Archive for June, 2008

What is Sketch Comedy?

I’m guessing that the vast majority of my blog audience already knows what a sketch is.  But for the minority…

Have you seen “Saturday Night Live”, “Mad TV”, or “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”?  If so, you’ve seen a lot of sketches, because those are examples of sketch comedy shows.

The typical sketch is a self-contained short comedic scripted scene (a prewritten story, acted out), 3-5 minutes long.
That it is short contrasts with comedic plays or situation comedy tv shows.
That it is scripted contrasts with improvisational comedy.
That it is acted out contrasts with stand-up comedy.
That it is comedic contrasts with crap (bad sketch comedy) and drama.

A more specific definition might talk about how this comedic story will have some sort of conflict between the characters, and the story will contain either a world with a twist, or characters with a twisted view.  Much comedy will come from the surprise that follows the logic of the comedic world or comedic characters, contrasting with the logic or norms of the real world.  In the end, the conflict is resolved, and there are more laughs.

There are many exceptions to this definition (blackouts, monologues, multipart sketches, callbacks, sketch tableaus, etc.), but don’t worry too much about it.  One of the lessons in any discipline is that you follow the rules until you’re good enough to know when to break them.

I’m not going to get into what makes for good sketch comedy here.  Like all art and entertainment, it is highly subjective.  On this site, though, I am coming from a writing perspective, so anything that does not depend on good writing, even if funny, might get overlooked.

Sketches, Skits, Scenes…
Do I care what you call it?  Not really.  Insiders say “sketches” (and sometimes “scenes”) 99.99% of the time.  Yes, I took an exhaustive poll of 5,000 sketch comedians and found only 5 didn’t. If sktech comedians said “skits”, I’d say “skits”.  But they don’t, so I don’t.  People who say “skits” when referring to sketch comedy just aren’t paying attention to the language of the community, but it doesn’t make my sketches any worse.

About Me

I’m Edward Tonai, and I live in Seattle, Washington. I’ve been a fan of sketch comedy (on television) for as long as I can remember (SNL, SCTV, Carol Burnett), but didn’t encounter live sketch comedy until I moved to Seattle in 2000, where the local sketch scene was really buzzing. I quickly became a fan. In 2001, after receiving an email calling for new writers from The Pork Filled Players (PFP), I wrote and submitted my first sketch. They accepted me into the troupe first as a writer, but quickly put me on stage. I performed in my first full-run show in December 2001. Eventually I became a producer for PFP, and the head writer. With PFP, I perfomed in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.  I also performed at Bumbershoot and Seattle SketchFest .  I left the group in June 2008.

I’m still a big fan of sketch comedy, and I love writing it. I’m also big on studying the craft. I’ve taken one-day sketchwriting workshops organized by Seattle SketchFest (taught in 2006 by Elephant Larry’s Alexander Zalben, and in 2007 by Joe Flaherty), and in 2007 I took a one-week sketchwriting immersion at the Second City Training Center in Los Angeles, taught by sketchwriting instructor extraordinaire Amy Seeley. I’ve also read a number of books on the subject, and taken improvisation classes at Unexpected Productions.

Of course, I’m also a fan of comedy other than sketch. I love “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”, but my favorite show is “30 Rock” (not much of a surprise, being the show about the people doing a sketch comedy show).

Why did I start this blog? To join the online sketchwriting community? To just talk through my sketchwriting ideas? To make it easier for people to find me, so I don’t have to go searching for them? To gather up some people so that when I have sketch comedy to advertise, I already have something of an audience? To provide a base of knowledge for my future co-sketchwriters? To get better at writing sketches? Lookit me, I’m so great, I do sketch, and I write it, and I’m so great!? Yeah, a bit of all that.

I am not currently in a sketch troupe, but I am in the early stages of trying to figure out how to develop a new one. If/when it happens, there’ll be an announcement here.

I recently joined SketchFest Seattle’s Board of Directors.  The opinons presented here are mine, and do not reflect the opinions of SketchFest Seattle, the other board members, or its staff.