St. Louis Sketch Comedy Group Boys With Scarves Wants to Make You Laugh

Jim Ousley calls their debut album "every mother's nightmare"

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click to enlarge (From left) Oscar Madrid, Jim Ousley, Grant Essig and Chris Anich sit in the bleachers while wearing scarves.
GRANT ESSIG
(From left) Oscar Madrid, Jim Ousley, Grant Essig and Chris Anich comprise the sketch comedy group, Boys With Scarves, which released its first album in September.

Yes, Jim Ousley knows: Sketch-comedy albums are a thing of the past. But that's why the genre, he says, was perfect for him and his group Boys With Scarves when the pandemic hit.

"It really seemed to have reached its peak in the '70s," he says. "We're always a bit out of step with time and fashion anyway, so we thought, 'Hey, so no one listens to sketch-comedy records anymore? Why don't we do a sketch-comedy record?'"

The group, including Ousley, Chris Anich, Oscar Madrid and Grant Essig, have known each other for decades. Three of them met in Magic Smoking Monkey Theater back in the 1990s, when they did late-night shows and "crazy comedy for sometimes sober crowds."

They have stayed friends ever since. When the pandemic began, they started messaging in their group chat. "We missed each other," Ousley says. They couldn't perform in venues or go on stage, and they felt squirmy to make something.

"When you're a creative type, you start to go even more stir-crazy because your inclination is to entertain people and make people happy," he says.

Somewhere in that chat, the idea of a sketch-comedy album was floated. They were big fans of the genre. So they started texting each other ideas. The ideas turned into scripts, and the scripts piled up. They went to each other's houses a few months later to write some more. Before long, they were recording, and not long after that, they had 25 tracks, then 15, then the final 11.

Two and a half years later, in September 2022, Boys With Scarves released its debut sketch-comedy album, Boys with Scarves.

When asked how he would describe the album, Ousley pauses.

"It's sort of like a funny audiobook that is every mother's nightmare," he says.

He says they create comedy that makes each other laugh.

"Our sense of humor has not evolved — and I mean this — has not evolved past the age of maybe 10 or 11," he says.

But beneath the jokes, the album was born out of real work, attention to detail and artistry. It's not them sitting in front of a microphone, cracking a few improvised knock-knock jokes.

The skits are stories. All told, it's a collection of short stories, with characters, settings and journeys. Their topics range from juvenile comedy to social commentary to a sea shanty song. In one skit, for example, a group of cowboys takes a trip along the West Coast with a preacher. Throughout the seven-minute track, Ousley, Anich, Madrid and Essig perform as multiple characters. They morph their inflection to sound like a cowboy or like an older man. And then, they're interrupted by the sound of a farting horse.

"[A sketch-comedy record] is kind of like listening to an audiobook in a way," Ousley says. "It's for people who have the patience to put something in and listen to the sketches without that visual accompaniment. And that was part of our challenge — making it really well produced and listenable. Really cool music and sound effects."

This isn't Ousley's full-time job. He has a day job in IT. He even has a part-time job writing comics for a Houston company. He has a family. But comedy, he says, is important for a different reason.

Growing up in St. Louis, Ousley was shy and struggled with stuttering. "[Art] took me away," he says. That's what he hopes to give to others with comedy.

He doesn't know what the long-term goals are for his group.

"I don't think we're sophisticated or organized enough to have any long-term goal whatsoever," he says.

But he knows they are creating another sketch comedy record. Ousley wants to make more people laugh — just like comedy did for him.

"Every time I wake up in the mornings, I want to make something," he says. "Like, what can I make for somebody that will make them happy? Seriously. My whole goal in life is to leave behind as much fun stuff as possible."

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