Our goal in recording this podcast is to inspire and inform the independent improvisation community of New York City. We’d like to hear the stories of tomorrow’s big stars today, while they are still being written.
There are a lot of us out there. Each of the big three improv schools in New York has hosted ladies nights. We perform at many venues around the city, and many of us have formed all-female teams with our close friends (or sometimes classmates who have become close friends). Yet there are still…
This feels weird to say as an improviser, but I try to never ever pretend.
Pretending everything is great is how you lose your point of view and your unique perspective. Also, I personally don’t want people lying to me, nor do I like watching people bullshit each other.
Don’t be a dick.
Openly disliking certain moves and points of view is how you scare people off and promote fearful improv. People on stage (or in practice or at Applebee’s) who disdain moves only do themselves a disservice because it leads to more and more judgement, and less and less growth.
So what I try to do is what I see amazing improvisers do effortlessly:
Find the value.
Great improvisers are not pretenders nor are they dicks - they are really good at finding the value in everything. And yes, sometimes, you’re going to have to work a little bit harder. But people who can effortlessly take Gilligan’s weird stick and make it a part of the boat are pretty damn useful.
So, don’t be a hippie and don’t be a dick. And don’t act like a hero either. The most interesting people aren’t full of facts or funny, they aren’t scary nor do they love everything - they are just ready and willing.
“Longform Improv is a young art form. You might be the one to discover the next cool device. You might be the one to have that legendary show. Any show can by definition be your best one. Believe in that, bring that excitement to the stage.”—
I get in trouble for saying that because I deliberately say it in a jerk manner. KNOW EVERYTHING. When someone says “I didn’t know the movie my partner was mentioning” I’ll sometimes say “Well, you don’t HAVE to know it but it would be easier if you knew it.”
And then people are like “Why do I have to like Star Wars?”
And I say “Who said anything about Star Wars?”
“All these improv nerd boys love Star Wars and can’t stop mentioning it. I hate that HAVE to know it.”
I’m interested in a discussion on this, although I don’t need you to tell me how people can use the words “funny” “smart” and “no” dangerously. I need ways to use those terms well. At the advanced level, it is often what is missing.
I don’t think I have any authority in writing this, but I am an improv nerd, so I am writing it anyway.
As Alex Berg of Convoy said on a recent UCBTLA podcast, confidence in improv is great, but ego is a turnoff, and that’s how Funny, No and Smart could be used.
Confidence Funny can mean making fun choices that are good for the scene, group or show. Ego Funny can mean dropping emotional commitment/going meta/selling out your scene.
Confidence No can help shape a scene or steer it from veering off into something that doesn’t resemble any human reality. Ego No can bulldoze a scene by dismissing scene partner’s contributions or stop it cold.
Confidence Smart helps with mapping scenes or pulling specifics of doing object work or relating to a scene partner’s ideas. Ego Smart can mean dropping references, which can block out the scene partner, those on the back line, or the audience.
Here’s things that I bet upper level improv teachers/coaches would be uncomfortable to say:
“Being funny is good in improv!”
“Characters should feel comfortable saying no!”
“You should know a lot of things if you want to be a good improviser!”
But all of these things are true.
Semantics are tricky.
I am reminded of taking my first UCB 401. On the second day, the teacher told us to do an “Organic Opening.” We did a lot of “whoop whoop” and were probably gorillas at some point. Because we did a Sound And Movement (and, yes, not a good one). He stopped us right after and said, “What was that!?”
“Um, an organic…” we responded sheepishly.
“No! That is not an organic opening! You are doing it wrong.”
We felt dumb. But here’s the thing: that is what we were all taught what an organic opening was. All of us. From various other teachers. Because, sure it is the base of an organic. It is the “idea” of the organic opening.
This is an extreme case since “Organic Opening” can have a whole lot of different definitions since it is, in its very nature, anything.
But how we use words is darn important, especially when teaching and coaching. We can’t use short hand if we don’t already know that who we are teaching don’t understand what we mean by those words.
“Funny” is not the same has “Jokey”, “Not committed,” and/or “Selling out your scene partner(s) for the laugh.” I never use “Don’t be funny” (unless it is for a specific exercise where I want them to relax into a scene or am trying to make them not “work” so much or just want them to play “natural” for a change.
“No” is not the opposite of “Yes” in “Yes/And.” “Denial of the reality of the scene is.” I don’t think I ever say “Don’t say no” or “You said No. Don’t do that.” I am more like to say “Don’t say no to the scene.” Because that is what we mean. It is not the word “No” that is bad. It is the player’s attitude to the scene.
I actually hardly ever see the last one being a problem. “Knowing is great.” Know what you know. In life, don’t say no to learning things. You should also know what your teammates know. I mean, not share the actual knowledge, but have an awareness what their knowledge base is. (How you use that knowledge in scenes…separate issue. Specifics should be in service of the scene/set and not the other way around. (I have a whole rant about how making someone Donald Trump can be destructive to a scene while stating that someone “just came from a business lunch with Donald Trump” is powerful. But that is for another day.)
Also being aware of things you don’t have knowledge of is good. I have never been that into music. I am not good at retaining names, song names, lyrics, etc.. I am not going to spend my days pursuing all that…because it doesn’t interest me. However, I will continue to expand spend and hour reading up on different types of oats. So there you go.