Sketch Comedy Radio/Live/Filmed

I saw this sketch the other day, it’s by a sketch troop called Wittank.

Its a well filmed sketch, that I admittedly laughed out loud at even though I had seen the sketch before in a slightly different form.

The first half of the video below is the same sketch group performing in the BBC tent at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Its funny, seeing the two videos next to each other. Each have their own merits. The live one gives the performers space to play around and bounce off the audience.

The recorded sketch has the great sets which helps with the setting and the staging of the scene helps convey the flashback nature better. But the live video strangely feels like its missing a punchline where as the filmed sketch feels like it draws to a logical conclusion. Strange isn’t it? Its the same end in both.

The next video is from Mitchell and Webb’s radio series. Its a very simple duologue about being at a party with James Bond.

And this is the same sketch, shortened and filmed for their TV series.

This sketch is about two people talking. By that I mean; the location in which it’s set has no relevance to the dialogue. They could be at work, or driving home in a car and the sketch would have been the same. In the audio version there isn’t even any backing sounds, so in theory your minds eye can place the characters anywhere you like. I think that’s why the audio version works better for me on this occasion.

Lets look at another one.

This is Peter Cooks wonderful “One Leg Too Few” sketch which he originally wrote for Kenneth Williams (and appears in audio form on Williams album “The World of Kenneth Williams”).



Filmed (Hound of the Baskervilles):

It seems to work just as well in each format if you ask me. The audio of Dudleys jumping congers an image witch is actually just as funny when its visualised. 

But I guess my point is that some sketches work better in different mediums. Its not a ground breaking theory, but sometimes these things still need to be pointed out.

So if you’ve written a sketch and find its not working, it might not be what you’ve written, but what you’ve written it for. Or it could just be rubbish. Its so hard to tell what’s junk or not until the audience see/hears it. But that’s a blog for another time.

I am going to leave you one a clip by a some of my favorite live sketch performers, “Pappy’s” (formally Pappy’s Fun Club). They have had two pilots on Channel 4 but never really found the TV vehicle for them. Which is a shame as they are one of the best live acts around. Do go see them.


Is Sketch Comedy Dead?

The last “big” sketch show on TV was Little Britain, which ended in 2006 if you don’t count Little Britain USA. Now you can say what you like about Little Britain but you can’t deny it was popular, there was a time when it seemed to be everywhere, not only was it on three TV channels at once it was also on Birthday cards, toys and t-shirts everywhere you looked. Personally I felt it relied to heavily on reoccurring characters, and because Little Britain’s characters never really change either emotionally or location, they pretty much end up with the same sketch every week, often resorting to catchphrases as an out to the scene.

Now, I love a good catchphrase. Don’t get me wrong. When done well it can be very, very funny. Al Murray’s “I was never confused” for example gets me every time, as it’s not over used and often comes when your not expecting it.

So much of comedy it about subversion of expectation, its about the surprise of the comedic twist and wrong footing the audience. So if your waiting for your character to say the thing he always says then you’ve lost the surprise in the sketch.

So why do they make sketch shows like this? Well, I’d say it was mostly to do with the budget. It is much easier to write seven sketches set in a single location  and film them all in one day then it is to write seven sketches, with seven different and unique comedic conceits, then finding seven different locations which suit both the sketch and the budget and then filming them all, in a day.

David Mitchell and Robert Webb are great duo. They work so well together as they are physically so different yet clearly are very good friends. The channel 4 sitcom Peep Show utilised their comedic personas perfectly and has rewarded with them nine series and counting. So why didn’t their sketch show catch the world on fire?

They had some wonderful and very clever sketches. The above sketch stands out in my mind. But the duo seem to shine brightest as performers, not as writers. While Little Britain had a tight brief to work to; “Sketches about the people of Britain” Mitchell and Webbs targets seem too wide open for them. So you ended up with;  “BMX Bandit and Angel Summoner” or “The Boy With A Bum For a Face” or one very long sketch about a robot not being able to smell the difference between cheese and petrol.

Which on paper sounds fantastic and diverse, but if we look back on the best loved sketch shows they tend to have a theme; Monkey Dust had very dark topics and set in an animated world, The Fast Show was known for the speed it went through its sketches and Monty Python was a stream of consciousness that knocked on from one sketch to the next.

Working with these sorts of boundaries can be limiting but also it can help create interesting ideas and situations. The first series of Little Britain, despite my complaining, came up with a series of characters that British audiences had not seen parodied before. People soon keyed into that and, as a result, their show went from BBC Radio 4 to BBC Three to BBC 2 to primetime BBC 1 and then the spin off series played on HBO in America.

Channel 4 had a short lived sketch show called “Blunder”. Which you, like most people, probably haven’t seen. On the most part it consisted of some rather crude sketches performed in front of a live audience.

Blunder wasn’t as terrible as some reviewers would have you believe. Yes, there where a lot misses in the six episode run, but there where a couple of good hits in there too. The problem on this occasion, unlike with Lucas & Walliams or Mitchell & Webb, the cast had clearly been assembled like a super band, taking one person from a funny show and another person from another, in hope that collectively they will make the ultimate sketch show. But what they ended up with was in fact a bit of a mess.

The show pulls in many directions at once as each performer is trying to service their own needs. There are a few hits in the show, like the Barron, but no one ever really gets a chance to shine.

Its not all bad though. We’ve had some great sketch shows in the past; Monty Python, Pete and Dud, Armstrong and Miller, Monkey Dust, Fast Show, League of Gentlemen, Big train, Sorry I’ve got no head, Saturday Live, Not The Nine O’Clock News, Jam, Harry Enfield and Chums, Fist of Fun… The list can and most probably will go on.

So what is next for sketch comedy? That’s the best thing; I don’t know. There are some great up and coming live sketch acts like; Pappy’s. There are great sketch shows for children like Horrible Histories. There some brilliant comedians on the radio like John Finnemore and there are people like Brian Limmond who put fantastic stuff on the internet too. So there is new stuff coming from everywhere.

So is sketch comedy dead?