Anonymous asked: How do I stop trying to be clever? It's difficult to trust that things will work out into funny
I don’t know. Maybe the answer is to be MORE clever? Be smarter and funnier than everyone on stage and in the audience? It doesn’t sound artful but I can’t imagine how that wouldn’t work. I would be interested in watching someone who was without-a-doubt the smartest funniest person in the room. Of course “clever” is subjective. I don’t mean make the most clever “lines” since that’s not really how improv works. But the most clever theatrical choice that puts us RIGHT AT THE START in an ironical, relatable, high-stakes situation? That sounds pretty awesome. I don’t know how it is that words like “funny” and “smart” and “clever” get bad names to some people. I want the best, funniest, smartest people on the stages I’m watching. “Be undeniably better than everyone” is not a bad success strategy in any field, so I can’t see how being clever is bad? Gethard wrote a great thing on how it’s the TRYING that’s bad. Like TRYING to be clever is lame, but I think even in that piece he doesn’t say that the part where someone IS clever is bad? Go find that piece. Be clever enough to find Gethard’s piece on trying to be funny — it’s good. Take all this with a grain of salt. I honestly could be a fraud of a teacher who has “ascended” to his position at UCB through a weird combination of circumstance and luck and am actually a fountain of bad advice but no one has noticed. I mean I have this blog, but so what? The qualifications for starting this blog were 1) having an email address and 2) nothing else. Anyway, I can see what you’re getting at in that trying to make jokes and be funny is usually something that goes along with bad listening and bad commitment. Then again, I can’t think of a single good improviser that I wouldn’t also describe as clever. Also funny smart interesting unpredictable and cool. Stop trying but also don’t, like, undervalue being funny. Being funny is good! Being clever helps! I’m clever! I’m fucking super clever! Holy shit, you should see me! I’m all fast-thinking and shit and it’s a big help. I recommend it. Yes, your teammates will support you when you’re having off days or they should but then again it’s not, like, BAD on the days that you are NOT OFF. Improv forgives off days but it’s not like, EXCITED, that you’re off either? Whatever happened in improv and in the world at large to the idea that we should celebrate superiority? I like people who are better. They are better. Can improvartvice put this whole thing on a t-shirt? I’ll buy one for everyone in the City of New York.
Anonymous asked: Is it possible to "initiate with a game?" from an opening? Sometimes I hear teachers talk about doing that, and then other teachers say you can't have a game until someone reacts.
Technically you “initiate with a premise” and you wait for a reaction to see what your scene partner’s take is before you declare it a game. But I think this is besides the point. When someone says “initiate with a game” — even though that technically it’s better to say “initiate with a premise” — the point is to try initiating with a pretty full idea rather than start with a smaller choice. It’s not the only way to start a scene, it’s not even necessarily the best way, but starting with a premise is a way that a seasoned improviser should feel comfortable with doing.
[EDITED TO ADD: I just think this kind of semantic parsing is kinda pointless? I mean for an improv blog it’s okay, but if I said “initiate with a game” to a student and he/she was like “i don’t know what you mean! do you mean initiate with a premise?” i’d want to say “never mind. two more up.”]
All the U.S. Presidents as improvisers
- This is my blog, right? So I can do something as shamelessly indulgent as just type out a scene I remember being in that made me laugh? This was in a Monkeydick (sorry yes, that was the team name) reunion show hosted by "The Lab" at Player's Theater in 2011 I think a week before DCM.
- If it makes it any less indulgent, let me point out that I think it was my scene partner Matt DeCoster and John Gemberling on the backline who make this scene funny for me. It's also an example of "good" fighting, I think? At any rate, this made me laugh. If it's useless, you can all just summarily walk away, as that is the implied contracts you have with all blog entries.
- Me: “Matt, could you proctor the SAT today? I’m supposed to do it but I accidentally made plans this weekend and can’t do it.”
- Matt: “Sure, I’ll do it. Doing anything fun?”
- Me: “Linda and I are going to a B&B for our anniversary.”
- John Gemberling on backline makes a car honking noise.
- Me: “Ah, there she is now.”
- Matt: “How do you know that’s her?”
- Me: “Excuse me?”
- Matt: “How do you know that’s Linda?”
- Me: “You know, I don’t know, I guess I just assumed.”
- Matt: “That seems pretty self-centered of you. Just any horn is the horn for you?”
- Gemberling makes a different very distinctive old-timey cartoon car honking noise
- Me: “Ah yes, THAT’s her. I remember now, her car has that honking sound. Thanks for helping.”
- Matt: “No problem. Get to work on your narcissism!”
- Something like that. I'm probably cleaning it up a bit, but this is close. Actually I think this scene ended with DeCoster coming with me and we got into an elevator and rode it in silence for a full minute, then the scene was edited? Improv is fun. NO RULES.
You Will Never Figure This Out
I mean this as a consolation: you will never completely figure out improv. Not forever, anyhow. You have a grasp on it for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, and then it moves away from you. You stumble on a new exercise or a new mantra and can do no wrong. Decisive moves. Certain viewpoints. Audiences liking you right away. But then it just fades and you are lost again, searching for the next key.
Things that have given me the key to being good at this in the past:
- “listen and react”
- “find the game”
- “match energy”
- “accept every offer”
- “live life onstage”
- “point of view”
- “be brave and honest”
- “chill out”
Each one of those was like a booster rocket for a while, and then weirdly stopped working! I had to switch up my game and try something else. It’s like improv is this invisible balloon that you cannot get your arms all the way around no matter what. You hold it, just barely, but it gives and starts to slip away you must adjust your arms, and find your grip again.
How Can I Get Out Of My Head?
I get asked that question, or versions of it, a lot. Version of it include “I’m in a rut. What can I do?” or “I’m a class and it’s not working” or “This practice group I’m in isn’t working.”
There is no answer. But that didn’t stop me from writing THREE THOUSAND words on it, God help me. God help me and everyone who reads this!
But, no, really, I put all the advice I have on this subject in there and I included Zach Woods’ brilliant email to Achilles right at the start.
natedern asked: What shows are you submitting to the 15th Annual Del Close Marathon this summer, June 28-30? Also, did you know that the deadline to submit is April 2nd? Could you please remind me of the link to the website where teams can submit and also remind me who created that nice website?
Sure, Nate Dern! Below is the link to submit your shows for the Del Close Marathon this year, happening at the UCB Theatre in NYC June 28-30. Deadline is April 2! I set up the website, though Dyna Moe made the graphic and anything else that looks nice.
Shows I’m submitting: Dirty Telegram, X-Rated Hypnotist Improv, Feet Only, Sanskritprov, Look At All The High Fives!, and Will Hines Jerks Off For 90 Minutes.