5 Tips For Better Sketch Comedy Writing

Comedy is hard. Comedy writing is even harder. But, over the past year, STL SketchPAD has learned a few tricks that help us create new sketch comedy each month. Here are 5 Tips for Better Sketch Comedy Writing:

5 – Start with 2 Characters  & 1 Game

Sketch comedy comes in many forms. Usually, when people are starting out they want to include every fun idea or joke they’ve ever thought of. They want to include people they’ve met in real life. The problem becomes pretty clear, pretty quickly; the sketch ends up too long and the point of it all is unclear.

Start your sketch writing with 2 characters. It’s much easier to control. It’s also more interesting. You should only have as many characters in a sketch as you absolutely need. Got a part with just a line or two? Consider cutting the character all together. Otherwise, that one or two lines better be killer and better add to the sketch.

The game of the scene is the same as the fun of the scene. Whatever the FUN is – you only need one. If you have multiple things that are fun, it’s really easy to lose track, especially for the audience. If you’re not sure what the game or the fun is, then look for where the first laugh point happens. That’s probably a pretty good sign. Think of Key And Peele’s sketch “Biiiitch.” What if they only said that once and then went on to do other things throughout the rest of the sketch. Would it have been as good? Definitely not. That was THE GAME of that scene. They played it to the max, even ending up in space. Play your scene to the point where it’s almost annoying. End up in space. The audience will appreciate it so much more.

4 – Work within Your Environment

Too many talking head sketches exist in this world. Actors who just stay in one spot the entire time get REAL boring REAL fast. Have em move around. Explore the environment. If I’m in a doctor’s office (in real life), you better believe I’m playing with tongue depressors, looking at the ear flashlight things, even spinning around in her rolling chair. Physical comedy is timeless even if things don’t necessarily make sense, it’s still always better to have it than not. Watch this video of Kate McKinnon (SNL) from the Big Gay Sketch Show for an awesome example of physical comedy.

Also, our friends over at Im Making This All Up, just made a nice blog post about this very thing, but in improv. It’s a real problem people. Stop it.

3 – Process – WTF Does it Even Mean?

This word has haunted me for years. I read in books how “Process is everything” but then none of them ever explained WTF process meant. Unfortunately, neither can I. But, I have learned that process is different for everyone. For me, my process is to keep notes on my phone for ideas (sketches, jokes, even just weird things that I find interesting), then I look back at those ideas (usually in the morning with a cup of coffee), and pick one to write about. I prefer to hand write most first drafts, but your process could be straight to a computer. Whichever way you like to write (with quiet, with music, with coffee, with whiskey, etc) and the setting in which you are most productive – THAT is your process. Your job then, is to simply put yourself in that position as much as you possibly can. Because that means you’ll maximize the amount of work you get done.

Process leads to work. If you have no process, chances are you aren’t getting work done.

Take a moment to think about the setting that allows you to get the most creative work done.

2 – End your sketch how you want it to end

Ending sketches can be hard. Do you have everyone die? (Please don’t) Do you have someone pull a gun and the police show up? (YAAAWWWNNNN) Do you flip the game on its head for a moment, then flip it back? (Hey! Now we’re talking!)

There are MANY ways to end a sketch. I don’t think any one way is better than the other. There are however, lots of ways that are PLAYED OUT. Can you tell which ones listed above we see the most? Yeah. Stop killing people to end sketches. There are better ways. Get creative. Think outside the box. Think to yourself “This is the only time I’m ever going to perform this sketch – how do I WANT it to end?” Then end it that way. It’s your sketch. Just like it’s your life. YOEASO (You Only End A Sketch Once).

1 – Give Yourself a Deadline

STL SketchPAD writers have one month, actually less than a month, to get their sketches the way they want them. This isn’t an accident. It’s a perfect amount of time to put pressure on them, while not so quick a turnaround that they are yanking their hair out. We are firm believers in Parkinson’s Law (Click here if you think that’s the Michael J. Fox affliction, cuz it’s not). If you don’t give yourself a deadline, you’re never going to get it done. We know this. This is why we ask writers to commit for the entire month. We can also tell each week, who is actually working on their sketch or not.

It doesn’t have to be a show, but it helps if it is. Maybe you have a writing partner that you can commit to and ask to hold you accountable. Maybe you want to have a productive weekend. Hell, send it to me if you want. I’ll give you notes. Even if you don’t want to be on a SketchPAD show. I’ve done it many times before. I love it. Email me. Let’s chit chat.

So, there are 5 tips for writing better sketch comedy. Hopefully, these will help you write better sketches. Maybe these tips are useless for you. I don’t know. I’d love to hear about it though.

Got a tip for writing better sketch comedy that I didn’t include? Let me know!

We want to make sure this stuff is useful, otherwise we’re just wasting our fingertip muscles.

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