I think what I love about Bridge Stuart’s YouTube videos
is his adeptness at taking the simplest of concepts and then building an intricately absurd drama around them. His most popular video is called “A Chair at the Beach
,” and in it the narrator fixates on the titular wooden chair, which he’s stumbled upon while walking along the ocean. He wonders briefly how it got there and whether it belongs to someone before deciding that the chair is his for the sitting. But just as he prepares to walk over to it, he notices another man who’s equidistant to the chair and gawking at it. “Wait a minute, who’s this guy?” the narrator wonders. “Is it his chair? It doesn’t look like his chair. I mean, I’m not saying that this guy couldn’t own a chair. It’s just that the way he’s looking at it makes me think it isn’t his.”
Here’s the central drama: two men see a chair at the beach and want to sit in it. At two minutes and 50 seconds, the short film doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it, and yet its resolution is immensely satisfying. Aside from the narration, the dialogue is sparse, and the editing is competent and yet not overly stylistic. The same can be said of Stuart’s acting. The brilliance of the video is that it makes me care about the outcome of such an absurd scenario.
So much of sketch comedy is scenario driven, but it’s usually possible for the viewer to reverse engineer the gimmick. In SNL’s Black Jeopardy
series, for instance, you could tell that the writers thought it would be funny to take an erudite quiz show and subject it to black culture. It’s a funny concept, but once the scenario has been established, then pretty much anyone could write the sketch.
With Stuart’s videos, I often find it difficult to reverse engineer the scenario. In “Sorry, you’re dead
,” the main character addresses a recently deceased corpse floating face down in the water. We quickly learn how the person died before the main character — a suit-clad man who looks like he hails from the late 19th century — begins to prepare the dead man for the afterlife. “I am the agent who will help transition your consciousness into the wondrous cycle of the natural world,” he says.
How did Stuart, while writing this, know it would be funny? The scaffolding of the plot is inscrutable. If you tried to summarize the video to someone else, it would sound boring. Its success relies entirely on the execution. It’s the rare comedy sketch where you truly have no idea what’s going to happen next. It’s unspoilable.
Perhaps what’s most amazing about Stuart is that he currently has fewer than 20,000 subscribers on YouTube. He makes professional-grade sketch comedy while operating in relative obscurity. That’s not to say that he won’t become immensely popular — I hope that he does — but bear in mind that his most popular video is over four years old. He’s made peace with the fact that his audience growth is a slow burn.
I’m thankful that he’s decided to keep making these videos anyway. So many YouTube channels these days are format-driven, in that their success relies entirely on repeating variations of the same thing over and over again until they breed mass familiarity. It’s refreshing to encounter a creator who tries to produce something entirely new each and every time he publishes another video.
Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a full bio, go here.