featured image with bench and desription of blog post

Simple Sketch Comedy Shooting Techniques From The Ben Stiller Show

I recently watched a sketch from The Ben Stiller Show to post with a previous podcast and got drawn into watching the whole brilliant single (award winning) season of The Ben Stiller Show. After I got through most of it I realized how many sketches could have been shot today, even under the restrictions of the pandemic, and decided to share that awareness on this podcast episode with the intention of helping fellow filmmakers get creative with how to shoot the movie ideas they are having right now, even if they think they do not have access to the locations they need.

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Relevant Links

The Ben Stiller Show (Season 1)

The Ben Stiller Show (IMDb)

Sketch “Kill Doug Szathkey”

Sketch “30 Second Conspiracy Theory”

Who Killed The Electric Car? (documentary)

Sketch “Counting with Bruce Springsteen”

Simple Sketch Comedy Shooting Techniques From The Ben Stiller Show
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The Ben Stiller Show Sketch that inspired this post/podcast…

Full Episode Transcript

NOTE: This podcast was transcribed by a tool I highly recommend called called Happy Scribe (affiliate link). We do our best to adjust the transcript so that it reads smoothly, but if we missed something please forgive any typos or errors.

I know that I say this every week, but today I’m going to keep it short, I promise.

I don’t promise.

I will do my best.

I am going to talk today about shooting little sketches or short movies or videos where you are now if you’re still staying home or you don’t want to go out or you don’t want to talk to people in order to get a location.

And the idea for this podcast actually came up from a previous podcast that I did where I talked about using ideas for writing that are coming up for you right now. And I talked about how using neighbors, maybe, that you either know or don’t know, and you want to write a story around them.

And I said don’t be specific with that.

And I was then like, “You know what is totally an example of being too specific, but is a joke because it didn’t really happen, is something from The Ben Stiller Show,” which was a phenomenal show from the 90s, that won a bunch of awards and yet got canceled in, like, one season. So that’s worth watching and I will link to it.

But they have one sketch called “Kill Doug Szathkey”, and it’s way too specific.

It’s actually, I think, a parody on the rap scene at the time where they would be very specific about killing people. And not that I know much about that, but I remember that there was a lot of controversy in the news about that at the time.

And so this was a parody about that… About this rapper who is all about, like, killing his neighbor. Any names him specifically.

I guess you could compare it to, like, the doxing of today.

So that was the joke.

And I thought of that sketch because I was like, “You do not want to be that specific.”

Now, they did it as a joke because that person doesn’t exist, but my point was within that podcast and I was going to post it with the blog post I make for each of these podcasts.

I was going to put that video and be like, “don’t do this like in real life, don’t do this.”

But that was a sketch show. So it’s not like he was really targeting someone. It was to make fun of something that was happening in society at the time.

So then I started looking at the entire Ben Stiller Show.

And I own it, first of all. I have the DVD because that’s how much I love that show. And it was a perfect thing to watch right now because sometimes I am frustrated, like everyone else, about the whole covid thing and lockdowns and everything, and so I like watching comedy and I like watching uplifting things, especially right now.

And I like watching things that were made decades ago when, I think, life was more optimistic.

This isn’t a commentary on what’s happening right now in society, although it is I guess, a bit…

But really, if you start watching things like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Ben Stiller Show and even comedy SNL at that time, Saturday Night Live, it just has a much different feel to it.

And so even generationally, it has a much different feel. The comedy of today that’s popular is much different than the comedy that was popular 20 years ago. And so I don’t know, this might not appeal to everyone. Maybe just like for me.

I was going to use an example, [something] from my mom’s era or my grandmother’s era of what they considered funny, but even some of the genius of those eraa still carries over into me.

Like I do like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, even though it’s from before my time and which is how I started this whole pandemic [in terms of watching uplifting comedy to keep spirits up].

But I digress.

This show is about going into that Ben Stiller Show.

And so I watched the whole thing. And I noticed how much of their shooting could be done,, theoretically during a pandemic. Not everything, but it’s my impression that they had a very low budget and very low options in terms of  shooting and sets.

They had to keep their choices minimal. There are some sketches that are clearly high budget, and that took a lot to set up. But then I’m going to run through a few right now verbally and I’ll look for them online.

But I will also link to the entire season on YouTube so you can go and watch this and you don’t need the DVDs.

And I hope you get a lot from it. Either, just from a pleasure standpoint or from a filmmaker standpoint, where you get ideas on things you can do right now to shoot the ideas that you have in a way that will keep you safe.

And if you’re stuck at home, that is still doable and you know you can do it well.

So the first one is the “Kill Doug Szathkey”, which is like basically shot in a neighborhood with a dude walking. And yes, he needed more cast members for that. But that was… So that took more people, which maybe you don’t want to do right now. And there’s shots outside the home, inside the home… That’s not a good example of a low budget.

And also keeping it easy during this time and being able to just set up a camera and do it [is important]. But I got this idea [to make this a podcast topic] when I was watching one of their sketches, which is called “30 Second Conspiracy Theory” or a 30 second conspiracy guy. I’ll look for it. But it’s basically Bob Odenkirk sitting on a bench and he’s just talking about a conspiracy.

Ironically, it’s about electric cars, which five years later was actually a conspiracy because they smashed all the best electric cars that we had in 2000 in the early 2000s, but that’s a whole other story.

I could link to that, too. That’s a great documentary. Who Killed the Electric Car? Side note.

But anyway, so there was reality in that. But he’s [Bob Odenkirk]  just a dude on a bench who just talks and talks and talks. And the way he presents it is hilarious and the writing is good and he’s just on a bench talking. It’s entertaining and so that is completely doable right now as a one-person-thing. You can do that.

And that’s the moment when I said, “Oh my gosh, somebody could be stuck at home writing brilliantly and then just shooting it on a park bench away from everyone else and then still get this out there.”

And I feel like if you’re inclined to do that, that’s a possibility.

“Low Budget Tales of Cliched Horror”… That’s another one where it’s super-low-budget. But I like that they took the piss out of it by saying this is going to be super low budget. And then they did all these clichéd things like there’s blood dripping from the clock and all that stuff that made it. Funny as a sketch, but also allowed them to stay within the range of one room and a low budget, but they were making fun of that genre as well

“Counting with Bruce Springsteen”…

That’s another one where it’s a sketch in a room. I think it’s like a curtain behind him. And he’s just. Doing a character.

Ben Stiller is doing one of the characters… The many characters… That he does, and one of them is Bruce Springsteen and it’s a single camera on a tripod, and that’s it.

And then there was another one where they did Grady’s Oats, and that’s basically in a kitchen and the emphasis and the interesting aspects of it and the funny aspects of it come from the writing and the acting.

And that’s what I find beautiful about it.

So that is an example of using creativity when you lack certain resources, and in this case, if you don’t have locations or you don’t want to go out and find a location, that is another option and a direction you can go right now.

And so I just wanted to share that with you because I really just went to go look at that one sketch. And then I was like, “Oh, I forgot how awesome this show is. 

Not every sketch is amazing, just like with Saturday Night Live… Especially with Saturday Night Live… There’s brilliance and then a lot of so-so mixed in.

But I’d say this has a higher ratio of brilliance than Saturday Night Live, except for certain seasons.

So because they only had a half-hour, they didn’t have to write for an hour and a half, which is a lot when you’re doing it every week. So they had a half hour to fill and they could put their best stuff up. They also are very talented… A very talented cast who went on to do some amazing stuff like Andy Dick, Jeanine Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk and of course, Ben Stiller. And yeah, just really great stuff.

So I’m going to link to the entire season. And I’m also just encouraging you to benefit from its comedy, but also benefit from its genius way it used its resources in order to make comedy and entertainment.

And oh my gosh, I actually made a short podcast.

So I’m going to finish now and thank you for listening. And I hope that this helped you and I will talk to you soon.

OK, just as a side note, if you do a search specifically…

If you can’t go to my website…

So [the blog post] is usually named after the podcast episode, but if you can’t get there, you can do a search in YouTube [for the sketches mentioned in this podcast].

But if you just type in “Ben Stiller Show Doug” – D – O – U – G, you’ll probably get to that. Let me see. You’ll probably get to, you know… That’s like the first selection.

So you can watch it that way, too.

But I’ll have this posted on the blog post this week for this episode. I’ll probably mention Ben Stiller somewhere. So if you do a search on my website, you’ll see and you do a search for Ben Stiller, you’ll see that the post that will come up.

That’s it. Have a great day and I will talk to you soon. Take care.
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