Here's a place to post questions/comments/etc. throughout the week! I will post some examples of strong GAME with a clear first unusual thing shortly!
Homework assignment: a scene based on a pattern.
Here are two such scenes from Green Wing (UK comedy serial). The first one is here:
To understand this scene, you need to know that in British English owls say “tu-whit tu-whoo”.
The doctor teaching the class uses the phrase “to wit” in a sentence. A student picks up on it and says “tu-whoo”. This leads to a pattern of owl jokes. When the doctor calls the student a “twit”, he again says “to-whoo”. And again when the doctor says “do it” to the group.
The next pattern scene follows on directly from the previous scene. Here’s a link, just in case:
Background information: the doctor in the dark sweater has just awoken from a coma after many weeks; and the doctor in the green scrubs has just been reinstated to his job after being suspended for stealing an ambulance.
Starting with, “Give me five”, they play a pattern game in which each argues that his own heightened suffering demands more fingers than the suffering of the other (“Give me six… give me seven”).
For the homework assignment, here's a "fish out of water" scene. It's a very old ad for Australian beer with Paul Hogan. The ad is a spin-off from 'Crocodile Dundee', a movie with a strong "fish out of water" theme in which Paul Hogan plays a man from the Australian outback transplanted to New York City. Here's the ad:
The scene works because Paul Hogan plays it straight as a guy who completely misunderstands what people are talking about. He meets someone who says he has just moved into a warehouse. Hogan commiserates, not realizing that moving into a warehouse is an expensive and fashionable thing to do. When another person tells him sadly that the value of his shares has gone down by "twenty pence" (it's a UK ad), Hogan gives him a twenty pence coin to cheer him up.
Week 3 homework assignment: write a 10-line scene starting with "We are the most (blank) (people in a given occupation) ever", or "This (place) is the most (blank) ever". Here's mine:
1: We are the most unhygienic bakers ever!
2: Yes, Bob. We’ve been working together at this bakery for five years and we just get more and more unhygienic.
1: Tom, would you pass me the dough I was kneading. It’s on the floor over there next to the trash can.
2: Here, Bob. Oh, it’s got hair in it now, off the floor.
1. Great! Bread is so much better when it has hair in it. The consistency will be wonderful!
2. Yes, the hair binds the bread together so well! Oh, and here are some finger nail clippings.
1. Crunchy clippings… my favorite! I’ll save them to sprinkle on top just before it goes in the oven.
2. It’s our secret recipe for a perfect crust.
1. Tom, this dough needs a little more water. Would you pass me some, please.
2. Sure, Bob. I’ll fetch some fresh from the toilet.
1. This joint has the tastiest, most organic, most vegan barbecue ever.
2. Wow, vegan barbecue. I've kind of missed barbecue since I gave up meat.
1. That's why I brought you here on our first date. Check out the pigs on their live feed monitor.
2. Uh, those are big pigs, but they're pigs.
1. Yeah, their survey showed what vegans miss most is pork, you know, bacon, ham, barbecue.
2. But they're pigs.
1. Soy pigs. Guaranteed 100 percent GMO free.
2. GMO feed is good, but they're pigs.
1. Soybean robot pigs from PetriDishVLab.
2. Wow, no kidding - look, they even have the cuts pre-marked on their sides.
1.Yeah, they recycle the robot brains, too.
I listened to a really good podcast about the game of the scene. It's Jimmy Carrane's podcast, "Improv Nerd" and it's episode 123 (August 2015) in which Jimmy's guest is Will Hines, of UCB fame.
You can find it at the link below, or search on iTunes:
Jimmy and Will talk about the UCB style of improv, then focus on the game of the scene: what it means and how to find it. They do some improv and then talk about how they found the game, and what other possible games of the scene were open to them. Then they redo the scene exploring other games and other choices. It's a great analysis of exactly the style of improv we are learning in our TIM classes.
Most of the highly analytical stuff is in the first 30 minutes but I also recommend the really excellent scene they play starting at around 40 minutes.
Week 4 Homework. Suggest a strategy for giving a character scene, emotion scene, or status scene comedic value.
One way to find the comedy in a status scene is to introduce a contrast between the typical status of the characters (expected by the audience) and their actual status in the scene. For example, we live in a society where by convention a dentist has higher status than a builder. It could be funny to reverse their status by introducing a dentist with low self-esteem who doubts his or her ability to repair a tooth, and a vain builder who says that filling a tooth is just like spackling a wall, and then proceeds to boast of his/her spackling prowess and show the dentist how to do it properly. The game of the scene could become "applying building skills to dentistry". The builder shows the dentist how to brush teeth properly using a wire brush. Finally, the players heighten the scene to the point where the builder shows the dentist how to extract a tooth by using the skills required to remove a nail from a two by four.
Some examples of status scenes...
Here is a comedy sketch from Armstrong and Miller where the character (officer in charge of the firing squad) who thinks he has the highest status at the start of the scene realizes by the end of the scene that he has been unexpectedly outranked by one of the other characters.
Here is a famous and rather ancient "one-downmanship" Monty Python sketch:
Here's a status scene from Curb your Enthusiasm. One reading of the scene is that Mocha Joe unexpectedly regards himself as having the same status as Larry David, and this surprises Larry. Another reading might be that, although Larry regards Mocha Joe as an equal, Mocha Joe knows that the wealthy people he sells coffee to (including Larry) generally do not see him as an equal, but he is determined to assert his equal status. The two readings are very similar but I think I lean towards the first.
I've been making notes during 301 so I thought I'd post them in case they can be of use to anyone else taking 301. Here we go...
After establishing a base reality, find the first unusual thing in the scene. Let this unusual thing give rise to the "game of the scene" (the thing or *pattern* that makes the scene funny).
While playing the game of the scene, heighten it by answering the question: "IF this unusual thing is true, THEN what related unusual thing(s) might also be true?"
When heightening, do not change the topic of the game. Instead, remain within the parameters of the game (i.e., don't introduce a new unusual thing after finding your game).
Humor can come from contrasts . In a "fish out of water scene", the characters are in an environment that contrasts with our expectations for those characters. For example, we had a pair of surgeons carrying out an operation at the landfill, using a rusty can instead of a scalpel, and storing organs in a dirty bucket. We also had mobsters doing their taxes.
Fish out of water scenes can stem entirely from a strong initiation or can emerge as the scene progresses.
We did fish out of water scenes where we were given the characters and had to find the environment for ourselves. We also did it the other way round.
Some of us went for coffee before class in Week 3 and talked about "fish out of water scenes", then tried doing some. Our results were mixed. We did a scene with firemen at a swimming pool. But the contrast was not strong enough. Also, there really could be firemen at a swimming pool, so perhaps they were not really fish out of water. What worked much better was when we put the firemen on a campsite, trying to light a camp fire, but constantly being driven to put it out again. It seemed that it's important not merely to put the characters in an unusual situation but one that defies their very function, or defies the essence of their character. We felt that this creates an emotional tension that can give rise to a funny scene.
Initiating with "We are the most (blank) (people in a given occupation) ever", or "This (place) is the most (blank) ever". For example,
"We are the most reckless accountants ever".
"This is the most beautiful DMV office ever".
The humor comes from the contrast between the expectation and the reality (accountants are not normally reckless, and DMVs are not usually beautiful).
- Keep it about the relationship between the characters, while playing on the contrast in the scene.
- Heighten the contrasts gradually (let each contrast be stronger than the last one).
- Live in each contrast for a couple of lines or so before you heighten. Don't just make the scene be about a list of contrasts.
Carolyn and David played a scene at the most beautiful DMV ever where the final contrast was that they discovered that the DMV office paints an oil painting of each person instead of taking a photo.
This week we focused on three types of scenes:
1. Scenes based on an emotion.
2. Scenes based on a character.
3. Scenes based on status.
1. For the scenes based on an emotion, one player initiated with something very ordinary ("I've put the cat out", "I've bought new socks", etc) and the other player had to respond with a strong emotion (either glad, sad, angry or afraid - "glad/sad/mad/afrad"). In response, the first player can choose to either play the straight man or adopt the same emotion. It's important for Player 2 to justify the emotion.
Melissa bought socks and I was very angry (justification: having more socks makes things more confusing in the drawers).
2. For the scenes based on a character, two players played a scene using three words from Amanda and the rest of the group.
Michael and David played *sad*, *itchy* *cowboys*.
This scene worked really well because itchy cowboys is quite a funny concept in itself. Michael and Dave's justification for being sad and itchy was that they had had a bad encounter with a cactus.
The idea of this strategy is to add color/texture to the character you are playing. Don't just be an astronaut, be one who is Italian and very optimistic. The game of the scene might emerge from the characteristics. If not, try going to an I/you/we strategy (whereby every sentence must begin with one of those three words). This can be a good way from allowing the scene to become transactional and to bring it back to the relationship between the characters.
3. Before doing the status scenes, we had a group discussion about status. We agreed that, although people can choose in real life how much to respect status, there is comedic value in using it on stage. We did an exercise where the two players were assigned roles, then Amanda secretly told each player the *other* player's status (on a scale 1-5, where 5 is high status).
For example, I played a father and Carolyn the daughter. Amanda told me that Carolyn's status was 5 (high), and told Carolyn that mine was 1 (low). Neither of us knew our own status. My father character very politely asked the daughter to do her homework. She rudely refused. In another scene, Michael and Karen played two drill sergeants, both low status. And Dave and Melissa played two office workers, both middle status.
The games that might emerge from status scenes include:
- one-upmanship between two high-status characters (my car is better than yours).
- "one-downmanship" between two low-status characters (my life is tougher than yours).
- confrontation between characters where one is low status and other high status (a low-status bully who apologizes for behaving badly).
- mediocrity shared between two middle-status characters (two useless astronauts).
The idea of all these types of scene (emotion/character/status) is not to wait until given a scene specifically along these lines, but rather to add an emotion/character/status to a scene you are in, to spice it up a little.
This week we learned about two support moves: sweep edits and tagouts.
SWEEP EDITS end the current scene and leave the stage free for new improvisers to start a new scene. To do a sweep edit, run across the stage in front of the players. The players must immediately end their scene. It's OK if more than one person does a sweep edit at the same time. Doing a sweep edit to end a scene does *not* make you responsible for starting the next scene.
When to do a sweep edit:
1. When the scene gets a big laugh from the audience and is unlikely to get any funnier.
2. When the game of the scene has been heightened to a point where it would be difficult or impossible to heighten it further (examples from Amanda: a plane is about to crash; or the characters have reached the gates of heaven).
3. The pattern of the game is broken (deliberately, for comedic effect). For example, imagine a character who sees the positive side of everything. The game of the scene is other players throwing terrible situations at her (via tagouts -- see below), but she always sees the good side:
- a long wait at the DMV; she likes it because it gives her time to read.
- getting pood poisoning; she likes it because it's a chance to lose weight.
- being mugged on the street; she likes it because she likes meeting different people.
- a visit to McDonalds; no, no, NO, even she hates that terrible place!
The comedy of the final example comes from the contrast between her positive approach to adversity (even when serious) and her inability to tolerate McDonalds. The comedic (and perhaps satirical) implication is that going to McDonalds is even worse than getting mugged on the street. After the pattern is broken, the other players must end the scene with a sweep edit because there is nowhere else for the scene to go.
4. If a scene is floundering. It's still best to end it on a laugh line if possible. If the scene ends strongly, it will appear stronger in general.
5. After a "button" line. for example: 'We're going to take over the world, starting with this cafeteria'.
There are probably other examples of when to do a sweep edit that do not fit neatly into this list.
Do not do sweep edits too early. Let the scene build.
Do not conclude too quickly that a scene is floundering. The players might still be establishing their relationship and base reality.
TAGOUTS provide a way to transfer the game of the scene to a new reality, in order to heighten the game. Before a tagout is possible, the players in the scene must establish the game of the scene (and play it for a while). After that, another player can replace one of the players and put the remaining player(s) in a new situation in which to play the *same game*. For example:
Player A is the filthiest baker in the world (established through a strong initiation or discovered during the course of establishing a base reality), and Player B is a customer in Player A's bakery.
Player A says he never washes his hands when cooking because it improves the flavor.
Player B is disgusted (playing at top of intelligence, playing it straight).
(they play this game of "disgusting ways to bake" for a while).
Player C tags out Player B, who leaves the scene.
Player C tells player A that they are in a workshop and that there are wood shavings on the floor.
Player A enthusiastically collects wood shavings to add them to the next batch of bread.
IMPORTANT: Player A is still the same character (filthiest baker in the world).
(they too play the game of "disgusting ways to bake" for a while, in the workshop environment).
Player D tags out Player C, who leaves the scene.
Player D tells player A that they are in an alley and that there's a dead mouse on the ground.
Player A enthusiastically picks up the dead mouse to take back to his bakery and put on top of a cake.
IMPORTANT: Player A is *still* the same character (filthiest baker in the world).
(they too play the game of "disgusting ways to bake" for a while, in the alley environment).
Eventually, they heighten to the point where someone ends the scene via a sweep edit.
The important thing is that the most interesting character (the filthiest baker) is the constant thread that holds the scenes together, while other players tag out the supporting character to put the interesting character into a new situation. It is also important that the *same game* is played throughout.
To do a tagout, tap the player whom you wish to replace on the shoulder. That player must immediately leave the scene (without even finishing the line, if speaking -- presumably it's best not to interrupt a funny line). Ideally, approach from behind. The player leaving the scene leaves by moving to the front of the stage, then off to the side. If the interesting character is standing between you and the player you wish to replace, it's OK to walk across the front of the stage.
At the end, we did a montage with tagouts and sweep edits. I enjoyed this montage much more than previous montages. I think I found it less stressful because we had the opportunity to support each other through tagouts. It felt like a different kind of improv, focusing more intently on the game.
This week we talked some more about the verbal pattern game that we use when generating ideas for a montage. We also looked at a new support move: walk-ons (and a closely-related technique: voice-ons).
VERBAL PATTERN GAME. Use the "A-to-C" technique to generate a sequence of words that ultimately lead back to the original word supplied by the audience. Try to generate many words, and generate them *fast*. This gives you a larger pool of words from which to remember some. Say each word with enthusiasm. Sell the word to the audience. Make every word "worth the price of entry". Make sure that your words get away from the original word before finally returning to it. For example:
Beach - concrete - bus driver - coin - spray paint - police - hospital - airplane - beach
Beach - sand - sand castle - sea - boat - reef - fish - ocean - beach
The first list is good because it gets away from "beach", but it is still rather short. The second list remains much too close to "beach".
WALK-ONS. This is a technique whereby a player enters a scene that is already in progress, says or does something that either advances the game of the scene or adds to the scene in a comedically useful way, then leaves the scene. When leaving, the player either walks behind the players or returns to the same side of the stage from which he or she came.
For example, we had a scene where one of the characters announced that he was going gluten-free because he had been injured by a falling bagel. The game of the scene was "gluten-free because of a bad experience with bread". A walk-on could have greeted the two characters and announced that she was going gluten-free because she had been attacked by an assailant armed with a baguette.
A walk-on could also add a detail, or provide a location or relationship ("doctor, here is your scalpel", or "may I just move ahead of you and pay for my groceries?")
A walk-on can also provide an end-of-scene "button" to help the scene end on a high. A button is a strong line that clearly marks the end of a scene.
VOICE-ONS. While a scene is in progress, a player not in the scene provides a voice commentary to add comedic value or advance the game of the scene (in much the same way as a walk-on). For example, Justin told the story of a scene in which two players discussed their upcoming anniversary and a third player announced (voice-on) from the wings: "All prisoners, please return to your cells", thereby informing the two players in the scene that they were in prison.
General advice from Justin about support moves: never merely watch a scene; always be considering whether you can help to improve it via a tagout, walk-on, voice-on, or sweep edit. But let the scene develop and do not intervene too soon.
OTHER ADVICE from Justin during class:
- When playing a scene with two opposing characters, we have so far been taught that the players must never compromise; comedy comes from the contrast between the two characters. However, it can sometimes be OK for one player to capitulate, but this marks the end of the scene and it's important for another player to do a sweep edit at that point.
- When playing a character who does not like things, it's important to provide reasons for not liking them. The reasons, can, of course, be absurd.
- When endowing a fellow player with a quality ("you are the most antiquated dentist I've ever met") give them time to play that character. Don't just jump in with a list of items that fit the game of the scene -- leave room for your partner (and you) to actually play that game.
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