History of Sketch Comedy

Poster for the San Fransisco sketch festival, Sketchfest

Like many popular forms of live theatre, sketch comedy's origins lie in Vaudeville and Music Hall. These stages were where people first saw short, comedic acts put together as part of a larger show.

In North America, sketch comedy became popular as improvisational theatre started to increase in its popularity. It largely grew out of the Chicago-based improv theatre Second City in the 1970s where sketch groups like The Second City, The Groundlings, and The Upright Citizens Brigade have become famous.

Sketch comedy has taken off in mainstream media. The sketch show, Saturday Night Live (SNL), started in 1975 and has continued running for 33 years. It is arguably the most popular sketch show in North America. Other notable sketch shows that have run on television include The Carol Burnett Show, In Living Color, Key and Peele and Portlandia. Sketch shows for children and teenagers have seen some fame, such as Nickelodeon shows All That and The Amanda Show.

Interested in getting your name out there as a sketch comedy troupe or writer? Several sketch festivals are hosted in North America each year. The most popular one is called Sketchfest, which started in Seattle and now has festivals in Chicago, San Fransisco, New York City, Austin and Toronto. These festivals welcome individuals and groups of any experience level to submit sketches and full plays in order to be considered for the festivals.

History of TSF Sketch

Erik Voss, during an all-nighter in the writers' room.

TSF Sketch is part of a larger student improvisational comedy club called Theatre Strike Force (TSF). While TSF has been around for 24 years, TSF Sketch has only been around for five.

UF and TSF alumni Erik Voss and Filup Molina started TSF Sketch in the spring semester of 2008 when they were both active members of the club. The idea had come to them after they and one other person wrote an entire sketch show on their own in fall 2007, said Voss. TSF had often written sketches for small sketch shows and as openers to improv shows, but didn't have a house team. Voss said working as a small group to put on a show inspired him and Molina to put together a small writing team because it had been so much fun.

Voss said he had a romantic idea of what a "writers' room" should be like from the book Live from New York.

"We were a bunch of college nerds and comedy nerds trying to duplicate a writers room," he said. Weimer 1098 is still known among TSF members as "the writers' room."

Fall semester of 2008 was when TSF Sketch had its first real, cohesive sketch team. Voss said his goal was to put on sketch shows that were big spectacles people hadn't really seen before and would talk about long before it started and after it was over. He wanted to harness all of TSF's resources to do so.

"There's no other time when you're going to have 100 eager young people at your disposal willing to do crazy things for no money," Voss said.

TSF Sketch's first big sketch show was Gary in the fall of 2008. It was a fake presidential campaign with a faceless candidate named Gary. The writers used big campaign rallies on campus and air time for commercial spots on local television as ways to promote the show.

Since then, it has put on four big sketch shows. iGasm was a show in spring 2010 that made fun of everything Steve Jobs was doing with Apple. Wreckade in fall 2010 was a comedic retrospect of the last decade and all the messed up things that happened during the aughties. Gator Groan in fall 2011 was a show made to poke fun at UF's homecoming show, Gator Growl. It included things like a pageant, a bad comedian and a disappointing musical guest. Its most recent show, aMOCKalypse, was about the end of times, which was supposed to happen in December of 2012, and why humanity deserved for the world to end.

TSF Sketch has come a long way since its inception five years ago. I don't know if we've accomplished what Voss and Molina intended for the team to be when they created it, but I know we have always put on quality sketch shows.