For New Orleans Satire Site, Hurricane Not So Funny

E.F. Watley, Editor
October 31, 2005
The crew of Studio 8: (clockwise from top left) Brock LaBorde, Chris Trew, Michael Felton, Truston Aillet, Chris Richard, Jared Richard.

By now the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina is familiar to everyone: images of destroyed houses, flooded streets, and refugees offer a compelling picture of the loss and long-term damage suffered by the area. The impact of this storm was not confined to conventional homes and businesses however. Although it's easy to forget, the virtual world of the Web has roots in the real one; and for one well-established satire website, the storm meant the end of an era.

Studio 8 is a site established over five years ago - ages in Internet time - by a group of friends at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Founder Chris Trew and co-conspirator Brock LaBorde used the site as a platform for a wide range of comedy-related activities, working with a large and revolving group of collaborators.

"At one point there were about 12 people either writing, drawing comics, flyer posting, picture hunting, graphic designing, or taking pictures," said Trew. "During 2002-2003 we updated every day for over a year; I feel we really built our audience up then." A smaller core of a half-dozen people continued working on the site from 2004, producing a wide range of material including sketch comedy, musical albums and a full-length movie, Everything is Everything, which won an award at the university film festival. The group then relocated to New Orleans, pursuing other film projects and updating the site regularly. All that changed when the storm hit.

"I'm a native of New Orleans," said Trew. "The days after the hurricane were nerve racking and depressing. I couldn't get in touch with anyone, didn't know where people were relocating to."

"Half of us had evacuated to friends in Baton Rouge," said LaBorde, "but I didn't think we should stay there once it became apparent we weren't going to be able to return to New Orleans for months."

Today, LaBorde and many of the other Studio 8 contributors are in Los Angeles; Trew is in Austin, Texas. One member has stayed in Louisiana. At present, Trew and LaBorde have no plans to regroup in Louisiana.

"We had a nice short film in the works and we'd shot about 70% of it," said LaBorde. "But the storm sorta put that project on the shelf."

In contrast to many satire sites, the writing on Studio 8 tends to be character-driven; its satire targets ordinary people and cultural mores rather than major political figures or events. There is a large cast of characters whose lives are documented in the site and who allegedly contribute articles and other material. The writers at Studio 8 even impersonate some of these characters in the site's forums, interacting with readers in a prolonged and unique form of performance art. While some of these characters could live anywhere, many have tangible roots in the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area.

"Most of our characters are actually inspired by people we know and dislike," admitted Trew. "The site wouldn't have had the same attitude if it wasn't in Baton Rouge. But now the focus of Studio 8 is definitely changing. We're actually about to 'fire' some of our characters."

Not surprisingly, Studio 8 did not update for a while following the storm; but Katrina-related humor has made an unassuming appearance in their most recent articles, such as We're Cleaning Up the Streets of New Orleans, One Battered Citizen at a Time!

"Because we had limited computer and Internet access, we couldn't make fun of Katrina on the site until it was almost old news," said LaBorde. "But I believe in making fun of everything. Over the years, we've told jokes about all kinds of tragedies - 9/11, suicide bombings, the war on terror, Ashlee Simpson's albums - and this tragedy is no different."

"I actually did a big sketch comedy show [in Austin]," added Trew. "Our show covered everything from a refugee using sex to steal from FEMA, a sitcom about a southern Baptist family who let a black woman stay in her house, a monologue in blackface, and people stuck in an attic. It was potentially inappropriate but very, very funny. And we were all affected by the hurricane so we got away with it."

The website remains online, but the team is, for the foreseeable future, split. Trew is working with a sketch comedy troupe in Austin; LaBorde and several other Studio 8 contributors are working on film productions in Los Angeles. They will continue to collaborate on Studio 8, but are unsure as to where the site may go as they pursue their suddenly imposed new paths in life.

"We don't share the same goals anymore, but there is nothing wrong with that," said Trew. "If anything, it may benefit us in the long run, attacking our careers with different weapons in different parts of the country. I never planned on coming to Austin - but I will tell you that so far it feels like the best thing I've done in a long time."

"Our focus has to change," said LaBorde. "We're not goofy college kids anymore. We have to produce bigger things, and be a little sophisticated in our silliness. I don't know if we'll be a huge success or a nasty flop in the coming years. All I know is that we've always had fun doing what we do, and I'm grateful for that."

Chris Trew is currently performing with The ColdTowne Heroes improv group; he has also started a new site, ChrisTrew.com. Brock LaBorde is the author of the recently published "The Semi-Complete Guide to Sort of Being a Gentleman" and is currently working on a film production crew. Studio 8 is a HumorFeed member.

E.F. Watley is the current administrator of Humorfeed. His own site is The Watley Review.

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