The sketch comedy monologue

If you’re writing sketch comedy, the monologue is a real time-saver.

A sketch comedy monologue usually involves one actor talking directly to the audience in character. The comedy comes from the character, and will usually have a story to it. It’s different from a standup monologue, which typically depends more heavily on a series of gags stuck together with weak segues.

Only one actor is required, so they’re easy to write, rehearse and produce, assuming your character isn’t simultaneously disemboweling an elephant, or shooting incoming TIE fighters. And even then, you can probably just mime them.

A monologue is a great choice to put before a big production number. While one cast member delivers the monologue, the rest can prepare for the sketch that follows.

Monologues are talky by nature. There probably won’t be a lot of action, and events may be told rather than shown. Avoid heading into talking head territory: make sure your characters have some attitude or emotion.

Monologues can be made more interesting if characters play a subtext, so what they’re saying is at odds with what they really think. A character who is supposed to be delivering a heartfelt thank you speech for best supporting actress might have the subtext that she resents not getting the starring role.

Monologue recipes

Here are a few starting points for comedy monologues:

One side of a telephone conversation
A lot of the comic potential here is making the audience imagine what is happening, or being said on the other end of the phone. Comedian Bob Newhart is a master of this genre, and his recordings from the 1960s are still funny today.

Welcoming a group of visitors
Treat the audience as the newcomers – perhaps to a school, a camp, a wellness symposium, a psychics conference. For example, in a brilliant Rowan Atkinson greeted new arrivals to hell.

An announcement to the audience
You might explain that one of your cast members has quit the group, or that the show has been cancelled and replaced by a different show. It’s usually played in a natural manner. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross frequently used this kind of technique in Mr. Show.

Talking to a different theatre audience
You treat the audience as an audience, which feels very natural. Perhaps Lincoln has just been shot, and you’re an actor on stage, trying to entertain the crowd while medical personnel look after the problem. Or, sticking with the historical theme, you’re Shakespeare, asking for feedback after the first performance of Hamlet. In an outstanding Eleanor Bron monologue from A Poke In The Eye With A Sharp Stick, she plays the nervous organizer of an amateur show. She nervously explains how performers have worked hard to create the show, and encourages the audience to work equally hard to enjoy it.

Talking to the audience as if they are an offstage character
A boyfriend breaking up a girlfriend. A villain talking to James Bond. In the film Pulp Fiction, Christopher Walken’s speech about the watch is a good comic monologue, and would probably work just as well as a sketch comedy piece.

Delivering a speech
An award acceptance. A video will. A speech at a wedding reception. A presidential address to the nation. This sort of format is often used in sketch shows such as Monty Python, SNL, Mr Show, and MAD TV.

Teacher addressing a class
This often turns up as a monologue format. Rowan Atkinson’s “Schoolmaster” sketch made him famous – half the sketch consists of the attendance list. Ben Stein’s schoolteacher scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is essentially a sketch monologue.

One Comment

  1. Alan Gray says:

    Writing my first real sketch comedy piece and your information has been very helpful!
    Thank You…

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