Question from a Reader: How to get into live sketch comedy?

“Hey I read your article and loved it.
Not sure where you are based out of but I am a Chicago comedian and I am trying to get into live sketch comedy. I’m curious if you have any advice. I have done sketch films, stand up, improv but live sketch on stage is new to me and not sure how to get it off the ground.Do you recommend getting a group? A partner? Writing then rehearsing? I’m curious of your process. I have taken a few sketch classes at second city.
Stand up is just immediate- you show up at a bar and sign up and then you are ready to go. I’m not sure how to do that with Sketch.
Thanks for reading!”
-Chicago Comedian
Hi Chicago Comedian

Thanks for reaching out and I’m glad you loved my article (to read click here). I’m based out of St. Louis, MO— so, close but oh so far away from Chicago.

I’m not entirely sure how to do it in Chicago, but I can tell you how I did it in St. Louis — it’s probably similar, but I would imagine getting stage time there is a bit harder than it is in STL. But, then again, you probably have more people around you who have similar thinking than I do here.

I started in improv before getting into sketch. Because of that I met some really funny people that I thought would be great to work with. So, what I did was simply reach out to them. I sent out a Facebook message to about 19 people and said “Hey, I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to do this, but I want to put on and perform a live sketch comedy show. If you’re interested I’d love to have you be a part of it with me.” I set up a time and date and about 13 of them showed up. Some even brought other friends of theirs that I didn’t know.

Then, we trained ourselves. Sounds like you already have training so you have a head start of where I was! We got a person (with sketch experience) to give us a 3 hour workshop on the basics of sketch comedy and then we found a space to perform and rehearse. Then, about 2 months later we put up the show to our friends who we all invited.

It was that simple.

I would suggest to you to decide a) do you want to work with other people and if so, about how many? b) Reach out to those specific people. Don’t just do a general post on Social media like “hey I’m starting a sketch team, who’s in?” — It’s very likely that will not get a response. Instead, identify people you think are funny and who you think you’d like to spend time with.

Get those people together in a room and let everyone talk about how great being on a sketch team would be and start to think of concepts for shows.

Once you have those things rolling along, you’ll start to figure out what kind of material to develop.

For example, my first sketch team was in the year 2012. We decided to call our show The Last Sketch Comedy Show on Earth. We were trying to play off the Mayan calendar that said the world would be coming to an end on December 21st, 2012.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

Having that focus helped us develop our show. “Okay, so we want to talk about the end of the world. We want to frame things around this big event that’s going to happen.” We made ourselves a Mayan Sun Logo:

Now all of a sudden we had an image (in both the logo and our team), we had an identity to play off of and we had something to build material around.

This doesn’t mean we didn’t have our share of non-world ending related sketches, but it was always a compass to go back to.

Limitations are actually a fantastic thing to give yourself as a creator.

From then, we met every week. We wrote together, pitched sketches to one another, decided on what we wanted to present in that month’s show and then rehearsed. Once show date came we put on a show and had a blast.

So, you’ll also need to reach out to a venue or some kind of space. Maybe you know someone that works at a bar that has a stage and is looking for extra revenue on a Monday or Tuesday night? Maybe you can talk to a space that usually has drag shows and see if they have openings on Wednesday or Thursday night that you could put on a show at their space.

The best places to look are going to be bars that aren’t the busiest. The ones that host trivia or karaoke. Because then you know they are open to outside performers or finding ways to draw in extra revenue.

Or find a friend with a big open basement or some abandoned warehouse (our show was performed in a dead part of town at a coffeehouse that barely did any business. It shut down on us, so we had to move. But, then we talked the owner of the building into letting us do our final show there on December 21st. Basically we squatted. haha. It was awesome and we packed the place each show — we were the only sketch show in town, afterall.)

If you have trouble finding a space, get creative. Perform in someone’s big living room. Get a 2 AM show together somewhere. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. The point is getting on stage and gaining that experience… and having fun doing so.

While you find a space, write together. Go to sketch shows together and talk with your group about what you guys liked, didn’t like and what you want to steal (and by steal I mean concepts or ideas, not material. Read Austin Kleon if you have an objection to “stealing.”). Learn what makes each other laugh. Write to your strengths and just do the work.

Also — I know there are tons of people in Chicago doing sketch (they have the largest Sketch Festival in the country going on right now). You probably have someone that you’ve taken a class with or go/went to school with that’s done it before or is super into it. Reach out. Ask for advice from them or even if they’d want to join/teach you guys some stuff.

I’m also down for traveling and workshops — if that’s something you’re interested in. I go to Chicago about 6 times a year for shows and because my girlfriends’ parents live an hour away in Indiana.

The possibilities are definitely there for you!

Thanks again for reaching out — I hope this info was useful!

Best,

Jason

Sketchpad Comedy

PS — oh, also, don’t stop doing all those other things — they will help your live shows and vice versa. Keep up the work man!

*This article originated as an email. It was adapted for public posting purposes. All permissions were given.

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