Info

Posts tagged improv comedy

giphy

Uh, that’s “gift,” not “gif.”

While last year’s list still applies, there’s a bounty of new goodies any improviser (maybe you?) would love to open on Festivus morn. First up…

A Load Of Hooey

Bob Odenkirk’s new book is just the thing to get you through post-Breaking Bad, pre-Better Call Saul doldrums.

Like Steve Martin’s Pure DrivelA Load Of Hooey is a pastiche of bits and pieces from one of comedy’s most ingenious minds. As the description says, “Odenkirk’s debut resembles nothing so much as a hilarious new sketch comedy show that’s exclusively available as a streaming video for your mind.”

Unknown

Improvising Now

If you want to up your long form game, look no further than Improvising Now. Rob Norman’s book is as entertaining as it is educational, and at 150 pages, it’s the perfect stocking stuffer. (If you have stretchy, rectangular stockings.)

Improvising Now - Norman

Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z

Only six more shows! Thankfully, Sharilyn Johnson and Remy Maisel’s Bears & Balls helps ease the pain. Crammed with memorable moments and “who knew?” insights, this meticulously researched volume is a worthy addition to any Colbert fan’s shrine.

Cover Image © Kurt Firla

Cover Image © Kurt Firla

Yes Please

Chances are you lined up for seven hours to get your copy signed by the First Lady of Improv. Why not share the joy with someone else? Yes Please is part memoir, part self-help book, and all wonderful. More Amy Poehler? Yes please!

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.31.21 AM

Pax Vaporizer

Vape to your heart’s content this holiday, with the sexy new Pax Vaporizer. At 300 bucks it ain’t exactly cheap, but it’s amazing how many impoverished improvisers swear by it.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 11.48.21 AM

Improviser’s Clock

Now you can be in the moment, every moment, with our very own improviser’s clock. Click here or below to shop the full range of designs. And be sure to check out our store for cool shirt designs by Rob Ariss Hills.

Improv Clock

giphy-1

Few things are sadder than performing to an empty room.

Unless you’re TJ and Dave, you need a little planning to ensure a good turn-out. Here are some tips that can help.

Know Your Audience

Who are you performing for? Is it hardcore improv nerds, or comedy lovers in general?

Is it a monthly show with a built-in fan base, or are you trying to get fresh blood (and votes) for Cage Match?

Just like advertisers, you need to define your target audience. “Anyone with five bucks” is not a demographic.

Before you invite all 2,031 of your “friends,” ask yourself if Aunt Myrna, the guy you went to junior kindergarten with, and those eight ‘bots would really come.

Quality Is Job One

A friend of mine saw a show recently, and was pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoyed it. “There’s so much bad improv out there,” he confided.

Yikes.

Anyone can have an off night, but when you don’t commit to doing your best, it reflects badly on all the awesome sets other improvisers are committed to.

Have you and your team rehearsed? Are you familiar with the format you’ll be playing?

Learning stuff on the fly with strangers may be fine if you’re a pro, but for many people, familiarity with the cast and structure are key to a good show. Just because they’re called make-‘em-ups doesn’t mean people want to pay to watch you figure shit out on stage.

Be professional. Book a rehearsal (or several, depending on the scale of the show). If it’s a one-off (a fundraiser, for instance) or a jam-type situation, at the very least try to get there an hour beforehand, so you can meet and bond with your cast mates.

Quantity Is Job Two

There’s a delicate balance between not promoting your show enough, and promoting it too much.

Image © People and Chairs

Image © People and Chairs

Don’t create a Facebook event a month in advance, and promote it every day until the show.

Do promote judiciously. If everyone on the team has the same circle of friends, you don’t need all seven of you to mention it in your status.

Don’t post the wrong time, date, or venue. (You’d be surprised how often this happens.)

Comedy Is Visual

Even a well-written e-vite can get lost in celebrity gossip and kitten videos. One way to break through the clutter is an eye-catching poster.

Your poster should reflect the show and/or team’s character. You can use it online, as well as print copies to put up in bars, theatres, and coffee shops.

Keep the messaging simple; it’s a poster, not a blog. The name of the show, date, time, and place are fine. Include a website if you have one (but only if it’s up to date).

Again, keep your audience in mind. Don’t assume everyone who sees your poster will understand what you’re selling. Before you joined the improv community, would you know what the fuck a “Harold Night” was?

Unless your show is strictly for other improvisers, you need to spell things out a little. It can still be a tease though, like this awesome example:

Image © Scott Williams, ScottWilliamsDesign.com

Image © Scott Williams, ScottWilliamsDesign.com

At the other end of the logic spectrum, fans of Standards & Practices love their boundary-pushing style. Kevin Whalen creates promo posters that reflect the team’s surreal sensibility.

Image © Kevin Whalen/Standards & Practices

Image © Kevin Whalen/Standards & Practices

Rob Norman and Adam Cawley are to Toronto’s improv scene what James Franco and Seth Rogen are to…uh…each other. This stunning artwork captures the duo’s brooding bromance and colourful imaginations perfectly.

R&N Cawls Orig

Image © Marshall Lorenzo

One of our favourite campaigns was for Ghost Jail Theatre. They produced a memorable series of posters created by overlaying shots of two different improvisers, usually a male and female. The effect was haunting, intriguing, and completely different than everything else in the community.

The next season, they created hybrid images of three players. The slightly off-kilter results stopped passersby in their tracks. (The posters were so popular, they were stolen within hours of being put up.)

Image © Katie Bowes

Image © Katie Bowes

This poster’s understated, Mad Men cool is the perfect foil for the Bacchanalian beer-swilling orgy that is Mantown. If you’ve seen the show before, the contrast is hilarious. And if you’re a newb, the image is enough to pique anyone’s interest.

Mantown Current

Image © Kurt Firla

Cross Promote

Doing another gig close to the date of your show? Ask the MC if they can mention it when they intro you. Better yet, direct people to your Facebook event page. (You don’t really expect them to remember show details after five beers and some Jägerbombs, do you?)

Set It In Motion

If you really wanna go all out, why not make a video? Kevin Whalen and Matt Folliott created this stop-motion short for Sex with Jeremy, a showcase for teams Sex T-Rex and The Jeremy Birrell Show:

Now go forth, break legs and blow minds!

Sometimes in improv, we try to force a storyline so that it follows the rules of “the real world.” And while grounded scenes can be very entertaining, there’s something to be said for great acting married with crazy circumstances.

Case in point: The Avalanches’ Frontier Psychiatrist. The characters and their surroundings may look nutty, but their performances are very natural. Which makes the complete package weird as shit…and utterly wonderful.

Click here or below to view the video.

 

(For further reading, see our post on letting go of expectations.)

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

There are some fascinating and important discussions going on on the internets right now. One that’s very close to our hearts is artists getting paid what they’re worth.

A few years ago, I was talking with someone* in the improv community who expressed shock, even disdain for how much Second City paid its teachers. Not because it paid them too little, mind you, but because it paid them well.

I tried to process what I’d just heard. “Why the fuck wouldn’t they pay their instructors a decent wage?” I thought.

Was improv really held in such low regard – even by improvisers – that it wasn’t worth paying for?

After all, we’re talking about something that makes people feel good, helps them both professionally and personally, and dramatically changes lives. If improv were a pill, Big Pharma would be making billions off of it.

The line between art and commerce can be a murky one, as this open letter to Oprah reveals. In it, the author (a hula hoop performer named Revolva) talks about this whole notion of working for free, or very little.

I’m a big fan of “do what you love, and the money will follow.” And if you write or act or sing or dance or paint because it gives you joy, great. It’s when others profit from what you’re doing and don’t give something back that things can turn sour.

There’s a big difference between inviting friends to perform in your show at The Bishop & Belcher (now with hot and cold buffet!), and asking total strangers to do what they do professionally, for free.

A couple of years ago Standards & Practices did a St Patrick’s Day show. They wanted some Irish step dancers to open for them, so they called up a dance school, who suggested two of their students. Like most improvisers, S&P don’t have deep pockets, but they pooled together and offered the dancers $100 for five minutes.

The night of the show, the girls danced their hearts out. One of them played the fiddle at the same time, like something out of Riverdance. It was electrifying, the audience was thrilled, the dancers were happy, and S&P felt it was money well spent.

And that’s something I’ve noticed: it’s often struggling artists who make sure other artists get paid – perhaps because they’ve done so many “freebies” themselves.

They’re the ones who put $20 in the Pay What You Can jar. Or who donate to festivals and fundraisers, even if they get nothing in return. Not because they’re rich, but because they know that art makes us all richer.

Need a nice poster for your show? Throw your improviser buddy who does graphic design a few bucks.

Want to mix things up by hiring a stand-up to host? Ask them what their rate is; don’t just assume they’ll do it for beer.

It’s about respect for each other, and each other’s skills.

That’s why I’m hoping Revolva’s post won’t just get shared, but will shake things up, and help give more talented artists their due.

In the meantime – aside from teaching – doing improv will probably never pay a king’s ransom. And as long as no one’s taking advantage of performers, that’s fine. We do it because we love it, because it’s a privilege, and because it’s one of the few places you can fail in public, and laugh about it.

That, to me, is priceless.

*(I should point out that person is the only one who’s expressed such a view to me. It was their stature and tenure in the community that gave me pause.)

 

“For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.” – Benjamin Franklin

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

FSF Chrome

Image © Sally Smallwood / People and Chairs

Cameron recently gave his students the instruction, “Find something fun, then do it more.”

As someone who struggled with game of the scene for years, I loved the simplicity of this phrase. What’s more, “fun” could be the tiniest, simplest, stupidest thing (maybe all three).

Last week Cameron and I did a scene where I initiated as a mafia don. I started with my back to him, inhaled a mimed cigarette and said,

“I hear you’re the best.”

I turned to see Cameron falling backwards awkwardly off his chair.

He picked himself up, dusted himself off, and said, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m the best.”

Great. In less than five seconds, we’d already found something fun.

The rest of scene played out with me grilling him to make sure he was up for the job. We learned that his character was named Johnny Paycheque, and his tone and physicality continued to communicate he was of course, anything but the best.

It ended with Johnny getting the contract and shooting himself in the face…causing him to fall backwards off his chair.

(Cameron later said when he felt himself falling at the top of the scene, he thought for a split second of “correcting” it, then just went with. The comedy gods are always right.)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Like most improv truths, “Find something fun. Do it more.” applies to the rest of life, too.

Like drawing? Do it more.

Like blogging? Do it more.

Like reading or dancing or swimming or baking or making dioramas or doing musical improv…?

You get the picture.

There’s so much pressure in life to “do our best,” it’s only natural that some of that spills over into the world of make-‘em-ups we call improv. But striving for perfection is a surefire way to suck the fun out of a scene. As Joe Bill says:

“Any consideration of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ will fuck you over and put you in your head. Onstage is not real life.”

Think about that: onstage is not real life. That gives us incredible licence to do whatever the hell we want.

One time in rehearsal my teammate, Justin Kosi, was pimped into being John Travolta. He looked at our coach, Tom Vest, and said “I don’t know him.” “That’s great!” Tom told him. “Just do your John Travolta.”

Of course, Justin’s Travolta was nothing like the “real” one – and a million times funnier as a result.

If you want to take pressure off yourself, try doing something really badly. You can do it in a circle as a warm-up, as well as in scenes.

Do the worst accent, the worst dance, the worst impression, the worst anything, and see if it isn’t the best.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

Even scripted music, plays, speeches, and other live events differ from night to night. It’s those inspired moments of improvisation that make people say “You had to be there.”

You’ve kissed more guys than women. And you’re straight.

Photo © Corbin Smith

Photo © Corbin Smith

You’ve had to compete with at least one of these while performing:

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © siaoyue

Photo © siaoyue

Photo © James Young

Photo © James Young

This was breakfast. And lunch. You don’t remember dinner.

Photo © Steve Del Balso

Photo © Steve Del Balso

You need to set your alarm for an audition at noon.

Photo © Kevin Whalen & James Gangl

Photo © Kevin Whalen

You get endowed as the President every time you hit the stage.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

Deep down, you still dream of being a superhero.

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

If you read one more “Women aren’t funny” article, you’ll swear like Susan f#%$ing Messing. 

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

You feel cool because everyone’s a nerd.

Photo © Laura Salvas

Photo © Laura Salvas

When this guy says, “Take your crazy monkey dance back to Hitler Town,” you know exactly what he means.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

It isn’t Halloween. Just a typical Thursday night.

Photo © Becky Feilders

Photo © Becky Feilders

The sign of a good rehearsal.

Photo © Madelyn Rideout

Photo © Madelyn Rideout

You’ve said things that would get you fired, disowned or arrested in real life. 

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

The answer to the question, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” is always “Yes!”

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 195 other followers