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Let’s take a look at basic sketch structure.  One typical sketch structure will have five stages in the story:

1.  The Set Up
2.  Introducing the Conflict
3.  Exploring the Conflict
4.  Introducing the Solution
5.  The Resolution

So let’s take a look at this in the context of an example, from “That Mitchell and Webb Look” (watch before continuing):

Let’s talk about the elements of basic structure, using the sketch as an example:

1.  The Set Up

This is where the story begins.  Introduce the sketch.  Establish the CROW (Character, Relationship, Objective, Where) for the audience, and then establish a familiar, normal situation for the characters.

In the Example – Quickly, you can figure out the set up:  In ancient (biblical) times, a teacher (Jesus, played by Robert Webb) is telling the story of the Good Samaritan to a group.  CROW is quickly established by the set, costumes, positioning of the characters, and, at last (10 seconds in), the use of the term “Master” by a member of the (Jesus’s) audience.

2.  Introducing the Conflict

This is the point where a problem arises, the whole reason for the sketch.  During the set up, you told the audience what was going on, and this is the point where the sketch will get unusual.  Answer the question “What makes this day different from every other day?”.

In the Example – About 10 seconds in, they introduce the conflict, when one of the students (David Mitchell), wants to interrupt the story, and continues to try to interject until finally, at about 34 seconds, he stops Jesus to explain the conflict: the story is offensive because it implies Samaritans aren’t generally good.

3.  Exploring the Conflict

Now that we have a conflict, this is where it is explored.  Support the issue on all sides of the conflict, and see where the interaction takes the conflict.  Heighten the conflict.  Raise the emotional stakes.

In the Example – At about 46 seconds in, other students chime in supporting the problem the lead student has about the stereotypical view of Samaritans.  There is a little back and forth between the complaining student and Jesus, heightening the conflict.  At the end of the complaint, the main student accuses Jesus of racism.

4.  Introducing a Solution

This is where we work to end the sketch, right after the emotional climax.  Start working towards the resolution of the conflict by introducing a solution.  Introduce some minor conflicts because of the resolution, but remember that you are working towards ending the sketch.

In the Example – 1:24 Jesus attempts to defuse the situation, first clumsily (with objections from his audience) in a very familiar defusing-pc-objection way, and finally by backtracking to explain that the spirit of the story is what is important, despite the problems of the parable he tried to tell to illustrate the concept of goodness.

5.  The Resolution

This is where we end the sketch.  At the end of the sketch, the conflict is “resolved”.  This doesn’t mean it is solved, it just means that a solution was attempted.  The situation has changed, or it is pointed out that the solution has not changed (and that the characters will be continuing with the conflict).

In the Example – 2:02 Jesus has defused the situation with his speech but, in the end, nothing is really changed by the solution.  Jesus is revealed to be a bigot (when it comes to Samaritans), which the students had suspected (but Jesus had deflected).  Nice that they stuck in a little joke on which the sketch could end.
*****
This is one of my favorite Mitchell & Webb sketches.  It takes a very well-known story (and better-known concept of a “Good Samaritan”), and revisits it with a modern sensibility (political correctness). I generally like sketches which do this. One of my favorite Kazoo! sketches sort of does this with the King Solomon baby story.  That sketch takes the familiar story of King Solomon figuring out who the mother of a disputed baby is by threatening to split the baby, and injects a modern realistic reaction (the women freak out and think Solomon is crazy for wanting to kill the baby).

I don’t want to say too much about other sketch elements of this sketch, because I want to focus on the basic element of sketch structure.  Maybe I’ll revisit this later to use as an example for other sketch comedy concepts.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 241 user reviews.

Warning: May be a little obscene

Two of my friends independently recommended to me “The Whitest Kids U Know”, so I decided to look them up.  This was the first video I randomly selected from YouTube, so this is the one I chose to review.

This is a good, funny sketch.  It’s a bit potty humor, but intelligently done potty humor (my absolute favorite kind).  Smart, even though it handles a topic that is usually only used in really stupid humor.

It has a fairly standard sketch structure, which I like.  The set up is good, the first turning point (the slow mime) is good, and even after the twist is introduced, they really push it well.  Great hightening throughout to the… climax.  This sketch also plays with the line of being too “adult”.  Lots of bad comedy just sees how far it can jump across the line, while this one takes something that is decently common (if NSWF), the miming of jacking off, and makes it much worse by modifying the action in a way that should be harmless, but isn’t.  An enthusiastic three stars!

Unfortunately, I watched more sketches from “The Whitest Kids U Know” and wasn’t impressed.  Lots of their sketches seem to suck, though some others are good.  I got lucky picking this one first.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 163 user reviews.

I grabbed this off of the Train of Thought website:
http://www.trainofthought.info/video_jibjab.html

The sketch is “Tom & Tina”.  It was a part of JibJab’s Great Sketch Experiment, a contest that I don’t know much about.  The sketches in the contest finals were directed by THE John Landis (Animal House, Blues Brothers), and all of those sketches seemed to have a cop/prison theme.

Anyway, this is a strong sketch.  Good premise, good twist, good heightening of the conflict, decent ending.  Three stars.  Tell your friends! I considered making this a four star sketch. I really like this sketch, but I’ve seen it a few times and I first saw it many months ago. Comedy is less funny the second time around, so maybe I would have given it four stars had I seen it for the first time today. Not sure, and three stars is very good on my scale, so I gave it three stars.

I’m a fan of Train of Thought, and have seen a few of their live shows.  I am always impressed.  They have a few video sketches on their website, and they are generally pretty good.  Sometimes the sound quality is a little lacking, which, besides general stupidity of media executives, is the only reason I can think of why they don’t have a deal with Sony or other big production company to get paid to develop sketches.  Have you seen some of the crap on crackle.com?  Not all of it is crap, but the addition of Train of Thought would strengthen the quality of the crackle lineup.  I picked this sketch because it is has the highest production values of any of their video sketches.  Plus, I thought it should have won the contest (based on the strength of the writing).

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 248 user reviews.

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