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I have a premise, which I think is funny/clever. I want to write this as a comedy sketch, to be acted out or shot on video.

I have three "scenes" which are basically three different re-capitulations of the premise. I'm at the point where I need to end it.

My question is, in general, how do I end a sketch? I'm not asking how to end my particular sketch. I'm asking how I end comedy sketches in general.

The reason I ask this is because I'm aware of theories of writing, both prose and screenplay, that talk about how to end your story. The protagonist has some sort of problem, which they grapple with, and it culminates in some sort of final confrontation with the antagonist, resulting in a "new normal" for the protagonist.

However, I don't know of any theories or advice on how to end a comedy sketch. I have the premise, but I feel the end needs some sort of "punchline", which can't be just another re-statement of the premise.

I'm thinking something along the lines of thesis->antithesis->synthesis, but that's as far as I've got.

So my actual premise is that a couple of "cool", "hip" people are sitting outside a cafe, drinking coffee, wearing fashionable clothes, discussing philosophy and cinema, and smoking cigarettes.

An anti-smoking activist comes up to them, and convinces them to give up smoking for vaping nicotine. But additionally, they have to "trade in" their clothes, hobbies, and discussion topics for less "cool" versions, such as fedoras, LARPing, fantasy-genre lore and backstory, etc.

So the premise is that you can't just give up tobacco in exchange for vaping; it's a package deal that includes a whole lifestyle change -- clothing, interests, etc. You have to give up "who you are" if you don't want to die early from cancer.

So in the scenes I can re-capitulate the premise several times-- trying on Fedoras in the store, arguing with someone about superhero canon, dressing as a wizard and casting a spell on another LARPer. Okay, maybe it's funny, maybe it isn't. Anyway, how do I end it? What happens next, which indicates that the "story" is over, and is not just a re-statement of the premise?

As I said above, I'm not so interested in an ending to this particular sketch as I am about advice on how to end sketches in general. I have many other premises in mind without endings, so I need to figure out a way to wrap them up.

I've looked more closely at some sketch comedy, and tried to suss out patterns, to limited success. For instance, Whitest Kids You Know sketches seem to work on a principle of "accelerate/intensify the premise to screaming". Monty Python sketches seem to end in interruptions that are callbacks to earlier premises. Portlandia sketches seem to end in a jump cut.

I'm looking at Kids in the Hall's Selling Sound sketch, and to me, this seems to "end" without simply re-stating the premise. The premise is that a stereo salesman is having mixed success with corny sales techniques. However, the ending is very surprising, unpredictable, and, funny. It turns out that the salesperson is successful, for rather unexpected reasons.

It seems to me in an analysis of what I consider a successful sketch, it flips the premise upside-down. He's a bad salesperson, but actually successful in the end. Jokes are sometimes said to function on a surprise, so I suppose in this sense, the premise is like a set-up, and the end is the "surprise" punchline.

Any more resources on this?

FWIW my personal interests include all of the subjects presented as "cool" and "dorky" in the premise of this sketch.

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    You've virtually answered your own question here; as my own personal opinion, I prefer sudden unexpected twists to end comedies, however, the ending of a comedy plot is heavily dependent on its actual context to sound natural. – Kyle Li Mar 23 '17 at 4:50
  • In the 1960s, comedian Soupy Sales had a television show pitched toward a young audience. In most cases, the show would end with him getting a pie in the face. My point: If it's comedy, don't over-think the thesis-antithesis-sythesis thing. – user23046 Mar 23 '17 at 23:10
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    @RobtA Indeed. Wasn't it E.B. White who said that dissecting a joke is like dissecting a frog: it ruins it and is only of interest to academics? That said, as a comedy writer I suppose you are the academic in this case, so perhaps it is warranted in this case. – Michael May 11 '17 at 22:15
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Generally speaking, humor comes from the unexpected. You anticipate that A will happen, but B happens instead.

Someone says "I want to give up cigarettes and switch to vaping." You expect that the person will put down the cigarette and pick up an e-cigarette, or hookah, or whatever it is. You don't expect that the person has to change an entire lifestyle. That's the twist, the unexpected.

So if that's not the punchline, and the sketch continues, what's the twist from your twist?

A Bit of Fry & Laurie sketches frequently end with the single joke (the twist) just going as far as it can go: the man whose address ends in a slap (finishes with Fry walloping Laurie with a bat; he actually hit poor Hugh too hard), the cricket commentators rhapsodizing about England to the point of verbal orgasm and then post-coital lassitude, the understanding barman whose food offerings sound like bawdy interruptions of a drunken customer's sentences. The twist on the twist is just that the two of them have gone to that level (the bat, the orgasm).

In a different sketch (the name escapes me and I can't find a clip), Fry is a British soldier who's been captured by Laurie's Nazi interrogator, but instead of bravely resisting questioning, Fry falls in love with him at first sight (the twist), and spends the whole sketch rhapsodizing about his eyes and his arse. Laurie is bewildered, expecting to have to force the information out of the soldier, who only wants to talk about how he adores the kommandant. Fry finally gives up the date and location of the Allied invasion in exchange for a kiss... which Laurie then agrees to (the twist on the twist).

In "Mr. Burmie at the Vet," Fry plays a man who's brought a daschund ("doxie") to the vet alongside Laurie's cat owner. Fry speaks in the most ridiculous baby talk for the whole bit, getting more silly and exaggerated (the twist), until the vet calls the dog, who then "responds" by saying "I'd like to have this man put down, please." (the twist on the twist)

In your particular case, your joke can escalate (you have to change your habit, and then your clothes, and then your hobby, and then your name! and then your ADDRESS!!), and then the punchline could be that the bloke takes a moment to consider it and then says "Nah, I'd rather die of lung cancer" and goes back to cigarettes. Or someone else could come along and say "Never mind vaping, you should try weed!" and start parading a third set of clothes/hobby/address etc. and then a fourth person comes along, and so on until the original person starts shopping for the hobby he prefers so he can take up that appropriate vice.

Take your original reversal and do something else unexpected with it. That gives you your ending.

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    But don't forget the "running joke," which is expected. For example, the appearance of Maynard G. Krebs (Dobie Gillis TV show, early 1960s) was introduced with a running joke. It is funny because we, the audience, know what comes next (it is only "unexpected" by the characters). – user23046 Mar 23 '17 at 23:13
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    @RobtA True, but each sketch of a running joke still needs a twist for its own story. ABOF&L had several running gags (Peter and John of Utoxita, Control and Tony). Each individual sketch had a plot and a twist. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 24 '17 at 1:04
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It is well said that there are no rules in funny. A traditional story needs a specific story shape in order to work because the payoff is in the climax and denouement. But comedy, though it can conform to this structure, does not need to. The payoff is funny. It does not need to end logically. It just needs to end funny. Stop when you run out of jokes.

Now, the final joke of many skits is a kind of counterpoint. In the Fork Handles sketch, after the first shop assistant had been driven mad by the ambiguous requests of the customer, he calls for another assistant and the confusion starts over again. The counterpoint is the new victim, but the sketch ends because it has repeated the gag as many times as it is funny. It is a back door out of the sketch that you take when the gag stops being funny.

The basic formula seems to be no more than this: come up with gag, repeat while still funny, interrupt, and exit.

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    Repeat until just before it's not funny, surely... – TheTermiteSociety Mar 23 '17 at 13:53
  • @termitesociety good point. Edited. – user16226 Mar 23 '17 at 14:06
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  • Terrible gruesome death. In the tradition of Monty Python, as well as Key & Peele or even Amy Schumer.
  • Going beyond total escalation. And back again. Take a premise, stretch it to the limit, then go beyond that--or reverse it--if they end up nude in the sketch, have them ask for a sock back.
  • Show that the cycle will never end.
  • Get meta with it. as in this Monty Python sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLlv_aZjHXc
  • Live from New York, it's Saturday Night! Or some kind of catch phrase or established joke.

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