A camera, an idea, and a method to reach an audience are the basic ingredients for sketch comedy. Success can be an instant or a result of consistently creating quality material for audiences to enjoy and share. So if creating content is an easy task today than how does a group (or an individual) become successful in comedy?
Milwaukee Comedy got the chance to ask some questions to Sketch and Stand up performer Timmy Williams (of The Whitest Kids U’ Know) about the current shape of sketch comedy in today’s culture. Williams’ provides some great information for sketch groups and/or people looking to start working on building their sketch career!
(Milwaukee Comedy)—What do you think the current state of the sketch scene in the comedy world?
(Williams)—Sketch comedy is in a great place right now. Anybody anywhere can come up with an idea and shoot it and upload it to the Internet in a matter of hours. This has changed the game considerably because Joe Schmo in Buttzville has just has much chance of accruing a million hits as a bunch of celebrities on Funny Or Die.
The ease of getting your comedy to the masses has also made comedians become jack-of-all-trades; many stand-ups make sketches on the side, and vice versa.
How does a sketch group get noticed? What worked with The Whitest Kids You Know?
If you want to get noticed, you need to make stuff all the time. With WKUK we were uploading videos online and writing new live sketches constantly for years. The more quality stuff you can put out there, the more likely someone will see you.
How does a sketch group developed characters? What makes the process fun for the group to write out a sketch? How does a sketch group (or stand up comedians) judge their work before it seen by an audience?
With Whitest Kids we never worried too much about recurring characters. We focused on our actual personalities and kind of exaggerating those and making those the characters. That's why we don't really have ‘named characters’ that show up in tons of sketches, but you know that if you see a "Darren Girl" that it will be different than a "Zach Girl" or a "Trevor Girl."
As far as judging your material, it's easier with sketch writing, because we always had four other people in the room deciding what worked. We had a general rule that anything we would release had to make all five of us laugh. That democratic process really helps control the quality. With stand-up you think you have something but don't know until you get on a stage and throw it out in front of people, so it's a little more dangerous that way.
What characters do you enjoy playing? Do you have any characters or sketches you really like, but never have aired?
We have some stuff that never aired for one reason or another, and a lot of it involved harm coming to children (oops)! There is one sketch called "Good Cop, Terrible Cop" that didn't air but may have been on a DVD, but I played this cartoonish Italian guy and it was very over-the-top and since I didn't get to do tons of accents on the show I really liked playing that guy. Other than that, I like playing the dumb innocent characters, which is kind of my niche in the group since it's an exaggerated version of myself. There are a few times I've gotten to play a jerk or an asshole and really enjoyed that too.
How does sketch writing differ from stand up writing? What's the most challenging difference between performing stand up verse sketch? Does one influence the other and vice versa? What defines a bit verse a sketch–how do they develop?
The big difference between sketch and stand-up to me is the concept of "safety in numbers." When you write with a group, you have the other people's ideas and opinions to help shape your material. When you write stand-up it's all you and anything that doesn't work is your fault. Same goes for live performance. If I forget a line onstage in a Whitest Kids show, someone else can say my line or ad-lib something else and keep things moving; if I forget a line in stand-up I just stand there looking stupid.
I think a bit and a sketch develop similarly, at least for me. They start out with a one-word or one-line idea and blossom from there, and you just hammer it and hammer it until they're perfect-ish. I have learned to write out my stand-up jokes as more of a sketch script and that has certainly made them better.
What are some of the biggest problems in the writer's room? How do they get resolved?
I have mentioned the many strengths of writing with other people, but the biggest weakness is when someone doesn't agree with something that you just know is funny. You try and try to convince them but they're just not having it. In Whitest Kids we rarely put anything through that we didn't all agree with, so sometimes that one person not being convinced has prevented ideas from happening. And that's fine, because that's why we're a group. The Whitest Kids is a sum of its parts and if we let everyone push through everything they wanted it would just seem like five separate people doing their own things under a banner. By letting the group control the quality things are more streamlined and I think our material has a unique voice that only comes from five people's brains coming together instead of fighting for dominance. There's always time to do your own stuff later.
How would a group get rid of a 'toxic' member?
I don't know how a group would get rid of a toxic member. If you find out would you let me know? I'm really sick of Sam.
What sort of advice can you offer individuals looking to put together or join a sketch group?
Just do it. Get your buddies together some time when you're all free, start writing things down and shooting them and putting them online. Being "good" takes time but it really is that easy to start. Perform live! It's really fun and makes you better. Chances are you can find somewhere to perform no matter where you live. The main thing though is to just try it.
You can catch Timmy Williams at Pony’s Bar and Grill (5132 S Packard Ave—Cudahy, WI) on Sunday, April 13th at 830pm. The show is hosted by local comedian Tyler Menz and featuring comedy from Alice Galloway and Zach Peterson. Tickets can be purchased at Pony’s during business hours (3pm-close) or by calling (414) 975 5556.