When the star is also the sound guy: The unique challenges of TV production in a pandemic
Comedian Jon Dore stars in lockdown comedy “Humour Resources” airing tonight on CBC.
Imagine if comedy were a corporation, and each comedian was an employee. Canadian comedian Jon Dore brought this premise to the new six-episode lockdown sitcom called Humour Resources, which debuts on CBC Television on January 5 at 9:30 p.m., and airs every Tuesday night.
Each episode follows the Comedy Human Resources manager, Jon Dore, during his day working from home under quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to get comedians like Sarah Silverman, Dave Merheje, and Ronny Chieng, to change their ways.
Dore asks Nikki Glaser to show her roasting skills, Tom Green debuts his ventriloquist act, Eric Andre puts in a Postmates order, and you see what he likes to eat for lunch with his girlfriend.
"I'll gladly go on record right now just to add to that… I have a very serious problem with Eric Andre as an HR manager," says Dore.
Dore and the production team behind Humour Resources faced unique challenges while creating a series remotely from August – October during lockdown. From casting to filming, here's how they overcame them.
Bringing your home-life to screen
How do you create more cast members when you can't bring in outside actors? You put your family on screen, and improvise.
Other than Dore's girlfriend Christina and her 6-year-old daughter Emma who he is quarantined with, "the show is really populated by a drive thru a voiceover artist, customer service representatives, comedians and a bear," says Dore.
This works to the benefit of themes in the series, where we see Dore balance his job and his home-life living in a pandemic, homeschooling and co-parenting.
"I learned a lot in every episode," says Dore, "I realized if I would have just listened to my own advice that I'm suggesting to the comedians and applied it to my personal life things probably would have worked out well."
It's very interesting to not actually physically be in the same room with a person the entire process of the show- Jon Dore
Every part of the production process was done virtually. From the pitch to CBC, the writers room with Arthur Simeon, Rebecca Kohler, and the deep-dive research on each comedian to find the "skeletons in their closet."
The technical challenges came when preparing to film the series.
"Most of the day was spent arguing about when meal breaks should be, since everyone's on different time zones," says Adam Brodie, the Executive Producer, co-director, co-writer with Dave Derewlany, who says they were also production designers, craft services, or "pretty much everything because our crew was tiny," adds Derewlany.
A three-person TV production crew
While normally a television crew can have up to hundreds of members on set, shooting this in quarantine, the Humour Resources team needed to find a way to do everything remotely with a team of 3-5 people.
They shipped cameras to wherever the comedians were: their apartment, house, their country home, or their parent's place. The cameras flew to comedians in Vancouver, Toronto, New York, St. Louis, and LA.
"We never had to delay a shoot in regular times because our camera was stuck in Memphis, at a FedEx shipping depot. But that's what happened on this one," says Brodie.
They hired an assistant camera operator wherever the comedian lived to set up the camera and then leave space during the interview, which meant making sure everyone was comfortable in a pandemic with someone else there and following safety protocols, says Dore.
From tech hurdles to creativity
Before getting to the funny parts, the technical problems needed to be sorted out. Since Dore was alone, he was in charge of his own camera and sound, pressing record, changing cue cards, holding the camera, all while concentrating on acting in the scene and character.
While Jon was acting, the directors had to guide the scenes remotely: through a cell phone in Dore's pocket. "At the end of a cut, I would hear them laughing or not. You're essentially listening to a voice come out of your pocket," says Dore.
"If I was working with a director that I've never met before I think it would have been very strange. But because it was Adam and Dave who I know, it felt familiar and really fun actually."
Dore and the directors say no matter the challenges, they were simply happy to be back working during a global pandemic. "Frontline workers are actually putting their lives on the line and we're just goofing around over Zoom," says Dore. "But I hope that people, in the darkness of January, get a little bit of laughter from it."
Why comedy needs a Human Resources department
"Big picture, comedy needs an HR department to stop it from being cancelled altogether," says Adam Brodie.
From conflict resolution, to accountability, moral liability to personal hygiene, Jon Dore takes great pleasure in analyzing and correcting the behaviour of the episode's guest comedians.
Jon Dore dreams of creating a world where the business of comedy, the employees of comedy and the customers of comedy can all coexist in one giant tent and can laugh together without being offended.
"That's where I come in," says Dore. "I make sure that customer comments are heard and listened to and employees respond well to them. And that way, everyone's satisfied and that's the best way to live life, in an ideal state."
Comedians, when you come out of from your cocoon, do you want to come out as a beautiful butterfly or a stupid moth?- Adam Brodie
"This is the time to really reflect on what you've done in the past because it's a brand new world once this pandemic lifts," says Dore.
"With comedians trapped at home, not performing anymore, It's time for them to take stock of their careers and maybe reemerge from all of this when we can win the game back on stage and be more prepared for the modern world of comedy," says Brodie.
Watch Humour Resources on CBC Gem.