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“I’m Funny How, I Mean Funny Like I’m a Clown?” – Sketch Comedy!

July 13, 2010

Spider didn't get the joke.

Last week I was getting a drink with my wife and a friend who laid down a comedy gauntlet. He challenged us to come up with a comedy sketch of equal hilarity and brilliance to the Abraham Lincoln Sketch by the Whitest Kids You Know. This doesn’t seem difficult, BUT IT IS because that sketch is hilarious! Is it the pinnacle of sketch comedy? I just don’t know. I’m going to think this through ‘out-loud’ and you can listen in.

Comedy is possibly the most difficult type of entertainment. It is commonly believed in entertainment that it is easy to make an audience cry, but takes real skill to make them laugh. Living close to New York, I have access to some of the greatest comedy clubs in the world, Caroline’s, Gotham, Upright Citizen’s, Dangerfield’s, and the list can go on. Every single night people get up in front of microphones at these two-drink minimum establishments and try to evoke laughter from a room of strangers, hoping that one day they’ll make the right person laugh and they’ll have their own sitcom, be a player on SNL, or maybe get a line in an Apatow film.

The art of the joke in sketch format needs to be exact. There is no room for mistakes or straying from your point. A sketch writer has no time for verbosity (unless that is the point). A sketch is generally a few minutes at the most. Characters should be easily recognized or understood at a glance. The punchline should end the sketch, because there is no reason to go on. If you feel like you need to explain in an epilogue, then you have already failed.

I saw the Whitest Kids U Know at a show in New York a year or two ago. They did this sketch called “Sonic gets Mugged!” It took longer to write these words than to watch it. It was simple brilliance, as long as you are familiar with Sonic the Hedgehog. Take a look:

And here is the Abraham Lincoln Sketch which we were discussing at the bar:

Below are a few other sketches that have stuck with me through the years. Do they compare? I think so.

Kids in the Hall – “My Pen”: Bruce McCulloch loses his pen. To this day, if I lose a pen in the office I declare “My Pen!”

Sarah Silverman‘s Meta-Comedy of combining her real life relationship with her Boyfriend’s ongoing fake feud with Matt Damon made for a comedic gem in the Sketch video song “I’m F*@#ing Matt Damon” on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Next, might be considered a cheat. It is a music video from Flight of the Conchords. I think it is admissible as a sketch for the following simple reasons: that it is only three and a half minutes long, contains a B.M.E. (beginning, middle, and end), the lyrics are flat-out genius and it is hilarious. I absolutely love that Brett and Jemain’s musical instruments are video editing control boards which control the flashback footage behind them.

Digression: That episode of Flight of the Conchords was directed by genius Renaissance Man, Michel Gondry. I had the pleasure of meeting Michel in New York two years ago where we had a short conversation and he drew this picture of me.

Me and Michel saying hello to my wife Apryl who couldn't be there - By Michel Gondry

Now, I’ll leave you with possibly the most epic sketch I’ve seen. It is from Important things with Demetri Martin on Comedy Central, and follows a sort of domino effect comedy structure.

Was the Abraham Lincoln WKUK sketch the best presented? I still don’t know. They all made me laugh, and I guess that is enough.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. apryllee permalink
    July 13, 2010 5:25 pm

    There are so many other great KITH sketches: These Are the Daves I Know… “They all have different hands but they come from different Moms.” I’m Crushing Your Head… the particular one wherein the head crusher meets up the the with the face pincher. Yes, the list could go on and on. So many good SNL skits from the 90’s too.

  2. July 14, 2010 11:39 am

    I couldn’t find the Daves I know and had to skip it. And, I intentionally left out SNL because they’ve gone from great to good to sucking and back to good. It was too much to consider.

  3. Paul permalink
    July 14, 2010 10:32 pm

    Yes I agree many more KITH to choose from that would have been better sketches than the Pen. Head Crusher, Buddy Cole, the french fur trappers. Its not that i didnt like it, but i smiled and giggled exactly once, while i was cracking up the whole time during the Lincoln sketch.

    In fact I think everything on this list was seriously outclassed by the lincoln sketch. Its like little leaguers playing the Yankees.

    • July 14, 2010 10:53 pm

      I wouldn’t say outclassed, because the great thing about the Lincoln skit is that it completely lacks class in every sense.

  4. Paul permalink
    July 14, 2010 10:44 pm

    ps— There is NO WAY that airplane sketch counts as the most epic sketch by any stretch of the word “epic”.

    • July 14, 2010 10:52 pm

      Dude. Take a breath. Sit back. Breathe. You’re over thinking sketch comedy. definition #2 for epic – extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope i.e. ‘his genius was epic’

      The Demetri Sketch easily falls within that definition without stretching it.

  5. Paul permalink
    July 15, 2010 9:55 pm

    Can you explain then what you feel is epic about that sketch? Cause I think i missed it. The only thing that I thought was funny was the part where the korean woman’s husband didn’t survive his choking episode. everything else felt tired and predictable. Sorry if that sounds harsh but Im just calling it like i see it.

    Also I don’t believe one can over think something you describe as the most difficult of all entertainment. Do you?

    • July 15, 2010 10:37 pm

      To explain it, as I said before, is to fail. So you missed it. That Sketch failed you. Sorry. Not going to explain.

      And, as difficult as it must have been, you have without a doubt, over-thunk. Let it go man. It is subjective. There is no scientific equation to prove one sketch is better than the other. If there was , it would be on Wikipedia. As I ended the piece – They all made me laugh, and I guess that is enough.

    • July 15, 2010 10:49 pm

      “Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard.” – Edmund Gwenn

  6. Bubba-Ho-tep permalink
    July 16, 2010 10:55 am

    Robert Lee, I have to say that I agree with you. Once you try to quantify a field as subjective as comedy you end up totally off the mark. Case in point:

  7. July 16, 2010 1:29 pm

    Thanks for the comment and link Bubba-Ho-tep! The world’s funniest joke does fall a bit flat. It’s funny, but not so much to me. Perfect example of the subjective nature of comedy.

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