“There’s a bit of secret sauce to the recipe. So we don’t want too many people to know how to do it.”
On the edge of Vancouver’s Olympic Village, Chris Kelly and Pat Kelly, founders of the creative agency Kelly & Kelly, speak in a cushion-lined recording room, the yellow walls reflecting on a long table topped with microphones, mixers, and other sound equipment. Above, a neon sign made by Cameron Clow is emblazoned with the words “Fake News.” Fitting, as the duo of Kellys is best known for creating award-winning satire podcasts This Sounds Serious (a true crime parody on CastBox) and CBC Radio One’s celebrated sarcastic current affairs show This is That.
Pat and Chris, unrelated, met when Pat and friend Peter Oldring approached CBC with the concept for This is That. Originally from Calgary, Pat spent his early career in Toronto, where he “experienced every corner of the Canadian comedy business” as a comedian (notably with Toronto’s Second City), actor, writer, and producer. Chris, a New Brunswick native and at the time a producer at CBC Radio in the Vancouver office, took on the assignment. Pat, Chris, and Oldring launched the first episode in 2010.
The satirical news show, hosted by Pat and Oldring, opens with lines like “Canada: the Stanley Cup of camping” and “Canada: so many places to park”—it is so convincing in its delivery and its crazy-but-not-too-crazy news “reports” that it has been known to fool unfamiliar listeners. With regional accents perfectly pronounced by fictional characters who weigh in on current events (and all of whom are improvised during production), segments poke fun at Canadianness in the form of 23andMe genealogy tests (a man discovers he is actually from Edmonton, not Calgary) and a national requirement for all dogs to be bilingual. The show’s characteristic wit has garnered it more than a million listens; it has won three Canadian Comedy Awards for best radio program or clip, and one Canadian Screen Award for best performance. “The original inspiration of it was to sort of parody the CBC Radio,” shares Pat. “There is something to the Canadian sensibility when it comes to humour. In some ways, it is sort of dry and sarcastic. And I think that lends itself well to the podcasting medium.” The show is now in its ninth and final season.
Then there is This Sounds Serious, which aired as the true crime genre was becoming oversaturated; it all began with Serial launching in 2014 and reportedly turning a new audience onto the audio medium (at that time, only 27 per cent of American Serial listeners had ever listened to a podcast previously). For Pat and Chris, their parody show (also written by Oldring and Dave Shumka) was about placing a fresh, very Canadian style of humour on the genre. “Comedy is in a really cool place right now where it doesn’t have to be Bugs Bunny to be comedic,” says Chris. “There’s a lot of cool other tones to it, and I think This Sounds Serious is an example of that—where it’s a cool, kind of dark true crime story. I mean, someone gets murdered—but it’s funny.” The first season, released in 2018, follows the murder of a weatherman in Florida. It received two million downloads worldwide and acquired over 100,000 subscribers. Season two will launch in 2019 and follows a Hollywood murder case.
Under the wider Kelly & Kelly creative umbrella, there is also This is That CBC Comedy video content, which has garnered over 50 million views. The agency, which Pat and Chris founded in February 2016, also has a good-sized list of external clients including Lululemon, Google, and Earls, who call on Kelly & Kelly for campaigns, documentaries, and short films; at the end of 2018, a content project with the New York Times will launch.
At the core of every Kelly & Kelly creation is the improv comedy scene here in Vancouver. “It’s kind of the world that we come from,” Chris says. “So, we tend to gravitate towards that community.” The actors on the roster for each podcast series come from the likes of the China Cloud, Vancouver TheatreSports, and The Sunday Service. “One of the things that I don’t think a lot of people in Canada know is that there’s a really healthy comedy community in Vancouver. And sometimes Toronto gets a lot of credit for having a place where all the comedy comes from,” Pat explains. “But there are so many really, really talented people here.” Earlier in November 2018, the Kelly & Kelly team attended the inaugural Vancouver Podcast Festival put on by DOXA and participated in a live improvised comedy sketch. They hope events like this will encourage a wider net of talent and thinkers in the producing, podcasting, and comedy scenes in Vancouver to come together.
“There’s just a real need for people to have funny stuff,” says Pat. “But that being said, I think we could certainly shift our focus if the world wants sad content. Maybe the world just wants everything to be sad?”
All jokes aside, Pat and Chris have carved out a special niche in the comedy landscape, and as long as they continue, the world will have at least one thing to be happy about.
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