If you’ve ever watched a painfully bad sketch on SNL, you know that writing good sketches isn’t easy. While there’s no perfect formula for a funny sketch, there are a lot of important elements to consider when trying to write something that will actually make people laugh.
This week, I asked Sam Bowers, director of Improv Nerd, and Griffin Griggs to share their advice on what makes a truly great sketch.
Bowers and Griggs produced the first-ever 24-Hour Sketch Comedy Competition in May of this year, and they’re now gearing up for the second 24HSCC, happening Aug. 26 at Judy’s Beat Lounge at Second City (submissions are due Aug. 17 if you’re interested!).
Here are their thoughts on why the winners, a group called Taco Tuesdays, really stood out.
By Sam Bowers and Griffin Griggs
Taco Tuesdays swept both the judge and audience prize for “best sketch,” taking home bragging rights and over $200 in cash prizes in the first 24HSCC. Their sketch, “Rivetting Rosies,” was about four factory-working American women who were building a B-52 bomber in 1945 of the eve of the men returning from war in Europe. The women grapple with the reality of returning to mundane lives as housewives or sticking with their newfound scientific careers. (Read the complete script for the sketch here).
Here’s what we thought made this sketch work, and tips you can use in writing your own sketches:
- Create A Solid Relationship
Who are these people to one another, why are we seeing them today of all days, and what is at stake in this interaction? “Coworkers” isn’t enough. However, if you’re all female coworkers on the last day of World War II working in a military factory, that’s as loaded a relationship as any. It makes the audience ask questions once the given circumstances are revealed. We want drama, even though the goal is laughter in the end.
- Have a POV
Taco Tuesdays had a powerful point of view. They didn’t do a scene about a silly general with a floppy hat. Instead, the team showed us what World War II meant through their lens. They educated the audience about the female experience and said something with their scene while also having the strongest jokes of the night.
- Surprise Us
From the absurdity of Monty Python to the seamless flow of Mr. Show, a lot of sketch premises and devices have been “done.” As time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to be original, which is why it’s so refreshing when somebody is. Taco Tuesdays blew the judges away with an original take on the suggestion of “World War II” by setting the scene in America, rather than the battlefield.
- No Talking Heads
No one wants to see two people standing across from each other quipping and yelling for five minutes. We want action, movement, and an environment to believe in. Remember, in sketch you have anything and everything at your disposal. If you say you’re building a B-52 bomber in front of you, the audience will believe you as long as you commit to creating your environment. A handful of wrenches and bandanas don’t hurt either.
- Find A Way Out
Find an out, also known as a “button.” It’s so important for things to end on a high note with a line or action that will leave the audience laughing and supporting what they just saw. Don’t randomly blackout the scene, or slow fade unless it’s for a purpose. Rambling is unnecessary, and often annoying. It’s just not what people are here for. It’s like the ending to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Why did we need ten endings? How come we couldn’t just end with Frodo and Sam there on the boulder, knowing they had completed their task and saved Middle Earth from the demon of Morgath, Sauron? But demon is a bit of an exaggeration of what he actually was. To dive deep into the Tolkien’s world of what we call heaven and hell — oh. We’re at 550 words. Okay. That’s all. Thanks. (You get our point).