What is 5-Point Structure?
ALL. sketches (Yes, ALLLLLL sketches) can fit into the same, simple 5-point structure. This is the ultimate key to writing sketch comedy. But, it also serves as an important key to rewriting and even watching sketches.
Answer the Q’s that audiences may have as quickly as possible. Typically you want this part of your sketch to be 5 lines of dialogue or less. If you’re writing in script format (using a program like WriterDuet, Celtx, or Final Draft), think about this part of your sketch being less than a page–about half of one.
- WHO? – Who is onstage/camera? What are their relationships with each other?
- WHY? – Why are they here now?
- WHAT? – What are they doing?
Ex.: MACY (a little girl) skips up to PAULA (an old woman)
MACY: Grandma! Why can’t we get ice cream?
PAULA: Because, sweetheart, there’s no ice cream on Mars! Plus, we’re too busy chopping all this wood.
2. INTRODUCE THE JOKE
Once you’ve set up the reality of your world, it’s time to add the joke. Keep in mind you want to focus on ONLY ONE crazy/wacky/funny thing. If you toss out all the rules (before perfecting them), your sketch will be too confusing to be funny!
Sometimes called the “GAME,” the joke is usually the thing that first sparks your interest when thinking of a new sketch. In this beat, you just need to get the joke started
Ex.: JENN is throwing a party, but she only has Joni Mitchell CDs.
3. HEIGHTEN THE JOKE
This is the meat of the sketch. 95% of your length should come from this part of the sketch. Why? Because it’s where all the best jokes are.
What does “heightening” mean? Great Q! It’s sort of like turning the volume up on the funny. Whatever your joke is–make it MORE!! (More ridiculous, more specific, more and more-er and more-est.)
In the example above, maybe Jenn’s Joni Mitchell CD’s get sadder, louder, or less scrutable as the sketch goes on.
This is important because it defines the tone of your sketch. Three people could write a sketch with the same joke, but if they heightened it differently, they would feel like completely different sketches.
This typically happens over 3 beats, each crazier (and funnier) than the one before.
Ex. 1-MAURIE hates games. Her friends pull out a board game and she refuses to play. 2- MAURIE still hates games a lot. Her friends are trying to convince her to play Monopoly, but she considers this “mind games” and she doesn’t play games. 3 – MAURIE really hates games so much. Her friends finally give up on the game, and have good news to share. They say “guess what our news is” and she says she doesn’t play guessing games.
Bonus!! The “break” doesn’t happen in every sketch. But it’s the little cheeky moment in some sketches where the rules are broken for the sake of a laugh.
EX. MAURIE says she does love Capture the Flag because it represents struggling against oppressors.
4. PUNCH THE JOKE
So, you’ve made a lot of funny out of one small joke. Perfect! Now you have to get out of the joke. How to end a sketch? Great Q. Here are just some ideas:
- Heightening TOO FAR. (People kill each other, you’re on the moon, something explodes. SNL’s famous example is jumping out of a window.)
- The voice of reason. (Someone steps in and calls out the joke.)
- A new person enters. (Changing the dynamic just enough to stop talking about whatever the joke is.)
- The ticking clock runs out. (Are your characters waiting on a timer, a table, a movie to start, etc.)
The goofiest and most fun part of a sketch is the button. Don’t sleep on the button! You want to leave the audience laughing.
This is one last joke that slaps a laugh on the end of a sketch. This joke can be a little random or even discredit the joke of the sketch.
Ex. MANDY (the voice of reason) finally agrees.
MANDY: Yeah, fine. But then why did you judge me for eating slugs!
You now know how to write a sketch. Want to see this in action? I teach sketch comedy at GOLD, so swing by the club and sign up for my class. Sketch comedy only gets crazier from here.
Maggie Scudder runs the Editorial Content at GOLD. She is a writer, comedian, and NYC transplant. On her podcast, Edward is a Vampire, she is staunchly Team Rosella (RosalieXBella); on her TikTok, @wereplayinggames, she is very competitive. She loves sourdough toast, walking on boats, and the rule of threes.