Friday, January 16, 2009

So, Let Me Ask You, Too...

The past week in a half I have been talking to quite a few people about taking on a project that would greatly affect my life and this blog over the next year. So, it's only natural that I ask you to weigh in.

You may have heard of Suzan-Lori Parks and her "365 Days/365 Plays," performed by theater companies around the country in 2006-2007 and written in 2002-2003.

Well, the plan is to blatantly steal her idea and apply it to sketch comedy. I would write 365 sketches in one year starting Monday. The game plan, that is not at all set in stone, is that they would be produced next year, somehow, in a collaboration between Sketchfest and Chicago Improv Festival. But, like I said, that part is not set in stone. Still in early talks. There's no commitment or obligation on anyone's part. Regardless, I would try to find a vehicle for getting the sketches produced preferably by multiple comedy groups from around the world. The attraction of CIF and Sketchfest, is that it would all happen in some concentrated burst right here in Chicago.

But the question that bugs me, as it did with Suzan-Lori Parks, is "Why?" It's kind of a David Blaine stunt for a comedy writer. I don't care that you crapped out a play a day while hopping on one foot. What I care about, as an audience member, is being engaged and entertained. With 365 comedy sketches, they ain't all going to be gems. My hope, at the very least, is that they are all interesting.

There is certainly a challenge to me as a writer to produce so much material. I would need to tap into some deep creative rivers that I don't even know I have. That part interests me. I also worry that at the end of the year, I never want to write a comedy sketch ever again. I doubt that would happen, though. I love it too much.

It would affect this blog because that's pretty much all I would be writing for a year. And I would use this space to post a new scene every night to document the project. So, I do like the transparency of the project, too. You'd be on the journey with me, should you continue to check in during the year.

So, please let me know what you think. I have been teetering on the edge for over a week now and I need someone to either push me hard on the back or grab me by the belt.


(I am performing with the Improvised Shakespeare Company at iO at 8pm, so, really, that's the show you should be seeing!)


COOL TABLE - North Theater

- South Theater


I think you have a safe bet on any of the three options. Cool Table's been around about four years in Chicago and has some good folks involved. Approximately Three Peters is from Toronto where they are doing quite well. Brave New Workshop is from Minneapolis and has been around since 1958. They are that part of the country's answer to Second City. I would be likely to check out the Peters or BNW just because they're not from around these parts.


PANGEA 3000 - North Theater


- West Theater

I haven't seen any of these. I would lean towards Pangea 3000 because they claim to be comprised of writers and contributors to The Onion. The Imponderables is another Canadian import that looks to be on the same level at Three Peters. Party Central is from New York and would be my last resort only because their bio says "There will, however, be no references to poop, farts, robots or Hitler." In other words, they wouldn't want me to do 365 sketches because, baby, it's all going to be gaseous Robot Hitler scenes.


- South Theater


Ruby Lake is in the north theater and I have absolutely no opinion on them. Mere Fluff features two very talented comedians. Last Call Cleveland has been around awhile and has done strong work. They would be my first option.


BRI-KO - South Theater

Not at all familiar with the other two shows. The show to see i n my book is Bri-Ko. Simple, silent, funny.

The ticket info for Sketchfest, click HERE.


Yesterday, I asked...

"A Sri-Lankan company has come up with a new way to make treeless paper out of what?"

No one, NO ONE, said "rubber," "limestone," or "coconuts"

100% got it right with "elephant poop"
- why else would I ask if it
wasn't "elephant poop"?

According to, there’s a new line of eco-paper available, and for once, the term’s not an oxymoron. It’s from the Sri-Lankan based company Mr. Ellie Pooh, and yes, the paper really is made out of elephant poop. Why Harvest Elephant Poop for Paper in Sri Lanka? To save elephants, of course. It turns out that a tenth of the mere 40,000 Asian elephants worldwide live in Sri Lanka, where they’re killed due to their interference with agriculture. There’s no major ivory trade, and Sri Lankans don’t eat elephant meat, so the sole factor that elephants are being exterminated is because they’re a nuisance. If you think the whole idea of paper-from-elephant-poop seems to be a desperate effort—think again. An adult elephant creates 500 pounds of dung a day, making it a very reliable, very renewable resource.

And I can't think of anything better on which to write 365 sketches.

I wonder if they're hiring.


idjar said...

Whew, a sketch a day for 365 days is too much for my head to handle. It's tough enough to do my taxes once a year. On the other hand, hell of an accomplishment if you do it.

Go for it.

See you sometime in 2010.

Enya's Assassin said...

I think it would be a fun project, but why are you doing it? To make a big splash, get your name out there? We like to keep you a secret Mr. Janes. Our special secret.

Okay, that was creepy. Let me just say, I don't think a sketch is ever written on one pass. I think getting feedback and rewriting something is part of the process. My fear is that you will end up with 365 first drafts--some mildly funny, a few that are hillarious, and a slew of stuff that contain great ideas that were never quite realized.

As you know, there is already a lot of sketch comedy out there that fits this description. Do you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution? Maybe 365 Days/365 Sketches/365 Rewrites?

Quality, not quantity, my friend.

Anonymous said...



Old Ned said...

I agree with Enya's Assassin. I was in a performance of one of the 365 Days/365 Plays and it was, quite appropriately titled, "This is shit." I haven't met anyone who saw or acted in any of these plays who thought that the quality of the output merited the exposure. And at this point, it's a gimmick that's already been done. Unless you can come up with some kind of twist on the idea, you won't get anywhere near the exposure that Suzan-Lori Parks got the first time round. (And then most people would expect that, like her project, it wouldn't be worth seeing.)

Of course, should you decide to do it, I would avidly follow your output in this blog. It would be interesting to follow your creative process on a day to day basis, even if you were churning out crap.

But wouldn't it be better, at the end of the year, to have written stuff that you're proud of?

Joe Janes said...

Good points all

There would be some parameters.

- What I post would be "first drafts" - before anything moves from the blog to the stage, I would reserve the right to rewrite, which could mean a complete overhaul.

- I would also use my resources to get feedback on many scenes - RvD meetings, Write Club, Fig, SC, etc - before posting and invite feedback in this comment section.

- I would also include a short diary everyday to include everyone in the process I'm going through so there's also an educational aspect to the project.

Jill said...

To go one step further of Enya and Ned's ideas--what about 1 sketch a week for 52 weeks? You would still end up with a plethora of material to be produced, and give yourself time to re-write.

Just a thought. I love the idea!

Mr. B said...

I say "Skip It". Free up your time and talents to take on a project that really interests you. Because there's nothing worse than signing up for a deal like this and petering out, midway through, or early on, because you hate it. If you were thrilled about it, it might be a different story. But your ambivalence is answer enough for me. Skip it.

Just between you and me, "364 plays in a year" was an idea. But it wasn't a very good one. Clearly a choice of "quantitiy over quality" and I personally believe that's the weaker choice of the two. I've heard two or three anecdotes of people who saw some of those plays and were either unimpressed or disappointed. I can't remember a single person seeing the show and walking out, thinking, "That was AWESOME!" I can't remember the names of any plays that came out of that project that people actually enjoyed.

If you're interested, because it would be work and time consuming and a nice partnership with those two fine festivals, then let me suggest that you take some time and find a different plan, that will increase your chances for artistic success and fulfilment. Maybe an improvised short play that gives you plot structure, which you take, polish and hand to three different troupes to perform, in their own style and see how the end products differ. Or select three different troupes, give them a theme and have them improvise around that theme, while you have a troupe perform the written piece that you wrote about the same theme. Those are two mediocre ideas. I bet you could come up with a better one. I KNOW you can come up with a better one than "Shitting out shitty sketch comedy for a whole fucking year."

That's just my two cents.


Henri D said...

That's a big commitment! If anyone can do it, it's you. So, I'll see you in a year, and if you need help before then, just drop me a line.

Enya's Assassin said...

"Shitting out shitty sketch comedy for a whole fucking year."

Yep, that about sums it up.

Is it about the art of sketch comedy or the stunt?

Of course, I can't wait to be giving feedback on those scenes! We might have you by the balls around month 6 or 7, Joe.

Joe Janes said...

This is great feedback, everyone. I am, by the way, passionate about the project. My passion was in high gear, and more expressive, last week. It has diminished with spending time thinking about the logistics and high possibility of failure. Which, of course, is something to consider.

Danger Boy said...

I don't understand why, if nothing is lined up from a production standpoint, that it has to start NEXT WEEK. I guess the calendar is driving it. But if it were me, I'd want a little more certainty about how and if this was going to all be put up there before I committed to it. And if it entailed you figuring that out, then that's a lot of extra work on top of the writing.

Also, as has been mentioned, I'm not sure this would get a ton of attention since it's already "been done." I know attention/acclaim/etc. is not your primary motivation here, but if that were a factor, I would not count on it.

Just my dos centavos.

Erica said...

What do you have to lose? As artists, if we are compelled to do anything, we should do it. Creativity and inspiration are gifts not to be ignored. Doesn't the failure of a project hold as much importance of the success of one? Even if it sucks and you hate it, I bet you will learn a lot about yourself and have a huge sense of accomplishment after. Though, because you are brilliant, I suspect the sketches will be better than you think and it will be a body of work that you are proud of.

And honestly, if you start it, and you decide you can't or don't want to finish for any reason, there is no shame in that either. I know Mondo Yippeeeeeee "doesn't believe in free will," but you have control over how guilty or bad you might feel if you decide to quit. It would be your project, your determination, and no one should be judging you whatever the outcome.

I say go for it. Life is too short to second guess or have fear. Risk taking is good. And I look forward to reading what will come out of it.


GW said...

I agree with all of Erica's comment.

And I would add that if you decided at the end of it that there was more crap than gold, you could always scrap the idea of having all 365 be performed. There would value in staging just the good ones.

And even when the project gets tedious, as it's sure to do, and even if none of it ever went to stage, and even if you didn't have this blog and people reading the scenes, wouldn't it be satisfying on a personal level to know that you did it?

And I agree with Enya's Assassin that rewrites (or at least the consideration of them) should definitely be done to these before we all have to pay $12.50 to see them, but it sounds like you were planning on that anyway.

Enya's Assassin said...

Okay, all good points, but let me be the one to bring up the elephant in the room: While you are (extremely) busy writing 365 sketches in 365 days, are you going to have time to effectively grow and nurture Zed? I think this is the bigger decision, the decision to grow a proper mustache, and now I'm worried that you might have rushed into that one, also. Sketch comedy is one thing, but moustaches are a much more serious affair, my friend.

Alibear said...

I'm truly impressed with your passion and ambition about this project. I will say, however, that I agree you can accomplish a greater amount if you kept it to a weekly sketch. This way, you don't have to give up a year of your life. You can still focus on other projects and if you find yourself having more than one idea at a time then you can write more than one sketch at a sitting. I agree that the quality vs. the quantity is what is important, however, I am a huge fan of working a muscle that has a deadline. It can be horribly frustrating or incredibly creative. Go with your heart, but i support your creativity and drive even if this isn't the project you finally settle on. Cheers! Ali