Hey, Mike Trapp here! I write things for TV and the internet. Once upon a time, I was the Head Writer for CollegeHumor, where I was paid to write sketches for a not-paying audience. Before that I was a writer and teacher at the UCB Theatre, where I was not paid to write sketches for a paying audience. Between these inscrutable businesses I’ve spent over a decade writing, teaching, and thinking about sketch comedy. This was almost certainly a mistake. It is such a useless, unloved form you’d have to be an absolute idiot to devote any amount of time to sketch writing.
This is a newsletter devoted to sketch writing. It’s called Chuffah.
If you’re a total beginner, this publication will introduce you to the concepts you need to write a great sketch (as well as many bad ones). If you already have sketch experience, this will be a place to geek out about comedy and obsess over joke construction. In short, this is for writers who like to think about jokes, and comedians who like to think about writing.
Why Are You Doing This?
About two years ago I found myself with a lot of thoughts about comedy and not a lot of “a job.” This was bad. There’s a special kind of dread that comes from being unemployed with a resumé that reads “expert in fart jokes,” especially since I was merely “proficient.” There was an obvious solution: why not share my knowledge and create employment for myself by once again teaching sketch classes? I always liked teaching, and if I had wasted my time cultivating a useless skill, I could at least make sure the next generation wastes their time too. Really stick it to ‘em, y’know?
But I had problems with the format of sketch classes. Classes at established comedy theaters were small, accommodating only a handful of local students. These classes cost several hundred dollars for a few sessions. As much as I love a few hundred dollars (please get a paid subscription), this is a significant expense for those who would most benefit from classes: people early in their career, people outside the industry, and people with inflexible schedules.
I considered online teaching platforms, places where you could post videos for hundreds of prospective students. With more people in a class, the overall cost could drop to a reasonable rate and students could watch from anywhere at any time. But this solution lost the back-and-forth engagement and supportive group dynamics that made small classes valuable. It also meant I would have to watch myself on camera a bunch, and frankly, I’ve had quite enough of that.
I wanted to find a teaching method that would blend the best of both worlds: the flexibility and affordability of large classes, with the interactivity and community of small classes. I’m hoping this newsletter is the solution.
What exactly is Chuffah?
You know how sometimes a scene will start mid-conversation? Someone is wrapping up a story with an apparent non-sequitur like, “…and then she said: that IS my foot!” and everyone bursts out laughing? That’s chuffah. And just like this newsletter, it’s completely unnecessary, only-kinda-funny chatter that exists at the edge of sketch, but does somehow (hopefully) make it better.
I intend to post 1-2 times per week in a variety of formats, including:
Lessons: The basics of sketch writing, and my personal writing philosophy disguised as immutable law. Can you tell the difference? (In all seriousness I will try to be very clear when something is “generally accepted wisdom” and when it’s “personal opinion.”)
Sketch Dissection: There’s a famous, often mangled and misattributed E. B. White quote: “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the purely scientific mind.” I hope y’all have purely scientific minds, because I sure do. In these posts, we’re gonna open a frog morgue. We’ll cut open scripts, and conduct full autopsies — poking at the gooey insides to see what’s working, what’s not, and what exactly each part is doing.
Essays: Whatever thoughts on comedy, writing, and sketch happen to be rolling around my head at the moment.
Interviews: Conversations about comedy with writers, actors, producers, and more.
Q&A Sessions: A chance to gain clarity on previous posts, or ask any other questions that might be on your mind.
Discussion Threads: Directed prompts for members of the community to talk amongst themselves. Everything from writing topics to book club-like discussions of sketches and shows.
Notes on Your Work: Personal feedback is incredibly valuable. I’ve also learned from smaller classes that seeing feedback on others’ work can be just as valuable as getting feedback on your own. My hope is that I will eventually have readers willing to share their scripts and receive public notes from me for everyone’s benefit. Scary? Yes! But maybe also exciting.
Personal Updates: For those curious about what I’m working on these days.
Unpublished Scripts and Other Scraps of Writing: Old forgotten sketches, new works with no home — Chuffah will be the place for these miserable orphans of writing.
How Much Will This Cost?
For many of you, nothing, but I hope some of you will opt for a paid subscription, whenever I make that option available. A lot of posts will be available for free, including the basic sketch lessons. Other posts, like notes on reader sketches and discussion threads will be available only to paid subscribers in order to keep out trolls and foster a community of invested, supportive individuals. If Chuffah is a workshop, think of the free version as hovering in the doorway and the paid as fully participating. Subscribing to the paid version is also a much appreciated way to support me when I’m between gigs. Please see “Why Are You Doing This” above for more about how much I love hundreds of dollars and hate being unemployed.
So get on in here! Let’s treat the dumbest stuff in the world with utmost seriousness! I’ve got a lot to say, and I’d hate to be shouting into the void.