Archive for November, 2008

Writing: Vomit (Brainstorming / Early Drafts)

When I sit down to write sketches, I often follow the method of just starting to write, letting my ideas just flow until (hopefully) I eventually come across an idea that I want to explore.  Sometimes I call my first draft vomit, because it is an unrefined spewing of my sketch ideas.  If I’m going to call something a “First Draft”, it usually at least has some semblance of good structure.  I’ve taken at least one rewriting look before showing someone a first draft.  My vomit sketches may even have missing sections.

Anyway, here are some thoughts about sketch comedy.  I may expand some later to create full-fledged entries.  I may even delete this entry later.  Whatever I do, I do because I consider this entry an early draft(s) of what I actually want to say.  I’m not waiting until it is “done” to post.

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  • You know what I love sketch comedy?  Extreme flexibility. I got to sing “On My Own” at BUMBERSHOOT!  Am I, a male (baritone-bass), otherwise going to ever get to sing a song written for a girl?  A soprano (Eponine, in Les Miserables)?  Likely not.  Now, I didn’t sing it completely straight.  was dressed as Kim Jong Il and sang it to George Bush, and it was cut down a little for time.  But I still got to sing the song in front of some 300 people.
  • I don’t like sketches that are all premise.  I need more.  I need an exploration of the premise, and I need some surprises in the sketch which follow the logic of the world of the sketch.  On a recent episode of SNL, Andy Samberg did a “sketch” where he talked to farm animals as Mark Wahlberg.  Great Mark Wahlberg, by the way.  For me, it was funny for half a minute, then it got old.  All he did was talk to farm animals as Mark Wahlberg.  It was a waste of talent, to not actually write a sketch around his impression.
  • Your Audience – Who is your audience?  Is it just your friends and mom?  If so, I’m not interested in your sketch.
  • Remember that you, the sketchwright, are asking the audience to give you their time (and probably money).  Don’t be a waste to them.
  • Comedy is subjective.  Comedy is suprise.  There’s a lot that has gone on before that many haven’t seen but I have.  I am unlikely to laugh at that stuff.  Most will, the first time.
  • Try to be better.  Don’t be satisfied with 80%.  Don’t be satisfied with a half-assed job.  PLEASE, don’t be satisfied with a half-assed job.  Don’t waste the audience’s time/money.
  • Surprise!  Go for surprise.  The unexpected is a pillar of great comedy.  One of these days, give a try of shooting for surprise instead of shooting for funny, see what happens.
  • Follow the logic of your sketch’s world.  If, at the end of a WWII sketch about nazis, Paris Hilton walks in and makes a comment about Rodeo Drive, that may be funny, but it is a terrible end for a sketch.  It would be cheap, if Paris’s inclusion had nothing else to do with the sketch.
  • Rewrite your sketches!  Your first draft will not make for the best sketch you can write.  If you don’t make a habit of rewriting your sketches, you are lazy and your show will not be as good as it can be (and will probably be pretty sucky).
  • Many sketches have bad endings (a common gripe about SNL’s sketches).  A good ending should wrap up the sketch, following the logic of the sketch world, and should reincorporate elements of the sketch.  One of the reasons parodies are so strong is that the format of the parody already dictates a beginning, middle, and end.  That’s a reason why game show sketches are so easy/popular to write.
  • A list of the five common types of sketches (taught at Second City LA):
    1.  Seemingly impossible simple task
    2.  Fish out of water
    3.  Clash of context
    4.  Parody
    5.  Center vs. eccentrics
  • Juxtaposition!
  • Learn the “rules”.  They’re more guidelines than rules.  Learn them so you have them in your toolbox.  You can ignore them when you think it is best.
  • Watch sketch comedy!  Old ideas have been done a million times already.  I don’t want to see the old jokes again and again.
  • Variety is a good thing.  Stick a little bit of it into your shows.  Don’t let your sketches all seem the same.
  • Don’t confuse good performances with good writing.  Both are elements in creating good sketch comedy, but just because you have one doesn’t mean you have the other.
  • My reviews are meant to show what I think is bad as well as what I think is good, but I want to keep y’all entertained, so I’ll make sure to include a “good” sketch whenever I review a bad one.

Video Review: Groundlings & Michaela Watkins (3 stars)

Pete & Paula: Groundlings Ep3 – Three Stars!

I just heard the news:  Michaela Watkins has joined Saturday Night Live, and is debuting tomorrow night (11/15)!  I saw her perform in July with the Groundlings, and I really liked her Arianna Huffington.  So I decided I needed to rush out a review a video (featuring Michaela) I’d had on the backburner for a while.

I’ve recently become a big fan of Julia Nunes (not a sketch comedian), and the following video is listed as one of Julia’s favorites (watch!):

Like I said, three stars.

Effective framework.  Effective use of the rule of threes.  Effective use of escallation in the overall plot of the sketch.  Very effective use of surprise, especially in the third part of the sketch.  Effective use of contrast between the “on-camera” and “off-camera” energies.

The first take is a great food show restaurant review parody, with only a relatively slight exaggeration of reality (perhaps no exaggeration of some of the worst shows).  In the second take, they increase the energy and weirdness, and top it off with an inappropriate suprise that naturally comes off of Pete’s “kill” comment.  I want to emphasize how it arises naturally.  Too many bad sketches force surprises that come from nowhere.  In the third take, where Paula says they are going to “be more ourselves”, they increase the energy even more, and take the theme of “in love” (with the restaurant), and let Pete take that theme in a romantic context and really exaggerate a reaction.  Not only that, but they add details and take it to additional levels!  (Another problem with bad sketches is how they often only exaggerate to the next level, and don’t tke it any further)  OMG, violence against women CAN be funny!  And while their characters bring in the violence, they never forget that it is a restaurant review.  The entire sketch is an effective marriage between a normal food review show, increased energy, and surprise.

The end is very natural (and I liked the very last line).

Hmmm…  Maybe I’ll take this entry and redo it as an example of surprise and exaggeration.  But for now, it is just a video review to celebrate Michaela Watkins on SNL.  (Abby Elliott, Chris Elliott’s daughter, is also joining)

Note:  After my first review of a Groundlings video (and watching the second), I didn’t plan on watching any more.  Thanks to Julia Nunes, I gave this one a try, and I was quite happy with it.  The Groundlings ARE able to put on a well-crafted, funny sketch.  I’ve decided to use the youtube version, though, because I don’t like how Crackle.com immediately starts playing the following (possibly craptastic) “episode” of a video.  If you want to watch other Groundlings videos you can do it yourself.

Note 2: This is one of my favorite Julia Nunes videos, in case you care.

Pete & Paula: Groundlings Ep3 – Three Stars!