For the students in our most recent Sketch Comedy Writing Intensive (We’ll have another writing class in the spring. And see here for our winter classes.) below are the sketches we looked at in class, plus a bunch more to give you examples of character, relationship, and genre games. (Click on the screenshots below to link to the sketches.)
- Notice how all the sketches still fully play the scene. In fact the craft goes into writing the scene.
- Notice how none of the characters are stupid in a general way, but only blind or oblivious in very particular ways. In fact the characters care about things, do things, and show skill.
- Notice how strict the patterns are. No character ever calls out the game!
“Samurai Delicatessen” from Saturday Night Live in 1975. Buck Henry plays a customer in the deli. John Belushi plays the samurai. You can move the samurai from the delicatessen to any unsamurai-like venue and have him interact with other customers. That’s what makes it a character game. Notice how the customer always stays a customer and the samurai-deli-person always stays a samurai-deli-person. There’s no time wasted on “Oh wait, you’re a samurai, what’s going on here? This is crazy!”
“Wayne Brady” sketch from Chappelle Show. The scene is organized around the ostensibly non-threatening Wayne Brady actually being a violent sociopath (with echos of the movie Training Day) But the driving energy of the scene, the game, is Brady gleefully bullying Chappelle for thinking he was non-threatening. Notice how their relationship intensifies as they go through a series of incidents. Think of the incidents or ‘beats’ as ways of showing the relationship play out. Like the Samurai sketch no time is spent on, “Wait, Wayne, I thought you were different from this! This is crazy!”
Parody or Genre Game:
“No Makeup” from Inside Amy Schumer. The game is to parody spunky, uplifting boy band songs. Notice how the underlying logic of a character stays the same throughout a sketch. If Amy stops wearing makeup because the boy band tells her to, then she’s going to start wearing makeup again because the boy band tells her to.
More Character Sketches
Subsitute Teacher 3 by Key and Peele. The substitute stays true to himself and the students stay true to themselves. The scene moves through a series of ‘beats’ that heighten the contrast. Notice how we (the viewer) are able to sympathize with both points of view simultaneously. That’s part of the fun of sketch. We can enjoy being the samurai and the customer; we can be Dave Chappelle wanting to get away from a dangerous lunatic while enjoying the excitement of being a dangerous lunatic too.
Chris Farley as the “Motivational Speaker.” This was pretty funny on SNL, but it’s a great example of a sketch that works live. I saw it frist as a Second City stage sketch in Chicago before Farley joined SNL.
The Wayne Brady relationship sketch above has two characters in conflict, but relationship sketches more typically use matching energy. Two Wild and Crazy Guys, the two SNL weightlifters, the Coneheads, and so on. The characters have basically the same point of view so they can intensify one another.
In class we’ve looked at sketches that hit game ‘hard’ like the dueling hat sketch, but above is an elaborate character game game from the Carol Burnett Show, part of a regular sketch setup called “The Family.” (Later there was a mediocre sitcom called Mama’s Family that spun off from it.) It could stand alone as a short play.
More Genre or Parody Sketches
“Pre-taped Call In Show” from Mr Show. Another name for Genre or Parody sketches is ‘Idea Sketches’ because while they still need the characters to be strong and suited to the world they’re in, the sketches are really about the funny idea.
“Are We the Baddies?” from Mitchell and Webb.
Finally here is one more idea sketch. We used this in class to show beats, heightening, and ‘hard game.’
If you missed this go around of Big Blue Door’s Sketch Workshop and want to be on the mailing list for future workshops, email classes@bigbluedoor.