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Notes on Sketch Writing

Types of Sketches

Fish out of water-
a character is out of place in the sketch, the other characters may or may not treat this as odd. eg. a centaur going for an interview as a doctor or Genghis Khan as a lawyer.

List- a pretty simple sketch, it basically just lists out all the jokes that could be made about something, common formats are the newsreader or politician.  So, it could be a bunch of punny headlines or something like that.

Monologue- can often be rather like the list, but it doesn't have to be, other than that there is just one character delivering a spiel.

Switcheroo- a sketch where there is an absurd substitution, eg taking salt rather than water into the desert, the humour comes from the resulting argument and defence for taking along the salt.

Behaviour Switcheroo- a sketch where the behaviour is out of place, eg a mugger gives the person that they're "mugging" money instead of taking it.

Escalation- a sketch that starts off pretty straight but small things are added over time until it builds up to chaos.  The main joke is built on each time, expanding it.

Language Sketch- a sketch that uses (but is not limited to) the following language devices for humour: puns, sounds of words, mispronunciation, foreign people reading words wrong.

Crazy Guy/Straight Guy (or as we like to call it the "Two Gamers on a Couch Sketch")- usually a two person sketch where one person is nuts and the other one acts normal.  See Ctrl+Alt+Del ( for a webcomic that has been based around this concept for way too many years.  That said, there is nothing wrong with the format, it just shouldn't be overused.

Personification- an animal or an object is treated as though it is a person, it's normally played straight, with the rest of the characters accepting that it's normal.

Parody- a sketch which seeks to make fun of a particular style of entertainment by taking it's format and exaggerating it or other methods.

Character Sketch- a sketch where one character is key, they could be recurring, the character really needs to be fleshed out.

There are of course many other sketches besides these types, and there is no reason why a sketch needs to fit into a category, it just needs to be funny.

Generating Sketch Ideas
- Some ideas sneak up on you, these are often the best
- Be observant, watch people, the human race is comedy gold on lots of levels
- Carry a notebook with you, a small one that you can preferably slip into a pocket, buy a nice one so you want to carry it with you, and you don't lose it.  When you come up with even the most unusual idea write it down straight away.  As soon as you think of it.  Don't leave it or you will forget it, without fail.
- There are no bad ideas, good things come about when you try and make a bad idea work
- Give everything a go, you don't know what the sketch will come out like if you don't take a stab at writing it
- Be original, people can tell if you've just ripped a character from somewhere else
- Don't try and write a sketch around a punchline, you get heaps of chaff before you reach the one grain.  Here at Science Revue we aspire to not be like Law Revue... or Commerce... or Med...

- beat: used to represent a slight pause in the action of the sketch
- button: the way a sketch is ended, it almost always ends with a punchline, but a button encompasses the things around the punchline, such as the lighting queues.
- CROW: an acronym, representing "characters, relationships, objectives and whereabouts", this is discussed in further detail below.
- gag: a joke that can refer to something outside the world of the sketch, could be something in current events, or some sort of blatant in-joke.
- punchline: a funny joke that comes out of nowhere, by definition, it has to be unexpected, if the audience can see it coming, it's not a punchline.
- played for truth: means that when something absurd happens in a sketch, the characters treat it as totally normal.
- skitch: a word native to this revue only.  It is a performance of the sketch, song, dance or voice over variety, it was invented through an inability to enunciate, and to save time
. It's a portmanteau "skit" and "sketch".

Writing Sketches
- there are no absolute rules, but there are a few good things to keep in mind.
- the CROW method is fairly effective.  The letters stand for "characters, relationships, objectives and whereabouts".  "Characters" means that the characters should be made very obvious, as soon as possible, be they an evil cat, a witch or a sausage.  "Relationships" refers to how the characters react to each other, they could be family members, friends or foodie and a condiment.  "Objective" refers to defining what it is that each of the characters in the sketch is aiming for, they could be looking for the matching sock, or digging a ditch.  "Whereabouts" refers to establishing the world that the characters find themselves in, it could be anywhere, and I'm sick of coming up with examples.  In a nutshell, at least two of the four details mentioned in CROW should be established in the first couple of lines.  In and of itself, that's not too hard a thing to do, so it's less a way of being certain that the sketch is any good than it is of making sure it doesn't go totally off the rails.  The basic idea is to give the audience something to cling onto so they can understand the ensuing comedy.
- Gags are generally not the preferable way to go about making a sketch funny.  They often come across as too wordy, because they really need to be explained, and they can break the flow of the sketch.  They don't go over all that well with audiences because they can tell that they've been put in there purely because they're a joke.  It is far more preferable to have something in there that drives the sketch forward, rather than segueing into the Land of Random.
- Actors can get through about one page of sketch a minute.  Audiences don't have great attention spans, at all.  As such, if a sketch goes beyond two pages, it has to be brilliant.  If you make it past the two page mark odds are that you can go back and cut stuff out.


- First drafts can *always* be made funnier.
- Make sure you know what the central joke is as you edit, it's also important that you know this when you try and pitch your sketch as people may not initially see what's funny about it.
- Rewrite sketches taking just the jokes that you've got in the sketch so far, sketches can often be greatly improved by putting them in different settings or changing characters around.
- One particularly brutal method is to print out the sketch and highlight only the parts which are jokes.  It really starkly shows how much funny the sketch has.
- If a sketch can be made shorter, and the same number of jokes kept, make it shorter.  Every time.
- Once you've written a sketch, and edited it to the point that you are happy with it, send it to someone who knows nothing about it and get them to critique and edit it.

Success Rate
- The odds that any one sketch will wind up working are really low, no matter your level of experience.
- That said, the pitch of a sketch can be vital to its success, if you know how a sketch should be performed to make it funny then it is advisable that you perform it with other people who also understand how the characters should be played, for the purpose of the pitch.  Often humour can come from the way the sketch is delivered and it will invariably be delivered better by people who have spent some time around it, or had it explained to them in advance.
- If lots of people don't find your sketch funny, despite explaining it to them, it's unlikely your audience will find it funny either.  There is nothing wrong with that, you can either give it another punt or you can...
- ...Let it go.  If you've been working on a sketch for a while, and you haven't gotten anywhere, dump it.  If you keep working on a sketch, and it's just not going anywhere, you're only going to wind up pissing yourself off.  Leave the sketch and work on a different idea.  You might come up with a better way of tackling the original sketch weeks, months or even years down the track.