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

Sunday (3/22/09) 9:19pm - ... wherein Peter posts thoughts about the "SNL Characters" Sketchwar.

Here's my commentary for the latest round of Sketchwar, which had the theme "SNL Characters, Past and Present."

"MacGruber?  Really?"
This one didn't quite work for me.  (No worries, you've written sketches I've liked before and shall do so again.)  One of the inherent weaknesses of the "Really?" format is that if the verbal wit isn't up to snuff, it just feels like an angry letter to the editor that accidentally got presented in sketch form.  Belushi's line about 'seeing a dead guy' made me laugh, but that was about it.  From then on, I was just listening to a rant.

As for the scene with Richard Dean Anderson and Will Forte tied to dynamite, I suspect I'm not really the target audience.  I can't muster enough anger towards SNL (or, I suppose, towards Richard Dean Anderson) to really get into this revenge fantasy, and the image itself doesn't strike me as inherently hilarious.

Finally, the opening bit with Belushi's samurai struck me as kind of tacked on.

"And now it’s time for…"
The only real question here is whether this a sketch of "wondrous glory" or "glorious wonder".  It's such a simple concept -- the Samurai goes into modern I. T. -- but it works perfectly.  From what I recall of the original sketches, you've structured it the exact same way as the original SNL sketches (which is great -- if it ain't broke, for god's sake don't try to fix it), and not only do the jokes work, but it gives the reader a warm and fuzzy feeling:  Belushi died way too young, and in a better world, we saw that samurai go on a ton more adventures.

The only suggestion I'd make is to somehow plant Danielle (and the Samurai's attraction to Danielle) at the top of the scene, so that the "suggestive" line feels like a stronger payoff.  Oh, and maybe kill the "Asians are good with technology" joke -- it's cute enough, but it slows up the sketch's momentum right at the end.

Side note:  as I said before, I really hope the cart is a Lone Wolf and Cub reference.

"Emily Litella on Bernie Maddoff"
Bwah!  No useful commentary.  Got the original format down.

"Roseanna Roseannadanna on the economy"
Less amused by this one, but perhaps this was a character that was mostly in the performance.  Were Rosanne Roseannadanna's speeches really that long?

"Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley"
Hmm.  Here's another one that didn't quite do it for me.

The intro worked well, with the apology to the two muggers from the Mission.  That was nice and twisted.  But then the section with Norm Coleman didn't make me laugh.  I certainly *got* the joke, with Coleman forced to deal with a character played by Al Franken.  It seemed like there was a long stretch of exposition:  establishing that Coleman is suing over a contested election, establishing that Coleman recognized Smalley.  Once we'd gotten to "Coleman addresses his feelings", we had some comic potential -- maybe Coleman excoriates absolutely everyone?  I dunno.  I just don't see the jokes here.

"Live From New York, It’s Speed Dating"
Alas, the "Nicholas Fehn" section was lost on me.  (After reading this, I went to Hulu, looked up Nicholas Fehn, and discovered that odds are, the whole character is lost on me.)  But the bits before and after were fun.

For Phil, I think "hot monkey sex" was your strongest joke.  I don't know if his section about The Incredibles and Chubby Hubby quite works, in that he's suddenly trying to sabotage his own date.  IIRC typically Subliminal Guy would explain how he wanted a long-lasting relationship while subliminally telling the girl not to hold her breath.

The Tarzan, Tonto, and Frankenstein section is probably the strongest of the three, because Frankenstein is just a perfect rule-of-threes punchline to every setup.  I'm not sure the 'heart of a romantic' pun works for the button (a pause, followed by "Oh, me get it." seems like a really low-energy way to end the sketch) but I'm not sure what I'd replace it with.

"Continental Sensitivity"
Perfect, perfect setup.  Often the funniest thing you can do with a character is put them in the worst possible situation and no, the Continental does not belong in a sexual-harrassment workshop.  (Well, he really *does*, but I mean... oh, you know what I mean.)

You get through the initial exposition promptly, which is good.  You make Pam a strong character who'll clash with The Continental, and you even get a nice joke into the info-dump with the "court mandate" bit, so that's also good.

And then it's a perfect rule-of-three joke into the Continental's first bit of insanity.  You've got this structured just right, with enough stretches of 'normal dialog' to set the stage for Walken to say something batshit-insane.  (Minor quibble:  is "in both cases" the appropriate phrase for Pam's 'quid pro quo' line?  Seems like "in that case" would be the correct phrase....)

After that, I might have cut quicker from the "Don't be silly" line to the start of the role-playing scene.  I really don't want to see people have a dull argument about whether the Continental is offensive, and then whether they should start the scene.  The scene works pretty well, although actually seeing the girl pinned to the wall is perhaps creepy in the not-funny way.  (Did The Continental actually go that far in the original sketches?)

Then, Pam asking The Continental to teach a sexual-harrassment course was a perfect button.  (Although I didn't get the ball-gown-glove joke.  Was I supposed to get it?)

All in all, though, it's a very solid sketch.

"The Night Watchmen"
Huh.  I always thought the point of the original Frankie and Willie sketches was that the two guys would complete sentences with words and phrases that *didn't* quite make sense.  ("You know when you get a..."  "Ball-peen hammer?"  "Yeah!")  And then, those suggestions would invariably lead to something painful and/or disgusting.

It seems like you took out the pain and/or disgust, and now the setup doesn't quite work.  Maybe if the two guys had had to do increasingly-disgusting stuff to scrape by, you'd have something on that same topic that would feel truer to the spirit of the original.

"Happy Fun Ba’al"
I'm not happy with my sketch this week, because I think I kind of missed the point of the topic.  Any time I mentioned to someone what the topic was, they'd immediately fire back sketch ideas:  "Oh, you could just have <character_name> go to a <location_name>.  It'd be funny!"  And yet, when I sat down to come up with topic ideas, none of the characters I could think of really appealed to me.

I kept getting drawn to oblique takes on the subject.  (Maybe there was a cult devoted to the teachings of Jack Handey?)  I'm not sure how I finally settled on Happy Fun Ball -- it is one of my favorite SNL skits, so I guess it makes sense that I'd settle on that.

When I'm doing something with source material that's nigh-on twenty years old, there are two ways to go with it.  You can be sort of timeless about it, and write a new sketch that exists in the same universe and at the same time as the original.  Or you can be chronological about it, and assume we're living in some sort of alternate timeline, where the original material actually happened way back when, and now it's nigh-on twenty years later.

For some reason, I'm always drawn to the latter -- to giving the ficitional character (or in this case, a product) a history up to the present day.  (I blather on about this in, of all places, a review of Tron.)  So I guess it makes sense that I'd do a sketch about a dad picking up a Happy Fun Ball off of ebay.

That said, I didn't really deliver on the premise.  I just came up with a few increasingly-crazy warnings (that were nowhere near as funny as Jack Handey's original ad -- "Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball" is timeless) and then had something horrible happen to a small child.  I didn't plow through the exposition quickly enough, and then for some reason I had a tender character moment in the middle of my Happy-Fun-Ball sketch.

Ah well.  Better luck next week, me.

(Perhaps I should have gone with my original idea:  "What my administration's investigation has uncovered is that yes, Toonces can manage the Federal Reserve -- just not very well.")

[Note:  this is mirrored on the Sketchwar site.]

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