“Potato flakes! I need to get potato flakes!” With that, Greg and Donny director/editor/co-star Matt Yeager dashes out of the kitchen of his chic South Orange home like a flash. His co-star Jeff Skowron nods briskly as he exits, then turns back to the script on the table, rolling his applied Yinzer accent over the lines for the next scene. Why do you need potato flakes (instant mashed potato mix) for a Christmas special? Snowflakes that won’t melt. Just a bit of the behind-the-scenes magic uncovered on set visits.
The webseries Greg and Donny centers on the titular two best friends, a pair of jagoffs from Johnstown, Pennsylvania,* who typically chat about life, love and hummus through video chat. Most episodes are shot simply and clock in under four minutes. But Yeager and Skowron are forging a tradition of going big for their holiday specials, breaking from the video chat format and stretching out into a richer runtime. For their first, the pair parodied A Christmas Carol, recasting their quirky townies as Gregeneezer and the Three Monsters.
In season two, Greg and Donny’s Christmas special is super-sized. Yeager reunited the cast—far flung from New York City to New Jersey, Jennerstown to Los Angeles—to create a detailed parody of another iconic Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. Once more Greg and Donny take the lead roles, playing the suicidal small-business owner and his guardian angel respectively. Tailoring the tale to the unique culture of Johnstown, Yeager’s script folds in that infamous accent, shots of some of the town’s hot spots, and even some local (and beloved) cuisine. Because who needs blinking stars when you can have a Coney Island hotdog and a Sundowner?
Back from the store, Yeager leads Skowron out to the back deck to dust the shoulders of his suit coat with “snow.” For good measure, some is shaken into his crisply cut hair. Now living in L.A., Skowron is on the East Coast for the premiere of his new movie Bad Santa 2. Yeager suggested the days leading up to the big event could be the perfect time to get the gang together for an ambitious weekend shoot, which included tricky locations, working with kids, and his adorable and affable dog who would occasionally angle for some onset attention.
Having a history in production myself, I was in awe of the intense shooting schedule they were striving for with a crew of two to four, depending on the hour. Yeager was pulled between responsibilities as the episode’s director, co-star and main camera operator, yet he kept things mellow and moving along. Meanwhile, Skowron perused It’s A Wonderful Life on a laptop, script in hand, looking for new opportunities for allusions and suitable spoofs of Jimmy Stewart’s intensely earnest performance.
The two Johnstown natives grew up together, and share an easy chemistry that made every conversation about tone and content efficient yet friendly. This conviviality extends to co-stars Kim Crea, who plays Greg’s snuggie-loving wife Gina, and Tamera Gindlesperger, who regularly plays their amusement park adoring pal, Missy Kreitzer. And Gindlesperger made the shoot a family affair, coaching and costuming her kids to portray Greg’s cheeky children. And her husband held his own, operating the boom mic.
This family vibe even extended to me, a fellow Johnstown native but stranger, who was warmly welcomed into Yeager’s home/set, and invited to watch the lensing of several key scenes as well as footage from the night before. With the finishing touch of a high-contrast black-and-white filter, their bridge footage looked like a dead-on match for Frank Capra’s classic. Witnessing this compact but congenial crew pull together to create a big holiday gift for their fans, I marveled, and couldn’t wait to see the final product. And now here it is.
Pajiba is thrilled to present Greg and Donny: This Life Ain’t So Bad, Jagoff.
*Kristy Puchko spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to kick into the Yinzer accent for her brief VO cameo in this ep’s opening.