Biology students sketchin’
Usually we do not associate comedic writing with biology students, but there are always exceptions to rules as demonstrated by University of Waterloo graduates Brad Vermunt and Lee Pinnell, who use their training to create scientifically proven funny sketch comedy.
What began as two friends writing sketches for fun expanded into a television series filmed in Waterloo, using both UW and Toronto Film School students. The writing staff has since expanded to include Malek Pacha, Graeme McMillan, and Greg Jackson; friends acquired once the duo moved to Toronto.
Finding inspiration from shows like Mr. Show, Human Giant, and SCTV, and deriving comedic stylings from what Vermunt described as “a metaview of the world.” Those shows help to create the unique experience of the show.
“You sort of see what would happen if you made a different decision in a conversation…” Vermunt said, “playing with the idea of what would happen if you did things differently.”
They were afforded this big break when Pinnell, working for Rogers TV as a volunteer camera operator, learned of a way to create a show.
“We submitted a package to apply and they liked it, so they asked us if we could do a non-broadcast pilot,” which the duo filmed themselves and with the help of the UW Improv Club.
“By the time they asked for the five episodes,” Vermunt was attending Toronto Film School, “one of the nice things about Toronto Film School is that we get access to a lot of equipment and a lot of production personnel.”
The university was an inspiration and setting for the show, according to Vermunt. “It’s a pretty academically robust university and that creates sort of a unique university experience that I think definitely kind of coloured some of the sketches.” With permission from the university, they were able to film sketches like “Campus Cops,” inspired by the show Cops, “but did it as like kind of an absurdist sketch.”
“[You see] sort of the problems that they would have to deal with and then what if you sort of blow it out of proportion and create these characters who are ridiculous,” said Vermunt. “It’s a mockumentary like Parks and Rec [NBC’s Parks and Recreation] kind of style.”
One sketch that goes beyond the university is “Exploring Waterloo,” which showcases different areas of Kitchener-Waterloo. The sketch, crafted around a fictitious host, who “was supposed to be like this super happy person,” explained Vermunt. “But he’s just a terrible, terrible person and you just sort of see behind the curtain that he constantly puts up when he’s doing the show.”
Overall, Vermunt has stated, “It’s been a really great experience and Rogers was really great to work with.”
“Just dealing with everybody was really great and the production crew was really helpful too, so it was good all around.”
Similarly, Treading Waterloo is a show that has many great aspects and whether or not you are interested in sketch comedy, you should definitely give the show a chance.
You can catch it on Channel 20 in the Waterloo region, or can view some sketches on their website (bradleecomedy.com) or their YouTube channel (BradLeeComedy).