America’s theater capital, Studio C will continue to make hilarious and brilliant sketches for millions of viewers across the country and likely the world. Tori and Dalton, imparted some wisdom to comedy writers and aspiring YouTubers.
“First and foremost, respect your audience,” replied Dalton, almost immediately. “We focus on kid-friendly comedy because we want to make something the whole family will enjoy. But we never assume that kids won’t “get” our jokes — kids understand more than you think, so we write and perform at the top of our intelligence and therefore entertain them at the top of theirs. And we don’t talk ‘down’ to our younger audiences — we want our viewers to appreciate the fact that we trust them to understand our jokes. This goes for adults, too, by the way.”
“I can’t remember where I heard this, but it always stuck with me: the best way to get good ideas is to get a lot of ideas,” chimed in Tori. “Write constantly and work on what you’ve written. Rinse. Repeat. And remember that your experiences are valid. My life is definitely weird, and that’s exactly what I write about. Improv works great, too — a lot of characters and storylines come from the crew goofing around and improvising with one another.”
Dalton agreed, adding that comedians should be open to different comedy media and not just stick to how they were introduced to comedy initially. “I wanted to have a comic strip when I was younger, but with newspapers fading in popularity, I shifted my focus to sketch writing and haven’t looked back. Now that’s my career.”
And as for aspiring YouTubers, Dalton and Tori stressed that the time will never be just right, so you just have to go for it. “You’ll never feel completely ready to launch your channel, so just set a deadline and do it. Make something and show it to the world. You’re going to learn so much just by getting out there — there’s no failed opportunity when you’re learning.
“Plus,” added Tori, “you don’t need a special degree or a ton of public speaking skills to talk into a camera. That’s what’s so freeing about YouTube. If you’re passionate about something and willing to put in the work, you’ll be successful.”
Their final piece of advice? “Just have a good time. Enjoy it.”
Catch Studio C Live from NYC and the Season 9 premiere on September 10th on BYUtv.