hat is the difference between a “sketch” and a scene in a SitCom? A “sketch” vs a “skit”? Have you ever watched Saturday Night Live or I Think You Should Leave and wondered how the writers and performers craft a full beginning, middle, and end in the span of under 5 minutes? Over the course of this article, we’re gonna dive into the full definition of sketch comedy and explore its basic formulas as well as highlight some “sketch sub-genres” that have become prevalent in TV (and some movies!). Let’s dig in.

A quick overview


Let’s define sketch comedy

Before we explain the different types of sketch comedy and dive into some examples, let’s quickly define the medium.


What is sketch comedy?

Sketch comedy refers to short comedic scenes or vignettes, commonly referred to as a “comedy sketch,” usually between 1 to 10 minutes long. The form originated in vaudeville, where comedic performers like the Marx Bros would craft entire scenes around a single “comedic premise” with a tight 3-Act structure.  


  • A comedic premise conveyed quickly and succinctly
  • A “heightening arc” with a clear beginning, middle, end
  • A length that does not exceed 10 minutes (more typically 3-5)


What’s a “skit” vs. a “sketch”?

Sketches are often mislabeled as “skits” and it’s important to know the difference. A skit vs sketch is dependent on the length, premise, and dimension of characters. For example, a skit is often a single dramatized joke (or “bit”) while a sketch is a comedic exploration of a concept, character, or situation.

  • “The Interruptor” from Late Night with Conan O’Brien is a skit, as it features a character with a single joke done in repetition, with no emotional or story arc.

“The Interruptor” is a skit that features a character repetitively hitting a single joke

  • The “Diner Wink” from I Think You Should Leave is a sketch as it explores the concept of bonding with a stranger over a white lie, heightened for comedic effect, with a full resolution.

The “Diner Wink” is a comedic sketch that explores the concept of bonding with strangers


What are the types of sketch comedy?

It’s likely you’ve sat through an episode of Saturday Night Live and noticed the difference between the types of sketches that open the show and the types of sketches that close it.

This isn’t just a strategic plot to gain viewership, it’s emphasizing the “variety” in “sketch variety show.” Over the course of this section, we’re going to highlight the most common comedy sketch “sub-genres.”

The “First Warm Day of the Year Red Carpet” comedy sketch from “SNL”

Political Sketch

Political sketches focus on politics and are often lampooning a timely political event or politician’s actions. Because of this, political sketches are often an intimate glimpse into the time in which they’re created and aired. 

Shows like Saturday Night Live utilize their live show format to air these types of sketches, as they’ll never be more relevant to the viewing audience than the exact moment of which they air. More often than not, these are the types of sketches that open SNL’s show.

Saturday Night Live often features a political comedic sketch in their cold opens

Genre Parody Sketch

These sketches often utilize the stylistic tropes of a movie or TV genre (Film Noir, Action, Horror, etc). And they either apply it to mundane situations or heighten the genre tropes until they create a “sketch world” completely detached from reality.

College Humor utilizes the “Whodunit” mystery genre for this comedic sketch

Commercial Parody

Commercial parody sketches mimic a pre-existing notable commercial or a more broad commercial style like advertising for toys, alcohol, medical prescriptions and more. More often than not, they present a “bad product” that is clearly defective as comedic social commentary.

Saturday Night Live parodies toy commercials

Musical Parody

Musical parody sketches utilize familiar pop music genres to express an incongruent message, usually leaning toward something darker than the upbeat music would suggest. 

In Saturday Night Live, this is often seen through their “digital shorts” that were made popular by the sketch troupe The Lonely Island, though musical parody sketches can also exist in episodic television like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend parodies R&B Pop from the ‘90s

“Fish Out of Water” Sketches

These types of sketches typically feature either of the two scenarios: an absurd out-of-this-world character in a completely normal world or a completely normal character in an absurd world. This sketch “sub-genre,” like so many others, rests heavily on the sketch acting from the performers.

In Key & Peele, Keegan Michael Key amplifies his absurd sketch acting by playing Andre 3000


How do you write sketch comedy?

Writing sketch comedy, like writing all comedy genres, is all about seizing on a clear, gettable premise that elevates a relatable subject with an added layer of commentary. It’s not enough to simply present a parody for parody’s sake, but rather inject your comedic perspective on that parody in a way that audiences may not expect. 

Oftentimes, comedy writers refer to this as “the about-about.” Your sketch may be “about” a Super Mario movie done in the style of The Last of Us.

Pedro Pascal pokes fun at his fame in a fake “Super Mario Bros” trailer

Even when sketch writers are placing their scenes deep in space or within the world of The Last of Us, it’s important to identify something deeply human that viewers can attach to.

Up Next

How to Write Comedy

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” but with our guide on how to master the basics it gets a little easier. Use this how-to guide as guiding light to figure out the precise kind of comedy you’d like to write.

Up Next: Comedy Writing 101 →
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