Aside from Saturday Night Live, the sketch format seemed like something that faded from the comedy culture spotlight in the late ’90s and early 2000s, as sitcoms like Seinfeld, Friends, and Everybody Loves Raymond took the baton and became the face of funny following the end of a sketch boom that gave us The State, Kids in the Hall, In Living Color, and the early seasons of Mad TV. Then, something changed, and a new boom was suddenly upon us. Leading the resurgence? Comedy Central and talents like Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, and Jordan Peele. But why sketch, and why now? Here are a few reasons why sketch comedy is soaring once again.
Today’s viral culture makes sketches must-see TV.
Sketch comedy today isn’t relegated to just television, so the boundaries are wider, as is the pool of talent. Look at Above Average on YouTube (or countless indie sketch groups and other channels) and Funny or Die. But beyond that, the internet has changed the way that sketch comedy TV shows reach people at the same time as water cooler chatter has transformed to the online buzz culture of, “Have you seen that thing?”
Dan Powell, co-creator and executive producer of Inside Amy Schumer, sums it up best:
“Television is doing more interesting work, certainly because of the proliferation of all platforms. Now, there is more risk-taking and specific voices.”
More exposure for more people means everyone at the top level has to be on their game.
Powerhouse female stars have opened up the once male-dominated genre.
In case you missed it: Women are funny. AND they can helm a comedy series. Women have long been integral parts of sketch comedy favorites, but let’s be honest: Most of the best shows were male-dominated. The Kids in the Hall, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, etc., etc., etc.
Stars like Carrie Brownstein on Portlandia are on top because they can play with the boys while poking fun at the way women are typically portrayed (Amy’s “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup,” above, is brilliantly on-the-nose). They’re headlining groundbreaking programs and paving the way for more to come. And that’s to say nothing of SNL, a show that’s majorly powered by Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones, Vanessa Bayer, Sasheer Zamata, and Cecily Strong.
Two is better than one: Duos are back on top.
Duos have long been a staple of comedy – The Smothers brothers, Stiller and Meara, even Cross and Odenkirk. There’s a reason two is better than one. When two actors have unmistakable chemistry and share comedic timing, it’s fun to watch. You feel like you’re hearing a private conversation, being invited into the friendship.
While pairs were once typically pitted against each other – the straight man vs. the goof – today’s doubles are definitely in sync.
is funny: Audiences are ready for culturally-attentive humor.
Some comedy shows assume their viewers are “dumb,” but that’s not the case with this new breed. Sketches are culturally and socially relevant, and assume, rather than not, that their audience stays up to date on current events and politics, even if they aren’t getting their news from the most traditional of sources. Shows satirize series’ that intellectuals tune-in to, and drop below-the-belt digs at some of today’s most inexplicable social norms.
Production value is high, giving small screen sketches big screen quality.
TV execs are putting money behind sketch comedy, and it shows. Literally.
Key & Peele is the perfect example of a budget working to create an aesthetically pleasing end project. The attention to detail gives a movie feel in sketches that need a believable background to work. Whether it’s the hipster mecca of Portland or an alien uprising, setting is crucial, and today’s producers and stars understand that applies to more than just network dramas.