The Crocker Comedy Hour: Santa Cruz filmmaker builds a sketch-comedy troupe from scratch
Santa Cruz filmmaker Drew Crocker is doing it all — writing, directing, acting, editing — to develop a recognizable style of sketch comedy.
A man answers the front door of his home to a surprise. Another guy, holding a parakeet in a cage, has come to date his wife. “Are you her brother?” asks the clueless suitor.
Cut to the outraged husband confronting his wife with a dead parakeet in his hand. She is aroused by his anger, and leads him to the bedroom.
Later, another guy comes to the door, this one with a small dog. Another husband-wife confrontation with similar results as the first one. Then, one more guy ... with a tiger. You see where this is going.
This absurdist scenario of a woman desperately trying to reignite the passion in her marriage is the set-up of “We’re Boring, Harold,” a comic short that comes in just under six minutes, available on YouTube. This remarkably well-produced and funny pillow mint of a film is also a peek into the comic sensibilities of Santa Cruz writer/director/actor Drew Crocker.
To call “Harold” typical of the Crocker aesthetic isn’t quite right, since, if you check out all of the comic shorts he’s posted to YouTube in the last year — 14 (and counting) — you’ll quickly discern that there is no such thing as a typical style with this filmmaker.
In his growing catalogue of sketch-comedy films, Crocker has posted a parody of TV cop-show tropes (“Stab Wounds”), a send-up of commercials (“Caffeine for Me”), a futuristic sci-fi complete with CGI (“Beep Boop Bop”), a purely voice-over narration (“The Woman I Fell in Love With”), a short with no dialogue or narration at all (“You’re Wrong About Her, Mom”), and even a skit with no people in it (“Both Biscuits,” using a couple of plush toy monkeys with text dialogue).
If the styles are different, however, the themes are pretty consistent. As a comedy writer, Crocker said, the thread that he’s most interested in following is “strain in relationships.” That often means romantic relationships, but also relationships between close friends and in families.
The two monkeys, hanging out together overlooking the ocean, are buddies reflecting on their friendship until a trivial discourtesy blows up into a full-on betrayal. Often, he takes a cheeky, even casual stance on sex and violence in his works.
“That’s where the humor is,” he said, “seeing how far you carry a tangent of thought.”
Crocker, 37, is a professional videographer by trade, helping clients in business create videos for their own marketing and training needs. But, since 2019, he’s also launched his own production company, Crocker Creations.
His experience in the technical end of the process means that, unlike many other self-styled writer/directors, his videos look and sound great, the mixing, music, and editing as seamless as something you’d see on Comedy Central, say.
With deep experience and the equipment to get the technical stuff right, Crocker is now focusing on the artistic side, writing scripts, directing actors and crew, and, more often than not, acting in many key roles himself.
In that effort, he’s been putting together a team of regulars, mainly as fellow actors, but often with behind-the-camera help as well. Much of that team is drawn from familiar names in Santa Cruz County theater circles.
Veteran actor/director Erik Gandolfi has emerged as Crocker’s main wing man in his productions. Davis Banta, Karin Babbitt, and Gerry Gerringer have also acted in Crocker shorts. At the same time, Crocker has developed relationships with professional actors in the Bay Area.
“There are a few people out there doing sort of what Drew is doing,” said Destini Moody, a San Francisco actor who has worked with Crocker. “But no one with the quality that he’s doing it. I’ve worked with a lot of young filmmakers who are doing independent stuff, but the production values aren’t great. Drew is the only one I’ve worked with who puts a lot of effort into making sure his films are high-quality.”
“He’s on a real roll,” said Gandolfi, who’s performed and directed at Actors’ Theatre, Jewel Theatre, Mountain Community Theater and others. “He’s really developing a distinct style of comedy writing that’s part camp, part dark comedy, and has that ability to hit that nerve of human recognition.”
As a writer, Crocker is most focused on exploring the sub-genre of “cringe comedy,” drawing humor from awkward situations between people. “How can I make someone as uncomfortable as possible?” is how he puts it. “I’ll just hit the fringe of what is expected and then go way past it.”
“The Woman I Fell in Love With” is about a guy struggling mightily to get out of the “friend zone” with a woman he’s crushing on. “His Missing X-Box” is about a goofy mystery spoof that focuses on an obviously dysfunctional relationship. In each case, the comedy falls into a kind of space that would resonate with fans of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show” on Adult Swim, or Tim Robinson’s “I Think You Should Leave” on Netflix.
Once the script is airtight, then it’s time for the shoot. Of directing actors on the set, Crocker said, “That’s heaven. When I walk away from a shoot where we’ve all had a good time, it’s like kill me now. I can’t be much happier.”
“I love how nice he is to his talent,” said Destini Moody. “That’s not always the thing. I like working with him so much because he creates this kind of free-flowing culture, where he just encourages everybody and has little jokes with everybody. We have a lot of fun on the set.”
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Crocker cannot yet regularly pay his actors a wage, but he covers their gas and feeds them on shoot days. He’s also proven flexible enough to work with as little as he can get away with. Despite its professional polish, “Birthday Bottle” was shot with just he and Gandolfi exchanging over-the-shoulder reaction shots.
As an actor, Crocker combines both leading-man good looks with a gift for elastic, comedic expression. “I think he acts in a lot of his films because he wants to make sure that his jokes and material are delivered correctly,” laughed Gandolfi.
Crocker grew up mostly in Ben Lomond and went to high school at SLV High. Later, he studied film at San Francisco State, which led to establishing his own video business. But it hasn’t been until recently when he’s decided to step out of his comfort zone and cannonball into the deep end of being an indie film producer. His goal is to produce one or two new shorts a month and to keep exploring his own voice and what style fits best with that voice.
“He’d probably hate to hear me say this,” said Gandolfi, “but I think he could be a movie star. He’s got natural charm and charisma. But, more importantly, he’s got the discipline to take on this kind of work. He really sticks to it. And that’s the hardest part, no matter how many gifts you have.”
He’s ambitious, but not necessarily in a careerist way. His explicit goals are not to move to Los Angeles and make a strike on the film industry, though that might happen down the road. What he wants, he said, is only to get better at what he’s doing.
“Honestly, I’m having such a good time in my life, it’s the first time that I just don’t have much future anxiety. I mean, I certainly have delusions of grandeur, but it’s really just about putting one foot in front of the other and being consistent. And it’s showing results.
“And by results I mean working with a beautiful community of people, a belief in myself, and a concept about being an artist that I’ve never had before. At the end of the day, whoever is going to invest in you, or if you’re going to invest in yourself, you want to see a return on that. So building strength in my language of cinema, that’s what’s important to me now.”