Peter’s Commentary on the “Advertising” Edition
22 February 2009
by Peter Rogers
Okay, I’m finally catching up on some more commentary entries for Sketchwar. The week of 1/30/09, the topic was “Advertising”.
Sketchwar keeps picking up competitors. This time we had *six* (!) sketches: one from Mr. Wilson, one from Mr. Robertson, one from Mr. Porter, one from Mr. Brownlee, one from Mr. Stinton, and this one from me.
First off, let’s look at Mr. Wilson’s sketch.
This is the first time I’ve wished that a sketch never got to the point. Basically, everything up to Bart’s “I’d be lying if said I didn’t think so.” is, IMHO, gold. I love how the ‘lying about lying about the lie’ quickly reaches Abbot-and-Costello levels of incomprehensibility.
Oh, but then they get to the point of the sketch. Fine. Let’s get back to comedy. So it’s about pitching a product. There’s a pretty good bit about the “time travel device”, but it feels like a digression. Then there’s the new logo, which is a nice-enough pun.
But man, I wish that he’d just gone into the stratosphere with endless lie-recursion.
On to Mr. Robertson’s sketch: yes. Thank god. Somebody did an ad.
The descriptions should be more concise, and there’s a sketch hiding in this one that’s about half as long and twice as funny, but there’s a lot to like about this. The lines about the individual models are wonderfully vicious, and I love the idea of just guilting/insulting the audience into buying American cars.
If I were rewriting this, I’d try to cut through the setup quicker (= “get to the funny part faster”), maybe just do one car (the Corvette is my favorite), and try to go even further over the top with “just buy it already, or be a god-hating terrorist faggot douchebag”.
And now, Mr. Porter’s sketch. First, a tiny technical note: this opening description is the best I’ve seen you do yet. Very nicely done.
I liked the nod to Mad Men, I didn’t quite get the “crow” reference, and I stifled a guilty laugh over the “Rock Hunter” reference. Still, I felt like the sketch really started with “There’s no ad campaign we can create that can help you.” It’s a complicated setup, but the payoff (selling ice to the Eskimos) is worth it. It’s kind of the equivalent of a “shaggy-dog story” at the local pun-off.
Just move it a little bit faster, and by the time the audience wonders what the hell the sketch is about, you’ll be hitting them with the punch line.
Mr. Brownlee’s sketch also went the ‘ad’ route, but it really didn’t do much for me. The satirical target (people who wear endorsed clothing?) seemed kind of harmless, the ‘left nut’ Lance Armstrong joke didn’t work for me, and the sketch never went beyond just explaining the concept of celebs-threads.com.
That said, other folks seemed to dig it, so take my words with the usual grain of salt. I may just be too used to celeb-obsessed commerce to recoil with laughter.
Finally, Mr. Stinton’s sketch was delightfully manipulative. I started out thinking, “Ugh, another pedantic, on-the-nose anti-commercial screed.” Then Bill Paxton showed up and I realized I’d been outfoxed. And yeah, Johnny asking for “an unwieldy, self-reflexive piece of sketch comedy” was the perfect way to turn the whole thing into a matryoshka doll.
No useful advice from me. I just wish I saw more sketches that utterly faked me out like that.
Okay, on to my sketch. Basically, I was ripping off an improv setup called “press conference” — one improvisor comes out as a spokesman, and makes some innocuous announcement to the press. The reporters repeatedly misinterpret what the spokesman says until they’re accusing the spokesman of something horrifying. In one such sketch, we had a Nike spokesman make an announcement about employee benefits; within two minutes, we reporters were accusing Nike of being responsible for the Holocaust. Good times.
Anyway, I figured I’d do the same setup, only with a slogan that people took wrong. Try as I might, I couldn’t make that funny — which was frustrating, because improvisors regularly mine hilarity out of this setup. So I wound up amusing myself by introducing Harper and his off-the-wall attempts at poetry. *shrug*
I am happy with the ending, though.
I’ve said before that sketches are hell to end. Scenes have characters with conflicting objectives; when one character wins (and the other guy loses), you have a strong feeling that the scene is over. With sketches, you don’t have that built-in structure, and so it’s hard to make a sketch feel like it’s ‘done’. Part of the challenge of Sketchwar is to keep coming up with ways to *end* these damn things.
Anyway, I knew I wanted to go for a full-on cheesy ending with this one. Yeah, they’d go with their previous, much-more-obviously-offensive slogan. Fine. Hell, if we’re going to go that cheesy, why not have a laugh track for it?
And then it occurred to me that I could go all weird and have the characters hear the laugh track. And they could go after the laugh-ers with guns. (I’m kind of ripping off the two guards from “The Tick vs. Brainchild” here.)
From that point on, I was basically writing the whole sketch as a prolonged excuse to get to that ending. I had to work really hard to ensure that the ending was as out-of-left-field as possible, so I made sure that, no matter how frustrated they were, neither Sam nor Dave showed any signs of violence. And yes, I realize that I have previously told Mr. Porter, “[...] this scene needs a button that ties in to the scene we’ve seen so far [....]” All I know is, I still laugh like hell when the two guys pull out weapons and kick down the door for no reason.