"Jackass" Without the Stunts: No Budget TV Films at Racer’s Edge, January 31 Print
News/Features - Comedy
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 26 January 2009 15:18

the No Budget TV logoC.J. Crawford, creator of the local YouTube series No Budget TV, has a lot of people to thank for his sketch comedy's burgeoning popularity: co-writer and collaborator Joe Lee; the friends and musicians who participate without pay; the 100-plus subscribers to the series' channel.

But whether she knows it or not, there's one other person to whom Crawford owes a debt of gratitude: Miley Cyrus.

"I just did that video on a whim," says Crawford of last year's one-minute, 17-second offering. "All it is is a picture of Miley Cyrus just fading in and out with her birth and death date, and I just did that because it was hot at the time - there was this big thing where she was supposedly dead, so I just threw that out there to see what would happen. And it got, like, a thousand views in two days.

"Wouldn't you know it?" Crawford says with a laugh. "The most stupid video that we put up - one that has nothing to do with anything - is the one that gets the most views."

Even Crawford, though, would admit that the rest of No Budget TV's output has little to do with anything ... beyond, that is, making its viewers laugh.

Described by its creator as "pretty much MTV's Jackass, but without the stunts," the No Budget TV channel (YouTube.com/nobudgettelevision) features both stand-alone videos - such as the imagined Cyrus obit and one titled "James Takes Out His Eye," which is exactly what you think it'll be - and the No Budget TV series itself, a collection of cheerfully crude sketches and improvisations in the vein of early Kevin Smith, interspersed with performances by local rock and metal bands.

Although "no budget" is an almost literal description ("We don't have much money to spend," says Lee, "so we gotta do what we gotta do to make it work"), six episodes of the YouTube series have debuted thus far, with the premiere of its seventh, and filming for its eighth, scheduled for January 31 at East Moline's Racer's Edge. And while none of the videos has yet to claim the 2,000-plus hits that the Miley Cyrus "tribute" has, Crawford and Lee recognize that their No Budget TV experiment is beginning to strike a chord amongst area viewers.

"It's not huge yet," says Crawford, "but people come up to us on the street and say, ‘Man, your show is hilarious. That No Budget TV? That's awesome.' And when you get real people in real life telling you that? Then you know you're doing something right."

Known locally for his three-and-a-half years as "CJ the DJ" for ROCK 104.9, Crawford formulated the concept of No Budget TV this past spring. "Basically, I realized that I wasn't going to get anywhere with my hobby of doing radio," he says, "and I needed to find something else. My first thought was doing a Podcast or something like that, and I tried that for a little bit, and I kind of got bored with it. But my next thought was, ‘Well, I'm watching YouTube videos all the time - let's try to do something there."

Envisioning a comedy series that would also showcase the talents of local musicians, Crawford was able to recruit a collaborator in Lee, the publisher of the local music 'zine titled The Morning After. "I interviewed him once," says Lee of Crawford, "and like a month later he sent out this bulletin on MySpace saying, ‘Hey, I'm wanting to get this show going,' and I was like, ‘I would love to do something like that.'"

Luckily for Crawford and Lee, several others felt the same. At their initial meeting in March of 2008, the No Budget TV collaborators - using Comedy Central's South Park and the movies of Kevin Smith as inspiration - came up with numerous ideas for comic sketches. But, as Crawford says, "we kind of decided that we can't write funny. We had to just let it happen." So they sought help from their friends.

"Most of our friends are really funny people," says Lee, "and they were really up for doin' it."

No Budget TV crew members"So we decided to just set up the framework" for the sketches, says Crawford, "and have a few lines here and there for the setup, and then let them come up with the rest. We just give them the platform, and they run with it and make us look good." (Crawford admits that comedic improv doesn't always come easily for No Budget TV's performers, but says, with a laugh, that "once we realized we needed to start feeding them alcohol, then they were fine.")

Employing their volunteer performers as crew members, and armed with only a video camera and a Flip Camera for equipment ("as low-budget as you can get," says Crawford), No Budget TV's collaborators shot the material for their first episode at Racer's Edge in April, filming, among other sketches, an interview with Des Moines musician Nathan Allen, a Mac-versus-PC spoof, and musical performances by local groups Through Terror and the Afterdarks.

Edited on Crawford's home computer ("with software I got on eBay for 12 bucks"), No Budget TV's debut appeared on YouTube at the end of May, and proved such an enjoyable experience for its creators that new series episodes and individual videos have popped up every month since. (Barring the time, says Crawford, "when we were working on episode two, and my computer crashed. So that delayed the release of episode two for a couple months.")

Subsequent episodes of No Budget TV haven't strayed much from the original sketch-comedy-and-music format, although Crawford says, with a laugh, "We're always trying to improve it, because we really don't know what we're doing. Since there was nobody around to teach us - we were just figuring it out as we went - we're kind of seeing what other people are doing, and taking that and making it our own."

Among the series' recent developments are more original songs and music videos - including an incredibly catchy, Christmas-themed number titled "Holiday Diss" - plus more sketches that are purely improvised, employing "person on the street"-type interviews. Given such changes in presentation, says Lee, "we really do want people's feedback. We're about to start working on the second season, and we'd like to know what we're doing right, and what we're doing wrong, so next season can be better than this one."

"You know, if we were to say, ‘This is the format of the show and we're not changing it,' that would be a major mistake," says Crawford. "It's got to be evolving all the time. What people like today they won't necessarily like tomorrow, so you've got to be willing to change.

"But not necessarily bow down to popular opinion, either," he adds. "Because if we got a million e-mails that said, ‘Don't cuss anymore,' we're still not gonna stop doing that. We've still got to be ourselves."

As far as their immediate futures are concerned, neither Crawford nor Lee has any intention of finding a financial backer to turn No Budget TV into Low Budget TV.

"That's the last thing I want to do," says Crawford, "because if you've got somebody like that, then they can tell you what to do, and we don't want to give up control. So what I'd prefer to do is end up with a few thousand subscribers to us on YouTube, and then become a YouTube partner - that way we could just get low amounts of money that could go to buying props, or upgrading equipment. We'd still be No Budget TV, 'cause we'll never be able to live off of this, but it'd be great to get a hundred bucks to put back into the show."

Or, at the very least, into their friends.

"Usually amongst the people we know," says Lee, "when it's time to film it's, ‘Hey, we got a case of beer - do you guys want to come over and act like idiots?'"

Adds Crawford, "And they're already out the door before we get off the phone."

 

A screening of No Budget TV's seventh episode will take place at East Moline's Racer's Edge (936 15th Avenue) on Saturday, January 31, beginning at 8 p.m. The evening will also feature performances by local bands Reelfoot Rift, D'z Nutz, Speedfinger, and the Pimps, plus the filming of footage for the series' eighth episode, and more information on No Budget TV is available at YouTube.com/nobudgettelevision.