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Sketch Study 10/13/14: GO THE DISTANCE
I’m intrigued by the idea of distance.  How far can a sketch take the audience from start to finish? As a teenager, I remember falling in love with the frustrated screaming depths of darkness to which Mr. Show and Will Ferrel could push their smiling straight men.  

Now, Key and Peele is my model of how far one can push.  It has become their signature.  The sketch above, “Family Matters" begins as a clever but ordinary how-did-this-get-made type of sketch.  Let’s have the actor who plays Carl Winslow standing in the show runner’s office complaining about the ridiculous ways Steve Urkel is taking over the show.  But of course, it doesn’t stop there.  How could it?

The other day, my sketch group Stupid Time Machine was writing a sketch in preparation for our October East Coast Tour.  We were trying to find an ending, and one of the members said “we’ve gotta think like Key and Peele here; How far would they push this concept?”  Pretty wonderful when a show - especially one on network TV - can reshape how comedians think and write.  The point: take your audience on a ride.  When you have a solid premise and a fun game; don’t stop.  Push to see how far you can go. Push till it no longer makes sense - till the whole house burns down and the your bickering husband and wife characters are charred skeletons still bickering; till they are just molecules of ash arguing as they blow on the wind.  Hell, you are a great writer.  You can always walk it back to a place that is both surprising and believable.  

The audience doesn’t know it yet, but they want to see you pull the trigger. They want to see the brains come out and splatter against the wall.  Because if that happens - holy shit - what’s next?            

Three more examples of pulling the trigger:
• “Mexican Stand-off
• “Lil Homie

SKETCH STUDY: DO SOMETHING

I love how quick Key and Peele are with the game.  The writers always lock down a clear game within the first minute (on the first written page) of the sketch.  From there, it’s all pattern work and heightening.  I’m posting this sketch because it’s a good example of a trap many of us fall into: a “talking-heads” scene with no action.  Just at the point when the “I’m going to do ______ to Satan” joke begins to plateau, the sketch throws the characters into action.  Satan possess one of the women, and now the ladies must walk the walk.  They must make good on all the shit they’ve been talking.  Watching the two women, dressed in their Sunday best, exchange the darkness of Satan’s soul from mouth-to-mouth, I thought to myself “Of course.  This is Key and Peele after all.  Of course this sketch would heighten to this point.”  It’s a good lesson for us all: do something. Surprise your audience.  Surprise yourself.  

EXERCISE
Write a conversation between two stationary characters.  Maybe they are at a bus-stop.  Maybe they are two parental chaperones at a party. Maybe they are the last two kids awake at a sleepover.  Keep them planted.  And at the point when you and your reader are comfortable, force your characters to walk the walk.  Challenge them to make good on all the promises of their conversation.  Make them do something.  

SKETCH STUDY: MISCONCEPTIONS

I’m buckling down about writing.  I’ve felt a little aimless these past two months, working scattershot on too many different projects. The new goal: create a killer sketch packet by Christmas.  Everything I do - my November solo show, the Stupid Time Machine tour, our new Cookiepig series - will be with a focus on just churning out some outstanding writing. Something strong enough to get me hired. My daily writing routine now begins with watching some sketch.  Instead of writing notes to myself, I’ll post some some quick thoughts on the blog.  If you write, I hope this helps.  

Today: Misconceptions.  The sketch above is simple and beautiful.  A black family brings in a gay friend to answer questions about how to plan a gay wedding.  The sketch quickly becomes a playground of jokes. What would they have at a gay wedding? Skittles instead of rice?  A ship captain instead of a preacher? Gay hymns?

What makes this more than a list of funny things is the earnestness with which the questions are being asked.  The family is not filled with easy-joke homophobia; they genuinely want to know.  They care.  They take notes.  

Exercise: Pick a topic there’s lots of ignorance around - how ebola spreads, what HPV is, ISIS - and create a FAQ session.  One idiot v. a room full of smart people. One smart person v. a room full of idiots.  Can you make your idiots honest?  Are their misconceptions both resonant and uniquely funny? Go.

INVADE FEATUREHey folks. For those of you who have followed #CharacterADay, I know I haven’t done very much final reflection about the project on this blog. That’s because I’ve been doing that reflection on the pages of other publications.  Here’s a feature that GoInvade.com did on the project, why I did it, and what I learned.  
Later this week, I’ll share some other writing I’ve done about the project. For now, go check out Invade.  It’s a killer resource for great writing about culture, style, and creation.     

INVADE FEATURE

Hey folks. For those of you who have followed #CharacterADay, I know I haven’t done very much final reflection about the project on this blog. That’s because I’ve been doing that reflection on the pages of other publications.  Here’s a feature that GoInvade.com did on the project, why I did it, and what I learned.  

Later this week, I’ll share some other writing I’ve done about the project. For now, go check out Invade.  It’s a killer resource for great writing about culture, style, and creation.     

Hey Everyone, 
On Thursday October 2nd, I’ll be doing an audition showcase for Last Comic Standing.  There are two shows that night; I am in the 10pm show. As far as I understand, I do my best 3.5 minutes of standup before a council of robed elders.  If they like me, I am sent on to a room where I must make love to people in masks.  If they don’t like me, they get to kill me with a sword.  So, you should come.  To laugh or simply to say goodbye.
I’ll be doing a prep set TONIGHT at the always-wonderful show at Lost Love Lounge, Comedy Catastrophe at 10:30pm.  That will be fun.  There will be Pho.  You should go.  See what I did there? 
Tomorrow, I may just be on a secret show that you don’t know about yet. Why don’t you know about it?  Because it’s a secret and only the cool people know about it. Who are the cool people?  The crew who hangs out with Kendra, of course.  Stop being a square.  We aren’t in middle school anymore, so I don’t have to be your friend, and I can ride around in whoever’s car I want.  You hear me? I can smoke if I want too.  You’re not my fucking mom, Lindsey.  You’re not my FUCKING MOM!     

Hey Everyone, 

On Thursday October 2nd, I’ll be doing an audition showcase for Last Comic Standing.  There are two shows that night; I am in the 10pm show. As far as I understand, I do my best 3.5 minutes of standup before a council of robed elders.  If they like me, I am sent on to a room where I must make love to people in masks.  If they don’t like me, they get to kill me with a sword.  So, you should come.  To laugh or simply to say goodbye.

I’ll be doing a prep set TONIGHT at the always-wonderful show at Lost Love Lounge, Comedy Catastrophe at 10:30pm.  That will be fun.  There will be Pho.  You should go.  See what I did there? 

Tomorrow, I may just be on a secret show that you don’t know about yet. Why don’t you know about it?  Because it’s a secret and only the cool people know about it. Who are the cool people?  The crew who hangs out with Kendra, of course.  Stop being a square.  We aren’t in middle school anymore, so I don’t have to be your friend, and I can ride around in whoever’s car I want.  You hear me? I can smoke if I want too.  You’re not my fucking mom, Lindsey.  You’re not my FUCKING MOM!     

WHY YOU SHOULD BE AT KARATEFIGHT Two of my favorite New Orleans comedians curate KARATEFIGHT, a monthly showcase of video sketch and live standup.  Here are some reasons I love this show (and why I imagine you will too)  
1.) The show is just run so wellHosts Andrew Polk and Joe Cardosi put a refreshing amount of thought into curating the best show possible every month.  There are the little things like the animations and bumpers that transition the show smoothly from video sketch to a live stand up comedian, lit only by the light of the projector screen.  Then there are the big things like mixing video sketch from local comedians with those from bigger name friends of the show in other cities.  Tonight’s lineup is particularly stacked.  I’ll be performing standup along with some great local comedians, and I’ve got video premiers from my sketch group Stupid Time Machine and a sneak peek at two shorts I’m working on with my Sunken City writing team Cookie Pig Productions.   
2.) There’s a contagious spirit of experimentationWe often feel a need to make our online videos perfect.  This means we wait too long and create too little.  Karatefight provides a great testing ground for video you’re still working on, and a great excuse to film that sketch you’ve been thinking about.  As the sketch outfit Massive Fraud, Polk and Cardosi are prolific in the amount of video they produce for the event each month.  Their output sets the vibe and the bar for comedians attending the show: get your shit together and make something.  

3.) It’s a great venueIndywood is a single-screen indie movie house built into a tiny washateria. It’s the type of homespun DIY joint that you expect in Austin. Recently the theater’s owners, the charming brother-sister duo Will and Hayley Sampson, have invested in some renovations that make the place feel comfortable. 
Walking into the Indywood lobby - rich with the smell of fresh popcorn and packed to the walls with people passing around six packs and waiting to see good comedy - gives me a certain feeling that I remember hooking me at my first comedy show ever, a feeling that made me fall in the love with The New Movement’s original Rosewood storefront in Austin, a feeling that was so important for us to give our audience when we founded The New Movement in New Orleans:  the sense that you are stumbling across a secret.   
SEE YOU TONIGHT. 

WHY YOU SHOULD BE AT KARATEFIGHT 
Two of my favorite New Orleans comedians curate KARATEFIGHT, a monthly showcase of video sketch and live standup.  Here are some reasons I love this show (and why I imagine you will too)  

1.) The show is just run so well
Hosts Andrew Polk and Joe Cardosi put a refreshing amount of thought into curating the best show possible every month.  There are the little things like the animations and bumpers that transition the show smoothly from video sketch to a live stand up comedian, lit only by the light of the projector screen.  Then there are the big things like mixing video sketch from local comedians with those from bigger name friends of the show in other cities.  Tonight’s lineup is particularly stacked.  I’ll be performing standup along with some great local comedians, and I’ve got video premiers from my sketch group Stupid Time Machine and a sneak peek at two shorts I’m working on with my Sunken City writing team Cookie Pig Productions.   

2.) There’s a contagious spirit of experimentation
We often feel a need to make our online videos perfect.  This means we wait too long and create too little.  Karatefight provides a great testing ground for video you’re still working on, and a great excuse to film that sketch you’ve been thinking about.  As the sketch outfit Massive Fraud, Polk and Cardosi are prolific in the amount of video they produce for the event each month.  Their output sets the vibe and the bar for comedians attending the show: get your shit together and make something.  

3.) It’s a great venue
Indywood is a single-screen indie movie house built into a tiny washateria. It’s the type of homespun DIY joint that you expect in Austin. Recently the theater’s owners, the charming brother-sister duo Will and Hayley Sampson, have invested in some renovations that make the place feel comfortable. 

Walking into the Indywood lobby - rich with the smell of fresh popcorn and packed to the walls with people passing around six packs and waiting to see good comedy - gives me a certain feeling that I remember hooking me at my first comedy show ever, a feeling that made me fall in the love with The New Movement’s original Rosewood storefront in Austin, a feeling that was so important for us to give our audience when we founded The New Movement in New Orleans:  the sense that you are stumbling across a secret.   

SEE YOU TONIGHT

LE SÉDUCTEUR 
is the character for THE FINAL DAY of #CharacterADay Season 2.  He’s speaking french.  And that’s all that matters.    

REFLECTION
And there it is; the final one.  I felt this pressure to make my last one the best one.  Finally, I had to give in to the idea that the last one will be whatever it is.  

I will miss the excitement and fear I have felt every day of the project - the little nagging voice saying “what are you going to make today? Hurry up, think of something!”  I felt this nagging as I was driving back tonight from a big party we threw for Liz on the river.  I started with the idea of a guy saying dumb things in a sexy french accent.  I tried to find some bit of human truth: for most of us, it’s just the accent, not the content, that turns us on

This is a fitting finish to the project.  It shows where I ended up: more fascinated with the format and filmmaking than the actual creation of audition-ready character bits.  Excited to see where this new fascination with film will go.

This week I’ll post some reflections on the blog about the whole process. But if I don’t catch you this week, thanks for watching and reading. It has been more important to me than you can imagine. 

THE MARRIAGE DEFENDER
is on his soap box for DAY 30 of #CharacterADay. He just wants everyone to play by the rules.

REFLECTION
This character taught me a little about perspective.  I had the germ of an idea about a guy taking the whole “marry two men and what’s next” debate to absurd lengths.  For me, the humor would be in the character getting caught in the intricacies of his absurd analogies.  ”And then what? A mouse marrying a penny? Do you have any idea how heavy that would be for him?”

Liz Beeson once again came in clutch, and rated this initial pitch a 5/10.  ”He turns absurd too quickly,” she said “I don’t really understand his perspective.”  I gave it another round imagining the character as a thanksgiving uncle who wins all political debates by taking them to absurd extremes.  Finally, I landed on this take for the Marriage Defender.  I’ve seen this type portrayed as dumb or bigoted; jealous feels new to me.  Let me know what ya think: cj@cookiepig.com 

THE AUDITIONER 
is up for DAY 29 of #CharacterADay. He is very very prepared.  


REFLECTION
Not sure how funny others will find this, but I love it.  A good friend of mine recently reminded me that the character-a-day videos weren’t capturing one of my performance strengths: physicality.  I’ve had the idea for this bit for a week.  I haven’t filmed it because the idea didn’t feel like a real character.  But I’m on this new kick - just do what is fun to you.  So I filmed it.  I remind myself that performers like Chris Kattan and Cheri Oteri used their bodies as one of their strongest weapons.  So let’s see what comes of this.

What are you doing tomorrow night?  Setting up your action figure in cool fighting poses again? Stop that.  And come out to something worth your time.  
My sketch and improv group, Stupid Time Machine, is doing a show at the Shadowbox Theater to benefit Easter Seals Louisiana.  Easter Seals is a non-profit helping children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities achieve independence.  Their work is great.  The show will be great.  So come, ok? Great.     

What are you doing tomorrow night?  Setting up your action figure in cool fighting poses again? Stop that.  And come out to something worth your time.  

My sketch and improv group, Stupid Time Machine, is doing a show at the Shadowbox Theater to benefit Easter Seals Louisiana.  Easter Seals is a non-profit helping children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities achieve independence.  Their work is great.  The show will be great.  So come, ok? Great.