Behind the Scenes: How Not to Succeed in Sketch Comedy
By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 18, 2007 9:35PM
See enough sketch comedy and you’re bound to experience a head shaking, teeth gritting night when you’re questioning why you abandoned the warm, comforting glow of your Magnavox. At last weekend’s Chicago Sketchfest, we eavesdropped on a few patrons in that predicament, discussing what they’d like to see abolished in sketch comedy:
"Casting a woman in your group for the sole purpose of being 'the girlfriend', 'the spouse', or the object of lust."
"Mistaking 'zany' characters for funny ones."
It’s not easy being funny. For every Monty Python and Kids in the Hall, there are plenty of groups who make the mid-80s Saturday Night Live cast look brilliant. As a public service, Chicagoist asked people connected to the Chicago comedy scene what aspiring groups should avoid.
Shuttling between Sketchfest and Snubfest (where he emceed the Last Snob Standing contest), Time Out Chicago Comedy Editor Steve Heisler saw more sketch comedy last weekend than many people see in a year. He blogged about his weekend on TOC’s website, presumably while sifting through press releases and writing a feature for next week’s issue. His advice:
- One big thing I've noticed in failed sketch comedy shows is that there's no clear, coherent voice. That's not to say it has to be heavy-handed and sappy, but unless the material's rooted in some semblance of truth, it tends to swing-and-a-miss.
- If you can't describe, to coworkers or friends, what makes your sketch show different (even ever-so-slightly) from other sketch shows, then you need to think about it more. Launch the show later.
- Sketch comedy, and improv for that matter, is only one or two degrees away from, well, legit theater. Would you audition for a play with no stage training whatsoever? Most likely not. Would you write a play and perform it under the same circumstances? For the sake of your audiences...please don't.
- Guys dressed in drag = not inherently funny.
- Kick lines = not inherently high-energy.
The Bastion blog keeps us informed of stand up and sketch events throughout the week. Their staff has been there, done that, seen that. Editor Elizabeth McQuern really doesn’t like:
- Over-reliance on pop culture references, at least, those which are thrown in for a "Hey, remember this? We do, too!" moment.
- The unneccessarily gay character, who is often lispy, limp-wristy, and one-dimensional.
- Minorities having to directly address their "differentness" in an awkward, artificial-feeling manner.
- The big joke being revealed right away, and a long series of predictable poundings of that joke thereafter.
Snubfest is a comedy festival more generous than most, accepting groups who were spurned from other fests. But still, there are a few things Festival Organizer Angela McMahon can’t stand:
- Bad wigs, and too many props slowing down transitions.
- Being loud for no good reason, and/or being naked for no good reason.