All About Sketch Shows
All About Sketch Shows
Robert Morton (Current E.P. of Mind of Mencia) gives expert video advice on: What is a 'sketch show'?; What are the origins of sketch comedy?; How did Saturday Night Live change TV sketch comedy? and more...
What is a 'sketch show'?
A sketch show is a show that's driven by written sketch material. Not talk, not stand-up, and not any other kind of comedy. They're usually written from top to bottom, and pretty tough to do. Most of them have ensemble casts, like “Saturday Night Live”. There's usually a core cast that they work in guest stars. But it's very difficult to do sketch.
What are the origins of sketch comedy?
Sketch comedy goes back to vaudeville and stage. And then I think when radio came about, they very conveniently swayed to radio, and radio became about doing audio versions of these kinds of sketches that they were doing. And then I think the earliest forms of television they took Jack Benny, who had been doing this type of show on radio for so long, and said basically now we're going to add the visual and you're going to be doing a show with the same characters. So I think everything came out of stage, I think the earliest forms of sketch, be it, the Milton Berles, the Sid Caesars, they were all comedic obviously. It was interesting because those shows had strong comedic hosts, whereas with Saturday Night Live, it's a rotating host. So they had a very specific point of view on those shows. There were Milton Berle types of sketches, there were Sid Caesar type of sketches, there were Ernie Kovac's types of sketches. So, you know, they did have points of view.
How did Saturday Night Live change TV sketch comedy?
It obviously broadened the scope of topics that you could do comedy about. There was a time when it was about domestic comedy. It was about your kids, it was about your wife, and it was about the jobs. We could talk about politics. We're allowed to blast the president, we're allowed to do sketches about that. We're allowed to do sketches about drugs, about sex, about this, about that. I think these people took the frame of reference to new heights. Saturday Night Live was able to do it on a mass distributed basis and it was really impressive.
Why has Saturday Night Live remained such an enduring show?
Its writers and talent, and I think Lorne Michaels has the ability to spot great talent behind the camera and in front of the camera. And once they spot them, he knows how to work with them and put together styles of people, and trains these people and they become consumate pros, it's the big time. It's the big time. But the constants are Lorne and the core people on that show.
Why is live music a part of so many sketch shows?
Music creates a pace. Music creates an energy. Music creates an image. Most of these shows are defined by the type of music they play. You want to appeal to a young audience, you want to appeal to a specific audience, so you make the music on that show the type of music that the audience you're shooting for identifies with. It's important, and it also creates an energy. I hate recorded music on shows, even though you have to do it. I love having a live band. I love hearing it right there. There's something very, very exciting about having a band in a studio.
How has YouTube affected sketch comedy shows?
I think YouTube is brilliant. I think the next generation of everything is going to be coming off of YouTube. The next generation of actors, writers, directors, producers, network programmers, I mean it's all going to come from that. It's a wonderful, wonderful breeding ground, and when I was coming up in the business, local television was the breeding ground where you can make your mistakes. You need a place, everybody needs that place, and with the comedy world, young comics make their mistakes on the stage, or the improve, or the comedy store, or the laugh factory. That's where they're allowed to make mistakes. YouTube is a place where you can goof up, you can do something silly, you can have it not taken that seriously.
What are the most influencial sketch shows?
I guess Saturday Night Live. It's the granddaddy of them all for this generation. I used to love SCTV. I thought their cast was brilliant and the characters they created were, bar none, the best. I love Ali G, not that that's sketch, per se. But I love what he does with characters. Sasha Cohen, not necessarily Ali G. Chapelle Show - there you go. It's funny, you don't even think of that as a sketch show, but it was. He was such a strong driving force of that show that you don't even think about it as other members. Because it was really an ensemble - there was Charlie Murphy and others, but it was his show.