Monday, June 9, 2014

Elysium and political science fiction, part 1: All about sketch comedy and political points!

In Austin a few weeks ago, I saw this hilarious New York-based sketch comedy duo named Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting. Their first sketch involved these two men teaching bird-watching and bird-calls, before their teaching was derailed by their personal issues, mostly around women.

When I was at Second City, my first sketch comedy teacher emphasized the idea of "point" or "point of view"--you don't just throw random things into a sketch; you organize the sketch around some central premise or idea. Coming from grad school, where I taught expository and argumentative writing (where every paper wasn't just "here's some ideas I had" but organized around some central point), I immediately latched on to that idea--and twisted it, so that each sketch had to have some argument.

So I wrote a sketch where two rich people try to convince a poor person that it's okay to eat endangered species, which ended with the idea that they were really stuffing him up to eat him later. Point: the rich want to eat you. I also wrote a hi-larious sketch where some lipstick executives wondered how to make more money, including some tasteless projects (marketing to older women for their funeral lipstick needs), and devolving into violence--lipstick specially marketed to stalkers to write on bathroom mirrors (as happens in all the stalker movies). The last line of the sketch was one executive turning to the other and literally saying "I'd kill you all for a buck."

Don't get me wrong: I still love those sketches and there are still parts of those sketches that make me laugh. And don't get me wrong (again): I don't mind really political comedy.

But let's not fool ourselves about the difference: when Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting makes a sketch about men who are obsessed with women and sex, they start out with bird calls (for mating?), and they never really have someone state the point of the sketch. (For some of their sketches, I'm not sure I could even articulate the point. When they sing Little Shop of Horrors's "Suddenly Seymour" as "Suddenly Lemur," with one of them wearing a ridiculous lemur costume and shoving food into her face, there's not a lot to analyze--but they had so much electricity and chemistry that I nearly cried laughing.) By contrast, when I was writing my sketches, I would start with the point and have someone say it. Maybe in another draft I'd cool that down a little, make that point only hinted at rather than said baldly.

Which brings us to Elysium--which I'll talk about next time!

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