A Comic Approach
The creators of Comedy Central’s Triptank pull together a diverse slate of shorts that pairs up top comedy acts with animators. By Thomas J. Mclean
What do you do when you run an animation studio and constantly run across some of comedy’s funniest folks with ideas for shorts?
If you’re Alex Bulkley and Corey Campodonico of Shadowmachine, you turn them into TripTank, a new eight-episode half-hour anthology series premiering April 2 on Comedy Central.
“This is really comedy based,” says Bulkley. “What we’ve done is really aggregate a lot of talented comedy writers and put them together with an animation format, and that’s any format of animation you can imagine.”
Bulkley and Campodonico took inspiration for TripTank from their own experiences, preferences and even a little bit of history. Having been the original production house for Robot Chicken, they had experience in assembling a show of short sketches.
They also are fans of shows like Liquid Television, MTV’s 1990s anthology show that brought experimental animation to an entire flannel-clad generation, as well as shorts festivals and events like Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation.
They also note that some of animation’s most enduring hits, including South Park, Beavis and Butt-head and even The Simpsons, sprang out of short sketches or interstitials on anthology shows.
Sharp-eyed viewers caught a preview in December when the network aired the pilot, which features such creative comedy talent as Bob Odenkirk, Zach Galafianakis, Kumail Nanjiani, Brett Gelman and Kyle Kinane.
“We have a longstanding relationship with a lot of different people across the comedy spectrum, and we really believe in this kind of short format,” says Campodonico.
Some of the biggest comedy names came in via an association with someone who had already worked with Bulkley and Campodonico. But the majority of sketches came in from just about everywhere.
“We fielded thousands and thousands of these pitches,” says Bulkley. “Sometimes it was someone who had a fully developed concept with a bible, every character designed and episodes written and everything else, and that turned into a short. Other people came in with a paragraph idea and we would pair them with a creative team whether it was in house or out of house.”
“This isn’t a show that spends months in development. It’s stuff that comes in right away and it either makes it or not,” says Campodonico.
“We were fairly agnostic to what was coming in the door as long as it was funny,” says Bulkley.
As executive producers, choosing the best content to fill eight episodes and deciding what airs with what was a major challenge. A huge board was worked endlessly to find the right mix for maximizing the impact of each short and each episode.
“It’s a tricky matrix and sometimes what appears to work next to each other really doesn’t,” says Campodonico.
Making it even more difficult was the freeform nature of the shorts. “We’re not going in with the writers or creators and saying this has to be exactly 60 seconds or 180 seconds; they all would come in at different times,” says Bulkley. “So as you look at a full series, how best to program was by far and away the biggest challenge.”
Shadowmachine’s long relationship with Comedy Central fostered trust on the project, with Bulkley and Campodonico using their experience to focus on content that fit the network’s needs and the network tapping its talent pool to bring in creators new to the ex- ecutive producers.
Along with a diverse set of one-off shorts are some recurring sketches, such as the TripTank phone receptionist fielding insane calls of adoration or condemnation from the public, and a series called Jeff and Some Aliens.
Bulkley says the recurring sketches give some balance to the idea of an anthology. “The weight isn’t all on one sketch or one show the way it is with normal shows. There’s something in it for everybody,” he says. “But at the same time, it’s fun to like some sketches more than others, which I think is what makes it a fun show. It’s unpredictable.”
“It’s important to crate a spine that everyone can come back to week in and week out and have that spine be as funny as any of the sketches in the show,” says Campodonico.
Whether anything that made the eight-episode first season of the show will break out into something big is unknown, but Bulkley and Campodonico would be neither surprised nor unhappy if that did indeed happen.
“We ended up with just about 100 individual properties, so you can imagine the potential spin outs or derivatives from the thing is big, but you never know where that needle in the hay is going to come from,” says Bulkley.