Posts tagged Portlandia

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

Top row, from left:

1. Improvise (inscribed “Fuck it! – Mick Napier”)

2. Burrito, the Official Food of Improvisers

3. Christmas gift (came with Portlandia DVD)

4. Because sometimes a photo booth is more fun than an iPhone

5. Kinder Egg Franken-toy made from two figurines

6. Nug Nahrgang’s Instagram feed

7. High-end U-lock key for piece-of-crap bike

8. Profits from show (split three ways)

2nd row:

9. Business card – Bam!

10. USB with Piñata Full of Bees

11. DIY guitar pick

12. Gum (for post-burrito green room politeness)

13. Old timey postcard for sending message from the past

14. Emergency toothpicks/Christmas gift igniter

15. Jetstream rollerball

3rd row:

16. Best. Show. Ever.

17. DCM wristband

18. Hipster room key

19. Master Class notes

Bottom row:

20. Koosh ball

21. Lucky dollar bill from CIF

22. Deodorant (for rehearsals)


What’s in yours?

In 2011, a little thing called Shit Girls Say hit the interwebs. Within days it had millions of hits. Then the parodies started popping up: Shit New Yorkers SayShit Sri Lankan Mothers Say. Shit Nobody Says. (The line “Can I burn a copy of your Nickelback CD?” alone deserves an Oscar.) Each of them scored millions of hits as well.

We’d already had Shit My Dad Says – the tweets, the book, and the ill-fated TV show. But it took the viral power of video to spawn an interactive phenomenon. What made Shit Girls Say so successful?

First, great talent. Graydon Sheppard is terrific as the writer, actor and director. And Juliette Lewis ain’t so shabby.

Second, relatability. We all know someone (maybe we are that person) who says and does the things these videos poke fun at. And the structure or “game” of the content lends itself to endless variations.

Third, repetition. A lot of the humour involves simple phrases, said multiple times.

One of the simplest ways to get laughs is just to repeat something. You’ve probably experienced this a million times in conversation with your friends. Your buddy says something, then a few minutes later someone else says the same thing in a different context, and everyone laughs.

This can be helpful when learning the Harold, which typically has three beats. It’s easy to bring something back from a first beat (a phrase, gesture, or sound effect for instance) and repeat it in later beats. In improv this is known as a callback.

When beginning improvisers first use callbacks, the high of getting laughs from an audience can lead to overkill. Too many tag-outs, using a character’s catchphrase too often, or repeating anything ad nauseum will quell your audience faster than you can say “John Carter.” Use the power of repetition wisely.

Of course, like any skill, once you’ve mastered it you can go nuts. Portlandia‘s Fred Armisten and Carrie Brownstein are masters of repetition. The “Put A Bird On It” and “Cacao” scenes from Season One are hilarious. Notice how they heighten the humour. It’s not just the same thing every time; each mention gets a little more absurd.

On the other hand, when Family Guy Peter Griffin falls and hurts his knee, it’s funny because it doesn’t change. It just goes on and on and on and on and on. What keeps it funny is Peter’s agony. Every “Ssssssss…Aaaaaaah!” is fully charged.

Sometimes when we’re improvising, we start with something and then drop it – and that’s usually where the scene tanks. Whatever you’re doing, commit. Repeat it, heighten and explore. See where it takes you. As Susan Messing says “Comedy comes from commitment and recommitment to your shit.”