by Andrea Romano
What does your favorite SNL sketch have to do with writing a funny ad? More than you might think!
At Write Label, you probably come across many briefs per day that are asking for funny scripts, and you might find yourself racking your brain for that funny idea that will really make your radio submission pop. No matter what industry you’re writing for, there’s always something you can do to make the client’s ad as funny as possible.
That’s where knowing how to write sketch comedy comes in. Understanding what a well-written sketch looks like isn’t that much different from understanding what a well-written ad looks like.
A well-structured sketch comes down to a few basic principles:
- There is a clear angle or premise. In other words, what is the sketch about?
- There are beats (jokes, bits, or parts of a scene) that support what the sketch is about.
- There is a heightening/escalation from one beat to the next.
- There is a “button” at the end that ties everything together.
And that’s practically the same as a well-written ad:
- There’s an opening hook that draws you into the ad that introduces the product (premise).
- There are a few sentences naming the benefits of the product (beats).
- Each sentence builds on the last and flows into the next (heightening).
- There is a CTA that tells listeners where to go, who to call, etc. (button).
The funny part comes in when you use this structure as a basis for the main “joke” you’re trying to get across in your ad script and use the copy points in the brief as your way of supporting and heightening your joke. The best place to find a funny angle starts with the business you’re writing for. Here’s an example:
Let’s say you have a brief for a grocery store called The Produce King. The name already gives us something to work with:
SFX: Trumpeted fanfare
MUSIC: Lute and harpsichord, like a Renaissance fair
VOICE DIRECTION: Old English, almost Shakespearean
TOWN CRIER: Hear ye, hear ye! All subjects of the Produce King! Subsist not on mealy, subpar or understocked fruits and vegetables! Our glorious king hath brought us only the freshest treats from many lands! Bananas! Organic tomatoes! Green, leafy stalks of kale and more!
VOICE DIRECTION: Old English, but lowbrow
FEMALE PEASANT: Fresh produce!? That must cost an arm and a leg!
SFX: Many peasants wailing and complaining
TOWN CRIER: Fear not, subjects! The Produce King also offers the freshest items at affordable prices! Here! Try a McIntosh apple for only One-Ninety-Nine a pound!
SFX: crunching into an apple
FEMALE PEASANT: Why THIS would be delicious in my pies!
MALE PEASANT: And I don’t have to give away any of me arms or legs!
SFX: Many peasants cheering
TOWN CRIER: Go henceforth to The Produce King! Visit The Produce King at 123 Main Street in McAllen!
To break it down, we have:
- An opener/hook: Since the name “The Produce King” evokes an image of royalty, we started with an Old English town crier making an announcement on behalf of the Produce King.
- Beats/Copy Points: The Produce King is offering his subjects healthy fruits and vegetables. This is supported by the peasants posing a problem (good produce must be EXPENSIVE).
- Heightening/More Copy Points: The problem is then solved by the town crier, who says that the King not only offers good products but also for low prices. The peasants cheer, there are a couple of silly lines to support this fantasy kingdom scenario, and then…
- Button/CTA: …the town crier ends the spot by telling the listener where to go visit the local Produce King.
Now that you understand basic sketch structure, you’re well on your way to writing a funny ad that stands out!