All The Wisdom I Can Assemble: Here’s what I learned from being in a sketch comedy group. PT1

Photo by Steve Rogers

Photo by Steve Rogers

By Mac Blake

During the summer of 2009, I joined a pre-existing sketch comedy group called STAG Comedy in Austin, Texas. In 2015, that group (featuring none of its original members) performed its last live show. In those six years, I was part of two other sketch projects and also a member of the Austin Sketch Fest producer team, where I reviewed submissions from hundreds of sketch groups.

What I’m trying to get across is that I’ve seen and performed a lot of sketch comedy over the years and have gleaned some useful information. I’d like to share this sage advice with you, internet reader, so you don’t have to spend six years figuring it out on your own. Basically, If I could go back and time and give myself some sketch comedy advice, this would be it (sorry, this method of time travel only allows for comedy advice, no stock market tips).

I did not do everything I’m recommending below. In some cases, I did the opposite, and my mistakes and missteps helped shape these recommendations. However, if you’re in a fledgling sketch comedy group, or are wanting to to start one, this information might be of some use to you.

A quick disclaimer: I’m not a comedy expert or even a successful comedian. If you’re looking for advice on how to make an attractive writing packet, or on making your group attractive to agents, or whether to move to LA or New York, I can’t help ya dude. I never took a sketch class. And I’m not going to tell you how to write, that’s yours to figure out.

Here we go:

APPROACH

1. DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF

Don’t limit yourselves to some standard definition of “sketch.” There’s no universal mandate to do a stage version of SNL. Good Neighbor has some amazing situational sketches but they also posted videos where Kyle Mooney just goofed on some people. One of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen was from the now defunct Pangea 3000, and it ended with them eating BBQ and getting ridiculously messy.

Question: is this technically sketch comedy? Also: who cares?

Keep in mind that it helps to understand the basics of a sketch before you subvert them. It also helps to consume a lot of other performances, videos, plays, etc. Not limiting yourself includes not limiting your influences.

Don’t think of yourself as a sketch comedy group, but a comedy team. Yes, definitely write premise-based sketches, but also do funny interviews with people on the street, shoot a local band’s music video, do some audience participation stuff. Just do stuff.

2. DO OTHER THINGS

Let’s assume you’re funny. Great, but what else can you do? Bring another skill or knowledge base to the group. Do improv, take acting classes, learn video production and sound editing, do stand-up, etc.

3. BE ADAPTIVE

Right now in Austin, there are probably more stages/shows featuring sketches than ever before. But that number pales in comparison to stand-up open mics and showcases. If you and your sketch group can do characters or presentational material, there’s nowhere you can’t perform. Don’t limit yourself to just one kind of sketch comedy, and you can triple your stage time

4. SPLIT YOUR TIME BETWEEN LIVE AND VIDEO

Live performance is great. Like Tom Sizemore’s character says in the movie Heat, the action is the juice. Is that a perfect analogy? No, but it is a great movie. Anyway, if you’re not spending at least half your time making videos (or some form of content that can be shared online), you’re doing it wrong.

Your live show only reaches the audience in the theater, but your video can reach everybody. Don’t worry about making something perfect, just funny. Record it on your phone if you have to. Don’t let inexperience be an impediment to action. The only way to make good stuff is to MAKE STUFF. Finish your projects. And you never know what people will respond to.

Also when in doubt, the shorter the video, the better.

Our live version of this sketch was performed several times in front of maybe 500 people in total. The video version has reached hundreds of thousands


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.