All The Wisdom I Can Assemble: Here’s what I learned from being in a sketch comedy group. PT3

Photo by Steve Rogers

Photo by Steve Rogers

By Mac Blake

STAGECRAFT OR NOW THAT YOU HAVE A SHOW

9. DEATH TO FALSE TRANSITIONS

If you're putting up an entire show, then you probably know to keep stage picture in mind, keep props and costumes to a minimum, be downstage as much as possible, project your voices, and keep transition times tight.

NO WAIT FUCK THAT LAST PART. Eliminate false transitions. Nobody wants to sit in the dark and listen to your playlist. It’s not entertainment, it’s just stalling. Stagger your cast, record an audio sketch to play over the PA while you get ready, show sketch videos, project thematically appropriate GIFs - something. Don’t waste a second of your show. Don’t make the audience wait or they’ll just start checking their phones.

Here’s a video with material STAG used as a transition while we were changing back stage. It’s not the greatest thing ever, but it’s better than leaving the audience in the dark and it was super simple to make.

10. BE “OFF-BOOK” AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

Every group I was in struggled with line memorization. It can be tough, especially with scripts constantly changing. Not everyone learns lines in the same way, so whatever you have to do to learn your lines do it (practicing while someone stays on book, recording your own lines and listening to them, etc). Put in the work and learn your lines. It’s only after you’re not worried about lines that you are free to discover your character's nuances - their physicality, their intonations. Also, try to run sketches at other shows before yours. You learn so much about a sketch the first time it’s in front of an audience - so why not get that out of the way before your show debuts.

11. YOU DON’T NEED FESTIVALS

Out of town comedy festivals can be super fun, and from personal experience the staff at these festivals are usually killing themselves to make sure your show goes well. Yeah, you’re probably not going to get famous by doing them, and you’re almost guaranteed to lose money, so make sure you’re getting a good vacation out of it as well. In other words, leave plenty of time to have fun, make friends, and drink local sodas.

But you don’t need festivals to do out-of-town shows. There are plenty of dedicated smaller alternative comedy theaters/venue across the country that are open to booking visiting groups. Put together a tape, look up some emails, and see what you can do.

12. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THIS STUFF

All this shit is secondary to getting better at what you do and enjoying the process. If your group isn’t funny, then all the lists in the world won’t help. Getting good at anything takes time. Keep at it. If it stops being fun, take a break. If you’re doing too much work within the group, talk about it. If it doesn’t get better, quit. If you find yourself resenting your group members or being resented then fuuuuuuck that noise. There’s compromise, and then there’s sacrificing your mental well-being. Don’t do the second one.

13. KNOW WHEN TO HANG IT UP

I loved being a part of a comedy team. Going on the road with them, staying up the night before a show editing videos, having to pause mid-dialogue because the laughter just won’t die down - I loved it.

We also had our down moments. There were times I put the fictional comedic ideal over being courteous. There were awkward shows with drunk audiences or people who just were not into us at all. But when everything clicked, it was like flying. And watching your friends crush it on stage was like being in a locker room after a Super Bowl win. There were small private moments that will always stick with me, like our group’s pre-show huddles or the absolutely vulgar chants we’d do to psych ourselves up.

We reached a point where it made sense to end it, and we did. One of the members of the group is now my wife. At our wedding, ⅚ of my groomsmen were other STAG Comedy members. I got lucky. Maybe your group’s full of shittheads. I hope not. Anyway, whether it’s a personal thing or group decision, it you want to do something else, do that something else. Honor your creative spirit enough to follow it. 

INTERESTED IN MORE?

Read Part 1 & Part 2


Mac Blake comes from the bearded streets of Austin, Texas. where he hosts the monthly comedy showcase Waterbed, and performs with the improv group Movie Riot most Fridays at ColdTowne Theater. Mac served on the Austin Sketch Fest producer team from 2012 - 2016.