Thursday, August 16, 2007

10 Things You Should Please Stop Doing in Your Sketch Revue - NOW!!!

I'll tell you a little secret about most of the teachers in The Second City Training Center...

Most of us never go see any of the Second City shows. It's been years for me.

I know. We're hypocrites. We're always yammering to our students "Go see the shows, go see the shows." And when a student does come in to class having seen one of the resident companies, I'll eventually cop to not having seen it after my "knowingly smiling" look fails. We'll tell people we're too busy teaching or doing our own shows. The real reason we don't go see shows is because it is heart breaking. Anyone who has ever been a student at Second City knows that oftentimes there's a disconnect between what we teach in class and what gets put on stage. As teachers, it makes us feel unheard and ineffective. Better to keep the blinders on and focus on the students in front of me with whom I have a chance of making a difference.

Realizing the dishonesty of it all in regards to my students, I recently saw several sketch revues in all three theaters at the improv mothership that is Second City. I now have a point-of-reference in discussing with them what works and what doesn't work in Second City-style sketch revues.

Out of all the sketch revues I've seen the last few weeks, I highly recommend to you the mainstage show, Between Barrack and a Hard Place. It was originally written and performed by Joe Canale, Ithamar Enriquez, Molly Erdman, Brian Gallivan, Brad Morris and Amber Ruffin. Brian has since moved on and Mark Swaner has seamlessly taken his place. There are some very smart scenes and entertaining improv and some edgy, yet candy-coated songs. What I like most about the show, counter to most every other sketch revue in Chicago, is that it doesn't feel rushed. There's an early two-person relationship scene that really takes its time and keeps the "issue" of the scene subtle, but powerful. It's not a perfect show, but I don't want to nit-pick it. It's a very strong show with a great cast. Everyone has their own unique personae on stage and is fun to watch. They might start working on a new show in a few weeks. If so, go see it soon so that you can see the full Barrack as it was intended before new material gets worked into it.

Yeah, I know. It sounds like I'm gushing. I'm really not trying to cover my ass on anything here. I fully enjoyed myself.

About those other shows I saw. Rather than drag names through the mud, I created a list.


1) Please stop making up fake diseases or conditions based on celebrities or social trends for doctor scenes. Rather than have someone diagnosed with "Lindsey Lohan-itis," I'd rather see a scene about parents dealing with their daughter who acts like Lindsey and having to come to terms with that the best thing for them to do is, God forbid, stop trying to be her best friends and discipline her.

2) Please stop doing scenes structured like interventions or AA meetings. Aside from it being tired, it really keeps the characters from authentically dealing with one another. Have someone's best friend tell them they can't deal with their Justin Timberlake or Star Trek obsession rather than making that character join a hack rehab group or be intervened upon.

3) Please stop having homosexual overtones in your scenes. I get it, even though the male boss is letting the male employee go, it's really a metaphor for a gay break-up scene. I'd rather see a gay break-up scene driven by intelligence, emotion and humor than by giggle-inducing homophobia.

4) Please stop trying to shock me. I'm not opposed to blue humor, but if the foundation for a scene isn't there and I don't care about the characters or relationships, then you're just being shocking for shock's sake. Nothing moves forward and instead of making me laugh you've grossed me out. Or bored me, which is what happens after the shock wears off. Jerry Springer, Howard Stern and Mancow already have this turf covered.

5) Please stop having improvised portions if you're not really going to improvise. If it's just an excuse to ad-lib witty remarks or make fun of people in the audience, I'll go to Uncle Chuckle's Comedy Shack.

6) Please finish the scene that you started. You're telling a story. Finish the story.

I'm seeing a lot of "scenes" that are structured like this...

Present funny idea
Make a few funny jokes about funny idea
Quick! LIGHTS OUT and play LOUD MUSIC!

Scenes really can have a beginning, middle and end. Characters really can transform and situations can be resolved in ways that are surprising, yet logical and very satisfying.

7) Please stop using Tourette's and Alzheimer's as a reason for a character being funny. Having a character afflicted with one of these conditions could be interesting - and funny - if done respectfully. If you're going to use them, do your homework. Make it a part of the character, not the character itself.

8) Please slow down. There's this misconception that MTV has ruined sketch comedy and all theater, for that matter. It's not true. If it's good, people will pay attention. Most sketch revues deal in what Mr. Hall calls "shock and awe." It moves so fast and with such fury that you don't realize how unfunny it is. If you're worried that by giving your scenes a natural life you'll lose the audience, then you lack confidence in your material and your audience. Audiences aren't as dumb as they look.

9) Please stop making political references if you don't have something new or interesting to say. I get it. Bush is dumb. He messes up his words a lot. You've saddled your poor actor with doing an imitation of an imitation. Give me something that will make me laugh and think.

10) Please stop making so many damn pop culture references. Unless it really reveals something important about the character or forwards the story, avoid it. We get it. You watch TV. You download music. You love movies. Now, please, go read a book and take a pottery class. Go live your life and use that as a resource for material.

Most of these things show up in sketch revues out of laziness. Writers and directors are just aping what they've seen before and are playing it safe. Work a little harder. Dig a little deeper. Take more risks.


Bring your scenes to the Uptown Writer's Space, 4802 North Broadway, at 6:30pm and get feedback from a big jerk like me. It's only $5.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Michael Vick is being sued for 63 billion dollars by an inmate. Which is NOT one of his claims?"

40% thought "Vick gave money to Iran to buy missiles"
- but that's one of the major claims in the lawsuit. The prisoner contends Vick stole his dogs, sold them on eBay and gave the proceeds to Iran. I have no joke for this.

Another 40% thought "Vick hired robotic guards"
- but that's claim number seven. Those guards work at the prison and are trying to keep him from telling the truth about Vick. And to keep him from having conjugal visits from Sarah Connor. They all look like this guy...

No one picked
"Vick threw snowballs at his car"
- which is, indeed, part of the lawsuit. But it's Michael Vick, so only half the balls actually hit the car.

The correct answer, which isn't part of the lawsuit, is "Vick ruined his lucky prisoner pants"
- hey, this guy is crazy, but he's not that crazy.

According the The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, enterprising litigant Jonathan Lee Riches, recently filed a multi-billion dollar handwritten lawsuit against embattled Falcons quarterback Michael Vick alleging everything from stolen copyrighted property to "microwave testing" to a shady arms deal with Iran. Most lawsuits like this wouldn't make it to court. An attorney wouldn't risk his or her reputation. That's why the guy with the traditional nutbag middle name "Lee" is going to represent himself in court. USA! USA! USA!