When Baroness von Sketch Show premiered in 2016, it felt like it was something long overdue. It’s actually sort of surprising there hadn’t been a sketch series like this prior that was quite as absurd and holding-nothing-back featuring an all female cast. And yet here it finally was, and as we all know, it worked like a charm. This quirky Canadian sketch series, that made its way to America via IFC, seemed to be exactly what we had been missing.
Last month, the fifth and final season of Baroness von Sketch Show premiered on IFC. After seeing a lot of comedy this year touching on what a bad year it’s been, there’s something refreshing about being able to go back and laugh at things that have absolutely nothing to do with it. It serves as a time capsule in that way. And truth be told, it’s definitely the sort of escape that we need right now. To forget about the current situation and laugh at a couple that doesn’t want to give a wedding toast or a human being participating in a dog show.
We recently spoke with two of the creators and stars of Baroness von Sketch Show, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen, about the fifth season. During our conversation we talked about thoughts going into the season, moments they got to enjoy, how the show managed to avoid things that were too topical, how the writing changes on the set, how Second City prepared them for Baroness von Sketch Show, and why it is so damn important to have good catering on the set. And also be sure to check out an exclusive clip from tomorrow’s episode at the bottom.
As you were coming up to this season, did you know it would be the final one? And was there anything that you did any differently as you approached it?
Jennifer: Well, we didn’t know that it was the final season when we were writing it. We came to that decision in pre-production just before we filmed it. So in the actual creation of the show, nothing really changed. I think in the filming of the actual show, everything was a little bit that much more precious because you were kind of aware “Aw this is winding down. This is the last time I will get to be a put upon office worker with Aurora”.
Aurora: Yeah, absolutely. Same. The job itself is so absorbing that it would kind of be like “Yeah, let’s really enjoy our time in the make up trailer. Let’s have the really good craft food today.” That kind of stuff. But it’s just as enjoyable as it ever was. And we were trying some new things. We’ve been dipping our toe into directing. So that was great to do and even a little bit try more ambitious things because we knew. So it’s a pretty great gift to know to when you’re leaving under your own steam and then to just enjoy it the whole way through.
Do any of those moments stick out in your mind, really getting to enjoy it more this last time?
Aurora: (Laughs). Well we do love planning and making good decisions and there’s a zillion of them. So having one more decision like “Okay, we’ve got that down”, it meant that all the little things that are uncomfortable but fun during shooting you just enjoy them. Like when we’re shooting outside in the rain at the Ontario Science Center with the leaves falling down, there are issues like “Will the eagles that nest in the area attack the eagle that we’ve had brought in for the scene that we’re doing?” So it means that instead of being stressful, you can be like “I can’t believe this is our work today”.
It’s all that lucid feeling of knowing that what you’re doing is a wonderful thing. It takes the slog out of getting up early and learning your lines because you just know that this is the best job I’ll ever have.
And because the show was obviously filmed pre-pandemic, are you happy that you were able to get it done before everything started coming down? Or is there a part of you that wishes “Man, I would’ve loved to have tackled certain elements of this on the show”?
Jennifer: Oh yeah. I think the blessing and the curse of this show is that for the rest of time, something will happen in our lives where we’re like “That would’ve been a killer Baroness sketch”. We’ll be like 90. I’ve accepted that that’s going to to be an ongoing thing. I think in some ways we just lucked out that we finished it when we did. Because for viewers, it’s a nice window into the before time. And I think it’s kind of really hard to talk about the pandemic and what we’re going through right now because the amount of changes is so extraordinary and it’s happening so fast. I feel like none of us really know quite where it’s landing. And this kind of really fast change is best dealt with late night television, weekly shows, Twitter. And what we deal with is sort of broader changes and things that I think are still probably working itself out. And I’d say probably this time next year we’ll have a better idea of “Oh, this is what it is”. We’re in this transition that’s really amazing and difficult.
So were you conscious to steer away from doing stuff that is more topical over the run of the show?
Aurora: Oh yeah. Definitely. The turn around time is something like 11 months or even more. Because when we started writing season five it was like spring of 2019. So we know that it won’t come out until the following year. There’s a shelf life on jokes. So we can only mention names if they are like really evergreen like the Dalai Lama or somebody like that. People that aren’t going away. And I think all of us enjoy sketch when your enjoyment isn’t necessarily what you’re remembering from the news that week, although that stuff is amazing. But things that are just always true about people, no matter what is going on in the world. There will always be small indignities and strangeness and absurdity and people making bad decisions. So I guess that’s what we’re going after.
But occasionally you do see things like climate change started coming into the writing room a lot more in season three. So stuff like that. I guess that’s here to stay.
Definitely. It will be interesting to see how something like the opening of season two where you’re naming those who have been accused of sexual assault will age in like 10 years. It’s kind of like a little history lesson.
Jennifer: Yeah! It’s interesting. When we filmed that one, we had to leave some room in it to make sure. Like “Okay, we’re filming it in the fall of 2019. This won’t get edited until the spring of 2020 and won’t air until the fall of 2020.” So we left some room like “This list could grow and change” so we could be topical.
Aurora: We did a take of “Okay Meredith in this take, just say a whole bunch of ‘Nope. No.” Just different ones in case we needed more.
Jennifer: One of our writers, Jen Goodhue, wrote that and she did it in such a clever way. She wrote it to be lawyer proof in order to be actually factually true. So it cannot be contested.
Aurora: I think there’s some issues like that. Like it might be history in ten years, but it might also be reality. You’ll watch like Dave Chappelle’s early sketches on police brutality and it’s like “Oh. That’s exactly the same now.” There’s some issues I think that will be always around.
And going off of that, how things can constantly change, how much room is there to tweak stuff on set?
Jennifer: Lots. (Laughs). We’ve read the sketches over, we’ve rehearsed them. But we’re all improvisers. So on the day and we’re all in it, all of a sudden the knowledge drops from the sky “Oh this is what it’s about.” Or “I know what the ending of this should be.” And it always is astonishing to me. Because we know the material so well. But sometimes it’s not until you’re in the moment when you realize “Oh. This is what this character really wants.” So we love that. We think it’s a hallmark of our show.
And oftentimes when we’re filming before the next sketch to get ourselves warmed up, we’ll have a little funny conversation to start with to lead it in so the sketch doesn’t just start cold. So it feels a little natural. And then on the end, we’re always like “Just let the camera roll a little bit and we’ll see if we find something in there that’s great.” Now the unfortunate thing about that is so many times there’s something that’s really, really funny that you love that we have to cut because it’s like “Oh that part is really funny!” but then there’s like a dead space in the middle before we get to the really funny part and it doesn’t work. That’s heartbreaking.
Aurora: I think the really nice thing though, Jen, is how many times you and I snuck in little gaming references when we’re in an office.
Jennifer: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Aurora: Jen was pointing out that she got in one of her new recipes from Breath of the Wild. And I think I’ve talked about Fallout and The Long Dark.
Jennifer: Oh sure. There’s a lot of sneaky video game references throughout the whole show.
It’s definitely interesting how many things can evolve from the writing process to the filming to the editing.
Aurora: Yes. As I said, we’re very involved with the whole process. And we have incredible editors as a whole team. We sit in and we’re very in control of it. And it’s an incredible part of the job. I enjoy editing almost as much as I enjoy the production chunk of things. And it makes such a difference where you put the timing, which bits is workings. “It’s funny but it throws the scene off.” You have to be really ruthless. But it’s just such a joy. When it fits together, you find just the right camera angle, just the right take. Sometimes scenes will be much shorter. Sometimes there’s moments that you didn’t realize you could knit together to make a little moment. But we’re always trying to be on the shorter, funnier side. That’s a good rule of thumb in comedy I think.
Exactly. Sometimes you can get a lot more punch out of something that’s only 90 seconds as opposed to the longer side. Those are the ones you might even remember more.
Jennifer: Yeah. If you can crystallize of capture that moment. Sometimes you have a longer sketch and you realize “It’s actually just about this little interaction between these two people.” And that’s all we need. And you know, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. I don’t mean that in a bad way. If you look at a sketch that was shot in 1970 or something like that, it could be very funny. But what you’ll notice is the camera will watch the actor move to the front door, then they’ll knock on the front door. The things that we collectively know, because we watch so much TV and movies, is we know how to edit. In our brains edit. So if somebody knocks at the door, we don’t need that shot of somebody walking up like “They arrived and now they’re knocking at the door.” So things go much faster. So I think it’s just part of this general trend.
Aurora: This visual language that we’ve all gotten from watching Vines and TikTok. And I think the three of us who have Second City in our background, there’s this specific thing. There’s these scenes when you do a show at Second City live in Toronto or Chicago, they are called blackouts because the only lighting note is lights up and then down to black. And scenes are not even ten seconds long sometimes. So that was already part of our vocabulary when we thought of creating the running order of the show. It’s like creating a mix tape, as you say Jen. So I think that was just natural for all of us already. And once the joke’s done, you’ve gotta go. You’ve gotta get out.
Jennifer: And I think you also learn the thing, too, that there’s no worse feeling than being in a scene and you’ve lost the audience. And it feels so terrible. And I’m just coming to this right now, after the show is over. But I think part of it is, because of that Second City training, I think we all have this innate sense of “This is interesting. Oh this is not so interesting.” Let’s keep the audience engaged and not do those parts that are cringy when you’re actually in front of a live audience.
Aurora: that’s the real gift that working at Second City gives you. You have so many hours in front of the audiences. You have it completely internalized, all those laughs and the feelings of silence. That terrible, terrible feeling of being in a cringy, awful scene that just isn’t funny anymore. So it was just always there.
And how did you both find that transition initially when the series first started from doing live improv to filming the series without an audience?
Jennifer: Well, one of my sort of interim jobs was I worked on this show in Canada called This Hour Has 22 Minutes which is a political satire show along the lines of like a Daily Show or something like that. And it had taped bits, but it also had bits in front of a live audience. So it was really interesting. You could watch these tapes bits in front of a live audience to see what did work or didn’t work, what the audience was responding to. And it was also really interesting because it’s news. So sometimes you’re ahead of the audience because you’re reading so much news like “This is a story we should talk about.” But it hasn’t really hit home. And then there’s other things like “Nobody ever finds climate change funny. It’s hard to make a funny climate change joke.” So then you would do that and you would also see the live audience and get that timing. So I think that really gave me a sense of “This joke works or this joke doesn’t work,” which was invaluable for this. Because sometimes before you film it, people go like “Oh I’m not sure. I don’t know.” So it gave me the confidence to go “No. I’ve done this enough. I know this joke maybe isn’t the most exciting on the page, but I know it will work when it’s up and on its feet.”
Aurora: I would say, Jen, you and I share the desire to consume hours and hours of culture online. And all of us, even though we all have all this experience doing live stuff as well, we also are consumers of culture. We watched so many films and television shows. And we all knew what aesthetic we wanted when we were going to make the show. We didn’t want a laugh track and we did want it to be single camera. And it is a different style of performing, when you’re onstage in front of an audience filling the room with your voice to working a camera and knowing that visual language. And I think we all were really clear with what we wanted. And we found a director of photography that was what we wanted and we found directors who were what we wanted. We know what good TV looks like. We wanted it to look like that.
Definitely. And you managed to find that look pretty quickly, compared to some shows. Now I wanna ask, can you tell me about some of the things that you maybe did expect to click or catch on that didn’t, and vice versa to that? Are there things that you are surprised that people keep asking about that you definitely didn’t anticipate?
Aurora: I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re completely right 100 percent of the time. People laugh at every single thing we do. (Laughs). Kidding aside, there’s lot of times where – not to do a humble brag or anything like that – but there are many times where I think “God. Will anybody find this funny at all after we’ve been watching it hundreds of times?” And then people do! And it’s like “Great!” That being said, I cannot watch the show on a live broadcast in a room with other people because my own insecurities come up and I think “This is the most humorless thing I’ve ever seen and I look terrible.” All those terrible voices start talking. It’s always weird watching yourself. So it’s generally a pleasant experience finding what people find funny. So far I don’t think we’ve had any complete misses. Have we, Jen?
Jennifer: No. No. I don’t think so. And I was just thinking, one time at 22 Minutes, we did have a sketch that was a complete miss. The audience was kind of like “Huh?” It was just a puzzled pause. And I don’t think we’ve had that. But I agree it’s hard to watch yourself on screen. But I also do miss the pre-pandemic times when we would gather with friends to watch the show. Because we’ve seen it so many times that we forget things are funny. So to see people come fresh to it is exciting. And it kind of gives you back that enthusiasm of like “Oh yeah.” And I think, for myself, when people enjoy season five it’s super gratifying because we‘ve locked down. So I really didn’t have a sense of this season with how it would play or land because I don’t see any people.
And what are some things that you think you’ll miss most about the series? And is there anything you won’t miss?
Aurora: I will never miss having to wear high heel shoes because my feet are very large and it’s very hard to find comfortable high heel shoes for me. So sometimes you’ll have to put on shoes that are right for the part. Doing a drag queen look is so much fun from the top all the way down to the ankles. And below that, it is torture. So that kind of stuff, never sad to say goodbye to.
Jennifer: I won’t miss having to get up at 5:30 in the morning. That’s hard. But I will miss so much. There’s so much that’s fun. Some of my favorite parts are like sketches where you only have a line or two in, especially those office ones where it’s just like “Okay. How am I going to make this fun for myself? What’s a fun little game I can play in this that will make it interesting?” I miss that. I’m going to miss the playing that we get to do with each other. And I’m also going to just miss seeing Aurora, Carolyn, and Meredith do their thing. Sometimes you’re having so much fun watching everybody else you’re like “Oh that’s right! We’re still in the scenes. Still need to do our thing!”. So I’m going to miss that, too. I won’t miss scrambled eggs for breakfast. Often on set I had scrambled eggs for breakfast, and I’m tired of them.
Aurora: But having somebody else cook and then clean up after those scrambled eggs. Just walking up to the craft truck was just one of the best things.
Jennifer: It’s true. As a person now who has to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner I’m like “Oh yeah!”
Aurora: And we had such good craft this season. That’s one of the things that won’t make it on screen is how good our craft truck was this year.
I’ve definitely had people tell me you want to make sure you go for the good craft services.
Jennifer: We’re an army that moves on its stomach. (Laughs).
Aurora: Nobody worries too much if comediennes are eating. So we’re very happy to have that as part of our personas.
Jennifer: It’s the number one thing that people complain about. It’s the number one crew complaint if the food is not good. And rightfully so. You’re trapped. It’s not the easiest situation to bring your own food to, either.
Aurora: It’s just such a nice feeling when the craft is great. You feel taken care of.
And that’s a good point as well, that you are trapped. Sometimes I’m certain you’re filming in the middle of nowhere.
Jennifer: Oh yeah. We’ve filmed in parks, abandoned hospitals. Just places where there is nothing for miles around. And oftentimes it’s uncomfortable. Places are cold, places aren’t heated. So when somebody hands you a cup of hot stew, you’re just so grateful.
Baroness von Sketch Show airs Wednesday nights on IFC. And check out an exclusive clip from tomorrow night’s episode below.