From Moonshot’s show in January “Tourists Love Ikea,” by Harris Markson, and yes, that is my belly sticking out. With Shalimar Malimban & Valerie Vasilas. PC Jasper Sams.
By Fernando A. Funes
The Sketch Writing Life – 02/13/19
I have a funny idea for a sketch. I write it down in a note book.
Or I go for a drive and write the sketch in my head.
I think up the beats (the chapters of this weird little story I have to tell) and the funny lines I can weave into the script.
I try to finish fast. Every first draft is marked “V1.”
A deadline helps with writing.
A deadline is a building with a bomb in it, and you have to run away from it in slow motion before it explodes.
Once you turn in your sketch, you can turn to the smoldering wreckage of the deadline and smile for a job done. Roll credits.
Sometimes the first draft is crap. The world’s eyes will never see it. In fact, you’ll delete it from your mind forever. Thrash bin => delete.
Sometimes the first draft is not too bad. A little more revision and you got something.
Or like Carl Weather says in Arrested Development when Tobias Funke throws an old porkchop bone into the thrash. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. There still plenty of meat on that bone. You take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you got a stew going.”
From the Moonshot February show, “Migrant Caravan,” a great sketch from Victor Samuel Lopez. With Mike Hughes, Shalimar Malimban, & Baldev Sandhu. PC: Jasper Sams.
And then sometimes the first draft is amazing.
What you saw in your head is what you were able to put on the page.
It’s King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone. Wolverine getting his adamantium claws. Steph Curry burying his first 3-pointer. It’s perfection.
Of all three scenarios, I prefer the Steph Curry one. I think you can get there with practice and determination.
So great, you have a great first draft. What do you do next.?
“Punch up.” As in making it funnier by adding as many jokes as possible.
Everything should be punched up.
Increase the laugh lines and jokes to maximum capacity so that your sketch is water proof vessel that will be sea worthy for whatever kinds of waters.
When you block it out, you’ll be able to squeeze in more bits that arrive organically to staging of it. But until that moment, make this the strongest sketch you possibly can — add the jokes.
Jokes are to a sketch what notes are to a guitar solo – they articulate the premise of the sketch by zooming in on one microscopic instance at once.
Like notes on a guitar solo, the jokes have to pair well with the theme/feeling of a sketch if they are going to land and make the audience laugh. They just can’t be random; they have to go with idea of the sketch.
*Side note: the solo from Prince’s “Purple Rain” is probably one of the most beautiful of all time.
I wish I could be more esoteric or sophisticated with my explanation of jokes, but they just make shit funny.
There was a thread a while back on the Pack Theater Community Board on Facebook where someone asked what makes a sketch funny, and Jesse Arlen Klein from the Pack Theater House Sketch Team Haymaker responded: “Jokes.” It blew my mind then, and it makes sense to me now. Clarity is hard things made simple.
Playing Meatloaf in a great sketch written by Mike Hughes for the January Moonshot Show. PC: Jasper Sams.
Don’t stop at the first draft
The thing is this: your first draft should not be your final draft, and if you end it there, you are doing a disservice to the sketch, your writing ability, and posterity.
I guarantee you that revising your sketch to the point of perfection will be immensely rewarding.
Reading the sketch in your group.
Once you read the final draft in your sketch group, and it gets the reaction you were hoping for (maybe even more than what you expected), that’s an incredible high, like smoking weed for the first time with your best friend from high school while his workaholic parents spend another day at the office.
It’s a confirmation you don’t get anywhere else. It’s a confirmation that says, “You’re funny. You belong here. Good work. Keep it up.”
It’s a validation that makes the table read a magical experience you won’t get anywhere else. Your sketch won’t always crush, but when it does, it must be what it feels like to hit a home run.
From “The Jose Lopez Show” written by me for Moonshot’s April 7th Show. With Moonshot friend John and Alejandro Garcia of Pack House Sketch Team Gutter & of the Latinx Comedy Pachanga. PC: Jasper Sams.
Your writing ability
Unfortunately, there is no sketch writing equivalent to Mikey from the Rocky franchise.
There is no grizzly veteran with a gnarled voice and crooked eye crying “You’re a bum, Fernando, a bum! Now give me 100 jokes with one arm tied behind your back!”
I mean that would be cool, but its’ not going to happen. If you don’t push yourself to be the absolute best writer you can be, no one will.
So if you don’t hold yourself accountable to turn in your best work, no one will.
Worst of all, people will know during the table read: this is not his best work.
And you now have to walk around knowing that you may have potentially wasted people’s time by making them read a mediocre sketch you knew better than to not turn in but you still turned in.
Push yourself. You might be surprised what you can write when you challenge yourself.
From the sketch “Do You Want Fries with That?” from Valerie Vasilas for our Moonshot February Show. With Renata Shaykhedinova, Baldev Sandhu, Alli Ramirez, Me, & Valerie. PC: Jasper Sams.
I reread an old sketch of mine I hadn’t read in two years. It was the final draft. Looking at this time capsule of my writing from 2 years ago, I was a bit smitten with myself.
I forgot I wrote it. I forgot how much passion went into that final draft.
It was the last sketch I wrote for my Sketch Level 2 class at the Pack Theater with Sam Brown. It was called “The Rooster,” and it was inspired from the Alice in Chains song with the same title.
It was about an actual rooster who went to Vietnam, came home to live a normal life, but was forced to execute vigilante justice on the neighborhood thugs who hurt his family.
It was a synthesis of all the things I loved: the classic Alice In Chains song Jerry Cantrell wrote about his father’s experiences in Vietnam, Vietnam Movies like Oliver Stone’s Platoon, the Hughes Bros. Dead Presidents, Rambo, Rolling Thunder, Full Metal Jacket, and non-Vietnam 80’s action movies with their over-the-top violence, corny, hackneyed plots, and just pure absurdity that felt like you were watching a live action cartoon.
Teaching sketch has also been a thing I’ve been doing lately. Thank you to Breath of Fire Latina Ensemble & Crear Studio in Santa Ana, CA (my hometown!) for all the opportunities.
Write about the things you love
I haven’t written anything like it since, but after looking at a lot of my favorite works, I realize that some of my best stuff is always an homage to something I love.
I guess the past is a mirror to our former selves and to not lose focus of what makes us who we are, and if we can always hold on to that – that fact – we’ll be okay.
I guess that’s why there are so many movies about a hero who lost his way returns to his roots to rediscover who he was originally –
The Might Ducks
D2: The Mighty Ducks
D3: The Mighty Ducks
I guess Gordon Bombay strayed from his roots so much that he constantly had to be reminded who he was and where he was from. Except in part three you exchange Gordon Bombay for his protégé Charlie, but you still got the same formula.
And so I guess in writing this article/blog/editorial because I’m going back to my roots of essay writing.
Before I was a sketch writer, I was an essay writer. Thanks to all the great teachers in English, History, and Poli-Sci who helped make me the writer I am today. With Professor David Wetzel from UC Berkeley, Summer 2014.
Being a Sketch Writer
Before I was sketch writer, I was an essay writer.
Going back to that identity has made me realize this: most of my learning takes place when I write it out in essay format with the purpose of sharing it with the world, be it as teacher, a classmate, or an online audience of fb friends.
And I guess what I’m trying to say as well is that the sketch writing life is an uncommon path, a trajectory you’re going to have to map out on your own.
No sketch writing life will look the same, but we can all take comfort in the fact that we are all priests and priestess in the church of comedy, and every sketch brings us closer to enlightenment and nirvana, and that for one fleeting moment we understand why we are alive and what we’re here to do.
Anyways, thanks for listening. I’m now going to go punch up my sketch about all the people who hate the Eagles and
This is a picture from one of the very first sketch shows I ever produced and directed with a great bunch of friends from Orange County. It has a special place in my sketch journey. I’m a sentimental dude, so that’s why I’m sharing it here.