My sketch comedy workshop Saturday morning was the best $5 I have spent in a long time. Two writers from Shadowbox led a discussion on the process of writing sketch comedy: Stev Guyer and Jimmy Mak, two of the six writers with the organization. They were extremely helpful and accepting of all levels of experience among our group. We were encouraged to step up and take the reigns as the creative future of Columbus.
Sketch comedy isn’t as easy as it looks, first of all. They told us that a single sketch will undergo at least ten re-writes before it is ever given to a cast to rehearse for a show. And we’re not talking correcting typos re-writing; I mean start from scratch and try again. They said that can be a really difficult thing, to challenge yourself to think of something better than your initial joke. And even with that, jokes aren’t enough; your audience needs to care about your characters.
Basically, here is the process for writing a sketch:
Start with idea on paper. You might pick a theme, like love and relationships, or a “fish out of water” scenario. The example of this they gave is where you might take a stereotype (Italian gangster) and put it where it doesn’t belong (working in a daycare).
After you know the idea of your sketch, make an outline. Much like we did in composition class in college, map out your sketch on paper before you start writing the script. Write how you think it might end, because it’s very important you can conclude it well or else a fizzled ending is all the audience will remember. The close in sketch comedy as a genre tends to be really weak, they said, pointing to some of more hair brained SNL sketches that don’t seem to know where to go after a while.
Finally, and for a very long time, you re-write. The guys said there are around 8-10 sketches per show at Shadowbox; again, each is re-written at least ten times over the three month cycle they have to work in. Additionally, actors are allowed to improvise on your script, and it might even continue to be re-written based on audience response weeks into a show, like if they can tell a joke’s not working.
When you write with a group like they do, you need to be okay with not owning a sketch; it’s a group effort. Be willing to work as a group. I think that’s something I would have trouble with, if I’m really honest with myself.
Yesterday, after my second day of improv critique with our Annoyance improviser, I wrote an outline for my screenplay. I have six pages of work, broken down scene by scene. I fleshed it out a little more tonight after work, and I plan on doing more and more each day this week. Once I know that outline start to finish and feel ready, I am going to revisit the pages I wrote weeks and weeks ago. I am going to finish this screenplay if it kills me. Who wants to read 90 pages of a first time screenwriter? Anyone? Thanks to that workshop I have made more progress in three days than I have in the last three weeks. Maybe even months.
I am happy to say I re-read what I had written, and I at least still liked it. So it’s not like I have to start all over again, I can keep what I have so far.
I really wanted to ask if they like “30 Rock,” but it was too much of a cheeseball question.