Improv troupe creates shorts for online, mobile

The Groundlings are going digital with their sketch comedy.

The West Hollywood improv troupe, a breeding ground for comics such as Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow and Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens, has inked a deal to create 50 digital shorts over a one-year period. Sony Pictures Television will distribute the shorts for the Web and mobile platforms.

Deal broadens the Groundlings’ reach into the digital realm, a fertile area for short-form comedy. Comedians such as Ferrell have made a splash on sites such as FunnyorDie.com, although sustained hits have been harder to come by online.

The three- to five-minute vids will draw on characters developed by the troupe as well as new characters, some of which will be incorporated into web serials.

“We’re really known for our character work — we’ve launched so many great characters — and they’re looking for characters that can be ongoing,” Groundlings exec director Dan Fishbach said.

Reubens developed Pee Wee at the Groundlings, for example, and Julia Sweeney created her androgynous Pat on stage there.

Sony is covering the production costs for the webisodes, the first five of which the troupe delivered this week. “We’re only limited by our creativity right now, which is to say not very much,” Fishbach said.

He said the goal is not so much to make money — the Groundlings is non-profit — but to give performers a wider platform for their comedy.

The Groundlings have been a launching pad to film and TV roles for many of its past members, including Cheryl Hines, Chris Kattan, Jon Lovitz, and “Saturday Night Live” performers such as Kristen Wiig, Will Forte, Chris Parnell and Maya Rudolph.

Troupe celebrated its 30-year anni in 2004.

Sony Pictures TV has been investing heavily in digital content in recent months. Company last month greenlit production on a half-dozen original Web serials to be showcased on the Sony-owned Internet vid site Crackle and via Web syndication (Daily Variety, April 1).

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