Adam Dahrouge, one of the organisers of London Sketchfest, ponders why there's hardly any sketch shows on TV nowadays...
Without a doubt the genre has helped feed our taste for the eccentric, silly and downright weird. I often remark to people that if there's one thing that's still identifiable around the world as British, it's our sense of humour. And sketch comedy has played a great part.
However British TV appears to be casting the sketch show aside, in favour of more panel and reality-based shows (otherwise known as Comedy Entertainment).
Apart from the few prevailing shows like Cardinal Burns or BBC Scotland's Sketchland, today's comedy programming generally amounts to a portion of sitcom, a bulk of comedy entertainment and a dollop of American franchises.
Fading away from our screens are the weird and wonderful sketch shows with their recurring characters, strange takes and comedy catchphrases. In return we've received more talking heads and banter, banter, banter.
Over in the US the sketch comedy scene is going strong, with Comedy Central's Key & Peele set to do a movie spin-off, Portlandia signed up to its seventh season and Netflix reviving Bob Odenkirk's Mr. Show.
Since when did we get so boring? What was it? A brain drain? The cult of personality? Changes in the progression of comedy? Money? A corporate conspiracy? Or is sketch just dead?
As Artistic Producer of the London Sketch Comedy Festival, I have been on a first-class ticket through the world of British sketch comedy for the last 3 years. And if I could share one thing from it all, it would be that sketch comedy is one of the wildest, most creative places right now.
In the live scene we're breaking all the rules and rewriting sketch for the modern age. There are some amazing new voices and fresh takes on comedy - Manchester is developing a strong comedic voice, there are comedians blending character with sketch to hilarious ends and we've got some refreshingly modern double acts.
So it came as a shock when talking to commissioners and development heads that I discovered most didn't have any taste for sketch comedy these days. 'Broken Comedy' is what it's commonly referred to, almost as if there is something inherently flawed about it. Many appear to still have the view that sketch comedy is nothing more than a string of funny scenes and premises loosely hung together. The term 'broken comedy' actually refers to the broken rhythm of scenes or lack of continuous narrative or development.
But modern sketch comedy is rapidly adapting. Sketch groups have begun to tie in narratives, create concept frames and alternate realities. Sketch has evolved in the hands of young British comedians into an adaptable and versatile format and nobody quite knows what to do with it.
Back in July, The Sunday Times featured a piece about how sketch comedy was undergoing a "mini revolution" but then later in December The Guardian published a piece entitled "Why is almost nobody making TV sketch comedy any more?" quoting The Fast Show's Charlie Higson and his announcement of the death of the sketch show in 2013.
So with sketch comedy making a comeback live whilst TV makes cut backs, it appears to us that what's happening is the two are moving further apart from each other. While the live scene is awash with a healthy dose of sketch comedy, there's a distinct lack of any on British TV. But is it the death of the sketch show, or the death of TV?
TV executives are increasingly under pressure to keep viewers on screen rather than online as they defend the bastion of terrestrial broadcast, from the scourge of digital innovation. And to do that they need big names and convoluted contracts and licensing to 'give you something that nobody else will'. Being funny doesn't just cut it anymore; you've got to have commercial value.
Another argument suggests that decreasing budgets mean sketch comedy proves too expensive for its worth, that the amount of writing and costume and set production means panel shows are cheaper. But I disagree - a sketch group who have earned their stripes with years of experience working together will write far more efficiently than a group of profile comedians working together for the first time. And rarely will costume or set production exceed the costs to build a panel show set in a hired studio. Even that is a moot point when you consider the set budgets allocated for drama.
Others suggest that you just can't monetise a sketch show. That it won't sell well overseas, that you can't sell the format on, that there's nothing to merchandise. But the contrary exists. Monty Python are known globally, shows like Not the Nine O Clock News and Impractical Jokers were formats sold and Little Britain had plenty of merchandise attached.
The truth is TV has 'invested' in certain comedians (sometimes by proxy via a production company) and it intends to get paid back. So they will keep purporting the same, but in various disguises. A sitcom here, a panel show there, a live special and a couple chat shows. And every now and again they'll venture into something new that's been doing well elsewhere.
But it's not TV's fault - it's a very expensive operation, with a huge amount of staff and big overheads. They play a big game.
Sketch comedy will always be a place to find challenging comedy or exciting new stuff. It's just so experimental and versatile. And for the way that TV is thinking currently, it's too risky.
There's another side to this story though. Traditional TV is in competition with the web and it's yet to be decided who can produce more interesting content. It's much cheaper to broadcast on the web and so a) there's less risk resulting in more variety or b) more money to invest in more creative production. A great example is Series 6 of Community, which recently moved to Yahoo! from NBC as a now web-only series. The battle has only just begun and eventually time will tell who produces the best content.
For now though it appears sketch is poised for online. While it's perhaps not fit for the big traction requirements of traditional TV, it's perfect for the entertainment remit of the net and it's only a matter of time before it finds its home online.
London Sketchfest 2015 will be presenting some of the best UK sketch groups on the 1st to 3rd May. To find out more visit www.londonsketchfest.com