The group includes, from left, Scott Erickson, A.J. Schraeder and Joe Anderson. The Don’t We Boys performed to a sold-out show during LaughFest. Courtesy The Don't We Boys
Joe Anderson has performed comedy for nearly 30 years, but only within the last five years has he been able to make a living doing what he loves.
Now, he and his sketch comedy group, The Don’t We Boys, are diversifying their moneymaking endeavors, including product marketing and writing political ads.
Anderson has led several variations of the group but only recently brought on its two other current members: A.J. Schraeder and Scott Erickson.
“We started in 2009 with two other Grand Rapids guys,” Anderson said. “One was an engineer and one was a poli sci major. Had we gotten famous in six months, they’d still be doing it.
“But it’s not that easy.”
The Don’t We Boys have toured relentlessly, crisscrossing the country to visit college campuses and comedy clubs. Tour shows don’t pay very well and the traveling usually begins to wear on aspiring comedians, Anderson said.
“That wasn’t our end goal,” he said.
Anderson had some ideas of what to do next, but he knew the group needed something extra to proceed. So he asked long-time acquaintance Erickson to join the group.
When he joined the group in November 2014, Erickson already had a busy schedule as the co-creator of HGTV’s “Renovation Raiders” and running his company, Scott Erickson Films, but his comedy needed to shine through, he said.
Erickson was part of the Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty 2012 class for his film and creative work.
“I needed to do it. I need to be able to make money across the country and bring it back to Michigan,” Erickson said. “I have a lot of crazy schemes.”
The addition of Erickson brought a big shift in attitude for the sketch-comedy group. Erickson pushed the group to think outside the box and helped find ways to fund bigger projects.
Anderson said the ultimate goal has always been to land a television show. With the help of Erickson, the group received some support from office furniture manufacturer Haworth Inc. and now is filming a pilot they hope will be looked at by at least six networks.
“That fixes a lot of things; that fixes touring,” Anderson said.
The group’s individual strengths work well together, Anderson said. He said Erickson has a default to think big and throw out as many ideas as possible. Anderson and Schraeder are tasked with identifying the good ideas and scaling them back to a manageable size.
“He just spews ideas,” Anderson said, referring to Erickson. “Lots of them are fun, funny ideas. Others — most of them — are garbage.”
All of the new money-making efforts, or “buckets” as Erickson calls them, are spread across a wide base to catch more money. The focus has been taken away from touring and placed on acting and writing.
The Don’t We Boys have written half a dozen political ads in Grand Rapids and Chicago in the past year, specifically for the Democratic Party “because they like to have fun with campaigns," Erickson said.
One path The Don’t We Boys have embraced is the potential to do product marketing. For example, they’re currently acting as “Pretzel ambassadors” for Cole’s Quality Foods. A video on their Facebook page asked anyone who lives “off I-80” to tweet them for a free sample of Cole’s pretzel sticks, as the group made its way recently to the San Francisco Sketchfest.
“The pitch was weird, but we were thrilled with the response,” Anderson said. “That’s another revenue stream.”
Anderson and Schraeder had thought about doing something similar, but it took Erickson’s push and his connections to make the first deal.
“There’s all these comedic values that drive to the demographics and for us to get the experiential marketing,” Erickson said. “If we get a product that’s fun and works into a comedy show, we can be those brand ambassadors.”
Filming of The Don’t We Boy’s television show pilot wrapped up March 19 and included guest appearances by Richard Riehle — the “Office Space” “Jump to Conclusions mat” guy — and “Last Comic Standing” finalist Tracy Ashley.
“We just want to make money,” Erickson said. “We want to build a pipeline of cash — a waterslide of cash — from Hollywood’s mountain of cash to Grand Rapids.”