With this last article on the history of sketch comedy, I wanted to take the opportunity to reevaluate the past, present, and future of the genre as I've laid it out over the last six months. First of all I should say that this has hardly been the definitive guide to sketch; there are countless important sketch programs that I've neglected covering, chief among them every single British sketch show. What I was hoping to do was provide a bit of context to all these shows that we've all come to known and love, and give a better sense of the genre's past present and future.
The thing that [...]
The Upright Citizens Brigade began around 1990 as a live sketch group at the ImprovOlympic (now iO) Theater in Chicago. The iO was founded by improv legend Del Close, who mentored the group and provided the voiceover narration on their Comedy Central show's title sequence. Although almost all modern sketch comedy is indebted to Close and the Chicago improv scene, UCB bares the closest connection to the long form improv tradition. Many of their episodes (especially the early ones) are more or less modified Harolds, the canonical long form improv structure developed by Close. On a very basic level the Harold consists of three different scenarios that play out [...]
MADtv was created by Fax Bahr and Adam Small, two writers from In Living Color, Fox's first sketch show. It's very easy to see MADtv as Fox's follow up to In Living Color. Both shows were directed (at least initially) towards black and Latino audiences, both made extensive use of crude and crass humor, both relied heavily on reoccurring characters and both were critically-derided.
A key difference was that In Living Color had the Wayans family behind it. While the show was frequently inconsistent, it was capable of some great sketches on race in America. That aspect was largely absent from MADtv. Instead the show mostly stuck to [...]
The Ben Stiller Show was a brief but important show in the history of sketch comedy. The show ran on FOX from September 1992 through January 93, lasting just 13 episodes. It’s probably best remembered today for the people involved with the show who would go on to later fame, such as Judd Apatow and Andy Dick. It’s also where Bob Odenkirk, David Cross and Dino Stamatopoulos met. A few years later the three of them would help develop another important sketch show, Mr. Show.
The show features some sketches that anticipate the complex satire of both politics and pop culture that Mr. Show would specialize in. Take [...]
When we last left Saturday Night Live, the show was in dire straights. Having repeatedly tried and failed to find a formula that worked following the departure of the original cast and crew of the show in 1980, by 1985 SNL was on the verge of cancellation. In response, NBC re-hired Lorne Michaels, hoping that he would be able to fix the clearly broken show. Unfortunately, Michaels’ return was not all the show needed to get its groove back. The 11th season, his first one back, has become one of the most poorly regarded and least popular seasons in the show’s entire history.