Brevity is the soul of wit

We’ve been going to an amazing sketch-writing course on weekends. It involves watching classic sketches from Smack the Pony and Monty Python, laughing a lot, and then analysing why.

So it’s basically heaven. Oh and then we have to improvise on the spot in front of the whole class. Not so heavenly.

Wanted to share a few things from it, as – inevitably – there were many moments which crossed over into advertising. 

So this week, class, we’ll look at how the “craft” of sketch writing overlaps into crafting good ads. (forgive the use of the word ‘craft’, it is pretentious but necessary).

The classic sketch structure consists of:

The setup. The twist. Escalation. Pay-off.

The interesting bit is escalation. There are many different ways in which a comic can escalate the joke in a sketch…

Repetition – think of Lauren in Catherine Tate who is relentlessly ‘bovvered’. Or Cleese and his million ways to describe how the parrot is in fact dead.

Revelation – where a new layer of unexpectedness  is revealed. Or something new about the character which adds to the humour. e.g. the Constable Savage sketch in Not the 9 o’ clock News. In this, the constable is being disciplined for a bunch of absurd arrests. Then we find out that it’s the same man he’s been arresting. Then we find out why – because he’s black. and then we find out the script actually has a strong political polemic. Worth watching if you’ve not seen it (can’t find it on youtube though)

Variation – a new version of the same twist. For example, in this god-like Fry & Laurie sketch, a man insists his surname IS the sound of a lighter being dropped onto a counter. the variation on this joke comes when he insists his address IS a tap dancing sequence.

I was struck by how similar this is to writing an ad campaign. The joke is the central thought, or strategy. And the variations are simply different executions of the same thought – just as three posters in an ad campaign are basically escalating the same concept in different ways.

Our homework this week was to write a 3 minute sketch. I’m writing about call-centre ineptitude. Nat’s writing about delusional estate agents. Should be lots of fun. Any fun horror stories on either, please feel free to share – we may use it as script fodder – thanks.




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