"The biggest part of the joke is that we didn’t reveal the pandemic" - Julie Nolke on creating videos about being quarantined

Julie Nolke Screen Grab from Quarantine Video
Julie Nolke

How do you think yourself four months ago would react to your life and our world right now? Julie Nolke, Toronto-based comedian and actor, perfectly captured this through her sketch “Explaining the Pandemic to my Past Self,” and soon after, rose to virality.

As we grow deeper into the pandemic, Julie released two more parts to this series.

We talked to Julie about her quarantine-related comedy sketches, strategies for creating comedic videos during a pandemic, and advice to creators struggling right now.

Your sketch went viral – not only was it really well done but it also had the elements of a perfect formula for ‘virality’ on YouTube: relatable, relevant, and timely – among many others. Was that done intentionally or did it catch you by surprise?

It definitely caught us by surprise. Part of the goal with comedy in general is to be relevant and that’s what would make something so funny. This is the first time that I can think of where the whole world is so actively invested in one landmark event. It was super searchable and it was super easy for it to be relevant. I think that we’ve always made content, I know I’ve tried to make relevant in my own life, and in this instance everything lined up perfectly. At no point were we trying to make it ultra-viral. Instead, I was trying to make something genuine to me and what I was going through and it turns out that resonated with lots of people.

The second video we posted right after the viral one, that one was shot the same day as the viral one. The most recent video I posted about quarantine, I’ve just been so busy that was the fastest, funniest, idea I could think of. I was speaking to a couple other creative friends of mine, about how it’s really tough to make things in this atmosphere that weren’t about quarantine or aren’t about the pandemic because if you make anything that’s not talking about it, it feels like it doesn’t matter. That being said, I’m pretty done talking about the pandemic so I’m hoping my next few videos can be a bit different.

You brought comedy to a heavy issue in our world in a tasteful way. What techniques did you use when you were writing and planning the sketch?

I think the reason this video worked was that it was jokes that were adjacent to the pandemic so at no point are we pointing fun at the fact that there is a global health crisis or that peoples’ lives are being changed in a really negative way, instead I wanted to keep things light by talking about these random things that are happening as a result of the pandemic that nobody could have predicted like the fact that Zoom became so popular or the fact that we’d be desperate for daily walks. It’s so silly that those would be such a big part of my life during a global health crisis.

Through the entire sketch (besides the title), you don’t directly mention the upcoming pandemic or terms like ‘Coronavirus’ and ‘Covid19’ to your past self. Why did you decide to position it that way? How do you think it effected the sketch?

I think that’s the biggest part of the joke is that we didn’t reveal the pandemic. It’s a little bit of irony that the audience shares with the future character and the joke lies in the fact that this past self who she goes back to couldn’t possible guess what was going to happen because the resulting effects have been all over the place and seemingly so random. The fact that the audience is in on the joke with the future Julie is one of the reasons it’s so funny. Had I revealed there was a pandemic right away, it would have diffused all of that tension.

Last year at Buffer Festival, you talked about your strict weekly video schedule – on Mondays you write and brainstorm; Tuesdays through Thursday you shoot; Fridays you edit. How has this schedule changed since being quarantined?

Things have changed because I was really surprised the pandemic and quarantine and that heir of anxiousness would affect me creatively. Realistically, my life hasn’t changed that much. I work from home, I don’t audition as much, and I hardly go outside but it’s pretty much the same. But what I noticed is having a little bit of anxiety or worry – for my family or friends – has made it really challenging. to be creative and so I’ve noticed I’ve had to put my traditional hardcore hustle schedule on the back burner to give myself and to be patient with myself to create only what I can. Although everybody has a ton of time at home that they can work on things, it’s really challenging to be motivated and productive. I also don’t think now is the right time to put pressure on themselves to create or be productive, instead it should be about being healthy and keeping happy and eating as many snacks as you need.

What advice do you have for creators right now?

However you genuinely feel right now is appropriate and weather you’re making comedy, or vlogs, be authentic and truthful to how you feel. Don’t ignore or fake your emotions because there’s a relatability to how you feel and how creatively stifled you feel right now. I also think that there is an opportunity for creative people to let the constraints of being at home or alone fuel them. I would say it would be cool to push and strengthen your abilities at home even though it’s seemingly the least creative place possible. Use that.