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					                       UCLA Extension Writers’ Program
                              Public Syllabus
Note to students: this “public” syllabus is designed to give you a glimpse into this course and
instructor. If you have further questions about our courses or curriculum, please contact the
  Writers’ Program at (310) 825-9415 or via email at writers@uclaextension.edu. We are
  happy to answer any questions and to help you find the best class to achieve your writing
                                             goals.

                             “Writing Sketch Comedy”
                                     Syllabus
                              Instructor: Chris Webb

Whether your goal is to write feature length
screenplays, sitcom specs, or for sketch based shows
like Mad TV or Saturday Night Live, this course teaches
key sketch-writing techniques that apply to writing any
kind of big or small screen comedy.

Goals:

1. Building a portfolio of work. Students will build a
portfolio of work that demonstrates the ability to
write a wide range of different types of sketch comedy
material. The portfolio will include a variety of
monologues, parodies, and basic two and three person
scenes.

2. Learning to collaborate. Students will learn to
write “in the room,” i.e., in collaboration with
several other writers. Each class provides a forum for
students to pitch jokes and ideas to each other, and to
the head writer. The techniques of how to get yourself
heard over the din of other writers will also be
taught.

3. Lectures and teacher guidance. Most of writing is
not in the inspiration, it’s in knowing what to do with
that inspiration. Students will be given tools for how
to break down their thoughts regarding a scene, and
will acquire tools as to how to organize those
thoughts. Through video, students will be shown
examples of different sketches. Some sketches will be
successful, others not. Students will be encouraged to
critique the examples. These examples allow the class
                                                          2


to build up a common shorthand vocabulary of   terms used
to examine and talk about comedy.   Finally,   the
instructor will encourage learning the rules   of sketch
writing in order to break them, allowing the   writer can
create his own style.

4. Learning to writing under different conditions.
Students will be encouraged to write solo as well as in
groups. This will give each student a broader view of
where they stand as a writer, as well as exposing them
to as many different working situations as possible.

Grading
Grading will be based on class participation and
completion of assignments. The instructor encourages
students to meet outside of class. Those students who
form professional friendships will be given extra
praise.

Participation:        40%
Assignments:      40%
Rewriting scenes: 20%

Schedule of writing assignments:
See below.

Week 1

Instructor’s introductory remarks:
     1. Instructor discusses his professional and
     personal credentials.
     2. Students introduce themselves, explain what
     their aspirations are.
     3. Instructor discusses the need for collaboration
     and trust in the class.
     4. Class contact sheet created.
     5. Discussion of what will transpire each week in
     class: a lecture augmented with video clips,
     reading student work from the previous week, and
     writing a new scene each week in class.
     6. The “Final Class Readout” will be explained.
     We will read student’s scripts out loud in front
     of an invited audience.
                                                          3


Lecture and video presentation:
     “Finding and developing sketch ideas, and creating
     a blackout.”
     Sketches are usually about one premise played out
     over a series of a few minutes. Blackouts are a
     single comic idea or joke in dramatized form –
     often a surprise.

Class discussion:
     “Where do ideas come from?”
     When writing, it is best for the writer to
     concentrate on topics he/she feels strongly about.
     As a class, we will make a list of those subjects,
     as well as topics we think are amusing. This will
     become our “inspiration list” for use in class.

Exercise:
     Using the “Inspiration list” described above, the
     entire class will collaborate on writing a
     blackout and a monologue. Writing sketches is
     like hunting for gold – once you find it, it’s a
     matter of mining the gold, getting the inspiration
     down on paper as fast as possible. Then you edit
     your scene.

Discussion:
     The writer should allow time outside of class to
     write. This includes time for both writing and
     editing. How much time allowed depends on the
     student. This class will be a lab for students to
     learn good writing work habits.

Handout:
     A Saturday Night Live monologue entitled “Long
     Distance” written by Bill Murray. The format for
     this script will be used as the class writing
     format.

Homework assignment due next week:
     Each student will write a blackout.

Week 2

Discussion:
                                                          4


    1. Problems encountered.
    2. Read out and critique of last week’s black
    outs. Can they be improved?

Lecture and video presentation:
     “List scenes” are everywhere”

    If a sketch is basically one comic premise
    developed and played out, it makes sense that many
    sketches boil down to a list of jokes based on
    that premise. But some scenes do this more
    successfully than others… This lecture and video
    presentation will examine why failure happens, and
    how to write the perfect list scene. Video will
    include scenes from SCTV, Kids In The Hall,
    Saturday Night Live, as well as The Simpsons, and
    examples of what not to do from the instructor’s
    own past.

Exercise:
     The entire class will collaborate on a “List
     scene.” As always, when collaboration is taking
     place, the instructor reserves the right to coach
     and encourage students to participate.

Homework assignment:
     Each student will write a 2-3 page list scene, due
     next week.

Week 3

Discussion:
     What problems did students encounter when writing
     list scenes?

Discussion:
     Read out and critique of last week’s “List
     scenes.” Class will be encouraged to participate
     in critiquing and improving each script.

Lecture and video presentation:
     “Parody.” For the purposes of this class, parody
     will be defined as making fun of a pre existing
     work. When writing a parody, this class will take
                                                          5


    the attitude that just pointing out the flaws in
    the pre existing work is enough. But pointing out
    what flaws and how they are shown is how a writer
    can allow his talent to shine. Video examples of
    parody will include Saturday Night Live, SCTV, The
    Ben Stiller Show, and WNDU TV’s Beyond Our
    Control. Video examples will include both good
    and bad writing!

Exercise:
     The entire class will collaborate on writing a
     parody. Perhaps the class will break off into
     smaller groups, with each group collaborating on a
     parody.

Homework assignment:
     Each student will write a 3-4 page parody scene,
     due next week.




Week 4

Discussion:
     1. What problems did students encounter writing a
     parody scene?
     2. Read-out of last week’s parodies. Students
     will be expected to critique and encourage each
     other’s work.

Lecture, video presentation:
     “Genre Parodies, the best sketch writing of all.”
     Having mastered a few basics of sketch comedy,
     it’s time for the students to bend the rules and
     create parodies of things that never existed!
     Genre parody uses the form of a preexisting work
     to create an entirely new work. And this new
     creation usually points out the flaws of the work
     it is based on. Video examples will include
     Saturday Night Live and Mr. Show.

Exercise:
                                                          6


    The entire class will collaborate on writing a
    genre parody.

Homework assignment:
     The students will write a 3-4 page genre parody,
     due next week. To add spice to the assignment,
     students may be asked to vote for a particular
     artistic genre to parody.

Week 5

Discussion:
     1. What problems did students encounter writing
     their genre parody scene?
     2. Read-out of last week’s scenes. Students will
     be expected to critique and encourage each other’s
     work.

Lecture, Video:
     “Monologues.” Monologues are a simple way to
     dramatize a comic premise, giving character life
     to a comic idea, and developing it into a story
     with a beginning, middle and end. We’ll examine
     monologues from SCTV, Saturday Night Live, In
     Living Color, Kids In The Hall, etc.

Homework assignment:
     The students will write a 1-2 page monologue.
Week 6

Discussion:
     Review of monologues from last week. Students
     will be expected to critique and encourage each
     other’s scenes.

Lecture, Video:
     “The Big Character.” Once on staff of a sketch
     show, you’ll be asked to work with actors.
     Finding reapeatable characters is necessary for
     success. How do you write these scenes?

Homework:
     Write a “Big Character” scene for next week.
                                                          7



Week 7

Discussion:
     Review of “Big Character” scenes from last week.
     Students will be expected to critique and
     encourage each other’s scenes.

Lecture, video presentation:
     “2 person scenes, the beginning of story.” 2
     person scenes are all about character, and the
     conflicts that result when characters don’t agree.
     But is it really that simple? Classic 2 person TV
     scenes will be viewed from Monty Python, Caesar’s
     Hour, Kids In The Hall, Acme Theatre, I Love Lucy,
     and The Honeymooners. We’ll also read out a
     sketch written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie
     Ryskind, including what people used to say was the
     funniest scene ever written: “If Men Played Cards
     As Women Do.”

Exercise:
     The entire class will collaborating on writing a 2
     person sketch.

Homework Assignment:
     2 person sketch, due next week




Week 8

Discussion:
     Review of last week’s 2 person scenes. Students
     will be expected to critique and encourage each
     other’s writing.

Lecture, video presentation:
     1. Review of the concepts and terms we’ve learned
     in class.
                                                          8


    2. Breaking the rules to create a style. Now that
    students know some of the rules, we’ll examine the
    rule breakers: Monty Python, Mr. Show, and Del
    Close’s Herald. All these groups used stream of
    conscious techniques to help the art of sketch
    comedy evolve to a new level. Students will be
    encouraged to not just follow the rules, but to
    break them in their own personal way. Applying
    technique to one’s own quirks can result in art.
    These groups accomplished this.

    3. How Sketch writing can be used in sitcoms,
    movies, etc. Sketch writing is a terrific skill
    to have, and the skills learned in this class can
    be applied to writing TV sitcoms and movie
    comedies. This lecture will focus on how sketches
    are used in sitcom writing. Examples will include
    Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, The Simpsons, and Two and A
    Half Men. We will also examine how sketch writing
    concepts can be applied to writing the plots for
    movies.

Optional homework assignment:
     Write a story outline for a movie or TV comedy,
     with a sketch as a “block” scene.

Week 9
     The class will have a guest, TBD.

Week 10

Party and “Read out”

Discussion:
     Teacher’s evaluation and goodbyes.


Lecture and video presentation:
     “What is a One-Upsmanship” scene? This is a
     template for scenes going back to the invention of
     drama itself. Video will include Monty Python’s
     “Four Yorkshiremen” scene, as well as examples
     from In Living Color, Mr. Show, and Upright
     Citizen’s Brigade.

				
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