The Creative Spark! – Comedy Sketch Group-Work

Does group-work make you book a brain scan? Well, make a group comedy sketch instead. Joe Topylin and I will show the way.

Why waste your time on comedy? First, It’s fun. Second, It’s fun. And if fun isn’t enough, then how about a snickering prof? One teetering to plus-sign your A?

So, instead of humdrum group work, ask your prof if you can make a comedy sketch. As a disclaimer, make sure you’ve got the buy-in from your prof? and your group? before you take the plunge.

Toplyn’s comedy sketch how-to’s are specific to late night comedy shows.

In the comedy sketch below, we will pretend that you need to do a group presentation on the topic of metaphors. One person in your group will serve as the “host” (i.e., your group presenter); another person in your group will serve as the “audience interrupter” (someone staged as an audience member).

Here’s my amateur stab at a comedy sketch skeleton followed by Joe Topylin’s instructions on how to make one.

[Group Presenter is reading from cue cards]

Group Presenter: Let’s learn how to write metaphors… metaphors about every student’s favorite thing: exams. First, an adjective-noun metaphor…

[Staged Audience Member, wearing a Michael Jackson t-shirt stands up]

Staged Audience Member: Metaphors? I’m an expert.

Group Presenter: [ignoring Staged Audience Member] As I was saying, an adjective?noun metaphor combine to create friction as in “the annoyed exam.”

Staged Audience Member: Here’s a better one. [singing to the rhythm of Michael Jackson’s I’m Bad] I’m bad. I’m bad. Long neck. Big eyes.

Group Presenter: That’s not an adjective?noun metaphor; That’s Michael Jackson cheating. You might like the adjective?noun metaphor: “image-enhancing exams”? the dropout’s dream. [addressing audience again] Show unexpected tension in your noun?adjective combos. As for verb?noun metaphors, you want the action and the thing to also clash…

Staged Audience Member: How about this? [singing to the rhythm of Michael Jackson’s Beat It] It doesn’t matter if I’m wrong or right. Just cheat it. Ooh!

Group Presenter: Not a metaphor. But you’ve got a billion metaphorical reasons to cheat. Verb?noun metaphors should be from two different families… as in “During exam prep, I snored facts.”

[Staged Audience Member does a Michael Jackson leg kick while squealing “ooh!” and knocks out Group Presenter’s cue cards. Staged Audience Member picks them up].

Staged Audience Member: [reading from cue card as Group Presenter snatches them back.] An i-den-ti-ty metaphor is… is…

Group Presenter: You read my card.

Staged Audience Member. Maybe.

Group Presenter: Pathetic.

Staged Audience Member: Here’s an identity metaphor.

[Staged Audience Member starts to act and groan like a zombie]

Staged Audience Member: [singing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller] “Cause this is thriller, thriller night. There ain’t no second chance against the thing with forty eyes.”

[Staged Audience Member bites Group Presenter’s neck while snatching the cue cards, reading them. Group Presenter grabs back his cue cards.]

Group Presenter: Enough! [touches his neck, fixes his hair and wipes his shoulders]

Staged Audience Member: But I know what an identity metaphor is…

Group Presenter: You really don’t.

Staged Audience Member: Can I see your card again?

Group Presenter: Sit down.

[Staged Audience Member sits down.]

Group Presenter: As I was saying, identity metaphors come in three forms. You could say “A nincompoop is a pop quiz.” “A pop quiz’s nincompoop .” Or “a pop quiz of a nincompoop.” Now, let’s turn to similes.

[Guy with Psycho Three shirt and an axe stands up]

Audience Psycho: Similes? I’m an expert!

[End of skit.]

So, That’s our sample comedy sketch. Now, I’m not seasoned at sketches, but with 9,999 more hours of practice, I could write for Saturday Night Live.

You could, too.

So, how do you make a comedy sketch?

Professional joke-writer Joe Toplyn shows us how in his book Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV (with Joe’s stuff in bold):

Step 1: Give three exaggerated qualities to your comedy character. Staged Audience Member is a know-it-all who knows nothing. He chronically cheats. Lastly, he’s addicted to Michael Jackson.

Step 2: Give your comedic character a desire. Staged Audience Member wants to prove his expertise with metaphors.

Step 3: Make the presenter oppose your comedic character. Group Presenter is constantly exposing Staged Audience Member’s cheating or misinformed attempts at metaphors.

Step 4: Make your comedic character do wilder and wilder things to get his way-and do something extreme. First, Staged Audience Meber first cites Michael Jackson songs for examples of metaphors. Next, realizing he doesn’t know what a metaphor is, he tries to cheat?with a Michael Jackson dance kick to get hold of the cue cards. Unsuccessful, his cheating gets wilder; lastly, he acts like a Thriller zombie, biting the presenter’s neck while snatching the cue cards a second-time.

Step 5: Up the stakes. I failed to up the stakes for the comedic character. He doesn’t have more to lose. No-one pulls a gun. No-one posts his antics on YouTube. A vampire doesn’t drag him off into a fraternity-of-the-dead.

Step 6: Have your comedic character get or fail to get the desire. Staged Audience Member fails to prove an expertise with metaphors.

Step 7: End with a Twist. I did this by implying the whole scene would repeat itself with Audience Psycho. You can also do the same type of jokes, but from different angles, says Toplyn. Or, you could have the comedic character attack the presenter personally. Have the presenter get revenge in a similar style.

Step 8: Tighten the dialogue. Joe says do the following: Put punchy words at the end. End with stop sound words: ones with d, t, p, b, k, or g. Shorten your sentences. Make every line advance or oppose your comedic character’s goal.

But when making a comedy sketch for class, you’ll want more educational stuff. So make the presenter sound like a gripping windbag: draw out his lines. Each teeming with aha ideas. But keep the Staged Audience Member and Audience Psycho lines short and funny.

Like a Danny Devito. Or Bozo’s nose. Or your professor’s comments on your comedy sketch. But most of all, make it fun.

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