Improv As Religion
A cult. A philosophy. A religion.
These are the terms people use to describe improv. The casual outsider would be amazed at how intensely some people view improv. It’s just a way to make jokes, right? Or a some guidelines for brainstorming together in public? Well, yes, it is those things. And to some people that’s all it is.
But something in the language of our culture communicates something grander. And so, those of us who really get into it, we automatically probe all of the advice we get for our scenes for something more.
Made-Up Proper Noun Improv
A fun exercise suggested to me by Ryan Karels, though I’m sure everyone has a version of this (I didn’t):
A series of scenes where you try to use as many made-up proper nouns as possible. Not real ones like “The Matrix” or “Mayor Daley” — but made-ones like “Craig Bankowski” and “Return Of The Toad.” Everyone has to decide to already have heard of everything.
- "Hey, I just got the Flogs album."
- "Oh great! I was going to borrow one from Candice Genellman."
I like to structure it: the initiation and the response each have to have one and then after that you just do whatever.
These are very fun. Something about the specificity of the names and then the subsequent decision to already have heard of it makes everything work like a charm.
Anonymous asked: Thinking about the idea of "Go to them." I think I play that a lot, but how do you identify the feeling when people are coming to you? It gets incredibly frustrating when you think you're the only one playing supportively. Always playing Go To Them can feel like you have to be a babysitter. I don't doubt that other people are also supporting, I guess I'd like to know when I can cut loose, not worry about everyone, and let people come to me instead.
If you’re really going to them, it should be as satisfying as if they came to you. It’s the connecting that’s fun, it doesn’t really matter who had to move more to make it happen.
Anonymous asked: I've gotten the note to "know someone" in the scene and I was wondering how you can find someone's behavior unusual if you know them. Presumably if you knew someone then their mode of behavior would already be known to you so how could you point it out as unusual?
Good point! I guess improv can never work.
Future Talk and Past Talk
I’ve said it before but it’s so interesting I wanted to bring it up again.
When improvised characters are reminiscing they tend to agree. When they propose events for their future, they quibble.
Like, if someone says “Be great to see a game tomorrow, right?” the other person will automatically go “Well, I don’t know, I’m not sure, maybe.” But if the first person had said instead “Great game yesterday, right?” the other person will just automatically go “Yep!”
This has been my experience watching classes. People agree on past events, and equivocate on futures ones.
Here’s the thing: THEY BOTH DON’T EXIST IN REAL LIFE. THEY ARE BOTH THE SAME, IMPROV-WISE.
It sort of doesn’t matter since in either case they’re not talking about the present and what they really need to do is talk about the present moment. But still, I think this is weird.
I guess a practical benefit of knowing this is that if you and your partner are not on the same page, one way to get on the same page is reminisce a bit. “Remember when we went to the bank?” will get you an automatic “yes” and that’s something to start with.
Fighting Advice: Maybe this?
If you’re fighting in your improv scene, make sure both actors agree on who is going to lose.
Maybe that? Oh goddammit, I don’t know. Still looking for some silver bullet piece of advice about FIGHTS.
Here’s a possible “best of” this blog:
Here are some posts in this blog that got more attention than the others and some that I just like, presented in roughly reverse order of publication:
- Review of UCB’s book (written while I worked at UCB)
- Lying, Meanness, Stupidity
- Know, Care, Say
- Is improv a road to nowhere?
- Like-Minded People (and how i felt involved at UCB)
- Chris Gethard interview on teaching improv and part 2.
- Empathy, and Empathy Again
- Better Conversations (and the follow-up)
- The Kitchen Rules
- Know Everything
- Maybe When Noting Scenes
- In Defense Of Fast Screamy Sets
- Brothers Hines Thanks
Short posts, generally of the “reassurance” variety:
- let improv be small
- all advice
- the brave choice
- have an opinion at all times
- you will never figure this out
- you must appreciate the good in what you do
- How can I get out of my head?
- What do we do about ‘that guy?’
- How can I get better at game?
- Yeah, but really how can I get better at game?
I wrote three posts on the sketch show Small Men which I wrote and performed with Neil Casey in 2012 and 2013:
Also I made a text adventure that takes place at the UCB Theatre in NYC in 2003. You likely don’t know what a text adventure is, because it’s a style of “video” game that existed primarily in 1982, but if you’re curious, it is here:
A copy of this exists at: http://improvnonsense.tumblr.com/best