This is a thought I’m trying to put together… but basically I think there’s a certain level of improv at which whatever problems you have are you problems, and you have to deal with those things in your life. There’s no drill or exercise or warm-up to help you get better at this thing that actually plagues you in real life. Listening, give-and-take, commitment, those are things that people have issues with for real. Accept them as real life problems, not just improv problems, and they’ll start to go away.
“When asked, “What’s the best part of dating another comic,” one young man said: “Honest feedback about your set.” When I asked him what he felt the worst part was, he replied, “Honest feedback about your set.”—Via http://femedians.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/comics-dating-comics-the-good-the-bad-and-the-funny/
In six seconds, you’ll hate me. But in six months, you’ll be a better writer. From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you…
1) Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2) Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3) Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4) Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5) Start as close to the end as possible.
6) Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7) Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8) Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
This is my 4th year in improv. If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have told you that improv will ALWAYS be a part of my life. Now, I'm not sure. It's not so much that my desire is gone, or that my love is gone. My love and desire to see and do GOOD improv is there, but I'm not sure that I'm willing to see and do all the bad improv that is inevitable along the way. Also, I just haven't had a team that clicked yet. Have you ever considered stopping improv?
There’s a lot going on here, so hopefully I can help. Have I ever considered stopping improv? In fourteen years, yes, many times. But, man, something keeps pulling me back in. What has almost pushed me out? Usually frustration, probably similar to yours, that I don’t get to do all of the good work I know I could be doing. Sometimes there’s frustration at gatekeepers and auditions, frustration at a string of shitty shows, frustrations at not being a bigger deal than I think I am. Yeah, I know, it’s pretty selfish. These kinds of things affect everybody at some point; you’re not alone.
I started doing improv in New York on the edges in 2002, but really dove in around 2005. It wasn’t until 2009 that I finally hooked up with the two other guys who would form the three-man team, RCD, I’ve been with ever since. I was on a house team the year before which had been disbanded, and I was cut from program. I just didn’t click in the large-size house team. RCD clicked. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we keep coming back to each other. It took me years of performing in NYC before I found the right kind of situation and personnel that really worked for me.
And the thing about our ups and downs: well, with a team you like you’re willing to go through those ups and downs. RCD has had some shitty shows. Really, the success rate for any performer is at about 80%. But we stuck through because we liked each other a lot, and would rather do a bad show with each other than with anyone else.
You’ve always got to be willing to do the bad improv. Let me amend that: you must have no fear of failure. But you should also be in a situation where failure drives and pushes the whole team in a positive direction, or where failure is greeted with the healthy amount of acceptance that it deserves in improv.
A bad show that makes everyone feel bad is worthless. A bad show that reminds everyone that we should work on group games at the next practice is useful.
This might be a lot to think about right now. In the meantime, take a break. Go away for a bit. Then go seek out a different kind of show. Instead of going to see another Harold night, check out a hip-hop improv show, or a solo act, or something that pushes boundaries. Find the new, different stuff to get you excited again. Take a class in something else besides straight-up long-form improv. Do short-form, do musical, do dramatic improv. Stop playing Game and start playing Relationship, or stop playing Relationship and start playing Game. Find ways to keep it fresh. You’ll be okay.
Alan Moore’s depiction of Michael T Gilbert’s Mr Monster & Kelly, as reproduced in His Books Of Forbidden Knowledge Volume One. Moore’s introduction to the same makes his position on the figure of the superhero more than clear;
“Superheroes are absurd. That said, there’s nothing wrong with absurdity. Absurdity, if executed with shameless and unselfconscious panache, has its own dignity. It is the dignity of great clowns. Captain Marvel has his talking worms and tigers, Fighting American his zoo of McCarthy-On-Acid Communist grotesques, Mr. Monster has his little Hemo Boy, and he has his dignity. It is only when the clown becomes ashamed of what he is and pretends to be something more that his dignity falls.”
Would you say Improv is art and everyone enjoys it differently. Its like painting in that some people use it for expression and some people use it for relief? Thats what Art is supposed to be- a way to enrich your life in whatever way you need it.
Now you’re speaking my language. I was a Fine Arts major in college, and I know a fair share of my theory and art history. I apply a lot of what I learned to my approach to improv.
The answer to “would I say Improv is art” is yes. That part is clear enough. (See Denis Dutton’s 12 cluster criteria. Improv easily fits all 12.) Saying that everyone enjoys it differently is quite possibly the understatement of the year—all individuals bring their own life experiences to bear in the viewing and interpreting and ultimate enjoyment (or lack) of any artwork.
Now, to purposes of art. This essay posits some specific purposes, but they can all be boiled down to the following very broad categories: Informational, Religious/Political, Aesthetic, Self-Expression. These categories are not cut-and-dry. Any art piece may lean more heavily in one area than another, but you can easily find, say, an aesthetically pleasing piece that expresses the artist’s opinions of politics.
Thus the next statement, “That’s what art is supposed to be,” is troubling. Art is not supposed to be anything other than a piece of special communication. That’s the broadest, most simple category for art—communication. And it’s special because it communicates (or attempts to) an idea in a manner that ordinary mundane speech cannot. Which then means value judgments—whether or not it enriches your life, for example, is a value judgment—are null. There is only the question of “is it well-made art?” Does the art communicate the idea it wanted to communicate in an interesting way?
For many improvisors, that idea may be as simple as “this is funny.” Which, as simple as it is, is admittedly a difficult thing to communicate well. An improvisor may also wish to communicate “this is interesting” or “this is how the world ought to be” or “this is how I feel.”
Of course you may have and prefer one sensibility over another, and would rather be in or watch a show that does something in particular. But as long as a group of improvisors—artists—pursue their choice of purpose with skill and consideration, then those artists are deserving of our utmost respect.
Biggest problem I have is the group that has happened as a result of my classes -and maybe this is ego talking-we get along as co workers but not as friends. and maybe eventually we will be if we work together long enough, but im such a comedy nerd and its annoying that when i do share a comedy nerd thing -"aziz ansari did this/that"-no one gets why they should care. but is that everywhere you go?
Did you know that in his original appearance, the Incredible Hulk was gray, and his transformation wasn’t triggered by anger, it was triggered by the moon? It wasn’t until the 2nd issue when a colorist’s error turned him bright green, and the editors liked it so much that they kept it. Grey Hulk eventually made a reappearance in Peter David’s initial run, when Hulk became a Vegas mob enforcer and later low-level boss Joe Fixit.
I said that to my girlfriend the other day, and while she does love me her eyes tend to glaze over whenever I get onto the specifics of some comic book nerdy thing.
Similarly, when she tells me about some rock band she loves or concert she went to I kinda don’t react as excitedly back.
It would also be a shitty way to treat my girlfriend if I demanded that she be as nerdy about comics as I am. After all, it’s years of obsession stored in my brain that just spill out with minimal provocation. For her to catch up would be a Herculean task.
My point is everyone’s nerdy about something. Comedy nerd is your thing. And just because someone does improv doesn’t mean they’re a comedy nerd, right? Feel good about your nerdy thing. It’s your thing! But the same way I still love my girlfriend even though she doesn’t get why it’s cool that the Hulk was gray for an issue, you and your group can still love each other even though they don’t get why it’s a big deal that Aziz Ansari was in Human Giant.
I've only been studying at my current indie theater for about a year and now I'm ready to go to one of the big three (i.O. second city or UCB)is that weird? I've only done classes and jams. thx
Nope, that’s not weird at all. Why do you think it’s weird? Do you think that everyone at these other theaters is somehow magically better because they’re at a “name” theater? I’ve taken level 1 classes at three different theaters multiple times, and there are always, no matter which theater, some people there for whom this is literally a level 1 class. Who cares? We’re all there to learn, or at least the best people are. Follow that heat.
And how do I put this? You gotta keep learning and pursuing opportunities. Learn from as many different teachers as you can. Learn as many different styles or philosophies as you can. Keep learning and never stop. Always look for opportunities. Don’t hinge your sense of success on a single theater. And don’t think that, now that you’re taking classes elsewhere, that there’s nothing left for you at the previous theater.
This audio problem had also afflicted a trailer earlier in the show, a preview for Crimson Dragon, which is a game about dragons. Because it was a game about dragons, nobody gave a shit, and the trailer was allowed to play out in silence. The stage managers were probably out back having a cigarette—again, because dragons. But when this same thing happened to a game where you shoot people, it was a mistake that could not stand—such is the hierarchy of the Xbox at E3, where shooty bits reign supreme.
Thus the event came to a halt as technicians presumably scrambled to make things right, and in that moment, the eyes of the world turned to Patrick Söderlund. He thought he would only be reading a teleprompter, but the gods had something different in mind for him this 10th day of June, 2013. They called upon Söderlund to vamp, to hold the audience’s precious attention while the demons of 7.1-channel audio were exorcised by those who know of such things.
And so it was that Patrick Söderlund told everyone to be quiet, although it wasn’t clear why anybody needed to be quiet for a silent trailer. “We will start over,” he said next. We did not start over. Nothing continued to happen. Then, at a loss, Söderlund said, “I’m fine.” At this time, in this place, those two words had an unexpected beauty. Minutes earlier, Söderlund had been an uptight drone rattling off empty phrases like “a true next-generation engine.” The kind of words that ooze out of executives’ mouths and fall to the ground without affecting a single soul. “I’m fine,” though, are the words of a human being appealing to our sense of empathy.
That humanity is why we get excited when something goes wrong at these big keynote events. When it comes amid a torrent of marketing lies and fake smiles, a snafu makes us perk up our ears. We sense that something real is happening, and that the person on stage will now have to be a person, like us, instead of a “so excited to be here” executive, like nobody. In a way, the “I’m fine” utterance was the first point at which we could perceive Patrick Söderlund to exist. He was talking to us.
“Talking to us” is an exception to the rule at Microsoft’s Xbox events. Their default mode is to address a demographic caricature who was born in a marketeer’s binder. That caricature, as far as I can tell, begins with a 20-something white male who only loves to shoot at things, except he also thinks magic knights are cool, just not as cool as the shooting. Plenty of those people exist, but the other thing about Mr. Demographic is that he just fell off the turnip truck. Everything is new and magical to him. When Mr. Demographic hears a developer of The Witcher 3 describe its “deep tactical combat, completely rebuilt from the ground up” with “state-of-the-art next-gen DX11 graphics,” Mr. Demographic does not feel like he is caught in a time loop of jargon that has been iterating since 1995. These phrases actually possess meaning to Microsoft’s imaginary friend!
I had a traumatic experience and no longer feel comfortable doing things that improv calls for; being vulnerable, surrendering yourself, being uncomfortable. So I'm dropping out of classes for the time being. It's not an easy thing, as improv has been a gigantic part of my life for the last six months. I worry I won't be okay with performing again, and I feel like that isn't okay. That its somehow wrong to love it and respect it as much as I do and not perform. Any advice?
First things first, thank you for asking me. I don’t know what your traumatic experience was, but it takes a lot of strength to ask for help. Things hurt now, but with a little but of work and patience they won’t, and reaching out is a place to start.
I love and respect improv too. And there’s nothing wrong with not doing it: I know that my personal act of performing it is different than the act of appreciating it. And, as Mick Napier said facetiously, improv is the least important thing you’ll ever do! Yes, it’s fun and freeing, but you’re not saving any lives up there, or destroying them. You’re making up theater, which ranks kinda low on the list of important earth-shattering things. It’s totally okay to not make up theater if you’re not feeling good. And I know, there have been moments where feeling good about myself was the last thing I could do.
Years ago, something like 2003-04, I was in a workshop being run by a good friend and great teacher, Asaf Ronen. I recall that somehow my scene partner and I stumbled into a scene that tapped into every issue I had with depression and my father. It wasn’t recent trauma, but it was baggage and it was heavy. I had a hard time getting through the scene. Being vulnerable was torturous. I mostly clammed up, barely did anything to forward the scene, and at one point actually said “fuck you” to my scene partner. It wasn’t fun or funny or good improv.
The scene ended, and my teacher said “Good work, I know that was tough for you.” He was right. I looked around, and I saw a room full of people who all had their own shit to deal with—and were all just concerned with doing the next scene. I had a feeling that everyone in the room understood hurt and pain in some way. I felt no judgment, but also no pity. It just simply was, everyone thought. Here’s what Michael’s going through. Got it. Two more.
Improv is a safe place. Me, for example, I’m all about figuring out how to do the best improv no matter who is doing it. There’s no personal judgments here. And I think that, in the best improv rooms, that’s true too. Everyone worth their salt in an improv class or practice is just there to do the best improv they can. The best improv is done free of judgment. If you’re not in that room now, go find that room. It is out there.
Improv didn’t break that day in Asaf’s workshop, nor did I. Really, I found myself emboldened to be truly honest on stage for the first time. The fear of people not liking me if I revealed what was truly in my brain began to go away. Oh sure, it wasn’t an overnight thing. It took years for me to make this intellectual understanding second nature to action on stage. But it started here when I learned that I was stronger than I thought.
It’s not healthy to run and hide from things. Clearly you’re in some kind of pain—again I have no idea what, but it’s enough pain to you to make you want to close up away from people. This is life advice here. The last thing any person should do when they’re in pain is try and go it alone. And the other thing you shouldn’t do is leave and never come back.
When you’re ready, and you should work on being ready again, improv will still be here. And I’d love to do a scene with you.
“One of the frequent casualties of higher education is common sense. Art education is a good example of this. In high school, most kids draw little more than unicorns and super heroes. Then suddenly, in four years of art school, they’re supposed to develop an original style. That’s something even Rembrandt couldn’t have done. So a lot of students wisely spend their four years cultivating gimmicks they can call a style, and mastering Artspeak. This means that, as professionals, they can say things like, “I do purloined images on Naugahyde.” Or, “These mutilated Barbie Dolls represent feminist praxis in action.”—Illustrator Brad Holland
“What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.”—