On the Internet, found material is often recycled as comedy: a decade-old commercial, a foreign music video, an amateur’s footage from the zoo. But for the Brooklyn comedy troupe Sunset Television the opposite is true. Its videos are meant to play like artifacts discovered in serpentine YouTube searches.
Take the sketch “Real Life Exorcisms,” from 2011, a 3-minute-20-second video modeled on paranormal reality shows like “Ghost Hunters”: The sound design, captions and mood are indistinguishable from the material it parodies. The absurd story, however, includes a dog medium and a possessed girl whose garbled monologue is recorded and played in reverse by a priest to reveal nonsense: “I like diamonds. And cats and sports. And, uh, awesome tattoos. Lesbian Tattoos.” The YouTube page includes the faulty description, “%100 REAL EXORCISM FOOTAGE.”
Like much of Sunset Television’s work, the humor is poker faced, and most of the 3,865 comments posted online involve earnest questions about authenticity. Approaching 8 million views now, the video, also available via the group’s website, is by far its most popular, and the comedians embrace the utterly confused response.
“In the beginning Sunset aimed to blur the lines between fact and fiction,” Karrie Crouse, the group’s only female member, said recently at a bar in Brooklyn where group members often meet to discuss new ideas. “We wanted the videos to feel excavated, difficult to date or place in a particular culture.”
She and the other members – Drew Blatman, Alex Goldberg, Graham Mason – met in 2007 in the graduate film program at Columbia University. There they made 7- to 15-minute collages that appeared to be transmissions from a twisted, satirical dimension of television.
The group produced five episodes from 2008 to 2010, each constructed as a channel-surfing stream of jokes. Actors were hired from Craigslist.
Although there are no plans for Sunset Television to make the leap to actual television, the members are increasingly drawn toward the emotional breadth of continuing storylines.
“Initially we wanted the work to feel as if it were totally found,” Mason said. “But these days we’re owning up to the fact that we’re making it. We’re putting ourselves in there.”