Improv Nonsense: You Go To Them -
One of the most common categories of questions I get to this improv blog is the “I’m playing with someone bad. What do I do?” Variations include that so and so is sticking out amongst the group, or maybe is behind everyone else, or playing really broadly, or mugging at the audience, or is somehow…
Another fantastic post. This one really hit home for me. I had this problem for years. I fucked myself over because of it. Badly. I probably got cut from Harold Night because of it. Twice. Whatever shit is bothering you, in the end it really is about you. It’s not about them. “Go to them” is about the most succinct way someone could articulate it. Anything else leads to the Dark Side.
Also it’s fucking crazy Will remembers specifics from a scene he did in 1998.
Improv Nonsense: Trying To Win The Scene -
Saw this in a class:
A: So you hated the dog I bought for you.
B: Yeah, well I already had 4 cats. The dog is going to murder those things. You buy me the worst gifts. You always buy me gifts that just don’t fit.
A: (side coached to say why he bought a dog as a gift) I got you it because I…
Great post. The desire to win in a scene is pervasive, and this is a wonderful example of how so much beginner improv has this aggressive, confrontational “tone” it. Anyway, here’s my two cents on this scene…
If this were a more advanced class I’d probably just let the scene go, but in a 101 when long-term neural pathways are being carved, I’d probably have side coached very early on and asked if we can have the same initiation, but somehow keep things “cool” between the two characters. The more aggressive new improvisers get the worse their yesanding gets.
Choice notes are bullshit, but here are some hypothetical responses to that initiation I think would avoid the caustic tone Will discussed. And yes, these are responses I’ve had the benefit of thinking about and editing and re-writing, so yes in the context of improv I realize I’m being a fucking hypocrite. Sorry.
A: So you hated the dog I bought for you.
B1. Yes, you’re right. I do. He’s really cute, is great with the cat, but it’s taken a shit on my pillow every night since I got him.
B2. Yep, I hated him. He made me realize I’m not ready to have that baby. You were right, Ross.
B3. Yes, I absolutely hate him. That whole “I love dogs thing” was just to get a second date with you.
While trying to avoid the gaucheness of praising my own choices, I do think these responses manage to diffuse what is admittedly a pretty aggressive initiation. If a minute or two into the scenes generated by any of these responses a character FINALLY couldn’t take it anymore and got pissed, yeah than I can handle it. But you don’t start there. You get there. Unless a scene specifically and directly needs it, you should do everything in your power to stay cool with your scene partner a line or two in without playing dumb.
I really enjoyed reading Will’s post on hostility in early improv. As usual Will is pretty comprehensive, so additional comments from me probably aren’t required, but here they are!
During 2012 I taught almost exclusively 101 classes and seemed to coach mostly younger groups. I’ve watched a LOT of beginner improv, and I agree with pretty much everything Will said.
I think the desire to fight in improv comes from the absurdly counter-intuitive nature of this artform. Until you get up and do it and succeed at it on your feet, YesAnding runs counter to everything your mind/body tries to do when the supposed goal is to MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH NOW! Aside from the fact laughing NOW isn’t the goal anyway, the main reason I see new improvisers fight is because they simply don’t trust their yesanding, and that being real will actually achieve the end goal of “funny.”
I shamelessly crib from Anthony King at least once every class I teach, so I’ll go ahead and do it here. I’m sure I’m paraphrasing him terribly. Anthony said fights in improv initially seem satisfying because they SIMULATE what feels good about an improv scene. You’re reacting, you have a point of view, chances are you’re committing more. In terms of the raw indicators, the scene is “better.” But it’s the equivalent of giving someone a short term stimulant - the payoff is short, the results artificial, and the long-term use damaging. You’re better off developing the real muscles.
As a way around this, I generally ask students to be agreeable as a matter of default. I’m very, very quick to note/stop a scene if someone is angry/fighting for no reason. Since I understand it does take time to develop confidence with yesanding, I find the simple note of, “Just be cool with ______” generally gets it done. Being agreeable should be as much a part of your default as playing it real. And honestly I’ve found if you nip it in the bud early enough, students will quickly adopt the “be cool with it” approach because it gets them more laughs in class than the fighters.
I feel like lots of improvisers at UCB at some point saw Curtis Gwinn (seem to) angrily say, “What the fuck is wrong with you!” in a Roo Roo show and get a huge laugh. Without more experience, you think that contrarian aggressiveness is what actually generated that laugh, when you probably missed the dozens of agreeable, accepting, facilitating moves he made leading up to that point. I do enjoy the “buzz” of an angry fight scene. I’m a lousy actor, and to again reference Anthony’s metaphor, being angry in a scene sometimes makes me “feel” like a better actor. But I tell myself I’ve got to get there, not start there. I don’t think getting angry 2 minutes into a scene is necessarily bad. 20 seconds? You bet.
The fighting comes from fear. The fear lessens the more you trust and commit to your process. Eventually, you trust your process so much you don’t give a shit about making the audience laugh. Sometimes I give the example of going to a horrible open mic and seeing comics DESPERATE for your laugh, begging for it, working for it. Compare that to someone like Louis C.K. who doesn’t give two shits about the audience laughing. Does he want his set to be funny? Absolutely. The point is he’s so 100% confident in his process he knows its going to succeed, and thus he doesn’t have to work FOR it. The same is true of our work.