Sketch comedy consists of a series of short comedy scenes or vignettes, called "sketches," commonly between one and ten minutes long. Such sketches are performed by a group of comic actors, either on stage or through an audio and/or visual medium such as broadcasting. Often sketches are first improvised by the actors and written down based on the outcome of these improv sessions; however, improvisation is not necessarily involved in all sketch comedy.
An individual sketch or vignette is a brief scene or skit formerly used in vaudeville and used today on variety shows, comedy programs, adult entertainment, talk shows, or certain children's television programs (such as Sesame Street). Such a sketch can include footage of a "man on the street" on evening comedy television interview programs like the Tonight Show.
More serious sketch comedians differentiate their art from that of the skit, maintaining that skits tend to be a (single) dramatized joke, while a sketch is a comedic exploration of a concept, character, or situation.
Sketch comedy has its origins in vaudeville and music hall, where a large number of brief, but humorous, acts were strung together to form a larger program.
In England, it moved to stage performances by Cambridge Footlights, such as Beyond the Fringe and A Clump of Plinths (which evolved into Cambridge Circus), to radio, with such shows as It's That Man Again and I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, then to television, with such shows as Monty Python's Flying Circus and Not the Nine O'clock News.
Historically, the sketches tended to be unrelated, but more recent groups have introduced overarching themes that connect the sketches within a particular show, with recurring characters that return for more than one appearance. Examples of recurring characters include "Ted & Ralph" from The Fast Show; the "Head Crusher" from The Kids in the Hall; Martin Short's "Ed Grimley", a recurring character from both SCTV and Saturday Night Live; and "Kevin & Perry" from Harry Enfield and Chums. The idea of running characters was taken a stage further with shows like The Red Green Show and The League of Gentlemen, where sketches centered around the various inhabitants of the fictional towns of Possum Lake and Royston Vasey, respectively.
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