The Sketch Life: Why Gina Ippolito Is Amazing

Thanks for everything, Gina. We’re all very lucky to have you.

Gina Ippolito Is Amazing

Gina is awesome. On top of being an amazing sitcom writer, sketch teacher, director, and writer, she is also a bad-ass community leader who gets things done, brings people together, holds individuals accountable, and holds herself to a standard that the rest of us should aspire to.

Gina should run for president one day and she would win. I’d be on her staff, getting coffee for everyone, knocking on doors and handing out pamphlets, driving little old ladies to the pools, holding hands with everyone in my precinct as we see Gina win the presidency against a crunchy old white dude named Stevenson.

Gina is amazing. She inspired me to be a better me by pushing me to be a better writer, and for that I will be forever grateful.

How did you study with Gina?

I had the pleasure of studying with Gina Ippolito this past summer for her Sketch Level 1 at the Pack Theater. It was Gina’s first class teaching at the Pack and I wanted to be a part of it!

I had heard great things about Gina — the people who love Gina, really love her, and will sing her praises because of something amazing she has probably done for them. Also, it had been a while since I had taken a sketch class, so I thought a refresher wouldn’t hurt. Luckily, I had enough work study hours — get on the Pack Theater work study team and take classes! — so I signed up and said “Yes!” to this brand new experience.

So what happened exactly that blew your mind about your sketch writing?

Gina made me aware of a serious writing problem I had. I brought in two sketches that I was proud of. The first one was called “Savages” and it was about a family where every single family member was Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage, and the second one was “The Harry Connick Jr. Colonoscopy,” a daytime talk show with southern beau Harry Connick Jr. getting a colonoscopy while talking with different guests.

I brought Savages one week, and I brought in the Harry Connick Jr. Colonoscopy the following week. I thought they were great stuff, and they got a good response in the room, but then Gina pointed out a consistent pattern in both sketches.

“These sketches are funny up top, but they then get repetitive and kind of samsies because you kind of play the same joke over and over. They lack real heightening. And you can tell by the energy in the room where you lost them. And I’ve noticed that’s something that happens in your sketches. Just something to become aware of and work on.”

*This is a rough paraphrase of what she said to me.

Damn. Her words stayed with me and lived with me. It wasn’t fun to confront the fact that I had this vital skill I had to work on, especially a skill so essential to being a great sketch writer. However, I’m happy and grateful that Gina told me those words.

What did Gina do for me?

Gina made me aware of writing patterns in my sketches that we’re holding them back from being truly amazing. She gave me notes on my individual sketches I brought in week after week, and she then found an underlying variable consistent in all of them — I wasn’t heightening enough.

She made my underlying writing patterns obvious to me; she framed them as an obstacle that I needed to surmount in order to become a better writer; she then challenged me to confront that obstacle head on and become a better writer for it.

Not to sound arrogant or overly confident, but people have told me that I can be a charismatic performer on stage. However, no amount of charisma is going to turn an okay sketch into a great one, a mediocre piece of writing into a transcendent one. If the sketch itself isn’t amazing to begin with, the performance of it will be constrained by that, no matter how good of a performer you may be to bring it to life. Great sketches set the stage for great performances and never forget that.

What makes Gina a great writing teacher?

All great writing teachers point out your strengths and weaknesses. They do it to show what you’re good at (and to instill some confidence). And they point out your weaknesses as an area of improvement, as a challenge of the writer you can become if you were to focus on this one skill.

It’s one thing to get notes on one sketch to fix that individual piece of writing; it’s another to group all the notes on all your sketches, find the underlying patterns reflective of your writing style–strengths and weaknesses–and use that as a basis for improving your sketch writing over all. Gina did that for me, and I’m eternally grateful

I don’t think Gina was trying to be profound or anything. She was just doing her job, which she happens to be amazing at.

One Final Thing: Huell Hoswer 

Also, one final thing , Gina helped me out with my first Huell Howser sketch a lot. It was a sketch called, “Huell Howser in Blade Runner,” and she helped me out by letting me bring in a new version to class every week and get feedback.

All the notes of heightening, of making things bigger, went into this goofy blackout sketch of Huell Howser doing Rutger Hauer’s speech at the end of the classic sci-fi film, Blade Runner. It was heightening sentence by sentence, word by word, one line at a time.

It ended up becoming one of the best sketches I’ve ever been a part of — thanks to the help of my old sketch team Nightchurch and the amazing director, Joe Wagner — and it became one my favorite impressions to do in front of an audience at the Pack Theater.

In fact, a Huell Howser sketch became the very last sketch I submitted to Nightchurch, a great piece called “Huell Howser Goes To Hell,” one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had on the Pack Stage.

And none of this would’ve happened had Gina not encouraged me to keep rewriting this super niche blackout sketch about a cult television personality most people either know or don’t know  in a cult film a lot of people still haven’t watched– thanks again, Gina.

*I just subconsciously realized that Huell Howser is known for saying “That’s amazing,” and since I brought this sketch in a lot to Gina’s summer class, this is maybe where I started saying “Gina is amazing!” Something think about for myself.

Thank You, Gina

Gina pushed me to be a better writer and to always do my best work, to take my sketches and heighten the hell out of them and see where that takes them (and me as a writer). For holding me accountable to myself, the work I put on stage, and what I can be as a writer, thank you Gina.

So if you ever get the chance to study with Gina Ippolito at the Pack Theater for Sketch Level 1 class, I highly recommend it! Take it sooner than later! Gina is amazing and now you know why.

Fernando

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