Posts tagged improv comedy
“No one’s saying every scene has to be ‘Happy Puppy Goes To Kitty Town.'” – David Razowsky on conflict in improv
Channel your inner Django with this fast and fun ice breaker. Like Knife Throw, it’s great for a group of people who don’t know each other, and helps sharpen awareness and reaction times.
To begin, everyone stands in a circle with one person in the centre.
That person points at someone else in the circle and yells “Draw!”
The person being pointed at must duck down as quickly as possible to avoid being shot. At the same time, the person directly on either side of him has to shoot him while yelling “Bang!”
If the person doesn’t duck in time, he (or she) dies. If they duck down before they are shot, they’re safe.
If the players on either side shoot each other simultaneously, they’re both safe. But if one says “Bang!” after the other, he or she is dead.
If you think you’ve been shot, own the shit out of it and die a dramatic death. It’s not about being Superman, it’s about the fun of accepting whatever happens.*
When only two players remain, they stand back-to-back for a duel to the death. The Coach/Director yells “Draw!” and both players turn and shoot. The quickest on the draw wins.
Oh and by the way: this is one time when it’s OK to mime a “finger gun.”
*(Thanks to Jet Eveleth for this tip.)
Once again, we’ve dug into the archives to bring you our most popular posts to date. Crack open an imaginary beer and enjoy.
Harold & Long-Form
Great Guest Posts
Have you ever been ill before a show or rehearsal, so ill that you felt you couldn’t go through with it, yet somehow you did and ended up having a great set?
When Paul Brittain offered a workshop in Toronto, I signed up months in advance. I was super excited, and looking forward to learning from the SNL alumnus.
But as the date got closer, I got sick. We’re talking coughing up toxic sludge, sweating profusely, SARS-kinda sick. Still, I was determined to attend. (Who cares if I was carrying the Plague? This was clearly all about me.)
The day of the workshop, I awoke feeling mummified. On the subway ride there, I was sure I was going to pass out.
Standing outside the classroom, I was torn between vomiting or dying. Mostly, I was furious at my body: How dare it get sick, now of all times?
At the last moment I made a decision: I wouldn’t participate, I’d just monitor the class. It was better than missing it altogether.
And then a funny thing happened.
I sat and watched as the first group performed. But when Paul called for four new people to go up, I joined them. My performance was far from amazing, but I enjoyed learning a new form.
I returned to my seat and watched as another group tried a different form. When he called for a new bunch of people, I went up again. This time I was a little more playful.
As the afternoon progressed, Paul switched to two-person scenes.
Standing on the sidelines, I thought of an initiation: I’d go in as Tom Jones, a callback to an earlier scene.
But as I strode forward, my hand cupped like it was holding a microphone, the girl walking towards me endowed me as a computer salesman.
Without breaking stride, I became an Apple Genius, and the microphone became a pen. I saw the store in 3D all around us, and started showing her a MacBook.
With every line my scene partner spoke, words and phrases peculiar to my character (not me) flowed from my lips, and I discovered more things in our environment to play with. I didn’t have to look; they appeared spontaneously.
During the scene I was aware of only one thing: that I wasn’t thinking or anticipating at all. It felt like things were being fed to me, constantly, intravenously.
Afterwards, Cameron asked if I’d seen Paul laughing. I hadn’t, but it was only then with the workshop over that I realized I hadn’t thought about being ill the entire time.
Two hours earlier I wasn’t sure I could stand. My only goal was to get through the workshop without puking. But during scenes, I was like a person possessed. It was one of the funnest, most freeing experiences I’ve ever had.
Maybe I oughta get sick more often.
One of the things that made Much Music (Canada’s MTV) a joy to watch back in the day, was the fact that so much of it was unscripted.
With live programming broadcast in eight-hour chunks, there was no way everything could be written or pre-planned. And while it was almost entirely music-focused, there was lots of room for comedy.
One guest of those early days was a young and lanky Mike Myers. Before Much Music, he and VJ Christopher Ward improvised and did sketch on an all-night video show called City Limits. (I remember coming home from clubbing and watching their low-tech green-screen antics till dawn.)
Much’s producers also invited Weird Al Yankovic to “take over” the station with his own brand of insanity. And it was always great to find out which visiting rock stars had a sense of humour.
Now that Bell Media has axed all but a handful of jobs from the station, we thought we’d share some nuggets from the past we dug up on the inter webs.
In improv, as in life, the biggest laughs often come from something you stumble across. It might be a discovery about your character, your scene partner, or a so-called mistake.
Even in scripted comedy, some of the most hilarious stuff wasn’t planned. Think of Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd’s “You know how I know you’re gay?” sequence from The 40 Year Old Virgin. Check out Russell Brand’s improvised audition for Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Or my favourite, The 32 Greatest Unscripted Movie Scenes.
I saw a Second City revue where Reid Janisse said “X-ways” instead of “X-rays.” The audience tittered.
But a few lines later he brought it back, saying, “I”ve looked at your X-rays, and I’ve looked at your X-ways…” This time the audience roared.
Think back on some of the funniest scenes you’ve done. Chances are you started somewhere and ended up somewhere you never intended. And isn’t that the joy of it?
My friend Jason Donovan blurted this one day in rehearsal. (I think all artists can relate.)
Derek Sivers demonstrates How To Start A Movement in a textbook example of supporting your scene partner.
For decades, TV shows had the same structure: an opening montage or story synopsis, typically sung or narrated, so newer viewers could understand the story and characters right away.
Meanwhile, regular viewers had to listen to how The Brady Bunch got together. Every. Goddamn. Episode.
As the internet grew and attention spans shrank, intros got shorter. Scrubs‘ intro was just 20 seconds long. By the fourth season, it was five seconds. And Louis CK’s Louie got right to the point this season with no opening whatsoever.
Modern audiences are story savvy. We’ve become really good at making assumptions, jumping in midway and figuring it out.
When you lose exposition, you focus on now. And that’s where great improv lies.
A Harold traditionally has some kind of opening (the form, after all, was modelled after TV and film) but even that’s changing. More and more long-form shows start with scenes. And dynamic scenes start in the middle.
Even if you just have a fragment of something to begin with, that’s OK. Make assumptions. Decide to know each other. Make bold choices, and you’ll figure it out as you go.
Another way to think of it is like an Oreo cookie.
In Canada there’s a brand called Eat The Middle First. The boring outer layer is like all those scenes that start with “Hey,” “Hi,” and other timid offers. Feel free to ditch that and dive right in to the fun part.
Don’t wait to get to the good stuff.