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by Darren Held

I had a struggly night in sketch class last night. We had to write a kind of scene that relies on a surprise twist at the end and, in essence, goes for the joke.

Aaaaaaacccckkkkkkk! This is so antithetical to the rules of improv that I had trouble wrapping my mind around the concept. And what I wrote proved my confusion. These “blackout scenes” are supposed to be really short, and short isn’t usually a problem for me; I’m used to editing the hell out of everything I write. But this was way L-O-N-G – partly because I was putting off the jokey ending as long as possible, and partly because my well-engrained improv instincts forced me to make it about relationship. So I made sure to get out the who, what, where, relationship, why today was the big day, back story, labels…

I’m not mentally challenged, no matter how much evidence to the contrary you may have amassed, and I realize that improv and sketch are not the same things. But I’ve worked really hard to study improv and learn the intricacies of why things work and why other things don’t work, and it’s hard to just disregard all that.

Fortunately, we also had to write a monologue, and while mine wasn’t stellar, it was loads better than the blackout scene so I didn’t feel like a total hack. And the awesome thing about sketch is that you can rewrite. First drafts are just crap on the page, for pete’s sake. Unlike improv, where you have to throw it all out there the first time and hope it’s great because there are no do-overs in improv, sketch writing is all ABOUT the doing over. I rewrite everything – even if the first draft was great, I play with different ideas to see how something else might’ve worked. In improv, you have drills like add info lineup and a million exercises to help you practice the skills that make for good improv. Sketch writing doesn’t have that. The only way to become a better writer is to WRITE. And write. And rewrite. And edit. And rewrite some more.

Which is what I’m going to do now. I’ma go for the joke, even if it friggin’ kills me.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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