Thursday, July 10, 2008

Writing from the heart, or at least from real life

Week three of Sketch Comedy 101 at the Upright Citizens Brigade. Conversation between class members seemed easier. And then someone blurts out to our teacher, Charlie, "See, we're talking." This of course killed the whole good buzz that was happening. Luckily we got it back as the sketches again this week were very good.

This week's assignment involved creating a character sketch. There are a lot of interesting folks in this world - so many that at some points in my life I've begun to wonder if those people are normal and I'm a bit left of center. Unfortunately, my memory was failing me badly this weekend. I couldn't think of a single funny character to write about. Last week the other sketches were so good, and mine was certainly not, that I felt an intense pressure to write something hilarious. I wracked my brain for ideas, started to go down a path, and realized all roads were heading toward decidedly un-funny destinations. I was explaining the situation to my friend, Kelly, whom I was visiting in Buffalo over the July 4th weekend.

I threw out an idea of a Brain Storming Session Gone Wrong. I'm intrigued by how often that term is thrown around in some companies by senior management. I thought it might be funny to have a CEO who's the least creative person on the planet running a session with his highly creative direct reports, and then shoot down all of their ideas in favor of his own lunatic suggestions. Kelly agreed that that could be a fun sketch, that it probably happens to people more often than not, and I could make a go of it.

So I did and it was funny. Very funny. So funny in fact that the man reading the CEO character was laughing too hard to get the lines out. This was a good sign for my writing and a vast improvement over last week. And then other people in the class were joining in with new ideas to heighten the comedy even more. Now I know why writers enjoy this form.

Here's the learning: Take a cue from the very idea of brainstorming sessions and put every idea out there. I've suggested many ideas that fell flat once I put them out into the world. I've kept my suggestions to myself only to have someone else say the same exact idea and get a big laugh. And I've made some suggestions that don't sound all that funny to me though once I get them out into the world, they go over well.

Comedy, more than any other art form I've experience, is a living, breathing entity. You know immediately whether or not it's good because laughter, in the best possible case, is uncontrollable by our conscious minds. We have no idea if something is funny until we act it out for others and gauge their response. It requires that we ban together with other people to create something valuable; a good lesson to consider, with far deeper impact on our lives than just the act of writing sketch comedy.

Next week, we're scheduled to present commercial parodies. With all of the good fodder out there on the airwaves now, the trouble will be deciding among dozens of choices which one will be most likely to get the biggest laughs.

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