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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 Vaudeville (; ) is a of born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation: a dramatic composition or light poetry, mixed with songs or b ...
, and is used widely in comedy and
variety shows Variety show, also known as variety arts or variety entertainment, is entertainment made up of a variety of acts including musical theatre, musical performances, sketch comedy, magic (illusion), magic, acrobatics, juggling, and ventriloquism. It is ...
,
talk shows A talk show (or chat show in British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early ...
, and some
children's television series Children's television series are television programs designed for children, normally scheduled for broadcast during the morning and afternoon when children are awake. They can sometimes run during the early evening, allowing younger children to wa ...
. The sketches may be
improvised Improvisation is the activity of making or doing something not planned beforehand, using whatever can be found. Improvisation in the performing arts is a very spontaneous performance without specific or scripted preparation. The skills of impro ...
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") while a sketch is a comedic exploration of a concept, character, or situation.Sketch
definition 3b, Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved 5/4/2019


History

Sketch comedy has its origins in
vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a of born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation: a dramatic composition or light poetry, mixed with songs or b ...
and
music hall Music hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment that was popular from the early Victorian era, beginning around 1850. It faded away after 1918 as the halls Rebranding, rebranded their entertainment as Variety show, variety. Perceptio ...

music hall
, where many brief humorous acts were strung together to form a larger programme. In
Britain Britain usually refers to: * United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United ...

Britain
, it moved to
stage Stage or stages may refer to: Acting * Stage (theatre), a space for the performance of theatrical productions * Theatre, a branch of the performing arts, often referred to as "the stage" * ''The Stage'', a weekly British theatre newspaper * Stag ...
performances by
Cambridge Footlights Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, commonly referred to simply as the Footlights, is an amateur theatrical club in Cambridge Cambridge ( ) is a College town, university city and the county town of Cambridgeshire, England, on the ...
, 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 ''It's That Man Again'' (commonly contracted to ''ITMA'') was a BBC radio comedy programme which ran over twelve series from 1939 to 1949. The shows featured Tommy Handley in the central role, a fast-talking figure, around whom all the othe ...
'' and ''
I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again ''I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again'' (often abbreviated as ''ISIRTA'') is a BBC radio comedy programme that originated from the Cambridge University Footlights revue '' Cambridge Circus''. It had a devoted youth following, with live recordings ...
'', then to television, with such shows as '' Not Only... But Also'', ''
Monty Python's Flying Circus ''Monty Python’s Flying Circus'' (also known as simply ''Monty Python''; sometimes abbreviated ''MPFC'') is a British surreal humour, surreal sketch comedy series created by and starring the comedy group Monty Python, consisting of Graham Ch ...
,'' ''
Not the Nine O'Clock News ''Not the Nine O'Clock News'' is a British television sketch comedy show which was broadcast on BBC Two, BBC2 from 1979 to 1982. Originally shown as a comedy alternative to the ''BBC Nine O'Clock News, Nine O'Clock News'' on BBC One, BBC1, it feat ...
'' (and its successor ''
Alas Smith and Jones ''Alas Smith and Jones'' is a British comedy sketch comedy, sketch television series starring comedy duo and namesake Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones that originally ran for four series and two Christmas specials on BBC Two, BBC2 from 1984 to 1988 ...
''), and ''
A Bit of Fry and Laurie ''A Bit of Fry & Laurie'' is a British sketch comedy 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. ...
''. In Mexico, the series '' Los Supergenios de la Mesa Cuadrada'', created by Mexican comedian Roberto Gómez Bolaños under the stage name
Chespirito Roberto Gómez Bolaños (21 February 1929 – 28 November 2014), more commonly known by his stage name Chespirito, or "Little Shakespeare William Shakespeare (baptism, bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, ...

Chespirito
, was broadcast between 1968 and 1973, creating such famous characters as
El Chavo del Ocho ''El Chavo'' (also known as ''El Chavo del Ocho'' during its earliest episodes) is a Mexico, Mexican television sitcom created by Roberto Gómez Bolaños, produced by Televisa. It aired as an independent series on February 26, 1973 and finalized ...
and . 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 ''Monty Python’s Flying Circus'' (also known as simply ''Monty Python''; sometimes abbreviated ''MPFC'') is a British surreal humour, surreal sketch comedy series created by and starring the comedy group Monty Python, consisting of Graham Ch ...
''; Ted and Ralph from ''
The Fast Show ''The Fast Show'', known as ''Brilliant'' in the US, is a BBC The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a public service broadcaster, headquartered at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London London is the capital city, capit ...
''; The Family from ''
The Carol Burnett Show ''The Carol Burnett Show'' is an American Variety show, variety/sketch comedy television show starring Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner. In 1975, frequent guest star Tim Conway became a regular after Waggoner left ...
''; the Head Crusher from ''
The Kids in the Hall The Kids in the Hall are a Canadian sketch comedy 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 fo ...
'';
Martin Short Martin Hayter Short (born March 26, 1950) is a Canadian-American actor, comedian, singer, and writer. He is known for his work on the television programs '' SCTV'' and ''Saturday Night Live ''Saturday Night Live'' (also known as ''SNL' ...

Martin Short
's
Ed Grimley Edward Mayhoff 'Ed' Grimley is a fictional character created and portrayed by Martin Short Martin Hayter Short (born March 26, 1950) is a Canadian actor, comedian, singer, and writer. He is known for his work on the television programs '' SC ...
, a recurring character from both '' SCTV'' and ''
Saturday Night Live ''Saturday Night Live'' (also known as ''SNL'') is an American late-night live television sketch comedy Sketch comedy comprises a series of short, amusing scenes or vignettes, called "sketches", commonly between one and ten minutes long, ...

Saturday Night Live
''; The Nerd from ''
Robot Chicken ''Robot Chicken'' is an American adult animated stop motion sketch comedy Sketch comedy comprises a series of short scenes or vignettes, called "sketches", commonly between one and ten minutes long. Such sketches are performed by a group of comi ...
''; and Kevin and Perry from ''
Harry Enfield and Chums ''Harry Enfield & Chums'' (originally titled ''Harry Enfield's Television Programme'') is a British sketch show starring Harry Enfield, Paul Whitehouse and Kathy Burke. It first broadcast on BBC2 in 1990 in the 9 pm slot on Thursday ni ...
''. Recurring characters from ''Saturday Night Live'' have notably been featured in a number of spinoff films, including ''
The Blues Brothers The Blues Brothers are an American blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by African-Americans from roots in Plantation-era songs, African-American work s ...
'' (1980), ''
Wayne's World "Wayne's World" was originally a recurring sketch from the NBC The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial radio Radio is the technology of signaling and telecommunication, communicati ...
'' (1992) and ''
Superstar A superstar is someone who has great popular appeal and is widely known, prominent, or successful in their field. Celebrities referred to as "superstars" may include individuals who work as actors, musicians, athletes, and other media-based profe ...
'' (1999). The idea of running characters was taken a step further with shows like ''
The Red Green Show ''The Red Green Show'' is a Canadian television comedy that aired on various channels in Canada, with its ultimate home at CBC Television, and on PBS, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States (airing on more than 100 PBS affiliates ...
'' and ''
The League of Gentlemen ''The League of Gentlemen'' is a surreal British comedy horror sitcom that premiered on BBC Two in 1999. The programme is set in Royston Vasey, a fictional town in northern England, originally based on Alston, Cumbria, and follows the lives o ...
'', where sketches centered on the various inhabitants of the fictional towns of
Possum Lake ''The Red Green Show'' is a Canadian television comedy that aired on various channels in Canada, with its ultimate home at CBC Television, and on PBS, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States (airing on more than 100 PBS affiliate ...
and
Royston Vasey ''The League of Gentlemen'' is a surreal British sitcom that premiered on BBC Two in 1999. The programme is set in Royston Vasey, a fictional town in northern England, originally based on Alston, Cumbria, and follows the lives of List of chara ...
, respectively. In ''
Little Britain ''Little Britain'' is a British sketch comedy Sketch comedy comprises a series of short scenes or vignettes, called "sketches", commonly between one and ten minutes long. Such sketches are performed by a group of comic actors or comedians, eith ...

Little Britain
'', sketches focused on a cast of recurring characters. In
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

North America
, contemporary sketch comedy is largely an outgrowth of the
improvisational comedy Improvisational theatre, often called improvisation or improv, is the form of theatre Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real o ...
scene that flourished during the 1970s, largely growing out of ''
The Second City The Second City is an improvisational theatre, improvisational comedy enterprise and is the first ongoing improvisational theater troupe to be continually based in Chicago, with training programs and live theatres in Toronto and Los Angeles. The ...
'' in
Chicago (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map = , map_caption = Interactive map of Chicago , coordinates = , coordinates_footnotes = , subdivision_type = Country , subdivision_name ...

Chicago
and
Toronto Toronto (, ) is the capital city of the Provinces and territories of Canada, Canadian province of Ontario. With a recorded population of 2,731,571 in 2016 in 2016, it is the List of the largest municipalities in Canada by population, most p ...

Toronto
, which was built upon the success in Minneapolis of The Brave New Workshop and
Dudley Riggs Dudley Riggs (January 18, 1932 – September 22, 2020) was an improvisational comedian who created the Instant Theater Company in New York, which later moved to Minneapolis Minneapolis () is a city in the U.S. state of Minnesota. With a popu ...

Dudley Riggs
. Notable contemporary American stage sketch comedy groups include The Second City, the
Upright Citizens Brigade The Upright Citizens Brigade is an improvisational and sketch comedy Sketch comedy comprises a series of short scenes or vignettes, called "sketches", commonly between one and ten minutes long. Such sketches are performed by a group of comic actor ...
, and
The Groundlings The Groundlings are an Improvisational theatre, improvisational and sketch comedy troupe and school based in Los Angeles, California. The troupe was formed by Gary Austin in 1974 and uses an improv format influenced by Viola Spolin, whose improv ...
.
Warner Bros. Animation Warner Bros. Animation is an American animation studio owned by the Global Kids, Young Adults and Classics division of Warner Bros. Entertainment. The studio is closely associated with the ''Looney Tunes ''Looney Tunes'' is an American Animat ...
made two sketch comedy shows, '' Mad'' and ''''.


Films

An early British example is the influential ''
The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film ''The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film'' is a 1959 British sketch comedy short film directed by Richard Lester and Peter Sellers, in collaboration with Bruce Lacey. The film was released in 1959. It was filmed over two Sundays in 1959, at a ...
'' (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 ''The Groove Tube'' is a 1974 American Independent film, independent comedy film written and produced by Ken Shapiro and starring Shapiro, Richard Belzer and Chevy Chase. It features the song "Move On Up" by Curtis Mayfield in its opening scene. T ...
'', '' Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)'', ''
The Kentucky Fried Movie ''The Kentucky Fried Movie'' is a 1977 independently made American sketch comedy Sketch comedy comprises a series of short scenes or vignettes, called "sketches", commonly between one and ten minutes long. Such sketches are performed by a group ...
'' and its sequel ''
Amazon Women on the Moon ''Amazon Women on the Moon'' is a 1987 American satirical sci-fi File:Imagination 195808.jpg, Space exploration, as predicted in August 1958 in the science fiction magazine ''Imagination (magazine), Imagination.'' Science fiction (sometimes s ...
'', and
Monty Python Monty Python (also collectively known as the Pythons) were a British who created the television show ', which first aired on the in 1969. Forty-five episodes were made over four series. The Python phenomenon developed from the television ...
's ''
And Now for Something Completely Different ''And Now for Something Completely Different'' is a 1971 British sketch comedy Sketch comedy comprises a series of short scenes or vignettes, called "sketches", commonly between one and ten minutes long. Such sketches are performed by a group of c ...
'' and '' The Meaning of Life''. More recent sketch films include '' The Underground Comedy Movie'', '' InAPPropriate Comedy'', ''
Movie 43 ''Movie 43'' is a 2013 American Anthology film, anthology comedy film co-directed and produced by Peter Farrelly, and written by Rocky Russo and Jeremy Sosenko among others. The film features fourteen different storylines, each one by a different ...
'' and '' Livrés chez vous sans contact''.


Festivals

Many of the sketch comedy
revue A revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actor, actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a liv ...

revue
s in Britain included seasons at the
Edinburgh Fringe Festival The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (also referred to as The Fringe or Edinburgh Fringe, or Edinburgh Fringe Festival) is the world's largest arts festival, which in 2018 spanned 25 days and featured more than 55,000 performances of 3,548 different sh ...
. Since 1999, the growing sketch comedy scene has precipitated the development of sketch comedy festivals in cities all around North America, including festivals in
Boston Boston (, ), officially the City of Boston, is the capital city, capital and List of municipalities in Massachusetts, most populous city of the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States and 21st List of Unit ...

Boston
,
Chicago (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map = , map_caption = Interactive map of Chicago , coordinates = , coordinates_footnotes = , subdivision_type = Country , subdivision_name ...

Chicago
,
Kansas City The Kansas City metropolitan area is a bi-state metropolitan area A metropolitan area or metro is a region consisting of a densely populated urban core Urban means "related to a city". In that sense, the term may refer to: * Urban area ...

Kansas City
,
Los Angeles Los Angeles ( ; xgf, Tovaangar; es, Los Ángeles, , ), commonly referred to by the initialism An acronym is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be u ...

Los Angeles
,
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
,
Montreal Montreal ( ; officially Montréal, ) is the second-most populous city in Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of . Its extend from the to the and northward into the , covering , making it the world's . Its southern and w ...

Montreal
, ,
San Francisco San Francisco (; Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (dis ...

San Francisco
,
Seattle Seattle ( ) is a seaport The Porticciolo del Cedas port in Barcola The thumb is the first digit of the hand, next to the index finger. When a person is standing in the medical anatomical position (where the palm is facing to the front) ...

Seattle
,
Toronto Toronto (, ) is the capital city of the Provinces and territories of Canada, Canadian province of Ontario. With a recorded population of 2,731,571 in 2016 in 2016, it is the List of the largest municipalities in Canada by population, most p ...

Toronto
,
Vancouver Vancouver ( ) is a major city in western Canada Western Canada, also referred to as the Western Provinces and more commonly known as the West, is a region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth desc ...

Vancouver
, and
Philadelphia Philadelphia (colloquially known simply as Philly) is the largest city in the Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is ...

Philadelphia
.


See also

*
British Comedy Awards The British Comedy Awards was an annual awards ceremony in the United Kingdom between 1990 and 2014, celebrating notable comedians and entertainment performances of the previous year. History The awards were shown live on ITV (TV network), ITV in ...
* List of sketch comedy groups * List of sketch comedy TV series * Nininbaori * List of recurring ''Saturday Night Live'' characters and sketches * ''Saturday Night Live'' TV show sketches *
Brave New Workshop Two theater members in front of the building, Hennepin Avenue The Brave New Workshop Comedy Theater (BNW), is a sketch and improvisational comedy Improvisational theatre, often called improvisation or improv, is the form of theatre, often comedy ...


References

{{Authority control Television genres