From brain to stage: GENESIS OF a Next Level SKETCH

James here! Thanks so much to everyone who came to Tuesday’s show! There’s always that fear of difficult second album syndrome, but I’m relieved to say things went as swimmingly as Hampstead Ponds on a hot summers’ day. Well done everyone in @NextLevelSketch!

And thank you to our special guests, the superb MOTHER, who deserve CAPITAL LETTERS for their by turns crude, clever, and joyously silly show. 

Our next night is on 31st March and hey guess what you guys – tickets are available already! Buy them and invite your friends, they will thank and love you for it.

A lot of people come up to me in the street and go “Hey, James, what’s it like putting on a monthly show of fresh new sketch comedy? It must be hard work, ja?” And I answer, “to be honest Euan does most of the work and we really must redouble our efforts to help him out, and also who are you and how do you know who I am?”

With this in mind, have a read of my live blog of January’s show, and more pertinently, Maddi from @NextLevelSketch has written up the PROCESS of how our sketches get from brain to stage. And remember: if you have taken a Hoopla course, you can join our writing and performing crew – we’re always looking for fresh new brains full of comedy goo.

Over to you, Maddi. 

Genesis of a sketch

About 6 weeks before the show an email arrives. New prompts for the next show! This month: Science, Nature, Space. Any sketch that vaguely fits into these categories will do, or any sketch as long as it’s funny*. Cue panic. I’ve got GCSEs in Biology, Physics, and Chemistry, but can I remember anything? No. Can I do a decent David Attenborough impression? Again, no. Despite the tattoo from the Pioneer Plaque, what do I actually know about space? Very little. But one half-remembered Beta Males sketch about the Apollo moon landing later, I’ve got an idea:

  • Could I write the first Moon landing as a car journey with Michael Collins as a beleaguered parent? Turns out, yes. I absolutely can. 
  • Can I write a sketch that’s as funny to other people as I think it is?** In this case, yes. 
  • Is it possible for me to write a sketch that lasts longer than a minute? If it is, I haven’t managed it yet. 
The sketch is introduced to other Next Level humans

From first read through at a Next Level script reading session to the inclusion in the show there is, on this occasion, very little rewriting to be done. This is unusual for any sketch, but the idea is there and I’ve articulated it well so: in it goes.

Writer seeks performers. NB must be silly

Next step: Find two people who are willing to behave as childishly as they possibly can while still remembering lines, and then we’re ready to perform.**

In this case, there’s no tech needed: with any sketch you have to ask yourself if sound effects will add to the comedy or distract from the jokes. With a sketch this short, it’s not going to add anything and at worst it might reveal the punchline too early. 

Rehearsal!!

[Editor’s note: there are at least two full rehearsals before a Next Level Sketch show, but Maddi didn’t mention them as they’re too baddass. So I am going to jump in here to say that the rehearsals are a crucial stage of the sketch journey. This is when you really hone the performance, direct your changes to get the thing as close to how it looked inside your brain as possible, and make minor changes with the support of the group if necessary. My own “Popemobile Driving Test” was a difficult one to stage – particularly the bit where we accidentally run over the nun – and the rehearsals were crucial for getting things right, with excellent input from Paul and Greg, the other two performers in the sketch]

The night of the show (squeaky bum time)

On the night of the show I’m nervous, but there’s nothing I can do about that now. 

A quick read through of the sketches, plus a rehearsal of the tech heavy ones, and suddenly we’ve let the audience in and the show has started. How did that happen? Pretty soon we’re half-way through the show, and I’m doing my sketch with Paul and Roderick. It’s over in less than a minute, and the audience likes it!

I’m happy with it, and on we go to the next sketch. The show’s over before it’s begun****, and that’s it for another month. Well, except for the writing and rehearsing for March’s show. 

All the sketches from our January show and our February show are**** on youtube and to see what we come up with next month, tickets are here

James and Maddi x

Editor’s notes 

Thanks so much Maddi! There now follows some footnotes. 

* yeah, I ignored the prompts. They’re just prompts! We can write about whatever we like.

** These Sketch Reading sessions are so useful. Does this sketch make sense only in my head?? If a room full of comedy writers are laughing at it, you can confirm the answer to be “nope!”

*** Figuring out who to cast in your own sketches is a crucial stage, but as we all get to know each other as performers better, it gets easier!

**** Physicists may disagree with this, but what do physicists know? There’s not much in the way of funding for the important field of “how being on or near a stage bends time and sometimes even ties it into a pretty bow. “

***** or, in the case of February, will be.


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