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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Tuesday (12/9/08) 9:45pm - ... wherein Peter posts some thoughts about last week's Friday Sketch War.

Last week's FSW topic was "Learning something new about history".

Last week, Mr. Porter let me pick the week's sketch topic.  I actually deliberated for quite a while.  I didn't want something so vague/broad that it suggested nothing to the writers, but nor did I want something so specific that it straitjacketed people.  I finally settled on "learning something new about history".

I think it first occurred to me partly because sadogre had mentioned an interest in sketchwar, and I figured this would be right up his alley.  The more I thought about it, the promising it sounded.  People could do any number of "learn the real story of <x>" sketches.  They could do sketches about learning something new about one's family history or personal history.  Or it could be about actually learning history, like a college course or something.

So I sent off that topic and happily started compiling sketch ideas along those lines.  Then at some point I flashed back to this narwhal-themed thread, and wrote the words "F***ING HANNIBAL F*** YEAH", only without the bowdlerizing asterisks.  I thought of other, more original ideas, but I kept coming back to that one.  So that's the one I wrote.

I'm happy with how it came out.

First off, I'm happy that I didn't write a scene.  I'd just watched another SNL digital short, and suddenly I wanted to write something like *that* -- to just jettison all the principles of drama and scenecraft and focus on stringing together three minutes of funny.  If you keep 'em laughing for three minutes, who cares if you don't have a story?[1]

Fortunately, I fell into the "F*** YEAH!" voice pretty naturally, and I had a pretty obvious structure to follow:  relate the Battle of the Tremia, and then tack on some concluding words.  Easy-peasy.  I had already brainstormed a bunch of comic bits to include, so I churned out the sketch in about an hour.  It made me laugh[2], and I was happy.

This week had two other entries:  Mr. Robertson wrote about how the Three Wise Men picked their gifts, and Mr. Porter wrote about a conspiracy theorist.

Mr. Porter didn't like the topic much, which I felt bad about.  I had hoped I'd picked something that would help inspire the other writers.  Then again, Mr. Porter himself had picked "Oprah" as the previous week's topic, so none of us are immune from bad-topic-picking.

After last week's post, Mr. Porter requested sharp and pointy notes on his sketches, so I'll do my best to provide that this week.

Here's what I got this time around:  first, get out of my head.  Yes, I have had pretty much that exact conversation.  *shudder*

Now, writing-wise, there are two ways to go with this sketch.  First, you can give the conversation heavier emotional stakes.  You did a great thing towards the end with the line, "Michael.  Seriously.  You need help."  If you can get that vibe *throughout* the sketch -- that Peter really cares about Michael, and he's scared by the shocking amounts of crazy -- that'll help draw the audience in.  Defining the relationship between the two guys might help with that.

Also along 'make it more emotional' lines, I can suggest a possibly-useful question.  Nearly everybody would find Michael's nonsense annoying, right?  The question to ask is:  why is it *especially* annoying to Peter?  Why is Peter the *worst possible person* for this to happen to?  If you get Peter desperately wanting to help Michael, but also infuriated beyond all reason, then you've got an audience paying attention.[3]  Peter's flustered quality is a real strength here, and you can emphasize that.

Okay, so the 'emotional' thing is angle #1.  Angle #2 is the 'wacky' thing.  To put it bluntly, I don't think Michael gets crazy enough.  You may be sputtering in disbelief right now, but really:  real conspiracy theorists are even crazier than Michael.  I'd lengthen the 'slightly crazy' talk at the beginning, pare down a bunch of 'moderately crazy' stuff in the middle, and add some 'extreme batshit crazy' lines towards the end.  Seriously, you have not gone 'too crazy' until you hit "they've implanted a chip in my scalp and if you just hand me that penknife I can show you" crazy.

Finally, last complaint:  I could do lots of little edits here and there, removing words and phrases.  For instance, I'd cut "writing on my blog and mailing out the newsletter" to just one of the two.  But these are just small edits I'm takling about, and I think when I edit I like to err on the side of making lines too short.

Okay, enough complaining.  There are many things to like here.

First and foremost, yes of course that's the right button to end on.  Absolutely perfect.  And I loved all the different reactions Peter went through -- I hate scenes where everyone has the exact same attitude through the whole thing, but we see Peter being confused, curious, annoyed, humoring, and ultimately sympathetic.  Well-played, that.  And the historical facts that Michael keeps screwing up are priceless, and you ramp up the crazy nicely as the sketch goes on.

I laughed in spite of the "OH GOD IT'S MY LIFE OW OW OW".

[1] The irony here is that last year, when I took a class in sketch-writing, I really chaffed at being required to write sketches that weren't structured like proper dramatic scenes.  Now I'm embracing it.  *shrug*  I contain multitudes, etc.

[2] Favorite moment:  the sudden and unexpected appearance of Babar.

[3] One (lousy) possibility:  Peter is a history buff, and he's reading a biography of Truman that prompts the whole conversation.

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Date:Tuesday (12/9/08) 9:57pm

thanks for the notes

Those are solid, and pretty much where I think I would have focused if it had been a second draft a day or so later. I tend to have a problem building stakes appropriately high enough.

I don't think you realized the one key joke I tossed in *just for you*, though. You'd written about that book you were suffering through and I stole this fragment directly from a quote you'd taken from it: "it's not too far to conclude..." I think that's a good chunk of the reason it felt so much like it was a conversation you'd had; there were words you'd just read and rewritten recently.
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Date:Tuesday (12/9/08) 10:18pm

Re: thanks for the notes

I tend to have a problem building stakes appropriately high enough.

Yeah, I get that note a lot, too.

You'd written about that book you were suffering through and I stole this fragment directly from a quote you'd taken from it: "it's not too far to conclude..."

Oh no --



*feels v. stupid*
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