Damon and Pete have dinner for breakfast. They’re the kind of guys we imagine exhausting their daily pleasantries on tollbooth operators; late-night trespassers on their best behavior, entrusted with unlimited access to their employer’s private property. They work because they have to, doing jobs they never wanted (security guard and janitor, respectively). But the characters, played to humorous effect by Dave Pasquesi and Christian Stolte in the new Web series Graveyard, are intentionally isolated, inspiring a comfort level between men who might never have conversed otherwise. “It’s perfectly excusable to have this world inhabited by only two guys,” Stolte says. “They’re not standing in line at the OTB.” Each episode, less than five minutes long, hinges on a single topic of discussion: refrigerator routines, favorite holidays or the existence of God.
Written by Pasquesi, Stolte and director Ron Lazzaretti (who previously directed his stars in the 2010 feature Something Better Somewhere Else), each a married father with decades of experience in Chicago theater and comedy, the shorts possess a maturity not often seen in viral videos. “There’s people who don’t care for that particular [Funny or Die] style,” says Pasquesi, a Del Close protégé best known for weekly iO fixture TJ & Dave. In Graveyard, laughs don’t rely on easy pop-culture references or physical comedy. “Graveyard is not scatological, not sensational, not titillating,” adds Stolte, who currently appears on the Chicago-set cable series Boss (as does Pasquesi). “If something got too jokey we would bristle at it. It shouldn’t feel like [Damon and Pete] are playing to some bigger audience that’s unseen.”
Graveyard was born over the summer when Lazzaretti approached Pasquesi and Stolte with an idea that led to shooting 13 episodes in one night in the lobby of a Downers Grove office complex. “As simple and sparse a production as you can imagine,” Lazzaretti says, appropriate since his biggest influences are the “quiet moments, quiet laughs” of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. “Ron had this idea of something that could play out like a three- or four-panel cartoon,” Stolte says. Framing Pasquesi and Stolte straight-on, without reverse angles, lent itself to that two-dimensional feel. “Damon likes to toy with Pete, that’s his favorite pastime,” Lazzaretti says, akin to Lucy tempting Charlie Brown to kick the football. “Pete is easy to toy with, a funny guy who’s always cranky.” Thirteen more episodes will be filmed early next year, and new episodes premiere every other Tuesday through mid-April, when a short hiatus will separate the season into halves. This initial 26-part story will take place entirely in the lobby; eventually Damon and Peter could relocate to a new setting (Stolte wants to see the duo working unglamorous blue-collar jobs on a spaceship).
Lazzaretti met Pasquesi, then a recent alum of the Players Workshop— an improv school owned by Second City veteran Josephine Forsberg—in the ’80s. “David was the Clint Eastwood of the whole thing,” Lazzaretti says. “He’s always been this kind of guy who travels on his own [and] can be intimidating to some. I’m sure that’s not his intention, but he doesn’t mind the distance. The main thing we had in common was this thing about Chicago, defiant to a fault that we didn’t want to leave.”
“I was kind of loaded with the legend of Pasquesi before I met him,” adds Stolte, who befriended the other in 2006 while co-starring in David Mamet’s Romance at the Goodman. “It certainly makes it easier that I enjoy their company. There’s a lot of meetings, a lot of phone calls, a lot of texts, and then there’s that one night until dawn, working around the clock.…”
All episodes of Graveyard, including episode three, debuting Tuesday 29, are available at thegraveyardshow.com.