Meet Sidesplitting YouTube Comedy Troupe Zeke Mahogany

Actors Kris Kjornes & Mike E. Winfield talk with director Travis Kurtz (far right).

Zeke Mahogany combines simple but thorough concepts with stunning visual effects to create hysterical comedy routines. The troupe has developed a wide palette of ideas, from socially satirical sketches to laughs for laughter’s sake. With videos playing on ESPN, Huffington Post, Gawker TV, Failblog and more, I expect big things from the comedy machine that is Zeke Mahogany. Recently, I had a chance to interview the channel’s creators, Travis Kurtz and Matin Atrushi. They answered my questions in their trademark zany style.

Talk about the genesis of Zeke Mahogany. How did it begin and how did it progress to its current state?

Travis and I met while developing a feature length script for a well-known comedian. We both quickly realized that we had a great chemistry in writing together. After writing several feature length scripts, we decided that we wanted to oversee projects from beginning to end to fulfill our creative vision.

We also wanted to branch out from just writing. Travis wanted to produce and direct, Matin wanted to act and produce.  YouTube was a natural fit to explore those angles. So we decided to start a channel on YouTube and release stuff we thought was funny.

Our first sketch starred NBC’s Mark Christopher Lawrence and Matin. It’s called, “Uncle Matin’s Sword Trick” and has appeared on the front page of numerous big websites. Currently, it has almost 400k views. We felt like we might be onto something so we continued creating more sketches.

You can watch “Uncle Matin’s Sword Trick” here:

Zeke Mahogany is an interesting name. Where the devil did it come from?

You know, we often wonder that very same thing…

We have a sketch coming where we touch on that so we don’t want to spoil anything.

Zeke Mahogany, being a small group, must require a lot of personal involvement. How difficult is it to both create the material and to get exposure, to market and respond to fans?

Creating the material is a challenge because we do everything.  We write the scripts, and then oversee the entire pre-production, production and post-production of every sketch.  We control the project from start to finish and that is something we absolutely LOVE.

Everything we produce is a learning experience.  Some of the sketches sometimes do incredibly well or really connect with people in a way we don’t expect or in a specific country.  Sometimes, people point out things in the sketches and react in ways we don’t expect.  That means, we are continually evolving and changing what we do.

Marketing a sketch and getting it out there is critical.  It doesn’t matter what you produce if nobody sees it. Fortunately, blogs like “This Blog Rules” have been very supportive and have championed our work since the beginning.

The Zeke Mahogany videos are quite varied in their content. What inspires your different gags?

When we first started making content, we really wanted a variety of sketches.  We want to take a shot at a lot of different genres within comedy. We’ve done an action-comedy, a horror-comedy, commercial parodies; we always want to be unpredictable and keep exploring new things. I think its that freedom that helps Zeke Mahogany leave a hallmark of surprise that people really fall in love with.

Matin Atrushi as Frenchy on the set of "Day at the Beach."

I see on your YouTube account that you’re “tired of the system and just want to make comedy & VFX vids for the peoples.” Do you think a human touch matters in the world of web comedy?

Oh crap, I guess people do read that. Most definitely, we want people to feel like Zeke Mahogany are two of your friends that just happen to make comedy sketches that you can really enjoy. Our fans and support mean everything to us. Human touch is everything no matter what you do.

What influences the visual style of the show and its different videos?

Travis is a film buff and has probably been influenced more by great cinematographers than directors. Kurtz, “I’ve spent thousands of hours studying film, especially DPs like Conrad Hall, Roger Deakins, Caleb Deschanel, Emmanuel Lubezki.  I’ve probably watched Lubezki’s A Little Princess 30 times with the sound off.  Unfortunately, our budgets are so low now, we’re lucky to be shooting with 3 working light bulbs.” But a well-shot sketch adds another element to the sketch that ties in to our tone of comedy. A good example of this humor is in “Sword Trick” which looks beautiful and helps set-up the ridiculous payoff in the end.

I see some strong similarities between you and some other comedy troupes, such as Whitest Kids U Know and College Humor. What sets Zeke Mahogany apart?

First off, thank you. We really like Whitest Kids U Know and College Humor. Our ability to combine a unique style of comedy with a cinematic experience is important to us. Moreover, we are one of the few sketch comedy groups who can play to an international audience. Our stuff is very popular globally. I think our ability to find universal comedy with a different perspective is part of what makes Zeke Mahogany special. We have aired on Canal Plus in France, TV Asahi in Japan, ESPN in America along with appearing on hundreds of websites all over the world.

I appreciate you taking the time for this interview.

Absolutely. We want to say thank you again to “This Blog Rules” and to the fans that have supported us.  We really are passionate about continuing to create more content for everyone out there and that support means everything.  We have a wide variety of comedy, VFX and action videos coming to a 3-inch screen near you.

Be sure to subscribe to Zeke Mahogany and follow them on Twitter at @ZekeMahogany.

Interview conducted by Conor O’Hagan.

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