Comedy TV is Dead

Since their first video – a quaint 35 second long PSA parody – was uploaded almost 5 years ago, Reckless Tortuga has steadily grown into one of YouTube’s most notable sketch comedy channels; hosting a variety of standalone sketches, vignettes, character driven web series other entertaining side projects, there’s a lot of content for first time visitors to get stuck into.

Formed by Lindsey Reckis, Eric Pumphrey, Lynsey Bartilson and Jason Schnell in 2008, Tortuga’s early videos establish a lot of the humour and topics that later sketches come to build on, though it’s not until 2009 that the fledgling channel found its feet with the début of its first real web series – Psycho Girlfriend.

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Unique in their approach to growing and curating a YouTube channel, Reckless Tortuga’s content is an odd mix of experimental sketch comedy and traditional web series. The first season of Psycho Girlfriend acted as something of a bridge between the channels origins in standalone short skits and their soon to come focus on more fully featured shows – Psycho Girlfriend boasts a strong narrative but also works fantastically on an episode per episode basis thanks to its strong and simple premise.

Reckis’ next series for Tortuga, named The Online Gamer, has become the channels defining show. An exaggerated satire of the immature, acidic and testosterone fuelled world of online gaming (a satire that flies over most of its audiences heads if YouTube comments are any indication).

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The Online Gamer consistently pulls in hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of viewers with each new instalment and secured the channel partnership with YouTube giant Machinima. Interestingly enough, in what must be a web series first The Online Gamer is itself getting a spin off webseries called “The cLAN” (due this week – watch this space).

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Being part of a large network has helped Reckless Tortuga greatly, but is something of a mixed blessing for fans. Content is more scattered than it used to be, spread across several channels, and longtime viewers will have a lot more ads to contend with than they used to, but on the flipside, the high quality stream of sketches and the heaps of bonus material and extra content that fans can dive into after each video more than make up for those minor annoyances.

Alongside their flagship series, the team at Tortuga have continued to put out smaller sketches, shows and characters, consistently giving fans about one video a week to look forward to. Despite the channels massive growth over the years, a well practised production team coupled with sketch comedy’s inherently low key creative demands mean that new episodes are never too far off.

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As with any creative venture, Reckless Tortuga can be hit and miss; due to its size and variety, the channels’ humour is broad, often crude and never too surprising – a fantastic fit for its Male, 13-34 year old audience, but a stumbling block for anyone else. Even the somewhat confused Compulsive Love was able to pull in a sizeable female demographic. As to be expected, there are also a few duds in the overall solid mix – Man Teen, a series about that special kind of adult who thinks American Pie is the ultimate “how to” on living your life, is a promising idea that crumbles under the pressure of its own poor clichés. Tortuga’s viewers voted with their wallets on that one, opting not to fund its series 2 Kickstarter, or even watch the majority of series 1.

Even worse is the channels well intentioned Racism In America series – each episode presents a tacky, one-sided strawman situation in which a cool-headed protagonist suffers “accidental racism” – the kind of bigotry that’s so baked into a persons worldview they don’t even know they’re saying or doing anything wrong. Our calm and clever victim easily gets their own back at the end of each episode, smugly making the unknowingly racist aggressor look like a fool.

I understand the message the series is trying to convey, but ultimately its just battling harmful stereotyping with more harmful stereotyping of its own, each videos comment section reflecting this perfectly (venture at your own peril).

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Forgetting the heady social discourse the show is trying to start, Racism In America’s two biggest sins are that it’s painfully unfunny to watch and written like an obnoxious chain-letter. It’s out of place on a comedy channel who’s premium export is a show about a grown man who takes videogames too seriously.

Duds aside, Reckless Tortuga is hands down one of the premier indie sketch comedy channels on YouTube. If you love sketch comedy, watch them. If you’re making sketch comedy, study them!

You can find Reckless Tortuga at their Offical YouTube channel, and follow them @recklesstortuga

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