Duo Got First Big Attention as “Kennedy’s”
James Coker and Marshall Stratton make up comedy team Coker & Stratton. After four years of performing together onstage at comedy hubs like the Upright Citizens Brigade and the People’s Improv Theater and showcasing their talents in online sketches, the twosome created the webseries “The Other Kennedys” which follows the misadventures of two very distant relatives of the famous family. For ten bite-sized episodes, Coker, a 32-year-old Aquarius from Texas, and Stratton, a 33-year-old Leo from Tennessee, portray Kennedy cousins summering on The Cape.
Directed by Shane Tilston, the series nabbed Coker and Stratton a joint Best Actor award and a development award from Comedy Central at the New York Television Festival this fall. Their success at the festival also landed Coker and Stratton an agent and manager.
1st Amendment Media sat down with Coker and Stratton after the pair returned to New York from a packed week of industry meetings in Los Angeles to talk comedy, Kennedys and what’s next.
1st Amendment Media: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
James Coker: I wanted to play four professional sports at the same time.
Marshall Stratton: Four professional sports?
James Coker: I would stay up at night trying to figure out how I’d be able to schedule the year.
MS: I was a dreamer….Watching SNL and stuff, there was a part of me in the back of my mind all my childhood that I wanted to do that.
1AM: How did you officially become a comedy partnership?
James Coker: I had written this [sketch] about Tab Cola and I was so nervous to perform it by myself, I asked Marshall to do it with me. And we rehearsed it a few times and Marshall added some jokes and added this awkward voice that we ended up sort of putting in the sketch and elements that I didn’t think of. And when we performed it, it destroyed…. People came up to us afterwards being like, ‘You guys should do sketch together’ and we were like, ‘Yeah!’
1AM: Do you drink Tab?
James Coker: No. It’s disgusting.
MS: Very bad.
JC: Please redact that. Just in case Tab is interested in some branded content.
1AM: After that first sketch together, how did the partnership evolve?
JC: We started writing sketches together, both live and video. I think the first video we did was a music video called “The Paul Ryan Workout”.
1AM: I don’t know how that didn’t go viral.
JC: You and me both.
James Coker: We found that our strength was doing sketches that were presentational where we were addressing the audience… In regards to our videos, we really wanted to try a little bit of everything. We did musical parodies, we did topical sketches, we did some weirder high concept sketches. I think we just sort of wanted to—
MS: [put] as many eggs in as many baskets and see what kinda worked.
JC: ….Prove to ourselves that we could write any style of sketch.
1AM: James, what makes Marshall a great partner?
COKER: Marshall’s a great collaborator because he’ll give any idea a chance….It’s not until we’ve done several drafts that it’s like, ‘OK maybe this isn’t working.’ But sometimes we’ll have an idea that we’re not super confident about but we’re like, ‘Alright let’s roll with it,’ and we’ll go back and forth and it ends up being a great sketch.
1AM: Marshall, what makes James a great partner?
MS: James is the idea man. I’d say like 95% of the stuff we’ve done have been James’s ideas….I have trouble organizing sketches, I have trouble coming up with ideas, my mind just kind of runs everywhere. James is so focused, and is very deliberate in everything he does. It’s easy for me to jump on that wagon and help out.
JC: Thank you, Marshall.
MS: You’re very welcome.
1AM: The Internet is full of two funny dudes making funny stuff. Jake and Amir. BriTaNick. Coker & Stratton. What sets you apart?
JC: I would never put myself or Marshall and me in the same group as BriTaNick. I’m such a big fan of those guys, but they write really intelligent high concept sketches and, honestly, I think the majority of our stuff is very dumb and broad. But we’re happy about [that.] Were cool with that. We’re dumb and broad but we feel like we do dumb and broad really well.
MS: We are not [above] having funny wigs. Having funny t-shirts.
JC: We don’t have a very refined sense of humor.
MS: We grew up on 90s SNL. 90s SNL was the dumbest crap of all time.
JC: But it was great!
MS: Of those three groups, Jake and Amir, BriTaNick and us, we’re the dumbest by far.
JC: We’re the dumbest, the broadest and the least famous.
1AM: Where did you get the idea for “The Other Kennedys”?
MS: Two things. Around the time we started doing sketch together, I took a couple friends up to Maine where my family has a summerhouse. It’s where we shot The Other Kennedys. It hasn’t been redecorated since the early ‘80s. It’s very set in this certain time period. And ever since then James has been like, ‘We’ve gotta shoot something there.’….And then people kept telling me I looked like a Kennedy once I moved to the city. I never heard of that ‘cause I’m from the South and no one reveres the Kennedys in the South like they do up here. And so we just kinda took those things and James was like, ‘What if we do a show called The Other Kennedys and it’s these distant relatives of the Kennedy family and they are just these bumbling idiots trying to fit in?’
1AM: How long was your shoot?
MS: Three and a half days.
1AM: And what was your budget?
MS: Around $5,000.
1AM: All the episodes are about a minute. Why did you decide on that length?
JC: I first got the idea from a web series called “Hot Mess Moves”….All of their episodes were anywhere between 30 seconds to like a minute, minute and a half long….They decided instead of taking the conventional approach to sketch and establishing the game and hitting it in three beats and heightening, they [decided to] find the joke, hit it really hard once, and get out of the video. And I thought that model for the Internet was so brilliant.
SC: We also thought that these characters were so dumb there’s no way someone’s gonna watch it for more than a minute.
1AM: How did you prepare to play Kennedys?
JC: I shaved. My face.
MS: I also shaved. Every other day.
1AM: There are a million web series out there. As creators of a successful series that’s won awards and directly landed you representation, what advice do you have for artists trying to launch their own web series?
MS: It should look like a film. It should look like a television show.
JC: The Internet is so saturated right now with content. It’s very hard to set yourself apart.
MS: So invest the money in a good DP and a great sound person. You need those things. Or its just gonna be another web series in a sea of web series.
JC: You need a unique hook or concept that hasn’t been done before. Otherwise, it’s going to be hard to have people tune in initially. You might have a great web series that’s about two people living in New York City, and it might be really funny and shot really well, and written really tight; but, if you cant get people to initially watch it you’re fighting an uphill battle.
MS: Create a bit of a buzz on your end….[We created] tiny promos to give you an insight into what this humor is going to be, what this world looks like, and who these characters are, and it’s an easy thing to follow into launching the series.
1AM: Will we see more episodes of “The Other Kennedys”? What else are you working on?
COKER: Some people are interested in a half hour version of “The Other Kennedys,” which we’re working on. We also have two other pilots that we’ve been working on.
1AM: What would surprise people in other professions about working in the comedy world?
MS: The amount of time it takes to get your career started. We’ve been doing this for like eight years in New York and the New York Television Festival is kind of the start of our somewhat professional careers.
1AM: Where do you see this partnership going in the next one to five years?
MS: Hopefully we can write and produce and be in a show that we wrote, and on the side be staff writers.
JC: You know, just on the side. Like a hobby.
For more on Coker & Stratton, please visit here