Sketch Comedy

9780253044143: Hardback
Release Date: 1st November 2019

9780253044167: Paperback
Release Date: 1st November 2019

18 b&w illus.

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 180

Indiana University Press

Sketch Comedy

Identity, Reflexivity, and American Television

Hardback / £69.00
Paperback / £21.99

In Sketch Comedy: Identity, Reflexivity, and American Television, Nick Marx examines some of the genre's most memorable—and controversial—moments from the early days of television to the contemporary line-up. Through explorations of sketches from well-known shows such as Saturday Night Live, The State, Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, and more, Marx argues that the genre has served as a battleground for the struggle between comedians who are pushing the limits of what is possible on television and network executives who are more mindful of the financial bottom line. Whether creating new catchphrases or transgressing cultural taboos, sketch comedies give voice to marginalized performers and audiences, providing comedians and viewers opportunities to test their own ideas about their place in society, while simultaneously echoing mainstream cultural trends. The result, Marx suggests, is a hilarious and flexible form of identity play unlike anything else in American popular culture and media.


Introduction: Sketch Comedy and Reflexive Flexibility

1. From Radio Voices to Variety Choices: The Colgate Comedy Hour and Sketch Comedy in Early Television

2. "and You're Not": Saturday Night Live in the Network Era and Beyond

3. Brand X: MTV's The State and Generation X in the Multi-Channel Transition

4. Sketch Comedy's Identity (Post-)Politics: Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, and Comedy Central in the Post-Network Era

Conclusion: Sketch Comedy and Cultural Cohesion



Nick Marx is Associate Professor of Media and Visual Culture in the Department of Communication Studies at Colorado State University. He is editor (with Matt Sienkiewicz and Ron Becker) of Saturday Night Live and American TV and (with Matt Sienkiewicz) The Comedy Studies Reader.


A stalwart of television since its earliest days, sketch comedy finally gets the in-depth critical attention it deserves. Nick Marx shows how sketch comedy has fit (and been constrained by) TV's industrial contexts, from live variety shows in its earliest days to movement across media in the era of multiple platforms.  These case studies not only chart sketch comedy's past, they provide the theoretical and analytical tools to consider its future.


Ethan Thompson, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi


"An excellent study of a long-neglected area in television/media studies and is part of a larger turn toward the centrality of comedy in post-war U.S. culture." Jeffrey Sconce, Northwestern University