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Live Sketch Comedy: How it differs from TV

May 14, 2015

 

With Chris Head's Live Sketch Show Course now running regularly, here are some great clips from live sketch shows and some thoughts on how it differs from TV sketch comedy...

 

We've all seen sketch shows on TV: The Two Ronnies, Big Train, Catherine Tate, Mitchell & Webb… These shows have costumes, sets, location shooting. In contrast live sketch comedy often operates with very minimal setting and props. One of the main challenges with live sketch is conveying the situation without all the usual visual cues of sets and costumes.

 

This is part of the challenge and also part of the creative pleasure for the performers and the audience. Have a look at this clip from brilliant low key and lo-fi sketch duo Two Episodes Of Mash. Here we see them working with no props, costume or set but we get what's going on - and it allows them to move very easily in and out of sketches. 

 

As well as making the transitions between sketches effortless, the 'no set' angle can also be used to their advantage as we can see in the second sketch in the sequence:

 

 

Here we can see some distinctive aspects of live sketch comedy:

* They are talking to the audience.

* They are doing meta stuff. (Comedy about the process of doing comedy. Sometimes found in TV sketch comedy too, especially Monty Python).

* We see 'themselves' as characters. They have a relationship between themselves over-and-above the characters they are playing.

 

Here's another clip this time sketch group Pappy's. Note the meta stuff: eg 'we should have brought a cauldron' and the loose bantering references to the process of doing a sketch show itself:

 

 

In live comedy there is also the opportunity to play sketches entirely to the audience. This is taking full advantage of the live situation rather than exclusively performing sketches that are 'behind the fourth wall' like TV sketches. Here is another Pappy's one where that is the case. And we also get a great example of a classic sketch comedy device: the 'disrupted performance' where a serious performance is being attempted but is being disrupted by an idiot. Here we also see a historical character in a contemporary setting (this is a past/present juxtaposition).

 

 

And finally we come to We Are Klang, something of a sketch show/ stand-up hybrid. This one is a live sketch three hander where they are also talking directly to the audience and as with the previous clip it features a 'disrupted performance'. A is attempting to do serious thing and character B (and C as well here) are messing it up for A. This is the simple classic double-act situation (played out with three people in the case of Klang but there are still two points-of-view) - like Sid Little attempting to sing his song but with Eddie Large messing it up (if you are old enough to remember Little & Large on TV!). Or even older (but constantly repeated) Ernie Wise trying to do the 'play what I wrote' while Eric Morecambe disrupts it. (So two worldviews.) 

 

In this clip we also see what I term a big/ small juxtaposition. Here it's big issue/ small minded comments:

 

 

So in live sketch comedy you can:


- Talk to the audience.

- Do meta stuff.

- Have relationships between yourselves as performers above and beyond the characters you are playing.

- Work with minimal, lo-fi costume, props and staging and make a feature of this.

- Exploit the fact that the audience are imagining a lot of the physical situation. There are opportunities for rug-pull gags here; for example where what you are miming turns out to be not what we the audience were picturing.


On my live sketch show course you get to become a sketch team and put all this into practice.

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