Archive for August, 2008

Writers and Perfomers

Sketch Comedy has a tradition of writer/performers developing sketch comedy, at least in the United States.  At Second City, sketches are developed through improvisation.

I think the reason that you see so much weak sketch is that the performers are actor/improvisers who also write.  They are focusing on their acting to “make it” in the entertainment business (especially in L.A.), and they are talented enough to do so.  The Groundlings, like The Second City, come from a tradition of developing their sketches through improvisation and that (improvisatio) is where you find the focus if you look at the classes the offer and the requirements to get into the program.  So the writers who don’t act get weeded out early.  This is totally understandable.  There’s much more money in acting than in writing.  And apparently, there are very few performers who are both great at acting/improvising and writing (Tina Fey, for example).

Also, there’s a difference between actors and writers.  Actors want to be up on stage.  Writers may be satsified writing for a small audience (self, internet).

What if there were a top notch live theatre sketch comedy troupe that hired the best performers to work with the best writers?  Saturday Night Live and MadTV both do that to an extent on television, but is there a place for that on a live stage at the level of Second City and The Groundlings?   Because essentially no one will be great at both.

Actually, the Second City Touring Companies basically do that.  TourCo members are great performers just a step away from making the main stage (or the etc stage).  They perform from the library of Second City’s almost 50 years of sketches.  Essentially, a best-of.  I think I heard from Ruby Streak’s podcast that the touring companies produce some new sketches, but most of the material is already well-tested.  Great sketches + great performers = great show.  I’ve seen two of the touring shows (two different Second City touring companies), and the “official” best-of show in Chicago (performed by a touring company), and all were EXCELLENT.  I’m very much looking foward to the touring company returning to Seattle in November to perform at the Moore.

By the way, I’m glad that the Second City mainstage show was excellent.  At least at the top levels, improviser-developed sketch comedy is good.

Perhaps the reason I see so much weak sketch is that I live in Seattle.  Seattle is probably one of the better places to be an amateur sketch comedian, but it’s not Chicago.  Chicago has a lot of well-trained sketch comedians and lots of sketch competition.  Seattle has some well-trained improvisers and some self-taught sketch comedians and cheapish theatre space and a decent amount of fringe theatre and not a whole lot of sketch competition.  I’m not saying we all suck here (I love Train of Thought), but the scene is just not as vibrant and it seems like weaker groups can survive longer because of the general lack of good sketch to show audiences how crappy the crap is (and to show the amateur sketch comedians what good sketch is).

Every Seattle sketch comedian who is interested in the craft of sketch comedy should want to see the Second City Touring Company when it is here in November.  I’d have a hard time respecting any sketch comedian who didn’t (want to see the show).  And I suggest every Seattle sketch comedian make an effort to see Sketchfest (coming in September) and the next Train of Thought show (whenever that is).

Anyway, I lost my train of thought.  Writers.  We lack good sketch comedy writers.  Maybe because writing good sketches is a lot harder than everyone thinks.