Sketch comedy is a form of comedy involving one or more actors engaged in a conversational style pursuant to a script. The premise and characters are often unique to the current presentation and often have to be based on broad caricatures of existing stereotypes rather than well developed characters.
It can therefore be distinguished from other forms of acting humor, such as:
- Situation comedy, where the central characters are well established and developed
- A play, which uses a limited number of characters
- Stand-up comedy, which is performed directly to the audience
- Improv, which is performed without a script
Sketch comedy is often easier to write than other forms of comedy, because there is no need for character development or plotting. It also gives the author a great deal of flexibility over time.
Monty Python worked mostly in sketch comedy, although some of their sketches lasted for very long periods of time (The Cycling Tour, Science Fiction Sketch, Mr. Neutron) and the movies Monty Python's Life of Brian and Monty Python and the Holy Grail were developed with characters and a plot.
Monty Python is generally credited with two major developments in sketch comedy. Prior to Monty Python, sketches had to have a very rigid pattern, with the premise of the sketch being set up, and the sketch finally ending with a punchline. Well known sketches from At Last the 1948 Show such as the Four Yorkshiremen sketch clearly show this type of structure. However, Monty Python's sketches rarely have a punchline and often start with no development of the premise. This allowed the Pythons to develop ideas and make sketches self-consistent without the need for them to come to a formal conclusion. In addition, the Python's developed the concept of linking unrelated sketches. Prior to Monty Python, sketches would begin and end with no relation to the sketch before or after. A Monty Python television program or sketch based movie would still be a consistent whole.
Both Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show were sketch comedy shows that followed the formal sketch format that was common before Monty Python. However, since Monty Python, sketch comedy has continued to develop with Saturday Night Live, The Kids in the Hall, Mad TV, Not the Nine O'Clock News and Codco being some of the primary practitioners of the form.