Archive for the ‘improv’ Category

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.”


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.’

What’s it all about?

June 8, 2007

Another gem from Jane Espenson’s blog.

Is there conflict in your spec script? Yes, of course there is. You might even have a scene of two people disagreeing, arguing, maybe even screaming and throwing punches. Great stuff. But here’s a little trick to make that scene even better:

Imagine that at some point in the scene, you are required to give one of the characters this line:

Fightin’ Guy
Oh my God. Is that what this is really about?

Don’t actually give them the line, just imagine that they had to say it. What would the “that” be?

Read the whole article.

Of course, it’s not just for arguments, try ‘this isn’t really about who can cook the best chili, is it?’.

Which brings me back to the other point about Atomic Spaghetti.  Scenes shouldn’t be about spaghetti, they should be about people (possibly cooking and/or eating spaghetti), and especially the relationships between people.  Another hallmark of an Atomic Spaghetti scene is the lack of a developed relationship between characters.

One of my favourite exercises  is ‘do an activity while talking about something different’ from Truth in Comedy.  For example, fixing a car while talking about the Korean War.  It gives scenes so much more depth, and so much more room for forging connections.

Broodax: born in flesh

June 7, 2007

(from the legendary Penny Arcade, click for bigger)

I discovered this great blog (thanks to CreativeCreativity!). It’s about writing for tv, but a lot of the problems she talks about get me thinking of problems in improv.

Here’s a story I really liked. It’s from a discussion of how colourful to make one’s stage directions;

Once, in a Buffy script (Band Candy), I wanted to indicate that Giles was very embarrassed and self-conscious about something Buffy was talking about. I wrote “Giles finds something interesting on his lapel.” Several members of the production staff came to me to ask about the thing on Giles’ lapel — would it turn out to be the villain of the next week’s episode, they asked?

So be poetic, but careful. If there’s a way to read your direction as literal, someone will do it.

I often find that the kinds of metaphorical and exaggerated language that we use in everyday life will, in an improv scene, be taken literally. Which leads to situations like the above comic. Now of course, this can be awesome sometimes (it works great for the Mighty Boosh), but it’s usually either a gag, or from a misguided belief that if you don’t jump all over every offer you must be wimping. The risk is that players will stop talking like a normal person for fear of being yesanded to crazy town in every scene. (I think it goes with out saying that players talking like normal people is a good thing).

In the end, it’s a matter of developing trust between players. And also just being aware that not every offer needs to be taken so literally.

Top Ten: Entry Music

May 31, 2007

Here’s my top ten picks for music to come in on at the start of an improv show.
(*indicates the songs I have actually used)

Seven Nation Army – the White Stripes*
This is the track I’ve used the most. Something about that bass line resonates with the butterflies in my stomach.

Intergalactic – Beastie Boys*

Iron Man – Black Sabbath
I hope one day to do a show where it will be appropriate to start with this song.


May 29, 2007

I’m back from Osaka.  Where I attended a two day Shawn Kinley workshop.

I’ll write it up over the next few days.

Quote of the Day

May 24, 2007

From the Onion AV Club’s interview with Louis C.K.

AVC: When you’re taping in front of a live studio audience, do you find you’re playing to them as much or more as the people at home?

LCK: It’s not so much that you’re playing to them, it’s just that they tell you what’s working. It’s like doing stand-up. You would never do stand-up without an audience. I mean, no one would even consider it. It’s like they’re the instrument you’re playing. It’s that intimate of a relationship, and they’re that essential to each other.

I just really liked that phrase; ‘It’s like they’re the instrument you’re playing’.

Tip o’ the day

May 15, 2007

Set your web browser homepage to Wikipedia’s ‘random article’ feature.

You never know what you’ll find.

30 Different ways

May 14, 2007


Dan Allen was kind enough to remind me of this gem of an exercise.


Get an askfor. Then do thirty (or whatever number) scenes in a row based on the one askfor.

Think of an askfor like ‘submarine’. The first scene will likely be; one guy looking at the sonar screen, making the sonar noise. Then the Captain comes in and pulls down the periscope.

That’s cool, no doubt you can get a good scene out of that. But what about the next scene? And the one after that?

The more scenes you do the scarier it gets. And when improv is getting scary, well that’s a sign that we’re getting at the good stuff.

good acting/bad mime

May 10, 2007

I learned this one from Ari Voukydis. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what this game teaches. But I do remember that it is fun.

Very simple. Two rules for the scene;

Act as well as possible.

Mime as badly as possible.