Adam writes: I'm about to make a big move either to NY or LA. I know you're more into straight television writing, but I was wondering if you knew anything about the sketch comedy scene. I have a great interest in being a sitcom writer, but a greater one in sketch. That being said, I'm not a performer. I know you never lived in NY, but do you know from a sketch perspective which city has better training/opportunities/reputation?
First off, I did live in NYC for a summer, interning for a movie studio run by some Steins and defying warnings not to live above 96th Street (woo Morningside Heights!).
But since this isn't a biography quiz: Wow, good question. Lots of comedy writers start in standup or sketch comedy. I've never really considered it because, like you, I don't see myself as a performer or a comedian, and I prefer hourlong "dramas with comedy" or "comedies with heart" (depending on my mood). I don't have much experience with the sketch scene, other than having gone to a few friends' shows. I do have to say that if your ultimate goal is TV writing, I feel like you have to come to LA at some point. That being said, there is definitely a healthy comedy scene in NY, and shows like Letterman, Conan, SNL and The Daily Show are all based in NY. It's just a very small percentage of TV shows in general.
I asked a friend who is more involved with the scene, and he was unable to say much about NY except that he attended Sketchfest NYC 2008 and loved it. In LA, he's taken classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade, a theater that boasts the beginnings of many successful comedy writers, and has found it to be the most supportive welcoming and inspiring environment he could imagine. UCB also has a theater in NY. It actually began in Chicago, and my friend says that he's also heard about a fun scene there.
Other comedy avenues in LA include IO West, Garage Comedy LA and Steve Allen Theater.
Feel free to comment if you have sketch/improv insight!