How you’re making people laugh these days:
I teach and coach improv…
Sketch comedy is an exciting and fun form of writing to learn – but everyone has a few cliches they have to get out of their system first.
Here are 7 sketches you will write before you find your own unique voice:
“The Thinly-Disguised Autobiographical Sketch”
We’ve all been there. You dip into your own life for inspiration, and next thing you know– you’re crying while writing a center and eccentrics scene about your last family Thanksgiving featuring a character whose name is one letter removed from yours. Everyone has some stuff they need to work out on paper, and sketch comedy is cheaper than a therapist. Hopefully, your instructor will nicely ignore the resemblance “your characters” have to your life.
“The Boundary-Pushing Sketch”
Comedy is meant to expose injustices in society! It cannot be censored! You have strong feelings about injustice in America and this thirteen-page sketch will right the wrongs!
I’m glad you’re taking “point of view” seriously. But maybe wait until you have more than 3-4 sketches under your belt before you tackle the biggest social issues of our time. The more you write, the more nuanced and developed your writing will become, so jot that hilarious political sketch idea down in your notebook– and let it marinate for a while before putting pen to paper on “Mega-Abortion,” the Epic Town Hall Scene.
“The Easy Jokes About Women/Minorities/Gay People Sketch”
This one is hard. I know from your Thinly-Disguised Autobiographical Sketch that you identify with one of these groups. You’re an insider! You’re not making fun of anyone! You get it.
Except… you’re not going to be standing on stage narrating the sketch as an audience views it.
They don’t know your background or your personal experience. All they know is that there’s an awful lot of jokes that seem like they’re at the expense of a specific minority group, and they’re not digging it. Your sketch has to speak for itself – and speak clearly.
Speaking of easy jokes, please stay away from a certain leader of a certain German political party who started World War II. It’s been done.
Yes, even that way.
“The Everyone Is An Animal Sketch”
Sometimes for a reason, sometimes just because seeing six people act like puppies at a birthday party seems like an awesome idea. But if the scene is about a mother and daughter and you have them playing a mare and foal for no discernible reason, at least throw some horse puns our way.
You hear what I’m neighin’?
“The Absurd Sketch”
You like Monty Python. Huzzah! So does everyone in the class. So why did your absurdist sketch bomb? Maybe you didn’t give us enough grounding in reality. In order to accept where the sketch is going, you need to set up who the characters are and what their relationship is for the audience.
I will gladly watch Sigmund Freud and Aristotle put on a play in heaven if I understand why they’re doing theater together and what the stakes are for opening night*. Give your audience the tools to understand the logic of the scene.
*This play is likely titled Cartharsis Party. Dibs.
“The Sketch That Sounds A Lot Like A Sketch That’s Been On TV”
We all have comedic influences– the show or person or sketch group whose work convinced you to sign up for sketch writing in the first place. It’s natural to start off by mimicking the style of those you admire, even without meaning to do it. But you’re going to be surrounded by a lot of comedy nerds who know exactly which Kids in the Hall sketch you’re unconsciously ripping off. And they WILL let you know.
Got an idea for a motivational speaker whose life is actually terrible? That’s a great setup! And that‘s why Bob Odenkirk and Chris Farley already nailed it. Be aware of your influences as you gradually start to develop the only style that’s totally unique – your own.
“The Everything Coming Together Sketch”
It’s an autobiographical, absurdist, political sketch featuring a group of gorillas protesting the hike in public transit fares through modern dance.
And it just might be your best one yet.
Caitlin Kunkel is a writer and director as well as a faculty member at The Second City Training Center. She is currently living in Portland, OR, where she studies ironic yoga and the role cat jokes play in the universe. Read more of her musings @KunkelTron or at the more professionally-named www.caitlinkunkel.com.