Last month, I was one of the writers for Urban Improv’s annual “Banned in Boston” fundraiser. A bunch of Boston Illuminati do sketch comedy for a good cause. Writing the show was tough, sometimes arduous. How do you write an hour’s worth of sketch comedy for non-comedians with basically no rehearsal time? Well, it’s different. You write lean, you write heavy-handed with the jokes, you write to please the aged masses. It’s probably like writing original programming for Nick at Nite. Which doesn’t exist.
I learned a lot about compromise during over the months we were working on the show, and to always be ready with a couple other ideas once the best ideas are inevitably shot down (for good and bad reasons). Maybe the biggest is that if you are working on a sketch show with non-comedians, it’s hard to convey the idea that just because you’ve heard a joke/premise a half dozen times while workshopping it, doesn’t mean it’s not funny anymore. I think comedians take for granted our ability to hold on to the comedy of the joke through multiple revisions and edits. We take pride in culling away all the fat off a bit until it’s in its purest form, like my OCD friend who picks every white sinew off an orange slice before eating it.
Non-comedians don’t have that instinct. They hear it once, they love it. The second time, ok, it’s funny. By the third or fourth, they’re looking for a new idea. But that’s not how to build a solid sketch show over time. Then you end up writing brand new, less funny sketches a couple weeks before showtime. Don’t do that. If a bit is funny, it’s funny; and it’s new for each audience. I admire stand ups who can workshop the same bit night after night until it’s perfect. They have the ability to hold onto the funny better than any of us.