Day puts sketch group GayCo’s satiric comedy on video with Split Pillow’s surprising budget assist

GAY IS THE GIVEN, not the punchline.

They’re funny. They’re gay. And when I saw their runway summer hit “Weddings of Mass Destruction,” my first thought was, “I can’t believe they’re not on television.” But if all goes according to plan, that’s about to change.

The Second City-born GayCo rolls in its ninth anniversary as a celebrated Chicago sketch comedy stage ensemble with the introduction of its newly completed series of TV-style sketch videos, “GayCo Presents?”

It was the most fun I’ve had producing anything for the screen.

Rewind to summer 2004. Rick Reed of the Windy City Times called GayCo “smart, irreverent, and sometimes biting,” and described “Weddings,” their joint production with Second City Theatricals, as “Chicago’s funniest show of the summer.”

“Weddings” closed its run on a hot Sunday afternoon last August. I ran down Lincoln Avenue toward Victory Gardens, feet bleeding under my strap shoes. As the lights went up, I hoisted my Band-Aid-covered barking dogs up on the seat in front of me. I chuckled when the ensemble entered the stage with the casual ditty, “Married?married?I wish I was married?married.” Half an hour later, I’d forgotten about my throbbing feet.

That old feeling settled into my gut?the sensation I discovered years before, as a location scout for the movie “Stir of Echoes,” when I stepped over the body of a bird, its severed head lying a few feet away. I knew that backyard was destined as the location for Kevin Bacon’s “dig” scene. If you’ve seen the film, I don’t need to tell you how well that decision turned out.

Now that I’m a working television producer, that gut comes in pretty handy.

MY GAYCO LINK was actor/sketch artist Jim Bennett. We were working together on “Political Crap,” a pre-election political satire show that mounted on Second City Donny’s Skybox stage. Jim was in the cast, and I was a producer. We were both writers on the show.

Jim invited me to meet GayCo, and the union went off very much like an excited engagement. “Do you??” “Yes!” We were hitched.

We had the ingredients for a perfect comedy soup. Great cast, great material, all the enthusiasm in the world. And no money.

I never stopped to ask myself how we’d pull it off.

We pored through the ensemble’s repertoire of hundreds of scenes for the strongest “filmable” sketches, transcribing them from a stage to television format. While this went on, so did the budgeting and fundraising.

GayCo director Jim Zulevic

Committed to direct was Jim Zulevic, who performed reviews with Second City Chicago’s main and e.t.c. stages before going to Hollywood. He returns to Chicago to direct GayCo’s stage shows, earning high critical marks for his work on “Weddings.”

“I like staying involved with Chicago sketch comedy because the artists are funny, intelligent, and have a great work ethic and a strong point of view,” said Zulevic.

“In L.A. it’s easier to find good pizza than it is those qualities. GayCo possesses all of these qualities and more.”

With co-producer Michael Cowan, DP Marie-Joelle Rizk and editor Tom Pastorelle on board, my confidence was high. And the crew, a dynamic mix of pros and up-and-comers, came together more easily than I’d experienced producing a national cable show for several years.

BUT THE BUDGET PROBLEM was ever-looming. Even with generous financial contributions, three weeks before production we still hadn’t met the bottom line. Then out of the blue, Jason Stephens of non-profit Split Pillow offered to contribute funds.

Split Pillow made up the difference of our budget. I could breathe again.

Celeste Pechous and John Bonny in “GayCo Presents? Old Maid”

The result: “GayCo Presents? Baby Time Share,” a satiric look at gay men who want to adopt children but don’t want the full-time responsibility, shot in the manner of a real commercial offering the services of an agency, Baby Time Share, as a solution. “GayCo Presents? Old Maid” is a dark satiric comedy about a woman’s ticking biological clock.

First sights, OutFest: The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and the Chicago Short Comedy Video and Film Festival. Then to the networks. Sky’s the limit.

But we have yet more hurdles to jump, namely breaking in with a fresh take on a format that’s not doing so hot. Face it, nowadays sketch on television is so tired and diluted, it’s yawning at itself.

In a recent conversation with Jim Zulevic, I remarked that I haven’t seen any good TV sketches since “The Ben Stiller Show,” “Mr. Show, “Kids in the Hall” and the first few seasons of “MADtv.” He shook his head and said one word. “Python.”

Tough sell, but comforting, because it means he knows good when he sees it.

Additional production credits: Brian Cho, art director; Stephanie McCullough, composer; Heather Elam, production manager; Blaine Mason, production coordinator. Cast: Jim Bennett, John Bonny, Andy Eninger, Judy Fabjance, Celeste Pechous, Mandy Price, Stuart Ranson, and introducing Sadie Rhoads. Also see www.gayco.com.

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