I’ve been studying the fine art of Improvisation. As such, I’m inspired by the
easy out for an article deep tradition of improvisational theatre. As such, allow me to advise you against the breaking of critical rules.
Straight-up denying premises.
This is a cardinal sin of improv. The rule “Yes, And” is simple enough; eschew the “no” and refrain from “but.” In the heat of the moment, the blood rushes and the senses blur. One can be forgiven for any multitude of offenses, but leaving your scene partner desperately trying to justify why a cupcake baker would be hanging out on the moon? There’s so much going on. Throw a bone, dude. Don’t be a hater and give them room to be a normal person trying to make shit happen.
You’re just damn bigger than your scene partner. Stronger. Perhaps faster. You have powers. You clearly call the shots. You should be king of the mountain, and you swell with all the swagger due the nascent emperor walking amongst the people. The problem is, your buddy is out there trying to make an awesome moment between a dad and his son. Give it to him. You get to be Wacky Dad and you will be crowned with the glory of The Weird One for all time.
Or at least until the end of the scene.
Don’t burn the scene doing a medical, dental, transactional or quasi-informational procedure.
You had this great idea to be a dental hygienist or phlebotomist. In worryingly little time, you exhausted your knowledge of such procedures. Where do we go now? We have no idea what the scene was even about. Everyone is mildly terrified. You’re going to have to reach deep and find something to make this world worth seeing more about.
It was better to just pull Wacky Dentist or Vampire Blood Guy out of your ass two minutes ago than suffer through this debacle. Be a person in the world. Envelope the awkward sense of why-isn’t-this-my-Obamacare-dollars-at-work. Make a strong choice and live in a world between two people in an unusual situation trying somehow to be people instead of languishing in the lukewarm waters of “kind-of a thing where an official person is sort-of not all about a relatively routine thing.” Save the children.
Can’t give up your shitty idea.
You’re on the back line. You have the best idea in the entire world and everybody needs to see it. Robot Celine Dion traveling through time to win gold in the Olympic Canadian Curling Tournament? It has gold written all over it – LITERALLY. Well, literally-ish. It doesn’t matter! The people need this. So, no matter what happens, don’t be a part of some active scene between two human beings having a moment of vulnerable connection. You should most definitely drop your genius A-Bomb on the Nagasaki of your scene and end the war on Funny forever.
Or, wait. Not that. Drop the pretense and roll with the easy scene. You’ll find a glorious joke from organically being two people having a problem and working it out. Celine will always be waiting for you, watching hungrily from the wings. Maybe she can rush on stage for the mercy blackout line.
Come in hot with time-traveling Ben Franklin typewriter-tweeting through carrier pigeons
This doesn’t work. I tried it. Fuck it.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO:
Refraining from Mercy Edits
- Two Men Left Behind
Don’t let your buddies suffer. They’re out there, trying as hard as they can to be funny people, but they’re out of reasonable things to explore. Save them. Start the next scene and be a hero.
- Catching Lightning in a Butthole
There was one zinger. It was glorious. The scene was buttoned-up, ribboned, lovingly packaged and super McOver. Now they’re out there just trying to spin gold into straw, because your friends are out of forward momentum. Save them. SAVE THEM. End the scene and throw Celine out there. It’s her turn to shine.
- Heaven’s Gate
It’s a group scene. Everyone is on the stage. Who’s left to stop the madness? Nobody. This scene consisting entirely of saguaro cacti eloquently waxing on their life on the high desert needs a mercy kill, but everybody is way too invested in the highly theatrical shapes they’re making to sell their characters. Somebody needs to put a stop to this. Everyone is a form-of-a-Cactus. Who’s the hero? There are no heroes. Pull the pin and end the madness.
You now know all I do about the ephemeral art of improv. Go with God and, for the holy one’s sake, don’t get stuck in taxidermist or asylum scenes. Life is too short.