Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is that funny? (On writing a sketch revue, part 1)

Tomorrow is opening night for the sketch revue that I have been working on for the past... well, either four months or year, depending on how you want to count.

Quickly: the basic Writing Program at the Second City is four terms long (Writing 1->Writing 4) and each term is about 8 weeks. So I started last January. However, when I say "basic" I mean colors-shapes-farm animal sounds basic. We learn about character and sketch structure and a few specific formats--the blackout, the clothesline, the townhall--but it's all abstract. The writers perform (or sometimes just read) the sketches in class, with no previous read-through.

Until, that is, Writing 5 and 6, which are all about casting, rehearsing, revising, and putting on your actual show.

So, before Sarah and I moved to San Angelo, eight writers (including me) and one director spent eight weeks working on some sketches--including older sketches from our previous Writing classes. (Which is one reason why you can consider this process to be a year long.) Then we sat through an awesome day of auditions. (Seriously, there's so much talent out there, it's ridiculous that it's all free.) And then once we cast the show, we had to adjust or throw out some of our sketches, since the sketches no longer fit the cast.

Some other day I will talk about the heartbreak and heart attack of turning funny-on-paper sketches into funny-on-stage sketches; but right now, I want to talk about the difficulty of knowing whether what you're writing is funny in the first place.

You can't.

I don't mean this in the cliche of "different people have different ideas of funny" (or as I prefer to think of it, the "fart vs. Holocaust problem": sometimes farts are funny, sometimes Nazis are--and if you combine them...). We could argue about that if you want some other day, along the lines of:

Pro: There are certain comedic moves--reversals, running gags, double-entendres--that are always funny to all people throughout time.
Con: Hey, my sister was killed by a reversal!

I mean that, existentially speaking, without some audience, you cannot know whether your writing will perform as expected. This gets to one reason why I really liked the Writing Program: I smiled while writing a lot of my sketches, but I was always surprised by what got a laugh and what didn't.

I'm not sure that's what I really want to say, though. After all, after a few passes through a sketch, there were some jokes or structures that I could re-use and have some educated guess as to whether it would get a laugh.

Argh, this is going to be a series of posts! Damn.


  1. Sounds pretty interesting. I'm looking forward to hearing more about this.

  2. What parts would you like to hear about?

  3. Just go with whatever strikes you. I love reading about writers and writing. I think its amazing to take on stage and comedy since those things are (arguably) more difficult than others. Since I, myself, haven't been able to write for years I'm looking forward to reading your experiences

  4. writing program, or any program at Second City is hit or miss. it really depends on the teacher, and some instructors there stinks. They don't know how to teach the stuff.