Improv husbands, regardless of the gender of the actor playing them, often name their wives “Tracy.”
Saying “No” To Offensive Things
"Improv question! Do you have any advice for if someone makes an offer you don’t agree with on a personal level (for example sexist, racist, offensive, in poor taste, etc), how to accept it and build on it and move the scene forward in a positive way supporting the improviser and keeping the fun going while also keeping integrity and not necessarily agreeing with or implying you condone/accept the nasty thing itself?"
I think this is a really interesting question so I’m going to talk forever about it. Spoiler: My answer is: Trust your gut and don’t do the thing you don’t want to do. A slightly more advanced answer is: trust your gut and push back, but say why you don’t and stay open to discussing it more, in character, for the sake of the scene.
I believe “accept the offer” means “tell me what your character truly thinks of this and why,” not “you have to do this now.”
But let’s use many examples and get into this, it’s a common and tricky thing.
ferniecommaalex asked: If you know so much about improv, how come I've never ONCE seen you play a talking bear?
Hmm, good point! This blog is officially closed.
Anonymous asked: You said here once that you find it helpful to tell yourself "be playful". Do you have any advice on how to do that?
I don’t. But I’ll say that different mantras and sayings work well for different people. If simply saying the phrase “be playful” doesn’t do it for you, then there’s probably a simple piece of advice that gets you in the right mindset. Listen and react? Play it real? Yes, and? First unusual thing? Point of view? Follow the fun? Follow the fear? One of these will make everything easier for you in a way that won’t require a ton more explanation.
Anonymous asked: I have been reading through your blog, which is a fabulous source of information. I was wondering do you think it may hinder an improviser to take classes at iO and then try to transfer to UCB? I ask because iO focuses mainly on establishing relationships and doesn't care too much about game where at UCB they pound game into you. Would this make it harder to focus on game if you have other habits ingrained in you already? As my friend puts it, iO is like Jazz and UCB is Rock N Roll or Rap.
I’ve never studied at iO so despite my UCB experience I’m not the best person to ask. I know by reputation and by quality of improviser that iO is excellent, so I’m sure it’s a great place. And I know firsthand that UCB is a great place. So I can’t see how there’s any hinderance in studying at one, then the other.
The idea that iO focuses mainly on establishing relationship and that at UCB pounds game into you — I think that it’s not as simple as all that. We at UCB want your scenes to be about truthful and grounded characters, and we want our actors listening and affecting each other. And I believe that at iO they prefer your scenes to find a simple focus and for that focus to be funny? I mean, I’ve seen shows there and the scenes had games.
I bet there’s way way more in common than different, and the idea that they’re different is the kind of thing that makes for a good article summarizing different improv schools but in practice is not that accurate.
We DO focus on game a lot more than other places. But there is plenty of time in an improv class to focus on many things and I think by the end of our core classes you’ve been noted on lots of stuff including relating to each other and to game.
So even if we are “rock and roll” and iO is “jazz” —- I mean, you want to play an instrument with other people right? And at this point you don’t play anything? Neither one will hinder you for the other.
I understand it’s helpful to abstract things down to a label — it’s how we humans conquered the globe. But you’re ultimately not fair to either place, I bet, to do that!
go see plays
you’re on a stage, not on a screen. so stop taking inspiration from movies, where someone has controlled lighting and framing and sound design. see plays, where they are using the same tools you have available to you in your improv shows: real people, monologues, interplay between real humans, big choices, specific wordplay, emotional reactions, minimal costumes and props (more often than not at least), dramatic loaded pauses, movement up and down stage, facing forward, big deep exhales you can hear, etc.
and make fun of plays too. that’s your medium.
Saturday Night Live, a tv show, makes fun of tv shows.
National Lampoon, a magazine, makes (made) fun of magazines.
So if you’re doing improv on a stage, you should make fun of plays. watch plays. do parodies of plays. be happy forever.
office workers arguing
So I’m in an office for month and being back in an office environment I have the following near-useless observation I need to share with someone, and you, dear readers, get to be this someone:
Here’s a VERY COMMON template of office conversations:
- person A: (introduce a topic)
- person B: (declare a pro or con opinion on that topic)
- person A: (take the opposite view)
- person B: (argue the different sides)
The topics are generally menial, at least 50% of the time about food (what to eat for lunch, the best K-Cup to choose). People are not mad but they seem to like having “their” side. There’s lots of “Well MY favorite flavor is Hazelnut Decaf. Not Hazelnut! The Decaf one is slightly more bitter!” And the people get loud and animated but they are not mad at each other.
There’s (at least in this office) a very common category of phrases that ostensibly cede ground but don’t:
- “now i’m not saying that I totally know everything…”
- or “maybe saying he’s a cancer on the Panthers is too much, but the guy is definitely destructive.”
- or “all i’m saying is…(smile of satisfaction) that’s not a coffee.”
It’s polite to nod whenever someone uses those phrases as if you have actually been agreed with. But no one changes their mind because of these phrases. People have dug in early. But generally you get the feeling that no one cares.
I know that it’s dumb and tread ground to talk about office small talk and how shallow it is. But it’s interesting from the perspective of an improv teacher: people communicate to a large degree within the construct of fighting.
And they mark territory by taking opposite views. They can’t have an opinion without first knocking down another. Their opinion exists IN ORDER to destroy another, not simply to exist.
It’s weird. No wonder no one can yes-and in an improv scene. No one does it in real life.
I just witnessed a conversation amongst five people and these topics were discussed:
- was Terrell Owens a cancer for his football teams?
- better venue: MSG or Barclays
- best manner to eat chicken wings
- is one required to go to birthday parties you’ve been invited to?
- what’s an appropriate topic to distract sports fans from talking about sports (like what topics would successfully distract - not pop music but yes news of the day)
It isn’t how trivial these topics are that strikes me, it’s that everyone feels a need to own their own unique point of view. Can’t MSG and Barclay’s both be excellent venues? Do the strengths and weaknesses of one have anything to do with the strengths and weaknesses of the other? Do we humans want a hero and goat in all narratives, even office small talk?
I can see why Seinfeld was so popular. The characters on Seinfeld were masters of coining terms, marking territory and criticizing points of view on mundane things. They were the models that the office workers of today learned from. “He’s a close-talker” — “I wouldn’t say he’s a close talker, *I* would say he’s a FAST talker.” etc. etc.
P.S. Got to write a whole other post about the appeal of correctly categorizing things — that’s Seinfeld’s (the show, and also the comedian) main superpower. Humans love labels, re-labelling, arguing about labels (see the recent article that divides American into 11 regions, or astrology, or Myers-Briggs tests, or which Sex in the CIty character are you, etc etc).
Anonymous asked: INVENTORY
You are carrying:
an accent you do when you’re out of ideas
a list of specials to say in case you’re a waiter
a mimed glass
Anonymous asked: If you're in a funeral scene and you think the person pretending to be the dead body might actually have died while pretending to be dead, what do you do? I don't mean MORALLY what is the right thing to do, I mean as an IMPROVISER what do you do? This has happened to me twice now.
Commit hard and bury your friend. Only after the scene has been swept, dig him up and call a doctor.