TenEighty caught up with Jack Howard at Buffer Festival to discuss his and Dean Dobbs’ new comedy sketch, Emotional Baggage.
The comedy duo premiered the sketch during the Comedy Screening at Toronto, Canada’s Buffer Festival earlier this month. Taking the term “emotional baggage” in a literal way, the sketch sees Jack and Dean getting personal with their audience by dealing with the thoughts and emotions that come about when someone is struggling with their mental health.
When Jack initially approached Dean regarding what they would be making for the online film festival, his initial thought was a horror film surrounding the theme of mental health, something their audience wouldn’t expect from the pair. However, due to time restraints, they decided to instead create a comedy sketch based off a script Dean had written in 2018.
“Dean had this idea about a year and a half ago when we did the Sundance New Voices Lab,” Jack explains. “We had homework to write certain scenes about stuff and Dean had written this very first draft of what would become this script, and I revisited it and there were some jokes that are in that very first draft that are now in the final draft as well.”
Both Jack and Dean have been open regarding their struggles with mental health over the past few years, with Jack in particular tweeting about attending therapy. Not afraid to be vulnerable with their audience, they used this experience to help develop the sketch:
“It was us taking our personal experiences. Me having done therapy for the last year and a half, using some of the things – terms and stuff – I learned from that. The growth from that as well, and finding a way to write about that in a way that I think is really funny. It’s not making fun of mental health, obviously, but making it funny – making the topic funny.”
The result of this is a comedy sketch that offers new tidbits with each watch. Jack explains that they were more subtle this time around when it came to the story-telling aspect, which is something they did intentionally and what resulted in this being their favourite sketch to date, “There are certain things that, when you watch it a second time, I hope you have a different understanding.”
I have my first therapy session on Thursday. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this ready for something. There’s so much I’ve been ignoring. Please don’t do that. Your feelings are valid and people won’t judge you for them. And if they do, they’re wrong.
— Jack Howard (@JackHoward) January 1, 2018
Emotional Baggage took the pair three days to film, as opposed to the usual one-to-two days, due to the size of the script. Not wanting to rush the project, they spoke with long-time collaborator and Director of Photography, Ciaran O’Brien, about spreading filming over a longer course of time: “Whenever he hasn’t busy, we just picked up a section here and then the ending there. Actually, doing that was really helpful because it allowed me to have some distance from what we’d already shot and now knowing what I needed to get to tell the rest of the story and the best way of doing it.
“You can improvise with ideas and you can shift them quite dramatically when you know what you’ve got,” Jack continues. “There’s a difference, obviously, in what’s scripted and what you create, and that is what was different this time, but not through choice. It was better for it.”
When asked what his and Dean’s plans are for the upcoming year, Jack shares that the pair would like to create more story-centred sketches, similar to The Goblin and How To Get To Heaven. They’d also like to work on more long-form content and have recently began working with the production company Merman on a comedy pilot, “There’s no guarantee of anything, obviously, but the fact that we’re working with them is a good sign, and I hope we’ll be able to develop that further.”
Another reason Jack would like to focus on more longer-form content is the challenge associated with writing longer scripts. While he is able to write a comedy sketch with ease, he finds he hits walls, creatively, when writing longer content and has to think more about the overall idea and execution. “It’s difficult to sometimes weave even a simple story, to keep things engaged and to make sure the plot is threading throughout the entire thing,” he explains.
Despite the difficulty, Jack welcomes the challenge and hopes to utilize the skills he picked up while at the Sundance New Voices Lab, as well as what he learns in day-to-day life, to help further his writing.
Emotional Baggage is currently available for viewing via Jack and Dean’s YouTube channel.