When Matt Meese, Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Jason Gray, Adam Berg, Stacey Harkey, Natalie Madsen, Stephen Meek, James Perry, and Jeremy Warner joined BYU’s comedy group in the years 2007–2011, they had no idea that their humorous hobby would soon evolve into a highly successful comedic career.
“The first thing I ever wanted to do when I was a kid was act,” says Studio C’s head writer and actor, Matt Meese. “[My parents] encouraged that, but it was always like, ‘You know, you can do this on the side and get a real job.’” Little did Meese, his parents, or the nine other cast members of Studio C know that their humble beginnings as members of BYU’s Divine Comedy group would land them a place in the spotlight.
Did you know? Adam Berg has a twin sister and is the only Studio C cast member born in Utah.
“I probably took the most convincing to get to the point where I said, ‘Yeah, I should do this,’ but once I decided, no one could tell me otherwise!” Meese says of turning their comedy into a television show. And that determination is what started the ball rolling. More than three years ago, Meese pitched the idea of a 30-minute sketch comedy show to BYUtv producer Jared Shores, who liked the idea and set things in motion after a little more convincing from Meese. Named after the studio they started filming in at the BYU Broadcasting Center, Studio C quickly gained momentum. By Season 5, the main cast of four (Meese, Everton, Gray, and Call) had expanded to include Berg, Harkey, Madsen, Meek, Perry, and Warner.
Did you know? Jeremy Warner studied film, intending to do television and comedy.
This was never a path that the Studio C cast members expected to take, however. Perry started out as a software engineer, Harkey studied public relations, and Gray seemed destined for dental school. But when the opportunity to produce and star in a television show arose, they all jumped on board. As Warner puts it, “I guess you kind of fall into anything you get to do, but you choose to fall into it.”
“We got lucky with the timing,” Meese adds. “Everyone had always wanted to do this—we just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
Keeping It Clean with Studio C
Today, Studio C has amassed an impressive number of followers and widened its reach. It is consistently the top-viewed show on its network, averaging nearly 40 million views per month between YouTube and BYUtv digital platforms. The unbelievable saves by goalkeeper “Scott Sterling” resonated with soccer fans around the world and in late 2014 became the group’s first video to reach 1 million views on YouTube. Today, Studio C’s YouTube channel has more than 1 million subscribers, and the “Scott Sterling” video has more than 46 million views. Filled with fun personalities and diverse topics, Studio C continues to accomplish its original purpose of reaching beyond the LDS community to provide clean humor for families around the globe.
Did you know? Stacey Harkey once crocheted a blanket after accidentally signing up for crochet instead of croquet.
Harkey has seen that influence in his own family, where his Baptist father loves to share his son’s work. Harkey says, “One thing that we love is that anyone who values clean comedy loves the show. So when it comes to being family-friendly, something you can watch with everyone, or something that aligns with your religion, anyone can watch it and appreciate it.”
But the cast is also still mindful of their LDS fans. In fact, Everton and Madsen recently enjoyed chatting with Sheri Dew at Deseret Book’s Time Out for Women and Time Out for Girls events.
Did you know? Natalie Madsen loves playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Amidst discussion about being women in the work place, they addressed relevant topics for young women. “We talked mainly about being yourself and self-esteem and touched on how to deal with criticism and people who are mean online,” says Madsen. “With our job we [deal with that], but youth are dealing with that now [too].”
Studio C’s positive influence has even caught the attention of Church leadership, with President Uchtdorf stopping by with his wife to watch a rehearsal in 2014.
No matter who is watching, the Studio C cast is guaranteed to find ways to provide clean, family-friendly comedy and share their own values with their viewers through the things they write and the way they act. “That really was the goal from the beginning—that families could sit down and watch it and everyone could enjoy it,” Meese says.
Did you know? Matt Meese is colorblind.
While the show is geared toward a general audience, references to the cast’s Mormon roots do appear in subtle, humorous ways, whether it’s Shoulder Angel singing a few words of the hymn “Do What Is Right” or ajoking comment about the lack of caffeine in Utah. And let’s not forget the sketch “Message from Above” in which a pair of missionaries are mistaken for thugs coming to deliver a message from “the boss upstairs.” They have also regularly collaborated with big-name Latter-day Saints such as Shawn Bradley, The Piano Guys, Steve Young, and DJ phenom Kaskade.
“We want to make [our comedy] accessible to everyone,” Meese says. “Comedy has a nice way of bringing people together. It gives them this shared experience. I told everyone, ‘I want families quoting this to each other years after we’re done airing it.’ It’s something that they share together, and it’s like their own inside joke now.”
Did you know? Jason Gray was in a Dark Wing Duck commercial as a 9-year-old.
Speaking from the perspective of both cast member and father, Gray says he is grateful that his work is something he feels comfortable sharing with his children for years to come. “There’s nothing that we’ve done that I’d be like, ‘Don’t watch this one,’ or ‘We’ll fast-forward this part,’ which is good because I’m sure there are a lot of actors who probably love what they do, but they wouldn’t show it to their 12-year-old son.”
Life As Stars
As Studio C’s humor continues to spread, so does their fan base. “I feel like people have [a certain] perception of us because they see us on stage,” says Gray. “But then when they bump into us at Costco or wherever, I think a lot of times we do kind of disappoint people because they expect us to put on a sketch right in front of them.”
Did you know? James Perry likes gardening and cooking.
Fortunately, however, that is not the norm. Fan responses are often inspiring for cast members. “It’s really flattering that people like what we’re doing,” Meek says. “We all really like each other, so the natural consequence has been that people have really taken a liking to the show.” Perry adds, “I prefer to have interactions with people rather than just taking a picture and leaving, because that feels more like I’m a person interacting with a person, and we can make a connection.”
Did you know? Steven Meek loves K-pop music.
As the only couple in the cast married to each other, Whitney Call and Stephen Meek are in a unique position as they try to balance their growing stardom with their growing family. They have adjusted well to becoming first-time parents to their beautiful baby boy, though. Call shares, “Honestly, it’s super fun. I think it was a little intimidating at first, just because we’ve never done the whole family thing, but I think it’s felt pretty much like trying to juggle anything else in your life. You know, you set your priorities.”
Did you know? Matt Meese, Adam Berg, and Stacey Harkey are roommates.
Studio C has also helped cast members to grow individually. “Elements of what I learned performing on stage have been super helpful in being more effective in a lot of different ways,” says Harkey. “One thing I’ve learned from doing comedy and performances is the value of listening to people, of reading audience feedback really well.”
Meese adds, “I definitely have a lot more opportunities to talk to people because they now come up to me and talk to me. I think this might surprise people, but I’m not extremely extroverted—[performing] has helped me become more [outgoing] by necessity.”
Behind the Scenes
Did you know? The mud in the "Robbing Roger" sketch was actually brownie mix.
From collaborating on new sketch scripts to performing and hanging out together outside of filming, the cast has learned how to be flexible and enjoy each other’s company. They play off of popular culture, cranking out hilarious parodies like “Jurassic World Indominus Rex Deleted Scene,” “The Hunger Games Musical,” and various sketches around Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens to name a few. They also play off of words in their hilarious tongue-twister sketches, and in Season 6, they did their first themed episode,tailored around fairytales.
Did you know? James Perry actually prefers real lobster over lobster bisque.
Adding to the fun, each cast member has developed and played their own stage personas over the years. For example, Perry originally made a splash as theLobster Bisque man. Gray is known as the Awkward Avoidance Viking, but he also uses his astonishing range of voice impressions to portray anyone from Gollumand President Uchtdorfto Snapeand Darth Sidious. Call plays the part
of Ann Withers, an awkward librarian who speaks in book titles; Everton has made a couple appearances as the pregnant secret agent,Lady Shadow; and Madsen is the awkward teen beauty consultant, Susan Weebers. Meese has perhaps the most recognized characters, however, making reoccurring appearances as the hyperactive child Kyle, the grammatical superhero Captain Literally, the wildly popular Shoulder Angel, and most recently, “the man, the myth, the legend,” soccer starScott Sterling.
And new characters and concepts continue to surface. As Shoulder Angel’s costume has evolved over the years (goodbye fluffy halo and flowing gown!), so have the type of sketches the team brainstorms and produces.
Did you know? Mallory Everton has run marathons, and plays the guitar.
“I think when we first started, a lot of my writing was tailored to college life,” Gray says. “[But] our comedy has adjusted as we’ve become parents and our families have grown.” In addition, Everton explains, “We’ve been doing this for over three years; now we want to do different things. We want to challenge ourselves and try and kind of break the mold and do something fun and new.”
Did you know? Whitney Call played the saxophone in 6th grade.
So how do they handle that pressure? “We love music and dancing around before the show,” Call says. And though some may go off for quiet time to get “in the zone” before the spotlight, they always come back together to give a cheer based on an inside joke from the week, say a group prayer, and energetically jump into their roles.
Laughter Is Medicine
Did you know? In the original "Crayon Song" sketch idea, all of the crayons were evil.
The enthusiasm the Studio C cast generates during their performances has helped countless people—especially those going through a difficult trial who need a little bit of cheer and hope. Berg recalls, “We met a terminally ill girl, I think she was 12, who just loved the show. Her family arranged with someone here for them to come and take a tour of the building, and at the end of the tour we got to talk to her and spend some time with her. That was really fun and sweet, but also really hard.”
He adds, “The biggest thing for me is knowing that what we do here is going to help people who we don’t even get to meet most of the time. But it helps them in their lives and makes things easier, even if it’s just a little bit.”
While the Studio C cast works tirelessly to use their show to bring light and hope into the lives of their fans, one cast member recently found himself being strengthened and supported by Studio C fans while dealing with a heart-wrenching personal tragedy.
In late 2015, Jason Gray’s 20-month-old daughter, Alice, unexpectedly suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm and spent more than a month in the hospital, causing severe anguish and a lot of worry for her parents.
When Studio C fans heard the news, they generously jumped forward to help pay for medical expenses, with over 1,700 people donating money to a GoFundMe account set up by other members of the cast. While staying at the hospital, Gray recalls that parents would recognize him and tell him that Studio C gave them and their children a much-needed break from their pain and worries. “It was cool to see [the effect of the show] firsthand,” he says. “It made me appreciate it more because we were trying to find our own thing to help us make it through the hospital as well.”
Studio C: A Vision for the Future
“So, how many seasons do you guys think we’ll be doing? Like maybe 8 or 10 or something?” starts out the first episode of Season 6, where Gray plays the part of a time traveler sharing the future of Studio C with the cast. If their hilarious projections prove true, we may see three seasons of “Beauty and the Bisque,” with a solo cast of Perry, or the awkward wedding of Ann Withers (Call) to R.L. Stine (Meese). We may even see a decrepit Shoulder Angel struggle up onto a cane using Gray decades from now. But no matter how or when the show ends, one thing is certain—the team feels blessed to be able to make a difference in the world with a job they love. After all, Berg says, “It’s as fun as it looks.”
Catch more hours of laughter with Season 7 of Studio C, premiering on BYUtv this fall.
Lead image by Jed Wells, all other images courtesy of Studio C and BYUtv.
Read more about Studio C in the September/October 2016 edition of LDS Living Magazine, available at Deseret Book. This edition also features stories about Steve Young, the Church in Fiji, and an interview with New York Times best-selling author Jeff Benedict.