The Art of Sketch Writing

Saturday, June 21, 2008
by LuAnn Schindler

I've been told that I'm a good comedic writer.

While that statement might be true to an extent, I discovered this week that I still might have a lot to learn.

You see, comedy, like comedic writing, is all about timing. Where's the funny?

I have spent the past week as the director for the youth camp at the Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk, Nebraska.

OK, OK...I hear your jokes now. What's so funny about Norfolk, Nebraska? It's the home of Johnny Carson, the late night king of comedy.

The way I came about the job comes down to one word: connections. And I am so grateful that I was asked to assist with this first-year event. WOW! I've learned so much.

Several instructors from the Brave New Workshop from Minneapolis, the nation's oldest satirical theater group, have been teaching students improv and sketch comedy/sketch writing. And they even taught this old writer some new tricks!

When considering sketch writing, brainstorming is key. Read the newspaper. Make lists of things that anger you or bring you joy. Then look for ways to combine two or more of the items from the list to come up with the idea.

This step is where you develop the satirical point. Next, you decide who the characters will be and establish a setting.

Now, you are ready to develop the action of the scene by listing the action that will occur on stage from the beginning to the end.

And finally, a short statement about why this sketch is funny.

I watched the students brainstorm on Monday, break into small groups and develop a few ideas on Tuesday, write complete scripts Tuesday evening, and then break out into practice sessions on Wednesday. Amazing! And funny!!

After spending the week here, I've decided that the sketch writing exercise might even help develop the action in a novel.

The students also attended a session about standup comedy. The course instructor was Dave Reinitz, the Jet Blue guy, and assisted by Barbara Holliday. Funny class. No, seriously! I learned quite a bit about joke structure.

While I don't have a three minute standup routine completed, like the students do, I did have time to write small bit. And I'll try it out on the Muffin readers:

What's up with all the talk about raw milk? Sure, it's direct from the source. It hasn't been pasteurized. At our house, you won't find a gallon of fat-free thin-as-water milk. And you won't find a quart of 1% or 2%. No, we're a whole milk family. Probably because we own a dairy farm.
Raw milk is good for you. It's healthy. Of course, I did have salmonella..... (ba da da ching)!


Annette said...

Comedy is hard. I love improv--it's spontaneous fun and a great adrenaline high, but stand-up is brutal. It's the most addictive thing in the world--being able to make a roomful of people laugh, but when you bomb (especially in a packed house at the Hollywood Improv when you are up there for an entire 5-minute set and NOT ONE person laughs)--it's the most mortifying experience you can imagine. It's weird though because audiences are fickle. The material that killed the room at one club one week can completely bomb at a different club the very next week. That's what happened to me. But after getting thrown, I never got back up on the horse.

And now, a girl I went through my first stand-up class with (her first class too) is on Last Comic Standing. I saw it last week and went, "Holy crap! That's Iliza!" I thought that was cool and I hope she does well.

I think I'll just stick to putting my funny on the page. =)

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