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Writing tips

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Two easy ways to write punchlines (Adam)
There are two stock ways to get a punchline: an escalation and a reversal

In an escalation, you take the joke of the sketch a step further. For example, in this unfunny, but relevant Skithouse sketch, the joke is that a parking inspector loves her job despite being verbally abused. The punchline is that the verbal abuse goes a step further and escalates into physical abuse (pot-plant being thrown at her), and she still laughs it off.

In a reversal, you end the sketch by taking the central joke by flipping it on its head. For example, in this Mitchell and Webb Look sketch, the central joke is that Mitchell actually is a brain surgeon, and trumps everyone else's jobs with that. The reversal is that Webb comes in as a rocket scientist and then Mitchell finds himself being trumped by this new, similarly-impressive job.

There are many other forms punchlines can take, but these two are a good easy place to start. 

A Third Kind of Punchline (Sarah)

If the drop of the sketch is also the punchline (see below if that makes no sense), then it's a reveal.

A reveal works best if the audience is genuinely in the dark about what's going on before you enlighten them.  If they've already guessed, then it just comes across as insulting their intelligence.  A lot of 'Have you heard the one about x?' jokes are like this, where x makes no sense until the final line is delivered.  In sketches, it's probably a good idea for the introduction not be too long or audiences will get restless waiting for the joke.

Song considerations (Adam)
Here's a few things to consider when writing a song parody:

  1. Is the original well-known? The audience will get into it more if they know the original.
  2. Is the chorus parodied well? This is the most important part. You need a good rhyme for the chorus!
  3. Does the parody escalate? You might have a really funny idea for a parody, but unless the idea keeps evolving throughout the song, it might get boring. Songs go for three minutes or so, and if you can't keep slightly tweaking the lyrics and ideas, it might get predictable and the joke might wear thin. This, for me, is the key thing that separates the dozens of pretty good songs from the three or four excellent ones that make it into the show.
  4. Scansion: can you sing it along to the regular song? The more easily you can sing the parody lyrics to the regular ones, the better the parody will be. The closer it matches the original, the more the audience will like it.

Building a sketch (Bridie and James from Camp)

The Premise

  • Characters should have depth!
  • They should react emotionally to something. E.g. if a character sees their grandmother die on stage, they shouldn't go "Oh, grandma's dead." They should either start crying or get angry or fist-pump and say "hell yeah!" Emotional reactions are an easy way to make characters much stronger. 
  • Use shouting/crying/swearing sparingly. They're more powerful the less they're used.
  • The straight-man is important. Having a normal character gives the audience someone to sympathise with. If someone explains something to the normal character, it's like they're explaining it to the audience. (e.g. Ariadne from Inception)

The Drop
  • This is when the audience gets the key idea.
  • It's how the audience figures out what the sketch is essentially about
  • E.g. in the Dead Parrot Sketch, the drop is when the shopkeeper replies to "This parrot is dead!" with "no it's not." At that point the audience knows this sketch is about a shopkeeper denying the obvious death of the parrot.
  • The drop doesn't have to be the punchline! It can come before the punchline, like in the dead parrot sketch.
  • Don't hammer it home. Once you've established the drop, the audience gets the joke. Don't repeat the drop again and again, it'll get boring. Instead, escalate and take the joke further and play around with it.
  • Sometimes the drop takes place over a few lines. For example, in our Evil Etymologists, some audience members will get the joke at "or maybe it was", while other audience members will only get it on "Yes. I've been doing it on purpose." This is nice if done well, because the audience feels smart when they get it before the characters, and will feel really good when they're proven correct after the characters catch up with them. But if done wrong it can just be annoying.

  • An ending should leave the audience on a high note.
  • More importantly, the ending should resolve the premise of the sketch. So, if the premise is "mugger tries to rob someone of love at gunpoint" then the sketch needs to end with the mugging resolved - maybe the mugger dies, or maybe the couple really fall in love, or the victim gets away. But you can't end a sketch while the mugging is still happening! The audience will want to know how it ends.
  • This is why you shouldn't end a sketch on a pun - it might get a laugh, but even if people like the pun, it doesn't help resolve the situation!