A Trip to “Learning Town”: Musicians Paul and Storm bring online comedy series to lifeWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A little over a year ago, the first trailers for the YouTube channel “Geek and Sundry” were posted, hyping all its upcoming programs. Among them was a show called “Learning Town,” starring comedy musicians Paul Sabourin and Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo, collectively known as Paul and Storm. Unlike all the other trailers, it offered no clips, no details of what the show was about — nothing but the basic fact that it would exist.
“At the time, that was all we really knew about it, when they were making those announcements,” Sabourin said with a laugh in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star.
Now the series — a comedic sitcom following the duo as they attempt to revive a dying puppet show — has wrapped up its first season. And for both Sabourin and DiCostanzo, “Learning Town” proved a challenging and rewarding step into a new realm.
“We’d been wanting to do a project — before they were Geek and Sundry — with [producers] Kim Evey and Felicia [Day], who at the time were just doing ‘The Guild,’” DiCostanzo said. “And about three or four years ago we started talking about it. And basically, when Geek and Sundry came about, they had the resources to do some additional things, and we decided we were gonna go for it.”
“Originally, it was going to be two guys who worked in tech support,” Sabourin noted. “It was going to kinda be ‘The Office’ combined with the IT crowd combined with a musical. But that sort of evolved, and it was actually when we realized none of us really loved that idea, where it just wasn’t working.”
The new direction of “Learning Town” was spurred by a conversation with a fellow iconic geek musician. “It was a late night drive with Jonathan Coulton after a concert, actually, when we were driving home,” Sabourin said. “We were telling him about our story troubles and he just sort of came out with the suggestion, ‘Well, what if it’s in a kids’ show, or something like that?’ And him just saying those words set off a whole bunch of ideas and possibilities in our head.”
The process of writing and coordinating a whole series was a foreign experience for the pair, who have long plied their trade as master song satirists with numbers like “Opening Band,” “Nun Fight” and “Frogger! The ‘Frogger’ Musical.”
“Everything was brand new,” DiCostanzo noted. “But it’s important to always be trying new things, and I feel that what came out of it was really great. And it reflects not only our humor, but in great part the humor of our head writer Josh Cagan, who we brought in to help us write once we had fixed on this new idea.”
Both Paul and Storm also acknowledge the guidance of producers Evey and Day in “Learning Town”‘s development — particularly with the character of Cookie, the producer of the fictional children’s series. Originally written for actress/writer/singer Maurissa Tancharoen (who had to turn it down when she was tapped to write for ABC’s upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D. series), Cookie was ultimately brought to life by “ER” and “Love That Girl!” veteran Bresha Webb.
“First of all, she was actually a good actor, as opposed to us neophytes,” Sabourin joked. “The general plan was always to surround ourselves with as talented actors and people as we could, just to make ourselves look better by association.
“Having someone as skilled as Bresha come in to do the part really relieved the fact that, in a lot of ways, it’s Cookie’s show. In so far as her character has the longest and most compelling character arc, as far as where she starts and where she ends up, and how she gets there.”
“It also didn’t hurt that she is a phenomenal singer, and just a delight to work with in general,” DiCostanzo added.
Now that the first season is over (there’s no word yet on whether any more episodes will be produced), both members of the duo clearly look back on the production of “Learning Town” with great fondness, no matter what the future holds.
“I’m proud of the whole damn thing. It just feels entirely real to what we were trying to do,” DiCostanzo said. “I feel like the world we created just comes across well, and it’s fun.”
“Just the fact that we made this thing — certainly not all by ourselves,” Sabourin added. “I just have to convince myself that it’s real — that this thing that we were talking about and joking about around kitchen tables and slinging ideas over dinner about — is now this actual thing, this actual show that exists, and will continue to exist, you know, forever.”