by Britt Vasicek
Edited by Al Bahmani
Microsatan is a sketch writing collective in Houston, Tx that is more than what you expect from such a group. The shows are electric, eclectic and it feels like you are witnessing greatness happen. Each show is jam packed with stand-up, improv, music, and sketch comedy, Microsatan has managed to carve out a scene that is all their own. Sketch members Ned Gayle and Conner Clifton took some time out of their day and gave their views on sketches, zines and staying creative in a city that most would not associate with the creative.
What is Microsatan?
NED: MicroSatan is a self-proclaimed comedic art collective. Now don’t worry, we only called it that because we are pretentious pricks. The reason we use ‘art collective’ is due to the production that goes into our shows as well as our mission to create comedy across several mediums other than live performance (see MicroSatan Mag: A Zine).
We’ve been producing a brand new, hour-long sketch show/narrative play complete with original videos and music every month for the past year and a half.
CONNER: Well, that’s not fair. We started calling ourselves a “comedic art collective” because we wanted to produce works that went beyond staged sketch comedy and even move into the realm of interactive that- ok yeah, it’s pretentious. We’re just a sketch comedy group that makes zines sometimes.
What’s the origin story? How did Microsatan start?
NED: MicroSatan started between Conner Clifton and Billy Trim. My involvement came before their first show. I recently reconnected with Conner at ZineFest Houston after meeting him 6 years before. He told me he was about to do a comedy talk show that weekend and I immediately asked if he needed anyone to do dumb characters for the show. He said, “actually, yeah.”
I had such a blast at the show and realized it was exactly what I was looking for to work on so I begged them to let me join. It only took 6 knuckle jobs and a case of beer to get them to agree!
CONNER: Once we had Ned involved, we started growing and growing. Some members have moved away, but we still consider them part of the MicroSatan family. PLEASE COME HOME.
So, who is Microsatan?
NED: A bunch of fucking white dudes and Ruth Hirsch and Antoine Culbreath.
CONNER: Yeah. That’s…. That’s true. But one of the things that Billy and I set out to achieve when MicroSatan got its start was a growing community. MicroSatan works heavily with people who are not regularly in our writer’s room. We get to test the waters with new contributors in a very comfortable and familiar environment.
NED: I started my comedy career in Houston doing improv comedy with full intention to go into sketch writing. While I do enjoy improv immensely, I always saw it as a tool to work towards writing sketches; a more active/immersive way of shooting the shit and bouncing ideas.
Being a film student with a heavy editing background, it’s really fun for me to find a way to stylize sketches in the writing room.
Putting together sketches like the Chuck Tucker “tough lawyer commercial” and the “studio-style product commercial” for Chuglet (a milk inspired chocolate drink!) have been the most fun/rewarding for me to work on. It’s all about finding the balance of “I’ve seen something like that!” and “What the fuck was that?”
CONNER: What I love most about sketch writing, at least in this capacity, is the team environment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked in with an idea that I was super dedicated to and then someone makes a suggestion that is way funnier than anything I came up with or something that escalates my original idea to new heights. Also, is there anything more fun than writing jokes with your friends and trying to crack each other up? I really only work by myself when I’m making comics because that’s really the only thing I can have complete and total control over.
What is the sketch scene in Houston?
NED: There aren’t a lot of active sketch groups in Houston. Not to say there isn’t sketch- I’ve seen fantastic sketch shows produced by/at both BETA and Station theater- but there aren’t as many groups actively producing shows at the moment. There have been a lot of great ones over the years, though. My favorite, now defunct, group was Feelings- comprised of Antoine Culbreath and Amy Birkhead.
I used to produce sketch shows with Kelly Juneau under the name Ned Kelly (named after the famous Australian bush bandit, not our names). Be Kind to Strangers has been active for *eons* and they always amaze me with the amount of content they push out with pristine live production (their recent set at Trill Comedy Festival was awesome!).
CONNER: MicroSatan was really my first experience with sketch comedy in Houston. I mean, I had done Neo-Benshi a few times beforehand, but even that show is a reinterpretation of an existing piece of work; I never created something out of nothing for the stage in that capacity, nor was I aware of anyone else doing anything like it. That’s my fault, I really only had exposure to improv and stand-up and storytelling before diving into the sketch.
Stalk Show (Rest In Piece) was my favorite sketch show in town. If you’re not familiar, the premise was Hoja Lopez was a creepy obsessive stalker who would fall in love with someone new every month and the show would always be dedicated to that person. She, Stacey Daniels and Kathryn Way wrote some really cool and hilarious stuff on that show. Unfortunately, Stalk Show is no more, but I’ve heard that the three of them are already working on something new. Keep an eye out for ANYTHING they produce!
Have you taken this thing on tour?
NED: We went on a small Texas tour earlier this year going from Houston – San Antonio – Austin – Denton. Rather than stay overnight in Denton after our final show, we were so revved with the energy we decided to leave for Houston around midnight. Delirious and pumped full of adrenaline we called a Jesus Billboard and Conner, with his best concerned parent voice, confided in the poor operator about his son. He must’ve talked for 30 or 45 minutes with this guy about his son’s strayed path from Jesus and how he would attend “Satanic laughing shows” like MicroSatan. We were all dying (from laughter!).
CONNER: I made sure that the tour lined up so that we’d be performing in Austin on the day of my birthday. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. I really felt like MicroSatan had become my new family. After the tour, something clicked… We knew how everyone worked and what everyone could handle. We’re more of a unit after that tour.
Where do you see these projects taking you?
NED: I think we might take some time away from the live shows to work on larger video projects. This past year has been pretty hectic but we’ve really come into our own as a writers room. None of our upcoming projects are set in stone but I’m extremely confident in whatever we try to tackle next. I’d like to concentrate on projects outside of sketch such as expanding our zine, working on weirdo art shows and working on games (Conner is becoming quite the coding wizard).
CONNER: I’d like to slow down the whole “having a show every month” thing. I’d rather take the time to put together a show with a high production value. My big inspirations are the tightly packaged plots of Mr. Show and the over-the-top glamor and choreography of Busby Berkeley. I’d love to have a show full of musical numbers with showgirls swimming in blood fountains while Satan sings about eternal suffering, fully backed by a choir of demons.
Tell me about this Christmas Special coming up!
NED: I am very excited for this! Last year we modeled our Xmas special around the classic Christmas special format (mainly from the critically un-acclaimed Star Wars Holiday Special) where our stars of the show host a variety show of characters, songs, and stories. The format this year will be very similar, but with a new story.
CONNER: This has been a shitty year. Even before the election, you had plenty to complain about, regardless of your political leanings. Now, everything seems to be coming to a head and we’re all expected to put on a smile and celebrate the holidays as if nothing is wrong. The main thing we want you to walk away from this special with is a glimmer of hope that yes, you CAN enjoy the holidays despite having over 300 days of terrible news leading up to it.
Microsatan is excited to share their hard work with you and I can personally say there isn’t a better way to celebrate your holiday.
This holiday season Microsatan is putting on a Christmas Special with a tale that is guaranteed to be unlike any Christmas story you’ve ever heard. The event will take place at Midtown Bar & Grill in the upstairs room on December 9th at 10pm.
You can like their Facebook page here to keep up with their projects and RSVP for the event here to make sure you don’t miss this amazing show.