Archive for July, 2007

Two Quotes

July 27, 2007

Mark Twain
“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

George Bernard Shaw
“My way of joking is to tell the truth. It is the funniest joke in the world.”


Only connect

July 26, 2007

Here’s a wonderful video from this years TED conference.

Rives, the secrets of 4 am.

The slam poet/tech artist/paper sculptor Rives does eight minutes of lyrical origami, folding history into a series of coincidences surrounding that most surreal of hours: 4 o’clock in the morning.

This is the best example I’ve ever seen of the power of connections. He’s not making any jokes, but people are laughing. Why? Connections.

Johnstone, like, totally hates improv

July 21, 2007


 Improv founder Keith Johnstone recants

Johnstone invented, among many other forms of improv, TheatreSports, which is arguably the most popular, thanks in large part to Whose Line Is It Anyway? and, in this city, the Vancouver TheatreSports League.

But it’s not long into a far-ranging phone conversation with Johnstone that you get the impression he believes his creation has turned into something of a monster.

“I won’t go to see improvisers, actually,” admits the septuagenarian Englishman. “It’s so stupid.”

There’s nothing here he hasn’t been saying for years.

It would be more accurate to say ‘Keith Johnstone doesn’t like a lot of improv.’

The Song of Roland

July 19, 2007

In my defense.  Today is my last day of school.

Meet Roland the Farter. A minstrel in the court of Henry II of England, Roland had an annual Christmas Day engagement with the king and his fellow revelers. Roland’s act consisted of a dance that culminated with his trademark forte: a synchronized jump, whistle, and fart. Though accounts are sketchy, they indicate that Roland’s remarkable trifecta was performed simultaneously (and not surprisingly, only once). Roland was so valued as an entertainer that the king rewarded his impressive feat of dexterity with a plot of land.

The story of Roland the Farter is told by Valerie Allen in On Farting: Laughter and Language in the Middle Ages, published by Palgrave Macmillan. Allen uses flatulence as a prism through which to explore the entertainment mores of medieval society. Roland’s popularity calls to mind our own longstanding (if sometimes sheepish) embrace of bathroom humor.

Read the rest  (found via Language Log).

I generally don’t find fart humour very amusing.  Or at least I didn’t until I read this sentence.

Furthermore, farts are an occasion for self-examination, for questioning the extent of our freedom and the nature of self-mastery.

Improv Blog: Improvoker

July 19, 2007

There’s definitely more improv blogs out there than I thought.

Here’s a nice entry from Improvoker about note taking.

Recently a UCB instructor asked me, while I was sitting in the UCB training center’s waiting room, writing in my improv notebook, whether I took class notes.

You now I never see many students taking notes in classes I teach. Back when I was in classes I took lots of notes and I still have all my notebooks.
Yeah, I hardy ever see students taking notes in classes and it sees strange to me as well. I would never remember any of this if I didn’t take notes.

Read it all.

The Science of Laughter

July 17, 2007

 Discover magazine has a nice article on the connection between humour and laughter (I spotted this on Mindhacks)

Previous studies of laughter had assumed that laughing and humor were inextricably linked, but Provine’s early research suggested that the connection was only an occasional one. As his research progressed, Provine began to suspect that laughter was in fact about something else—not humor or gags or incongruity but our social interactions. He found support for this assumption in a study that had already been conducted, one analyzing people’s laughing patterns in social and solitary contexts. “You’re 30 times more likely to laugh when you’re with other people than you are when you’re alone—if you don’t count simulated social environments like laugh tracks on television,” Provine says. Think how rarely you’ll laugh out loud at a funny passage in a book but how quick you’ll be to give a friendly laugh when greeting an old acquaintance. Laughing is not an instinctive physical response to humor, the way a flinch is a response to pain or a shiver to cold. Humor is crafted to exploit a form of instinctive social bonding.

Read the whole thing.

Improv Blog: Without Annette

July 13, 2007

Came across this blog from Montreal group Without Annette.*

Here’s a fun entry about group names.

The Zany
Improv is crazy and zany right? So why not pick a name that reflects the wackiness! This is the largest category by far. Animals are typically involved. Examples: Flying Fish Fun Factory, Rubber Chickens, Crazy Monkeys.

*I swear to god, I only just got this pun.

On Time Jump, and getting too good.

July 12, 2007

I remember when I first started improvising at the Canterbury Uni’.  We were all pretty much making it up as we went along (oh yes, I see), with me trying to direct while simultaneously teaching myself to improvise out of Impro for Storytellers.

I’ll never forget playing Time Jump for the first time.  A scene that started with a blind date and then flew headlong through an unwanted pregnancy, a shotgun wedding, back to an embarrassing school dance moment, then forward to a funeral and beyond.  It was the best scene we’d ever done.  Time Jump instantly because my favourite game.  Every time we played it: gold.  It was the only game I wanted to play.

Then suddenly, the magic evaporated.  The scenes just stopped working, and the more we tried to make them work the worse they got.  It was like, as KJ puts is, slamming a revolving door.

Eventually we just stopped playing it.  Which is a shame, because I think it’s a lovely game.

It’s obvious to me now what was happening.  We’d worked out ‘how to play it’, and we spent too much time going for the gold and not enough time on things like character and story.   It started innocently enough with the observation that, after a jump forward, you should either radically change the stage picture (suddenly one character is naked and the other is on fire) or keep it exactly the same (six months later and they’re still waiting for the bus ho-ho).  Then we realized that it was always funny if you jumped back to see the same characters back in High School.  Pretty soon we knew completely how to play Time Jump, and we were completely unable to do it.

With game based improv there’s always a risk of getting too good at the game, at which point the game starts playing you*.

So the challenge is, how do you stop thinking about how to make the game work and just play?  (and thus making the game work).   Just keep playing new games?

*this may not make sense, but it sounds good.

Return of the Killer Dolphins

July 6, 2007


I was reading about military trained killer dolphins (what do you do for fun?), and I can across this article about clicker training.  The description is exactly the same as the previously described Dolphin Training game.

Speaking of which, at the Shawn Kinley workshop, I learnt a variation; instead of saying ‘ding!’ the trainer just looks bored or interested.  It worked surprisingly well, but it does further complicate the question of whether this game teaches us bad or good habits.

I guess it’s better to be conditioned by signals of attention, than laughter.  BUT on stage, under lights, it’s difficult to see the audience, but easy to hear them.  So it’s easy to get trained by laughter into stupidities.

Workshop Format

July 4, 2007

(Since I’m at school, and thus can’t work on my comic)

I  was talking with my good friend Jeff Clark about ways to run workshops without the need for a strong coach figure.  Here’s one of our ideas.  Jeff (in typical form) has entitled it ‘Nicetro’.

1.  All players announce what skill they would like to work on tonight (strong characters, accepting offers, narrative, starting scenes, etc) .  That is their workshop focus.

2.  Players are randomly called up to play a scene (kinda like Micetro).

2. (alternate) One player is called randomly.  They pick a game, other players jump up if it’s a game that works for their focus.

3. Scene.

4.  We ask each player ‘did you (do what you set out to do)?’

5.  repeat from step 2.