I’ve decided that I might enjoy writing some sketch comedy.
I mean, look — you’ve seen me blog. And you’ve caught my standup act. Surely to god I can be good at something.
So I signed up to take a sketch writing class. Or tried to, but they were full. Or they’ve also seen my blogging, or standupping, and decided I wasn’t for them. Perhaps they’ll suggest that I take a mime class, or go to clown college, or make people laugh via interpretive dance.
(I’ve made people laugh with every other kind of dancing I’ve done. So I suppose it follows, logically. But no, thanks.)
While the ‘sketchy folks’ insist — for now — that they’ll have room in their next class in a couple of months, I thought it might be good to peruse the local sketch scene. Observe the natives. Feel the pulse. That sort of thing. So I decided to take in a show at a local improv ‘n’ sketch outfit to see what was sketchily what.
Of course, for a show I needed my wife. Who shows up alone at any sort of comedy show the first time?
(Loners and sociopaths and people who want to be openly mocked by the performers onstage, that’s who. And I’m only a little bit of one, diametrically opposed to another and a little too old for the third by now.
I’ll let you decide which order I meant those in. There’s no combination that’s that far from the truth, really.)
So I asked the missus if she’d be willing to join me for a comedy show. She looked at me sidelong, quite appropriately wary, given the parade of dive bars and shitholes I dragged her to during my amateur standup days. With some trepidation, she asked:
‘Maybe… What kind of comedy show, exactly?‘
“This was a real established honest-to-god comedy venue, with shows five nights a week and reviews in papers that still exist offline, so you know they were pretty big and well-respected once, even if their kind is dying out like a bunch of pygmy African castrated elephants.”
Again, perfectly reasonable. Through the course of our comedic travels — which is to say, thanks to me — she’s seen shirtless middle-aged guys screaming at the audience, heard songs with lyrics concerning numerous disgusting bodily functions, witnessed several drunken and profanity-laced frustrated rants onstage, and been party to the most embarrassing bouts of stage fright and ‘first-timer-itis’ you can possibly imagine.
(Also, there were other comics besides me in those shows. So they probably did some nasty stuff, too.)
But this time, I figured I was in the clear. I wasn’t asking her to watch me do a seven-minute set at an open mic at a Greyhound station, or suggesting we watch an open mic at the local Burger King or Stop ‘n’ Shop or AA meeting. This was a real established honest-to-god comedy venue, with shows five nights a week and reviews in papers that still exist offline, so you know they were pretty big and well-respected once, even if their kind is dying out like a bunch of pygmy African castrated elephants.
Also, I wasn’t going to be performing, so how bad could it be? This one was in the bag, once I explained what it was. So I did:
‘It’s a little different show — it’s sketch comedy.‘
Easy, no? That’s all I had to say. Not standup, not improv — sketch. See?
Evidently, no. ‘What’s sketch comedy?‘
Hrm. Well, I wasn’t expecting that question, really. I mean, sketch is… ‘sketch‘. I paused, and thought about how best to explain it. Should I point to the popular and long-running popular examples, like Saturday Night live or MadTV? Or talk about the setup of premise and dialogue, of establishing a scene and working through the gag? Should I contrast it with improv? Touch on Second City, or The State? What angle should I take?
While I worked to collect my thoughts, an idea occurred to her and she blurted out:
‘Ooh! Is it like the Carol Burnett Show?‘
Well… yeah, actually, but… wait, did she say Carol Burnett? Of all the examples… the shows on TV… Carol Burnett?
I cocked my head at her. ‘No, but seriously — how OLD are you, anyway?‘
For the record, she’s younger than I am.
(So’s Methuselah, as far as I know. I’m just saying — I’ve got no room to talk about age here.)
But why the Carol Burnett Show — a program that hasn’t even been in reruns for fifteen years on cable — sprung into her head as the most salient example of sketch comedy, I have no idea. I mean, I hear that Milton Berle’s doing some real cutting-edge stuff in drag and the Smothers Brothers — whoo-eee, those guys are fresh.
So we — by which I mean I — had a good laugh over her notion of ‘sketch comedy’, and then went to watch a bunch of people who weren’t actually born yet when the Carol Burnett show was on the air perform their version of the craft. And I — by which I mean we — were highly entertained. Even if Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway were, sadly, conspicuously absent.
(And in one case, rather conspicuously dead. Which would make it more difficult to perform sketch comedy, obviously.
Though not impossible. I’ve seen Jimmy Fallon do it.)
So maybe I’ll be doing some sketch comedy in a few months — or at least going to more shows, now that we know the venue. And maybe I’ll let my wife live down that her closest tie to the genre is just a scant two or three decades out of print.
But don’t count on it. I haven’t had that class yet, but I know the first rule of sketch: never let go of a running gag.
Tug your ear and exit stage left, hon. We’re out of time for this week.Permalink | 2 Comments