My first exposure to improvised comedy was, like I’m sure it was for a good many people, the show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” I wasn’t lucky enough to learn about the British version until a couple years later but I used to watch the American version every week. It blew me away that these people could be this hilarious while making things up off the top of their heads. I know a few of my fellow improvisers might look down on this show, but it holds a special place in my heart as being the kickstarter to my love of comedy, improv included. So many games are classic to me: Scenes from a Hat, Props, Sound Effects, there were times when I would be crying because I was laughing so hard (especially scenes from a hat, you need to check out some of the “best of” videos on youtube with those).
The positive of this show from an improv standpoint to me was the ability for the actors in the troupe, many of who came from The Second City and iO theaters, to immediately connect with the audience. The audience in a show like this wants immediate gratification, there is no building of narrative or deep development of characters because the audience is there to see jokes and “funny”, and to me that’s ok. There is a place for short for games as a viable outlet of improv comedy in the Improv Universe.
Here is my feeling about the short form game style of Whose Line or ComedySportz. The few times I’ve done short form games (Jam City at Coldtowne Theater, first Friday of every month at midnight) has been hectic, nerve wracking, slightly drunk, and really fun. I felt like the constant change of form or changing of games really kept me on my toes. It forced me, as a novice improviser, to get “out of my head” as we say in class. This is the thing that I have the most trouble with is just letting the ideas come to me organically, not over-thinking or over-analyzing a character idea or scene start that I have. Being forced into a different situation or game every few minutes was very beneficial to me in that regard. It also allowed me the opportunity to work from a different character standpoint. While you don’t have a ton of time to develop a character as much as you would in a long form show, the nature of the audience forced me to do something to keep their attention rather than just talking as Jeremy. The Jam Cities that I attended really helped me improve on my physical comedy as well as changing up my mannerisms for the best effect to what is, somewhat, a drunk audience who (you’d be surprised) don’t just laugh at anything.
Obviously I am watching Whose Line right now, it comes on ABC Family at 11 pm every weekday night. It brings back a feeling of nostalgia to me and, now that I’ve been trained up a bit in the ways of improv comedy, I can watch from a different standpoint and actually analyze what the actors are doing and notice how they are interacting with each other. I definitely notice how they always “yes, and…” and there is never a denial, ever. These guys are here to put on the best show for the paying audience as possible, and that’s the whole reason behind this artform I believe. That’s the reason behind any art form (I’m a classically trained musician and love being on stage entertaining).
So I know this post turned into a kind of incoherent rant, and I promise that future posts will be better structured. The more I write the better it will get I promise. Anyway, that’s kind of a small inkling of my thoughts on short form game improv and specifically the validity of this form of improv, I have more opinions on the matter but it will just start to turn into rambling and I’m sure you don’t want to put up with another post like that.
Coming next post: My notes from the Parrallelogramophonograph Narrative Intensive I took this past weekend at The Hideout Theatre in Austin (while you’re checking out these links please go donate so PGraph can make the trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland) and a discussion on my thoughts of long form narrative improvisation. Here’s a teaser: I love it.
Also, I am planning on doing some interviews with the multitudes of people have met in my short time doing improv in Austin, hopefully I can get going on those pretty soon.
Until next time true believers…EXCELSIOR! (props to Stan Lee).