From a young age, Becky Chicoine knew she wanted to be involved in comedy.
SNL, and specifically Molly Shannon, were staples of her television viewing diet, inspiring Chicoine to re-create an SNL skit in forensics class with her friends in high school. She transcribed the skit — her first foray into writing.
She began to realize there was more to comedy than simply being a funny actor. After high school, Chicoine attended the University of Wisconsin for her undergraduate degree, focusing on theatre studies as well as legal studies.
“You always have to have the fall-back plan, it also kept my parents happy,” she said when talking about how much she personally believed she would go into legal studies.
During her time at UW, Chicoine mainly focused on theatrical acting, partially because she was mainly involved with the acting crowd who looked at it from a “stuck-up actor who thought what they were doing was more serious” perspective. She performed in multiple theatrical shows during her tenure — a performance of the ‘Crucible’ at Madison-Area Technical College, a few shows with the Community Theatre Guild in Madison, as well as a performance with the Madison Children’s Museum.
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After graduation, Chicoine moved to Chicago to pursue theatre more intensively, where she ended up performing musical theatre. While this was enjoyable, it wasn’t quite what she wanted, with thoughts of being an SNL-type actor still bouncing around in the back of her head.
After a few years in Chicago performing inv shows here and there, she decided it was time to move to the city of Broadway and start doing comedy.
In New York City, Chicoine began to experiment with improv comedy while trying to find her voice. Chicoine said much of the reason her first foray into comedy became improv was due to her lack of confidence when it came to writing comedy down.
It was at a intern comedy showcase that Chicoine met her soon to be partner, Sam Reece. While they didn’t know each other beforehand, they conveniently found themselves performing together.
“Someone came up to us and told us that we would be funny together and we should go for it,” Chicoine said.
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Reece had a skit written up, which Chicoine agreed to perform in, marking the first time the “Girls with Brown Hair” got on stage and performed together. From there, they began to write together and perform around New York, their first show being at the now-extinct Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in Chelsea, which has since moved over to 42nd and 8th St. It wasn’t the most extravagant theatre, but there was something about it that, in Chicoine’s mind, always made it feel like she grew up there.
The sketches between Chicoine and Reece grew in popularity, and they were soon featured on CollegeHumor, Splitsider, Mashable and more. It wasn’t too long until Reece and Chicoine decided to join up with O.S.F.U.G., a sketch comedy group known for their bits aimed to be under two minutes. They continued to perform at the UCB theatre, selling it out for more than four years, creating sketches that ended up on the ‘Funny or Die’ front-page, as well as other major internet-comedy platforms.
Writing comedy can be pretty tricky, as what is funny to one person might not be funny to the next. Live comedy doesn’t get the benefit of a laugh track that television or movies does to ensure the audience gives a positive reaction to the performance. Improv is one of Chicoine’s favorite ways to get the creative juices flowing, although she only performs improv once a year or so in order to keep her sharp.
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Having a group of people to write with can definitely help the process, which became evident as Chicoine broke down the process that “Girls with Brown Hair” use, as well as O.S.F.U.G. Both use similar techniques to get their ideas out with workshops and practices. O.S.F.U.G. is more intensive than “Girls with Brown Hair,” as more people always makes the process complicated, Chicoine said.
O.S.F.U.G. performs a new show monthly, which gives the group the time they need to prep. There are four rehearsals leading up to a new show, with each one playing a specific role. The first meet-up is to give out different assignments for sketches, which are general outlines that aren’t always followed.
“I’ll show up with what I want to do, regardless of the assignment,” Chicoine said.
The second meeting is a table read, to workshop ideas and edit them to make them smoother or funnier. A third meeting focuses on rehearsing the material, and the final rehearsal is for final show preparations.
A lot of work goes into sketches that start and finish as fast as possible, but for “the fast fucking sketch show,” it’s a labor of love.
It took Chicoine a while to find her footing within the comedic community, from being a young child enthralled with SNL to being a theatre major at UW. She found herself performing dramatic shows on campus, to musical theatre in Chicago and finally to the big city to make it all happen.
For up-and-coming comedians, Chicoine wants young talent to focus on getting involved early and not being scared.
“Start writing your own skits early on, get involved, because as cool as improv is, you want pieces that are polished. There isn’t money to be made in improv nowadays unless you’re touring the country,” Chicoine said.
There was a disconnect between being a comedy actor and working within a SNL format when Chicoine was young, as Chicoine didn’t realize the amount of work that went into writing all of those sketches. By starting early, an aspiring comedian can hone their skills before it is do-or-die, as well as creating their own sketches for the internet in hopes of being found or going viral.
It has been eight years now since Becky moved to New York and began working on her comedy career. She has come a long ways, with O.S.F.U.G being invited to perform at the 13th annual Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival in March. If you’re interested in checking out her comedy or simply learning more about Becky and her career, you can go to osfug.com, girlswithbrownhaircomedy.com or her self-titled personal website.