It’s hard to think of the historic Falls Church having anything to do with the formation of one of the raunchiest comedy groups around, but according to Zach Cregger of The Whitest Kids U’ Know, that church was the very place the Arlingtonian found an early fascination with sketch comedy.
In an interview with the News-Press before his Sunday show at the State Theatre with The Whitest Kids U’ Know, Cregger recalled watching older members of his youth group put on sketches at the church.
“I remember thinking that is the coolest thing in the world,” Cregger said.
He even tried his hand at it in the church, writing and performing sketches with a friend.
“I remember thinking it was more fun than should be allowed,” Cregger said. While he can’t remember many of those sketches exactly, one detail stands out.
“I remember we went a lot for shock value,” Cregger said, “which I think portends to my later career.”
Cregger is a founding member of the sketch comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know, known for its TV show of the same name that ended its final season on IFC last summer, airing skits that, from the sexual to the scatological, found their muse for goofy, irreverent comedy in the risqué.
Cregger performed locally while in high school as part of The Nation of Improv, an improv comedy group that would take the stage at local malls and high schools in Northern Virginia.
“I’m pretty positive that it was terrible,” Cregger said. “I don’t think we made anybody laugh, but we had a pretty good time.”
He went on auditions in the area while in high school, and landed some TV spots on shows like “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “America’s Most Wanted.”
Upon graduation, he wanted to take his parents’ advice of “don’t put all your eggs into one basket” and learn a different trade in school. He enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York to study computer art. While the degree would prove to be “pretty ineffectual,” Cregger said, attending SVA would have one major impact upon his career: It was at this school that he would meet his fellow Whitest Kids U’ Know performers, and form the group.
The group began when some of its members met while living in an auxiliary dorm for use by students enrolled in New York City area schools.
“It was housing where kids who had missed registration at their school dorms would be scraped into,” Cregger said. “It kind of attracted lazy people, by its nature.”
The students formed the sketch comedy group as a student club, banking $700 a semester from the school to put on shows, with the caveat that they must be performed on campus, and that enrollment in the group must be open to all.
“It was a mess,” Cregger said. “It was not funny; everyone was all over the place.”
Some of the performers left the group in 2003, maintaining the name and taking its shows from the SVA campus to clubs in New York City. There, the current members of the group – Cregger, Sam Brown, Trevor Moore, Darren Trumeter and Timmy Williams – put on regular shows, writing and performing new sketches each week.
Their target from the beginning was to do whatever it took to land a contract for a TV show.
“Our goal was always to get a TV show,” Cregger said. He later added, “we were too dumb to think anything else could happen.”
An Aspen Comedy Festival award recognizing them as the best sketch comedy group of the year brought with it network television attention and the show was picked up by Fuse in 2006.
The group, accustomed to performing without props or costumes, faced the challenge of translating the sketches from their repertoire into something that could be aired on television. The idea of filming the sketches just as they appeared on stage was discussed and dismissed for the fear that it might “weird people out,” Cregger said. With costumed actors and full sets, the group premiered its first season in 2007. The show ran at Fuse for its first season, and was later moved to IFC.
“There is an exquisite joy that I think a 15-year-old boy can only get from kind of dirty comedy, and it’s kind of a beautiful thing because it made me so happy at that age,” Cregger said, recalling his early love of naughty Adam Sandler comedy albums. “I just want to make a show that will make other 15-year-old kids delighted, and I think I managed to pull that off, to a degree.”
The troupe soon became adept at writing for screen to the point that later on in the season, they found themselves writing skits that couldn’t be performed on stage. The new style of writing comes with its own challenges, as the group tours across the nation and must now make the popular televised sketches work for the stage.
“It’s like we’re starting over again in a weird way,” Cregger said.
The current tour will bring The Whitest Kids U’ Know to the State Theatre Sunday, and Cregger says audiences can look forward to a “much clumsier” performance than those polished skits they’ve seen on television.
“We really delight in making mistakes,” Cregger said, adding that missed lines and mishaps are some of his favorite parts of the shows. “You will see a sloppy show, which is kind of by design.”
The show will include the group’s popular skits, and as an added bonus will feature a few sketches that were banned from being aired on television.
Though his career has taken him far beyond his Northern Virginia roots, and far beyond those early acting experiences as well – Cregger has recently found himself behind the camera, as he and fellow Whitest Kids U’ Know performer Moore wrote and directed the 2009 movie “Miss March” – he’ll be returning to the area this week with the Sunday performance.
Performing at the State Theatre provides Cregger with the opportunity to come back to his native Northern Virginia, and he looks forward to returning and seeing old friends. But what would his church friends from all those years ago think of the bawdy comedy career that came from one of their own?
“I think people are glad that I’m doing something that makes me happy,” Cregger said. “We’re not blaspheming, or spitting in the face of God, we’re just making dirty jokes.”