The paramedic quickly wheels a gurney through the emergency room and into a bay. Waiting nurses frantically begin assessing the situation, starting IV fluids and other meds. A doctor rushes in to take a closer look, pulls down the sheet and is stunned when he realizes the patient isn’t who he thought it was. It isn’t the University of Texas. It’s Alabama.
This was the first scene of a segment of SEC Shorts, the hugely popular video series with more than 25 million views every season that pokes fun at football teams in the Southeastern Conference and beyond. What started as two coworkers playing around has now become a full-time job for Robert Clay ’06.
“Josh (Snead) and I worked together at a medical publishing company,” Clay said. “Our job day in and day out was editing these just very, very gross, disgusting medical lectures. Like, here’s what it looks like when someone loses all their toes and it’s a doctor giving a lecture to other doctors and we would have to edit those together. It was just a grind. We realized we both like football and we started doing little side videos. We put them out there for our friends and family just to see what happened.”
The first one Clay and Snead posted in 2014 was about a controversy with Alabama’s quarterback. Paul Finebaum’s radio show had just debuted on the then-new SEC Network and producers were scrambling for content.
“We sent that video in and they really liked it,” Clay said. “Then, when we saw it on TV, we were, like, ‘Whoa, that’s awesome!’”
From that point, SEC Shorts began to morph. The first year, the shorts were shown exclusively on the SEC Network, but when Clay made a career move to al.com, he and Snead began making the videos for the state news outlet. In 2017, Clay and Snead secured their own sponsors and SEC Shorts became an independent entity.
SEC Shorts started with videos about pretty much only Auburn and Alabama, but as it grew, every SEC team became fair game. Clay said he wants the fan base of every team to share the videos and be able to say ‘that’s funny,’ even if the video is making fun of their team.
“Making the videos really forced me to pay attention to all the various storylines happening throughout the conference,” Clay said. “Before, I would focus solely on Auburn and what was going on with them. Now I have a pretty good feel for what is happening with all the SEC teams during the season. It’s great because there are really fun and empowering stories happening all over the conference and sometimes they don’t involve your personal team. I am much more appreciative of it.”
As an Auburn graduate, Clay said at first, it was difficult to write scripts that made fun of his beloved Tigers.
“Now, it’s kind of therapeutic,” he said. “It’s a productive outlet to have some fun, make people laugh and burn off the frustration from the games. I’ve been a huge Auburn fan all my life and I used to live and die by wins and losses. It’s a good distraction when we lose, but then, when we pull off an upset over Alabama, it’s so much fun!”
Robert Clay reviews a script while juggling filming and acting.
On Saturday, Sept. 10, following the Alabama–Texas game, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Nebraska found themselves on the losing end of games they should have easily won. Then, in the middle of filming on Sunday, Sept. 11, news came that Nebraska Coach Scott Frost had been fired. Another change had to be made to the script.
“It’s always a challenge and the Week 3 script is a great example,” Clay said. “I was so sure Alabama was just gonna crush Texas. The original idea was that Texas was going be the one in the ER and the joke was just going to be kind of how the doctors were trying to keep them alive. Then, as the game progresses I’m like, even if Texas still loses, they played well enough that the original idea wasn’t going to work. So, as soon as the game was over, I’m like, well, all right, so now Alabama’s gonna be in the ER and we’ll just do a whole video making fun of them.”
The video we observed was shot in a pain clinic owned by a friend of Clay’s. Props were things they brought or found lying around the clinic. Videographers alternated among cast members who weren’t in the scene being shot. Due to the quick turnaround, there isn’t much time to practice and memorize lines, so often, the actors were looking over the script and immediately performing the scene.
Following filming Clay spends hours on Sunday nights editing, piecing all the clips together and getting the SEC Shorts video ready to release each Monday of football season.
In April 2022, the SEC Shorts crew took their talents on the road with four nights of live shows in Athens, Ga. The performances were a huge success and plans are in the works to take the show on the road again, with the first one scheduled in Birmingham the Friday night before the Iron Bowl.
“It’s weird to say it’s your full-time job to make goofy YouTube college football videos,” Clay said. “But that’s what I do. That’s that Auburn education right there, baby!”
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