Questions of categorization in the arts are notoriously tricky to answer. Where is the dividing line between a novel and a novella, between personal expression and self-indulgence, between comedy and farce?
Or, the question that prompts me to write this blog post: What is the difference between a short-and-funny one-act play and a comedy sketch?
You might say that comedy sketches tend to be more topical and up-to-the-minute--but while many sketches make fun of current celebrities or politicians, comedy troupes also perform material that makes fun of broader quirks of human nature or society. And yes, any one-act play that is longer than 10 minutes and/or features subtle characterizations is unlikely to merit the question "Is this sketch comedy instead?" But I've seen some pretty wacky one-acts in my time. What makes David Ives' hilarious "Words, Words, Words" (a conversation between three monkeys placed in front of typewriters to see if they will type the complete works of Shakespeare) a one-act play and not a comedy sketch?
Is it like what Sondheim says about Sweeney Todd: "If you perform it in an opera house, then it's an opera"? In other words, could the exact same script be considered both a comedy sketch and a one-act play, if in the first case it is performed by a sketch comedy troupe and in the second case by a cast of Equity actors? Is the author's intent the only thing that dictates whether it is "theater" or "sketch comedy"? (If so, damn, that makes me feel powerful!)
I'm asking this because on Friday I got an idea for a new one-act play, and I don't get those very often. But it quickly occurred to me that the subject of this hypothetical play is rather topical, and the conceit of it is extremely silly, and I probably wouldn't be able to sustain it for longer than 10 minutes. So, what's the difference between that and a comedy sketch? I think of myself as a playwright and would like to write a good one-act; it would take some mental adjustment to think of myself as a sketch-writer and I don't want to get led too far down that path.
I still think it would be a good idea for me to write this play, don't get me wrong, since it will surely teach me something about my craft. I just wish I knew what it is that I'll be writing!