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Sketch comedy consists of a series of short comedy scenes or vignettes, called "sketches," commonly between one and ten minutes long. Such sketches are performed by a group of comic actors, either on stage or through an audio and/or visual medium such as broadcasting. Often sketches are first improvised by the actors and written down based on the outcome of these improv sessions; however, improvisation is not necessarily involved in all sketch comedy.

An individual sketch or vignette is a brief scene or skit formerly used in vaudeville and used today on variety shows, comedy programs, adult entertainment, talk shows, or certain children's television programs (such as Sesame Street). Such a sketch can include footage of a "man on the street" on evening comedy television interview programs like the Tonight Show.

More serious sketch comedians differentiate their art from that of the skit, maintaining that skits tend to be a (single) dramatized joke, while a sketch is a comedic exploration of a concept, character, or situation.


Sketch comedy has its origins in vaudeville and music hall, where a large number of brief, but humorous, acts were strung together to form a larger program.In Englandmarker, it moved to stage performances by Cambridge Footlights, such as Beyond the Fringe and A Clump of Plinths (which evolved into Cambridge Circus), to radio, with such shows as It's That Man Again and I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, then to television, with such shows as Monty Python's Flying Circus and Not the Nine O'clock News.

Historically, the sketches tended to be unrelated, but more recent groups have introduced overarching themes that connect the sketches within a particular show, with recurring characters that return for more than one appearance. Examples of recurring characters include "Ted & Ralph" from The Fast Show; the "Head Crusher" from The Kids in the Hall; Martin Short's "Ed Grimley", a recurring character from both SCTV and Saturday Night Live; and "Kevin & Perry" from Harry Enfield and Chums. The idea of running characters was taken a stage further with shows like The Red Green Show (the longest running live-action comedy series in the world) and The League of Gentlemen, where sketches centered around the various inhabitants of the fictional towns of Possum Lake and Royston Vasey, respectively.

In North America, contemporary sketch comedy is largely an outgrowth of the improvisational comedy scene that flourished during the 1970s, largely growing out of Chicagomarker's The Second City. British ensembles, in contrast, have more usually been built on talent - with writers often working in pairs.

Notable contemporary American stage sketch comedy groups include The Second City, the Upright Citizens Brigade and The Groundlings.

Other notable television sketch comedy shows include

Sketch comedies are popular, among adults and teens. Sonny With A Chance, a Disney Channel Original Series that premiered in February, 2009, is a show largely focusing on the production of a fictional teen-oriented sketch-comedy series.


Many of the sketch comedy revues in Britain included seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Since 1999, the growing sketch comedy scene has precipitated the development of sketch comedy festivals in cities all around North America, including festivals in Bostonmarker, Chicagomarker, Los Angelesmarker, New Yorkmarker, Montrealmarker, Portlandmarker, San Franciscomarker, Seattlemarker, Torontomarker, and Vancouvermarker.


Besides more professional, properly theatrical performers, there is also a tradition of amateur fun. There are many purposes: to entertain crowds or troops, when no professional entertainment is available, sometimes with a mild hope of fund-raising.

See also

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