Allison Page, once again using her life to help you with yours.
I’m feelin’ scrappy lately. I’m not the big guy in the fight, I’m the little fast one, bobbin’ and weavin’. When it comes to live performance, what do you really need to make that happen? Some actors, some material, and an audience. That’s all. Those are the basics of having a show. Then you start getting into more details, working out things that you think will make your piece feel more alive or believable: sets, props, costumes, specific lighting, sound design, etc.
When it comes to sketch comedy, those extra things can get real ridiculous real fast. When gutting the costume room of Killing My Lobster (sketch comedy company which has been collecting piles of this stuff for 17 years) this last week, we found some pretty crazy shit. Giant iPod costume, giant pieces of fake poop (for the man who has everything), wigs made out of who-knows-what, glow-in-the-dark robot costumes, 5 football helmets, a severed mannequin head wearing a motorcycle helmet (and fashionable eyeshadow), a REAL SWORD, fake dynamite (I hope), owl boots (not even trying to explain that one), a giant poster which proclaimed “BIEBER/PALIN 2038”, and assortment of things shaped like penises, and about a million billion other oddities.
It got me thinking: why do we need all this stuff? When you’re in the business of producing complicated plays, yeah, you’re going to need a lot of costumes and a lot of props. That makes sense. It’s hard to create Victorian England without the right materials. But we’re making sketch comedy. We’re here to make people laugh. I know we can do that without all this shit.
It can be really hard to change direction, especially when you’ve been going the same way for so long. It’s easy to say “But…but that’s the way we do it! We’ve always done it that way! Or at least I don’t remember doing it any other way…” but growth comes from change. Or so someone said one time on the internet or something. So, we’re changing. We need to be the scrappy guys, not the guys who stew over something for 3 months before it’s perfectly precious enough to bestow on an audience. I just want to be funny. And we can be funny without glow-in-the-dark robot costumes and without papier mache dragons. Write funny things, get funny people to perform them, and the audience won’t miss the humongous burrito costume. They might not even remember there ever was one.
Look at arguably the best, and certainly the most well-known, sketch creators in the world: Second City. (Yes, their roots are in improv, but they use that to create sketches) Overall, they keep it simple: a stage, some black chairs, and some people – oh, and also, they’re hilarious.
You can hide behind an over-sized sombrero all day, but it’s when you take it off that the audience gets to see what’s really going on…dick jokes in Spanish. (That sketch is not real and if it were someone would probably think it was offensive…though they’d have to speak Spanish to figure that out.)
I don’t want to use crutches as a crutch anymore. I don’t need the rubber chicken. The rubber chicken is within us all.
Don’t eat rubber chickens, they’re not for food.
Allison Page’s first experiment with this theory, Killing My Lobster Takes It All Off: no sets, no props, no costumes, just funny premiers at foolsFURY’s FURY Factory July 10th and 11th, and at CalShakes’ Grove July 18th.