SKETCH COMEDY FOR DUMMIES
nytheatre.com review by Alexander Zalben
Sketch comedy is an art, despite what you might think from
watching Saturday Night Live or MadTV. And like
any art, in order to create you must first learn the basics.
That’s where Sketch Comedy for Dummies, a new show by the
Canadian group Todd’s Lunch, comes in.
August 15, 2003
The plot, as it were, has the group getting hired to write a "For Dummies" book about sketch comedy. During the show, they give brief lessons about writing sketch comedy. The lessons often serve to introduce sketches, and in a few examples, flow directly into the sketches themselves.
So how do they do? Well, they definitely hit the basics of sketch writing. In fact, they’re almost too basic at points, ranging from "have an idea" to "characters are funny." The best of these is the section about editing your material. As opposed to the others, which often seem like awkward set-ups, the editing section flows well, and pays off with a bang.
Their performance style is very relaxed, which sometimes works against them, reading as low energy. Occasionally it works for the trio, lending them an off-hand breezy charm. The evening’s best sketch, the tale of Johnny Punchintheface and the worst card trick ever performed, benefits from this fluid, low-energy style. I’m still giggling about it several days later.
The Johnny Punchintheface sketch also works so well because the group doesn’t just illuminate the basics of sketch comedy; they use them, and build on them. It has a character, a premise, and is extremely well edited. But it also takes each of those ideals an extra step, until the sketch spirals out of control, as the best sketch comedy does.
I couldn’t help thinking the whole time how they have a really good idea for a show: most audience members have little idea why sketch comedy works, just that when it does, it does well, and when it doesn’t, it fails spectacularly. But at the same time, the concept works against Todd’s Lunch. The basic sketches that illuminate their points aren’t as funny as the more sophisticated sketches. And the more sophisticated sketches don’t fit in to the idea of the show.
But hey, you gotta give them credit for trying. I mean, they are performing for dummies.