Back in 2008, I listed a bunch of the sketch shows I’d seen and rated some troupes.

Today, I just want to mention the better sketch shows I’ve seen since 2008.

If you have the opportunity to see any of these groups, DO IT!

So, in no particular order:
1. The Cody Rivers Show – I was only somewhat of a fan in 2008, but their shows since then have really really really kicked ass, especially the stuff I saw in 2010. I think they’re currently on hiatus, but when they’re back go see them.
2. Last Call Cleveland – The hit of Sketchfest 2010. Their videos, even their music videos, aren’t as good as seeing them live. I would suggest you avoid seeing their videos until you’ve seen them live. And I suggest you see them live.
3. Hey You Millionaires – I loved them when I first saw them at Sketchfest 2008 (also in 2009). In 2010 they were temporarily missing a member, and I think the quality of the show suffered a little. But I still say go see them if you can. Apparently they’ve moved to L.A.
4. Shoshinz – Not much to say about this Japanese duo. They were great when they toured in the area back in 2009. They had no English dialogue in the show I saw, but had fun dance and music numbers. I’m a sketch curmudgeon, but I loved them and I highly recommend seeing them.
5. Peter n’ Chris Show – I saw them for the first time in 5/2011 and was blown away. They are (for me) the surprise new duo (from Vancouver).
6. Charles – Currently, the best sketch troupe in the Seattle area (Bellingham is not included in “Seattle area”). The duo is funny and clever, but often you can only see them performing with (opening for) another troupe. Even if you don’t like the other troupe, Charles is worth the price of admission.
7. Second City Touring Company show – They have performed at the Edmonds Center for the Arts in February for the last few years (and occasionally elsewhere in the area as well).

“What about group X?” some might ask me. “What do you think of them?”
Well, if they’ve been to Seattle in the past few years, I’ve probably seen them. I might have even enjoyed the show. But the seven I listed here are in a class above that group (at least).

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 213 user reviews.

So this is a sketch from “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”, a BBC show I’ve never seen but have heard of. I’ll probably be watching more of it based on this sketch.

(To the best of my ability to conceptualize and explain) This is why I like it:

The premise is really good and original. Many sketch premises are, but having a good premise is not quite enough. Many sketches take the premise, don’t do much with it, and then don’t reach the potential offered by the premise. What Fry and Laurie do with the premise makes this a three-star sketch!

The officer (Fry) accepts the situation. Mr. Nippl-e (Laurie) is eccentric, but apparently honest. The officer reacts as if this very weird situation is merely unusual, and accepts Nippl-e’s offer as sincere, after Nippl-e defends his position.

The sketch heightens well. The heightenings are surprises couched in the logic of the world they’ve created. They are exaggerations of the previous eccentric offers.

The straight man is eccentric. The straight man officer accepts the situation (as I mentioned earlier), and essentially becomes as eccentric as the eccentric character. I like that the straight man “wins” the conflict by beating the eccentric character at his own game, but not in an underhanded way (not by trying to “win”), but rather by just heightening the eccentricity while remaining apparently sincere. The officer just happens to “win”.

Also I like that, though characters were annoyed, their annoyance didn’t get too loud. I think getting loud is too common in sketch comedy conflicts (not necessarily bad any time it happens, but it happens a lot so when it doesn’t it is nice). Perhaps it’s a British thing.
Three stars – Highly recommended!

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 267 user reviews.

Two opportunities in Seattle to learn more about sketch writing!!!

I’m pleased that two of the leading groups in Seattle comedy are now offering training in sketch comedy! The Seattle sketch comedy offerings have been largely inconsistent in quality, and having two groups offering classes gives me hope that soon we’ll have a new crop of better sketch troupes. Unexpected Productions has a great reputation in offering comedy instruction (mostly improv), and Sketchfest has selected an instructor who has consistently brought great sketch comedy to Seattle.

1. Comedy Sketch Workshop – Tristin Devin
Unexpected Productions
For those of you who don’t know, UP is one of the two big improv shops in Seattle. They are not known for putting on sketch comedy shows, but their improv shows are solid. I’m not very familiar with Tristin Devin’s work. The course description mentions he was a member of the sketch group Furioso! I vaguely remember that group, and I don’t think it had many performances.
May 1 – May 22, Noon-3pm
May 7 – May 28, 3pm – 6pm, with a showcase on June 4 @ 7pm

2. Sketch Writing Workshop – Mike Mathieu
SketchFest Seattle
Mike is half of The Cody Rivers Show, consistently one of the best bets in the area’s sketch comedy scene (for years now). SketchFest Seattle is an annual festival of sketch comedy, and the SketchFest Board and Staff are both very interested in improving the local sketch comedy scene.
June 15 – July 13, 6pm – 9pm

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 214 user reviews.

Ken Levine (writer or producer for shows like MASH, Cheers, and The Simpsons) uses an example from his career (of a bad writer codenamed “Shecky”) to bring up a point about comedy writing:

But the big question is this: How do you know when something’s funny? Especially since humor is so subjective. The standard answer is “it’s funny if it’s funny to you”. I disagree. And I use Shecky as an example. If you’re attempting to become a professional comedy writer you need to gage what strangers will find funny.

Amateur comedy writers should also pay attention.

One problem I see over and over again in amateur sketch comedy is that of oblivious comedians creating sketches that they find funny but the audience doesn’t. A few members of the audience may laugh, perhaps giving the illusion of success to the sketch comedian, but the response does not compare to that of the jokes that actually work.

If you are a sketch writer, don’t delude yourself into thinking your sketches always work. Study comedy, see what works. Work harder. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t.

One of my favorite quotes from episode 18 of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”, a show that wasn’t that great but meant well:

“You’re too hard on yourself.”
“You know who isn’t too hard on themselves? Amateurs.”
– Lucy and Tom

Work on writing what strangers will find funny. Actually make an effort of it. And be honest about how good your comedy actually is. I’ll thank you with my laughter.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 179 user reviews.

Excellent sketch. It starts as a quirky parody of a self-defense instruction video. The humorous cuts helped to entertain before the meat of the sketch, the demonstrations. In the first demonstration, I liked the detail in the instructor’s demonstration of gaining control of the wrist. Then, BAM, the first major surprising twist. Unexpected, yet logical. After that, each demonstration increases the craziness. Loved it, wish I had written it. Three stars.

Elements I’d like writers to take from this sketch:
Surprise is a key element of comedy, so I’ll mention the surprise in this sketch again. Pulling the gun was a surprise because this a parody of an (unarmed) self-defense video, yet was logical because gun trumps fist. In the Second City workshop I took, instructor Amy Seeley told us to go for surprise.

This sketch could have been ok with just the surprise of pulling the gun. Many sketch writers go only that far when creating a sketch based on a clever idea. I wish sketch writers would more often ask themselves “Where can the sketch go from here?” In this case, the instructor put himself in crazier and crazier situations, maintaining his sincerity but making his muggers more and more unmugger-like. To a very exaggerated extent. So learn from this sketch and keep on heightening and exaggerating.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 185 user reviews.

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