Non-Professional Sketch Comedy

A “sketch” is a short (generally less than ten minutes in length), usually stand-alone scene or skit often done for comedic purposes. In this case, it is referred to as “sketch comedy.” Notable examples include Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Saturday Night Live, and, more recently, Key & Peele. “Non-professional sketch comedy” is, by definition, sketch comedy created by amateurs. It is a prevalent form of web comedy shorts which are commonly found on youtube, such as the work of Julian Smith and College Humor’s amateur videos.

To understand sketch comedy, consider Julian Smith’s “Malk:”

Here we see the characteristic “scene” aspect of sketches. The video is presented as a depiction of an event in whose reality the characters are fully invested, rather than acknowledging the absurdity of the situation. Smith’s character doesn’t even realize that he’s pronouncing “Milk” differently from the others. This absurdity is common in sketch comedy; what would otherwise be a normal event is made completely unrealistic. There is no reason for all of these people to have handguns. We can also see how Smith plays with expectations to create humor, which is also common in sketch comedy. When Donovan’s father appears, because of his race we don’t expect Donovan to be his son. Furthermore, Donovan’s apology of “Sorry, Dad. My white friends” bucks the racial stereotype of the unruly black teenager. At the end of the video, we see another characteristic of the genre: a comic hypocrisy. Smith tells Josh “we are not filming something like that…it’s so dark” as he traps a cat in an oven (while being filmed). This could be seen as a break of the previously mentioned investment of the characters, but it is not, since Smith’s character is fully invested in his situation, and it is Smith the filmmaker who is acknowledging the moment’s absurdity.

A common form of sketch comedy is the TV show parody, famously produced by SNL under the recurring sketches “Weekend Update” and “Celebrity Jeopardy,” or Dave Chappelle’s Rick James “Documentary,” among others. Like other kinds of sketch comedy, they display the characteristic depiction of a realistic type of event, investment in that event, added absurdity, ruptured expectations based on the real form of that event, and the hypocritical dichotomy between what is being said and what is being done. Julian Smith has an example of one of these, which masquerades as a news program:

Sketch comedy can serve as a cultural or social comedy, such as Key & Peele‘s “East/West College Bowl” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gODZzSOelss) or College Humor’s “Really Hot Girl” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJNXCpfDrNo), though those are both examples of professional work, or it can merely be escapist humor, as “Malk” would likely be classified. Generally, it is produced for middle to upper middle class teenagers and young adults, the peers of the producers, as a way of sharing humor that stems from similar cultural experiences, such as job interviews (example: Paul Del Vecchio’s “Interview With an Applicant,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W_qrc-TkR8).

Two other examples of non-professional sketch comedy are:

DerrickComedy’s “Opposite Day,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiFKS62wQAA

BriTANick’s “Boys Night In,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0Wc8RQNtWU