The core members of comedy troupe Those Aren’t Muskets!, Abe Epperson and Michael Swaim, met as students at the University of California San Diego and both served, non-consecutively, as editors of UCSD’s satiric newpaper, The MQ. As a film major, Epperson made…films. As a theater and lit. major, Swaim wrote plays, preformed in a UCSD sketch review, and became interested in the potential of the sketch comedy form.
Naturally – and considering that for a 21st century boy, putting sketch material on the internet has become somewhat of a second nature – they both got their work on the web. But logistically and comically speaking, things didn’t really start to click until after graduation.
“Give us both a year of unemployment, make us live in the same house, and you get Muskets.” Michael Swaim told me via e-mail. “We’re both workaholics, so we get up, work all day, and in our off time (playing Guitar Hero, etc.) usually annoy people around us by talking about sketch stuff incessantly. The instant access is perfect, and working in your pajamas is a nice bonus as well. We’ve actually shot a large number of sketches in the house, and our green screen ‘studio’ is our garage.”
TAM gained viral attention with Internet Party, a premise seemingly too clever to not have been exploited before. At the Web 2.0 equivalent of a house party, a girl wanders around meeting people-as-websites, Google, Facebook, Digg, RateMyRack, etc., with attendant personality traits.
“It went huge on Digg and that basically got our work out to a wide web audience for the first time. More than just being a flavor of the minute though, we’re really proud that after the surge in hits following Internet Party, we held on to about two thirds of the increased audience. To us, that says that people saw the video, checked us out, and put us in their bookmarks.”
For a relatively fresh-faced troupe, TAM displays a cleverness above your average Smosh-style antics. That’s not to say the Muskets! world doesn’t occasionally dip into already well-mined sketch territory, like men who speak in 1920’s-era slang and who happen to be hard-working Pimps. More recent ensemble efforts – like Koko The Gorilla, The Coat, Kid’s a Champ and Sharon and The Girls – also have greater appeal than solo efforts from Swaim, whose vivid descriptions of web pornography probably sounded funnier on paper.
Secondary players are culled from a talented roster of regulars, recent UCSD alumni, and Epperson, the official TAM videographer, presents the sketches simply, without unnecessary visual flourishes. Thankfully, there are no nauseating shots from hand-helds.
TAM videos have been featured on all the web’s cool spots. “Most of your audience discovers our work either through Internet Party or Clitter, then tracking us back through our production title at the end of our sketches. We’ve gotten a lot of traffic from a few compiler sites and our ongoing relationship with Cracked.com has been the definition of symbiosis. They’ve continually given us an amazing platform to get our work seen, and our content has gotten them a fair share of new readers as well. We love them.”
Like the commercial for Clitter (glitter meant for the most sensitive of lady parts that could easily be an SNL product) and their entry into YouTube’s Seond Sketchies Contest (about an unfortunately named band with a self-destructive martyr for a drummer), TAM handles the raunchier leanings of web comedy with good timing and a sense of the increasingly invisible line between wit and stupidity.
As recent graduates, Swam, Epperson and the rest of troupe are still students of comedy, but moving fast towards the professional sphere.
“For all the success of Internet Party, we’re still a very small troupe and we’re still in the ‘developing a fanbase’ phase. We’re both pretty ambitious: we want more YouTube subscriptions, more viral vids, more hits, more everything. As for the long term, we’re moving to LA in July…and we’re both going to be seeking representation and continue trying to make people laugh for money. We’re both pretty in love with Muskets, so I think no matter what we do, that’s going to continue.”