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Writing Comedy: The Sketch Comedy

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December 2009
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What is sketch comedy? It is a short comedy scene or vignette, often less than ten minutes. It is performed in front of a live audience in a studio or on stage.

It can be performed by a group, comedy duo, or solo performer.

Usually, the comedy writer creates the sketch using the three-act structure. In the Act I, the sketch is set up. In Act 2, complications are added to the sketch. In Act 3, the punchline is delivered.

There are several formats. The sketch can be based on a “comic premise”, which is based on a funny idea. The idea can be an absurd or something more realistic, such as a social or political topic that is in the news. The idea must be strong enough to carry the sketch. Another sketch format is the character-based sketch. It is based on a funny character, such as The Church Lady in Saturday Night Live. The other popular format is the situation-based sketch. The basis of the funny sketch is the location, place, or situation.

A sketch is often topical or timeless. A topical sketch is based on something making news. For instance, in 2008, Saturday Night Live did a sketch on political figure Sarah Palin. In a year or so, people might not find it funny, because they don’t understand its context. A timeless sketch is something that will be funny forever, such as Saturday Night Live’s The Blues Brothers or The Church Lady.

Comedy Devices and Techniques

Some sketch comedy involves improve or improvisation. It involves creating a sketch in front of a live audience without rehearsal and requires on-the-spot humour.

Parody is frequently used. Saturday Night live often mocks commercials and TV shows. For instance, the Mr. Bill Show was a parody of children’s shows that was on Saturday Night Live during the late 70s. In the show, the animated clay figure always dies a gory death at the end.

Lampoon is often used. For instance, many sketches on Saturday Night Live use the comic device of lampoon to ridicule politics, TV, film, celebrities, and other elements of pop culture.

The comedy sketch often involves sight gags, pratfalls, sexual innuendo, props, costumes, and stereotyping.

Exaggeration is a humour device that is frequently used. Many sketches use caricature to get laughs. The comics wear make-up, wigs, and costumes to perform the skit.

Satire is also used. Watch a memorable show of Saturday Night Live, and you will see that the sketch satirize a political figure, celebrity, or person making news.

Popular Sketch Comedy

Sketch comedy is usually performed in front of a live audience, often for TV. Popular sketch comedy TV shows include:

  • Kids in the Hall
  • SCTV
  • Saturday Night Live
  • The Red Skelton Show
  • The Daily Show

 Other memorable sketch comedy includes:

  • Mel Brooks
  • Monty Python


To find out more about these popular sketch comedy shows, do a Google search. You can also watch good comedy sketches on YouTube.

Tips for Writing Sketch Comedy

Here are a few tips on how to write a comedy sketch:

  1. Enrol in a comedy writing course or sketch writing course.
  2. Learn by watching and studying the great sketch comedy shows. A good place to start is by watching Saturday Night Live.
  3. Learn how to use the comic devices of parody, satire, lampoon, exaggeration, and physical comedy.
  4. Write your comedy sketch using the Three-Act Structure.
  5. Seek out constructive criticism. Ask for the opinions of others. If they don`t think your writing is funny, then it probably isn`t.
  6. Use original ideas. Use the creative thinking technique of brainstorming, mind-mapping, and by asking what-if questions. Do not copy the work of others. That being said, it is acceptable to parody the work of others.
  7. Keep your comedy sketch short. If you are writing for a live audience , your sketch ought to be less than 10 minutes. If you are writing for the Web, the sketch ought to be less than one minute.
  8. Make it funny. When writing a sketch, use the THREES formula (Target, Hostility, Realism, Emotion, Exaggeration, Surprise) For a detailed explanation, read the book, Comedy Writing Secrets, by Mel Helitzer. If people don`t laugh, your sketch isn`t funny.

 Resources for Writing Sketch Comedy

  • Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer
  • The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter
  • The Art of Comedy: Getting Serious about Being Funny by Paul Ryan


Next, I will write about using humour when writing creative nonfiction, such as an article, essay, or memoir.



  1. lukewarmpowwow says:

    Great job, keep it up

  2. Great blog – think the best way to get the ball rolling is by taking a sketch writing or improv class.

  3. Joe says:

    This was so helpful, thank you.

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