Sketch comedy

Last updated
The actors of Nightmare on Overwhelmed Street performing in 2018. Nightmare On Overwhelmed St 8-22-18 29.jpg
The actors of Nightmare on Overwhelmed Street performing in 2018.

Sketch comedy comprises a series of short, amusing scenes or vignettes, called "sketches", commonly between one and ten minutes long, performed by a group of comic actors or comedians. The form developed and became popular in vaudeville, and is used widely in variety shows, comedy talk shows, and some sitcoms and children's television series. The sketches may be improvised live by the performers, developed through improvisation before public performance, or scripted and rehearsed in advance like a play. Sketch comedians routinely differentiate their work from a "skit", maintaining that a skit is a (single) dramatized joke (or "bit") [1] while a sketch is a comedic exploration of a concept, character, or situation. [2] Sketch comedy is a genre within American television that includes a multitude of schemes and identities. An important element of sketches are jokes, which may display bias and inappropriate meanings. An analysis of a popular sketch show may be found in Steve Neale and Frank Krutnik's Popular Film and Television Comedy (pub. Routledge, 1990).[ clarification needed ]



Sketch comedy has its origins in vaudeville and music hall, where many brief humorous acts were strung together to form a larger programme.

In Britain, it moved to stage performances by Cambridge Footlights, such as Beyond the Fringe and A Clump of Plinths (which evolved into Cambridge Circus ), to radio, with such shows as It's That Man Again and I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again , then to television, with such shows as Not Only... But Also , Monty Python's Flying Circus, Not the Nine O'Clock News (and its successor Alas Smith and Jones ), and A Bit of Fry and Laurie .

An early, perhaps the first, televised example of a sketch comedy show is Texaco Star Theater aka The Milton Berle Show 1948–1967, hosted by Milton Berle [3] In Mexico, the series Los Supergenios de la Mesa Cuadrada , created by Mexican comedian Roberto Gómez Bolaños under the stage name Chespirito, was broadcast between 1968 and 1973, creating such famous characters as El Chavo del Ocho and El Chapulín Colorado.

While separate sketches historically have tended to be unrelated, more recent groups have introduced overarching themes that connect the sketches within a particular show with recurring characters that return for more than one appearance. Examples of recurring characters include Mr. Gumby from Monty Python's Flying Circus ; Ted and Ralph from The Fast Show ; The Family from The Carol Burnett Show ; the Head Crusher from The Kids in the Hall ; Martin Short's Ed Grimley, a recurring character from both SCTV and Saturday Night Live ; The Nerd from Robot Chicken ; and Kevin and Perry from Harry Enfield and Chums . Recurring characters from Saturday Night Live have notably been featured in a number of spinoff films, including The Blues Brothers (1980), Wayne's World (1992) and Superstar (1999).

The idea of running characters was taken a step further with shows like The Red Green Show and The League of Gentlemen , where sketches centered on the various inhabitants of the fictional towns of Possum Lake and Royston Vasey, respectively. In Little Britain , sketches focused on a cast of recurring characters.

In North America, contemporary sketch comedy is largely an outgrowth of the improvisational comedy scene that flourished during the 1970s, largely growing out of The Second City in Chicago and Toronto, which was built upon the success in Minneapolis of The Brave New Workshop and Dudley Riggs.

Notable contemporary American stage sketch comedy groups include The Second City, the Upright Citizens Brigade, and The Groundlings. In South Bend, Indiana, area high school students produced a sketch comedy series called Beyond Our Control that aired on the local NBC affiliate WNDU-TV from 1967 to 1986. Warner Bros. Animation made two sketch comedy shows, Mad and Right Now Kapow .

Australian television of the '80s and '90s featured several successful sketch comedy shows, notably The Comedy Company , whose recurring characters included Col'n Carpenter, Kylie Mole and Con the Fruiterer.


An early British example is the influential The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959). Sketch films made during the 1970s and 1980s include If You Don't Stop It... You'll Go Blind and the sequel Can I Do It... 'Til I Need Glasses? , The Groove Tube , Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) , The Kentucky Fried Movie and its sequel Amazon Women on the Moon , and Monty Python's And Now for Something Completely Different and The Meaning of Life .

More recent sketch films include The Underground Comedy Movie , InAPPropriate Comedy , Movie 43 and Livrés chez vous sans contact .


Many of the sketch comedy revues in Britain included seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Since 1999, the growing sketch comedy scene has precipitated the development of sketch comedy festivals in cities all around North America. Noted festivals include:

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monty Python</span> British surreal comedy group

Monty Python were a British comedy troupe formed in 1969 consisting of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. The group came to prominence for the sketch comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–1974). Their work then developed into a larger collection that included live shows, films, albums, books, and musicals; their influence on comedy has been compared to the Beatles' influence on music. Their sketch show has been called "an important moment in the evolution of television comedy".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dead Parrot sketch</span> Monty Python sketch

The "Dead Parrot Sketch", alternatively and originally known as the "Pet Shop Sketch" or "Parrot Sketch", is a sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus about a non-existent species of parrot, called a "Norwegian Blue". A satire on poor customer service, it was written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman and initially performed in the show's first series, in the eighth episode.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eric Idle</span> British comedian, actor and writer

Eric Idle is an English actor, comedian, musician and writer. Idle was a member of the British surreal comedy group Monty Python and the parody rock band The Rutles, and is the writer of the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Spamalot.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Comedian</span> Person who seeks to entertain an audience, primarily by making them laugh

A comedian or comic is a person who seeks to entertain an audience by making them laugh. This might be through jokes or amusing situations, or acting foolish, or employing prop comedy. A comedian who addresses an audience directly is called a stand-up comedian.

<i>The State</i> (American TV series) TV series

The State is an American sketch comedy television series, originally broadcast on MTV from 1994 to 1995. The show combined bizarre characters and scenarios to present sketches that won the favor of its target teenaged audience. The cast consisted of comedy troupe The State, who were 11 comedians who created, acted, wrote, directed and edited the show. In various combinations, the former members of The State have continued to collaborate over the years, with alumni playing major creative, directing and acting roles in a number of notable projects including Reno 911! and Wet Hot American Summer.

<i>Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl</i> 1982 British film

Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl is a 1982 British concert comedy film directed by Terry Hughes and starring the Monty Python comedy troupe as they perform many of their sketches at the Hollywood Bowl. The film also features Carol Cleveland in numerous supporting roles and Neil Innes performing songs. Also present for the shows and participating as an 'extra' was Python superfan Kim "Howard" Johnson.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">British humour</span>

British humour carries a strong element of satire aimed at the absurdity of everyday life. Common themes include sarcasm, tongue-in-cheek, banter, insults, self-deprecation, taboo subjects, puns, innuendo, wit, and the British class system. These are often accompanied by a deadpan delivery which is present throughout the British sense of humour. It may be used to bury emotions in a way that seems unkind in the eyes of other cultures. Jokes are told about everything and almost no subject is off-limits, though a lack of subtlety when discussing controversial issues is sometimes considered insensitive. Many British comedy series have become successful internationally, serving as a representation of British culture to overseas audiences.

A recurring character is a fictional character, usually in a prime time TV series, who frequently appears from time to time during the series' run. Recurring characters often play major roles in more than one episode, sometimes being the main focus. They may be contrasted with "regular" characters, who typically appear in every or almost every episode of a series. Recurring characters appear less frequently than regulars, but more frequently than guest star characters, who may appear in only one or two episodes without being expected to return.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bruces sketch</span> Monty Python sketch

The Bruces sketch is a comedy sketch that originally appeared in a 1970 episode of the television show Monty Python's Flying Circus, episode 22, "How to Recognise Different Parts of the Body", and was subsequently performed on audio recordings and live on many occasions by the Monty Python team.

<i>Monty Pythons Fliegender Zirkus</i>  TV series or program

Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus are a pair of 45-minute Monty Python German television comedy specials produced by WDR for West German television. The two episodes were respectively first broadcast in January and December 1972 and were shot entirely on film and mostly on location in Bavaria, with the first episode recorded in German and the second recorded in English and then dubbed into German.

Mr Eric Praline is a fictional character from the television show Monty Python's Flying Circus, played by comedian John Cleese.

The Frantics is a Canadian comedy troupe consisting of Paul Chato, Rick Green, Dan Redican and Peter Wildman.

Edward Ian MacNaughton was a Scottish actor-turned-television producer and director, best known for his work with the Monty Python team.

Germany has a long tradition of television comedy stretching as far back as the 1950s, and with its origins in cabaret and radio.

Tony Roche is an English television, radio and film comedy writer and producer, best known as a writer of the HBO comedy Veep, the BBC Television series The Thick of It and its film spin-off In the Loop.

<i>Monty Pythons Flying Circus</i> British sketch comedy television series

Monty Python's Flying Circus is a British surreal sketch comedy series created by and starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam, who became known collectively as "Monty Python", or the "Pythons". The first episode was recorded at the BBC on 7 September 1969 and premiered on 5 October on BBC1, with 45 episodes airing over four series from 1969 to 1974, plus two episodes for German TV. A feature film adaptation of several sketches, And Now for Something Completely Different, was released in 1971.

<i>Monty Python: Almost the Truth</i> (Lawyers Cut) British TV series or program

Monty Python: Almost the Truth is a 2009 television documentary series in six parts that covers 40 years of the surreal comedy group Monty Python, from Flying Circus to present day projects such as the musical Spamalot. The series highlights their childhood, schooling and university life, and pre-Python work. The series featured new interviews with surviving members John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, alongside archive interview footage of Graham Chapman and interviews with several associates of the Pythons, including Carol Cleveland, Neil Innes and Chapman's partner David Sherlock, along with commentary from modern comedians.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Colonel (Monty Python)</span> Fictional character from Monty Pythons Flying Circus

The Colonel is a recurring fictional character from the British television show Monty Python's Flying Circus, played by Graham Chapman.

Dick and Dom's Funny Business is a British comedy television series for children, hosted by comic presenting duo Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood. The series was broadcast in a Saturday morning slot on BBC Two and simulcast on the CBBC Channel, and was Dick and Dom's return to Saturday mornings following the success of Dick & Dom in da Bungalow, which ended in Spring 2006. Unlike ...da Bungalow, which was largely broadcast live and ran for up to three hours with inserted content, ...Funny Business was a pre-recorded, self-contained one-hour programme. The first series began in January 2011 and ran for 13 episodes.

Television comedy is a category of broadcasting that has been present since the early days of entertainment media. While there are several genres of comedy, some of the first ones aired were variety shows. One of the first United States television programs was the comedy-variety show Texaco Star Theater, which was most prominent in the years that it featured Milton Berle - from 1948 to 1956. The range of television comedy has become broader, with the addition of sitcoms, improvisational comedy, and stand-up comedy, while also adding comedic aspects into other television genres, including drama and news. Television comedy provides opportunities for viewers to relate the content in these shows to society. Some audience members may have similar views about certain comedic aspects of shows, while others will take different perspectives. This also relates to developing new social norms, sometimes acting as the medium that introduces these transitions.


  1. Skit, Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
  2. Sketch, definition 3b, Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved 5/4/2019
  3. Tim Brooks; Earle Marsh (eds.). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shoes (sixth ed.). ISBN   0345397363.