Breathing new life into TV sketch comedy

Sketch comedy shows seem to be getting a television revival these days. New shows have been popping up on MTV, VH1 and Fuse and even major broadcast networks like NBC are adding programs like Thank God You’re Here to their rosters. Years ago, there was a similar surge when sketch comedy titan Saturday Night Live was joined by programs like MadTV, The Jenny McCarthy Show, The State, Kids in the Hall and others in the broadening world of sketch shows.

Today, however, networks seem to be looking to the internet to make a connection with younger viewers who are bored of SNL and turn to sources like YouTube, FunnyOrDie, or Break.com for their comedy. Recently, three new shows have appeared that have proven that looking to the internet might be the best decision networks will ever make.

VH1 debuted AcceptableTV this year, a sort of American Idol for comedy shorts. Each episode consists of five two-and-a-half minute shorts which compete to return the next week. Viewers log on to acceptable.tv to vote for their favorites and the top two videos return with a second “episode”. The show is based on Channel101.com, which some might remember as an early outlet for The Dudes from TheLonelyIsland.com. So far, AcceptableTV has had some fantastic “shows” including “Homeless James Bond”, “Operation Kitten Calendar” and fan favorite, “Mr. Sprinkles”, which features a Cat in the Hat-like character who goes through some very un-Seuss like drama. AcceptableTV, which airs Fridays at 10PM, is a great show, my only concern is that it will simply run out of gas at some point. With each short being 2:00-2:30 long, that only leaves time for a few jokes or a scaled-down concept. The shorts can also be very hit or miss. While most are fantastic, there have been the occasional few that have fallen flat, managing to make a couple minutes feel like forever.

MTV recently introduced an incredibly funny new sketch show, Human Giant, which stars the talented trio of Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel, and Paul Scheer. The show, which airs Thursdays at 10:3PM features amazing sketches and parodies like the Criss Angel: Mindfreak parody “Illusionators” in which Ansari and Scheer perform “mind-blowing illusions” while dressed in Criss Angel style black clothes and long wigs. Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Mindfreak will totally love it. Human Giant also had one of the funniest sketches I’ve seen in years when they took on Britney Spears‘ infamous no-panty incident. In the sketch, Hubel is horrified to learn that pictures of his vagina have leaked onto the internet. He sits at his computer looking at a shot of himself, in the exact position as Britney, with a big black bar censoring his “vagina”. He talks to his agent, played by the incredibly talented Nick Swardson, about the possible repercussions of the photos, only to learn that his vagina is becoming more of a star than he is. Human Giant, like AcceptableTV, showcases a brand of sketch comedy that abandons the live audience and is well-suited for the internet, but also translates very nicely to tv.

Trashwire readers have probably seen the YouTube clips I’ve posted on the blog from The Whitest Kids U’ Know, Fuse’s new sketch show, and hopefully you’ve enjoyed them as much as I have. The talented cast of Sam Brown, Zach Cregger, Darren Trumeter, Timmy Williams, and head writer Trevor Moore create and star in all of the the hilarious sketches in this Kids in the Hall style sketch show. You can check out some of their earlier stuff on their YouTube channel or at whitestkids.com.

Williams spoke to Trashwire about the formation of the group, explaining that The Whitest Kids began at School of Visual Arts in New York in late 2000 when Brown, Moore, and Cregger all lived in the same dorm building, the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn Heights. Williams later moved to the St. George and met the guys on 9/11. After they graduated in 2003, they added Trumeter, who was a friend of Cregger, to the group. They shot a pilot in 2005, which wasn’t picked up, but later attracted the attention of Fuse, where The Whitest Kids U’ Know now airs Tuesdays at 11PM.

What makes the show so great is the close-knit atmosphere of the cast. Williams explained, “Any chemistry we have together probably comes from spending every single day with each other for the past four years.” Just like with The Kids in the Hall, there’s really something to be said for a do-it-yourself vibe of friends keeping everything in the family to make something that they all like.

The Whitest Kids have created some of the funniest and most original sketches around because they don’t seem to be trying to please everyone; they seem to be trying to make each other laugh. This, in turn, translates into humor for the viewers as well. Williams described the writing process to us saying, “When the group started, we would write stuff individually and bring it in. We since have found that working on a sketch together, from basic idea to finished script, makes it a lot stronger. Basically, what we do is all five sit around for an hour and silently brainstorm some ideas, then we pitch our ideas, and as a group, pick the three or four best ones.” The comedic chemistry of the group is hard to beat, and it puts The Whitest Kids U’ Know in a whole new league for sketch shows.

Each one of these new programs brings a different style to the table. Whether you love web shorts, parodies, or a whole new spin on stage sketches, you’re sure to fall in love with one of these shows. It is still uncertain as to which of these shows will be able to sustain comedic longevity, but for now, they’re all certainly worth a watch.

View clips from these shows at http://trashwire.com/2007/May/tvsketchcomedy.html

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Alexis Gentry

Alexis Gentry is the creator and editor of Trashwire.com. She has been called a “dynamic, talented and unique voice in pop culture” by Ben Lyons of E! and, with her strong fascination with entertainment and penchant for writing, it’s not hard to see why.

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