Sorry I've been awol for a few days. The site has gone through a technical revamp, but now it's back on it's feet!
Today’s question comes from Max, a Writers Digest subscriber interested in sketch comedy. Max writes…
“We have come up with a tremendously funny comedy sketch character and we are having a little bit of trouble getting it off the ground to be represented or published by an agent or publishing house. We know your contributors are all experts in this field and would appreciate any suggestions, step by step on the process we need to pursue. We are not concerned about the possible upfront costs.”
Congratulations on creating a great character, Max! Brilliant sketch comedy is a difficult art, and as anyone from Saturday Night Live or The Human Giant will tell you, creating a character who truly pops and resonates with audiences is a Herculean task. So kudos… you’ve passed the first step. Which doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that getting your character out there is any easier…
First of all, sketch characters are not “represented” or “published.” I’m not entirely sure what you mean when you say you want to get your character represented and published, but I’ll address those two terms directly.
As for “publishing” your character, sketch characters are usually performed live as part of a sketch comedy show (a la Molly Shannon’s “Mary Katherine Gallagher” from SNL or Matt Sloan & Aaron Yonda’s Chad Vader from Channel 101 and YouTube fame), so it’s virtually impossible to “publish” a character. Sure, some sketch characters have appeared in books, like The Ninja Handbook: This Book Looks Forward to Killing You Soon, based on Douglas Sarine and Kent Nichols’ Ask a Ninja internet sketches, but they’re only produced as ancillary products for an already successful sketch or character. So “publishing” your sketch character probably isn’t a viable option.
As for getting your character “represented,” this too is a bit unconventional and confusing. Agents, managers, publicist, or lawyers don’t usually represent sketch characters; they represent the performers or producers who produce those characters. In other words, let’s say you’ve created a character called “Wally Funnyman,” who you’ve spent months refining and perfecting until he is as hilarious and brilliant as he can possibly be. You want agents to come see the show in hopes of taking Wally to the next stage, whether that’s turning him into a feature film or a Robot Chicken sketch. The truth is: no agent is going to come to see Wally. They’re coming to see you… to evaluate you as a performer, writer, producer, creator. They’ll then try to get you work—as a performer, stand-up, actor, writer (whatever your goal is)—using Wally as a sample of your talent. For instance, perhaps the agent lands you an audition at Saturday Night Live… and you use Wally as an audition piece. SNL may hire you as a regular performer and/or writer and turn Wally into an official sketch… or they may never have any desire to use him at all. The point is: it’s very hard to place a lot of value in just one character himself; the true value lies in your skill as a writer, performer, or producer… and your character is simply an example of that.
Having said all this—and having absolutely no clue as to what your character is—there are instances where someone has created a character, or a concept, that takes off… like Ask a Ninja. But Sarine and Nichols didn’t create the ninja, then find an agent, then put the sketches online. They created the sketches first, posting them online on their own, and only when the “show” went viral and became wildly successful did agents come calling. Then Sarine and Nichols were able to get their ninja onto other platforms like Comedy Central’s The Showbiz Show and Discovery’s Mythbusters. Now Ask a Ninja has become its own successful mini-business with books, DVD’s, and live appearances.
So the short, brutal answer to the question of finding representation for or publishing your sketch character is: you don’t. Or, rather, that’s the wrong question. The real question is: how do you get this character in front of as many people as you possibly can?
Fortunately, today’s sketch creators have the Internet at their fingertips, and if there’s one genre of entertainment that’s exploding online, it’s sketch comedy. In fact, there may have never been as perfect a time for aspiring sketch artists… the Internet is full of them, from Barats & Bereta and Rhett & Link to Obama Girl and Honor Student.
So if your character is filmable, Max, the best thing you can do is shoot some great-quality sketches and get them online… everywhere you can. Don’t limit yourself to YouTube; get your work on FunnyorDie, Bebo, Vimeo, MySpace, Revver, Facebook, anywhere you can.
The other wonderful thing about the Internet is you’ll know fairly quickly how good your work truly is. You can solicit feedback from viewers to learn what’s working, what’s not, what’s hilarious, what’s dull. You can then go back, rewrite, reshoot, and try again. With each video, your character and your comedy will get better. Eventually, as your work gets stronger and your online audience builds (and it will build… when people find something they like, they bookmark it, Digg it, and pass it along… which is exactly how things go viral), agents, producers, studios, or publishing houses will come calling. You can also facilitate that by reaching out to buyers, although most won’t be interested until your work has a sizable online audience.
If your sketch characters is not film-able, then you need to get him/her on stage as much as possible. Go up in comedy clubs. Join sketch groups. Perform live on the street. Do whatever you need to build a fan base that says to agents, producers, and buyers: “this character has value; it’s already commercial.”
Anyway, Max, I hope this helps. The good news is: you’ve already created an outstanding character. And the even better news is: you couldn’t have done it at a better time, because—as I said—the Internet is giving sketch comedy artists like yourself an infinite number of new opportunities.
Good luck… and if you—or anyone else—has further questions, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments section below or email me at WDScriptNotes@FWPUbs.com.
In the mean time, here are examples of some of sketch comedy available on today's Internet…
CHASING DONOVAN: "Creative Writing," by Honor Student
"The Mysterious Ticking Noise," from The Potter Puppet Pals
"Will Arnett-Human Giant Sex Tape," from The Human Giant