FREE BEER (NOT CLICKBAIT): Interview with Whitley Watson and Micah Phillips of Club Video
Brooklyn-based Club Video is making the trek to join us in Philly for this year’s Blue Heaven comedy festival, and it seems like they’ll be bringing the party with them! The group regularly hosts shows launching short-form experimental comedy films (meaning those attending the show get to see the submitted works for the first time ever), following each screening with a DJ’d afterparty. If that isn’t enticing enough, their Brooklyn shows offer complimentary beer. We got the inside scoop from Club Video founders Whitley Watson and Micah Phillips, delving into how Club Video came to be, experimental comedy, hopes and dreams– and stealing the Liberty Bell?!
FringeArts: How did the idea for Club Video come about?
WHITLEY WATSON: Micah originally hosted a show with a similar format called Red Hot Video Fun Time. It’s where I made my first videos, and it was such a great experimental space. After it had ended, I was really missing having that push to make things and the community around showing working with other filmmakers. I asked Micah to advise me on creating a similar show, and he agreed to do it with me. I had been working in a fabrication studio with my friend James, and when he started his own business he offered up his shop as space. It felt like the perfect environment for the ethos of our show.
MICAH PHILLIPS: Just when I thought I was out, Whitley pulled me back in!
FringeArts: Club Video features “experimental comedy”– in what ways are you looking to defy traditional comedy?
WHITLEY WATSON: A lot of “content” is pretty formulaic confirmations of the viewers pre-existing thoughts. Sometimes this is called “relatability,” but a lot of times it just feels like a reification of social order that we all pretend we agree with instead of our actual experiences. There is also a sense of comedy being separated from drama in a way that feels very unnatural to me. A sense that that comedy should always be escapist and unchallenging.
And finally: Money. So much creativity is squashed by the idea that you need 20K to make a short film. So, “experimental” in terms of people pushing themselves to find stolen locations, organize with friends, and use creative techniques to express their ideas when the answer to a problem can’t be “throw money at it”.
MICAH PHILLIPS: I worked in TV comedy for a for a few years, and the most disappointing thing was hearing a crazy idea get a big laugh from an entire room– followed by the people in charge saying “Ok, but what are actually going do to?” For me, Club Video is where creative people can do the first crazy idea, the one that has life.
FringeArts: What kind of experience do you aim for the audience to have? What do you want them to walk away with?
WHITLEY WATSON: To me, the energy of Club Video comes from all these people showing work for the first time. It’s very vulnerable, but also very supportive. There is no judging and there are people of all skill levels, so what I hope the audience feels is a sense of possibility and inspiration; to feel proud of what they, and others, were able to achieve and be able to take new ideas for how to potentially make their next thing.
MICAH PHILLIPS: To have a good enough time that they want to come back, bring friends, and meet new people.
FringeArts: What do you hope to walk away with at the end of each show?
WHITLEY WATSON: Enough money to cover the beer and no one injuring themselves. Haha. But really, it feels very good if it feels like everyone had fun and feels good about their video. The best part for me is generally before the show, when everyone is working on their projects. It’s cool to hear about people gearing up, new collaborators, and just the energy of everyone preparing. The idea that just setting a deadline creates so much activity and creativity.
MICAH PHILLIPS: Like we put together an evening of fun and connection. A lot of comedy shows feel like there is a subconscious competition happening; Club Video never feels like that. I want to keep it that way.
FringeArts: What’s a favorite Club Video memory each of you has?
WHITLEY WATSON: I think [show] number three, for some reason, just felt very real. I felt like it was a group of artists sharing in a way that was very moving. Also, the block party where a kid who lived next door kept pretending to play dead in the kiddie pool. And when Joe Straley showed a video of himself safety pinning his ass cheeks together.
MICAH PHILLIPS: During the first one, we didn’t know if anyone would show up or care. Not only did a lot of people show up, they went out of their way to say how much they liked the show. The memory of that feeling, like we did it right and put together something people liked, that’s a good one.
FringeArts: How can you see yourselves expanding Club Video in the future?
WHITLEY WATSON: It would be cool to find a larger but similar space. And also to host it in more cities.
MICAH PHILLIPS: Definitely would like more space while keeping the energy the same.
FringeArts: What’re you looking forward to most during your upcoming trip to work with us in Philly?
WHITLEY WATSON: It will be very cool to plug into a new community of filmmakers personally, and for the wider Club Video scene. A lot of collaborations come from the show, so adding even more people to that would be a cool cross-pollination. I’m also curious to see if there is a distinct Philly-ness to the videos. Additionally, we are planning to steal the Bell.
MICAH PHILLIPS: I’m most excited to see what people make, to meet them, and to party with them.
FringeArts: Are there any collaborators or people making work in the Club Video extended-universe that we should know about?
WHITLEY WATSON: Yes! Firstly, our house DJs. JHN SWN is an incredible turntablist (and filmmaker) who recently released “Mixed Emotions: A Love Story”. dj darkbass and Headlong Snipers are awesome DJs who put on great shows at the independent video game bar, Wonderville, and also host the hilarious soundscape/audio collage podcast “Buurpcast”.
The video makers who have participated are honestly all incredible ,and you can find all of our previous shows on view at our website. But a few that stand out for me are Michelle Gold, whose videos and live performances reach an absurd level of intricacy; Manolo Moreno and Melisande Osnes, whose blend of dry humor, live video, animation, and puppetry showcase mind-blowing craftsmanship; James Flaim, a new filmmaker whose videos are lo-fi but with incredibly rich world building; and Devin Gant, who creates these hilarious layered characters studies around innocuous concepts.
And finally, KLN. Our warehouse hosts create incredible fabricated furniture pieces and sculpture, including some makeshift bars, projection apparatuses, and safety features for us, haha.
MICAH PHILLIPS: I second everyone Whitley mentioned, and will add Maxim Stollenwerk, a filmmaker from Belgium who flew in to do the show with his buddies; Lucas Harvie, who has straight-man energy but does crazy funny stuff; and LNZ, a rapper who does funny music videos and video art. Oh, and shout-out vendor Mama Yoshi Mini Mart for a killer spicy chicken katsu sandwich.
Disclaimer: No free beer at this show. It was clickbait.
Club Video is currently accepting submissions for their April 23rd showing at FringeArts! To submit or find more information, look here. For more information on FringeArt’s Blue Heaven comedy festival (April 20th-23rd), look here.
Interview by Kristen McCollum.