There are two Mary-Kate Olsens. You might be thinking, "No, idiot, the other one is Ashley." But that is someone else entirely. There is real Mary-Kate. And there is Very Mary-Kate.
Very Mary-Kate is the creation of comedian Elaine Carroll, 29, who plays the titular twin in a Web series she writes with her husband, Sam Reich.
Very Mary-Kate takes everything the real Mary-Kate does and elaborates on it. Imaginatively. Very Mary-Kate abandons reality for a far more entertaining place: comedy.
"What I call it is kind of 'fan fiction,'" said Carroll, a native of Richmond, Va. "Because we don't really know who she actually is. ... So I filled in the blanks of her world."
Those blanks are filled in through two-minute videos, like this: Very Mary-Kate is extraordinarily wealthy. She has a $10,000 hammock and a Vera Wang Snuggie. She intends to earn her "The Bachelor" degree at NYU while majoring in ponies. She consumes absolutely no food (though she often implores her bodyguard, nicknamed Bodyguard, to fetch her "a bagel, but not a real bagel, just a picture") and indulges in copious amounts of illegal drugs.
Reich, who directs the videos, calls VMK "a caricature. ... You're picking out something unique about the person, and you're making that one thing bigger than anything else on the page."
He stopped to consider what word best described that characteristic of the real Mary-Kate. "Vapid?" He considered this, then confirmed it. "Vapid."
Carroll, who started doing sketch and improv comedy while majoring in acting at Marymount Manhattan College, wrote the first season by herself, recycling the Olsen impression from her audition for Saturday Night Live. NewTeeVee, a blog covering "the reinvention of television," wrote up the series after the first three episodes launched in 2010. AOL's home page picked up the story. Within a month, those three episodes had more than a million views each.
Carroll's "impersonation is just magical," said Will Hines, who plays Very Mary-Kate's NYU history teacher. (In keeping with her warped view of reality, VMK calls the average-size character "Fat Professor.")
"It's more like Dana Carvey's George Bush from SNL; it's a silly thing in itself," said Hines, who met Carroll in 2009 while directing her sketch group at Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City. "Her writing is very efficient. There's a joke every line or every other line.
"I've been recognized more for Very Mary-Kate than for anything else I've done," Hines said. "It's always some shy, giggly, college-aged girl, who comes up and whispers, apologetically, 'Are you Fat Professor?' They usually say how much they like the series and then apologize for calling me fat."
After completing the first season, Reich pitched the series to his bosses at the Web site College Humor. College Humor commissioned a second season, hiring Carroll as a producer, writer and performer. Writing, directing and producing the videos, each of which takes two to three hours to shoot with their five-person crew, is Reich and Carroll's full-time job.
"We've got something called 'the sieve,' our secret formula of the elements we like videos to have that make them go viral," said Paul Greenberg, chief executive of College Humor. "The ones that blow up are the ones that are very applicable to what's going on in pop culture but have broader themes."
VMK hits that sweet spot, he said. "The characters are archetypes that a lot of people can relate to. You don't have to be a fan of the Olsens to appreciate the humor." College Humor, with a 18-to-34-year-old target demographic, reaches more than 12 million monthly unique visitors, and VMK "has had tens of millions of views." The series makes money via general advertising on College Humor's site along with advertising specifically allocated for the VMK series.
"It's a form of show that only works on the Internet," Hines said. "They're short. You can gobble them up like candy."
Could VMK consumers one day be in front of TV sets, awaiting the next installment in Mary-Kate's misadventures? "It would be great if it made sense" for VMK to transition to television, Greenberg said. But "writing a 22-minute sitcom is different from writing a two-to-three-minute Web video. You end up with different kinds of jokes. The directing is different. The pace is different."
Mary-Kate Olsen's press representative was asked for comment but did not respond. People who know the Olsens have told Carroll and Reich that the real Mary-Kate is aware of the series. The two have no idea about her opinion of VMK but, well, they hope she's not offended.
"I feel protective of (the Olsens), oddly," Carroll said. She will happily portray VMK as an insecure bulimic, but Carroll does draw a line. "I try not to use profanity," she said. "We have some boundaries!"
Plans include a live show and, in an even more ambitious move, a 30-minute episode that viewers may buy online. The series began its third season Thursday, and new episodes air every Thursday. Perhaps VMK will grow up a little this year, maybe even fulfilling her promise of "changing my major from ponies to something more adult, like horsies."
Reich said to keep an eye out for the Christmas video: "Mary-Kate still believes in Santa Claus. She has an awful realization."