Much humor can be achieved by putting a well-known historical or literary figure on stage. As examples take a look at these samples:
- The Oscar Wilde Sketch (Monty Python)
- Oscar Wilde Sketch (Kids in the Hall)
- Abe Lincoln (Whitest Kids U' Know)
- Dr. Seuss v. William Shakespeare (Epic Rap Battles of History)
- The Execution of Anne Boleyn (Horrible Histories)
Sketch Writing: (by Brian Luff)
1) Choose a setting. Avoid common set-ups like doctor's surgeries or "Man Goes Into a Shop". Think original. Only set the sketch in one location.
2) Don't make the sketch too long. Two minutes is a good length to start with. [In scripts, a page is usually equal to one minute].
3) If you're trying to sell your material to TV, don't put in anything too expensive like a helicopter. Most TV shows are on a tight budget. [This goes double for theaters]
4) Three characters is more than enough for a 2 minute sketch. Don't write for a cast of thousands. [Limit your sketch to 2-5 characters]
5) Work out loud. Say the lines as you write them. You need to hear what the material sounds like.
6) Think about what is happening visually as well as the words. Describe the physical action in detail. What are the characters wearing? What do they look like. What are their names? (Don't just call your characters FIRST MAN, SECOND MAN. It will help to bring them to life in your mind [if you give them names]).
7) Choose an historical figure and place that person in an unlikely situation or setting.
Types of Sketches
To help you get going, here's a few tried and tested comedy formats for sketches.
1) Escalation: Funny idea starts small and gets bigger and bigger, ending in chaos of ridiculous proportions.
2) Lists: Sketches in which the bulk of the dialogue is a long list of funny items. The best example of this is "Cheese Shop" in Monty Python. (You can find all the Python sketches at www.planetcomedy.force9.co.uk/bookstore.html.)
3) Mad Man, Sane Man: This format speaks for itself, but don't go for obvious settings.
4) Dangerous Situations: For example, sketch set on flight deck of aircraft.
5) Funny Words: Sketches which use the sound of language itself to be funny. For example, use of the words "blobby" or "wobble" (See, Mr. Bean).
6) Old and New: Getting a laugh from putting something modern in an historical setting (Or, vice versa) Example: Sir Walter Raleigh using a cigarette lighter.
7) Big and Small. Getting humor from large differences in scale. For example, a mouse trying to make love to an elephant.
For today's writing exercise, please get together in pairs (or you may work alone) to write a 1-2 page sketch centered around an historical figure.
HOMEWORK: Please continue reading your chosen play from the collection.