I love improv, and sci-fi and yet I feel like this won’t be for me.
I love improv, and sci-fi and yet I feel like this won’t be for me.
Organic connections are the hallmarks of the third beat of Harolds, yet because of their fleeting nature they are notoriously tough to drill. Luckily, there’s other ways to familiarize ourselves with organic connections.
Alex Berg is the improv philosopher big brother I didn’t know I wanted till now.
Some of his discussion of how connections are drawn in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control remind me of Walter Murch’s thoughts on editing movies, in his books “In The Blink of an Eye” and “The Conversations” (with Michael Ondaatje), such as how Murch talked about how the American terminology is to “cut” a film and the British terminology is to “join”, and how Murch would use techniques like assembling “representative stills” from every shot (and putting them on a board; the two dimensional layout necessarily would put shots adjacent to each other that weren’t intended to go together) and scrubbing through a reel on an analog machine — the randomness of both these techniques would sometimes prompt connections he wouldn’t have arrived at by more systematic, rational methods.
And this also reminds me of Miles Stroth on a particular exercise he made up for himself:
MS: Everybody has something. Adam McKay was, I still believe he is, the most inventive improviser I’d ever played with or ever seen. I started thinking ‘how is he doing that when he comes up with these wonderful, crazy things? Where is that coming from?’ Part of it came from the things that he read. Part of it was these strange connections he would make. I started thinking ‘what is it with those connections? What is it to make a strange connection?’ I would make up excersizes for myself and sort of train my brain to make connections it wouldn’t normally make. I would sit in my room. I lived with my parents until I was twenty seven years old. I would sit up in the attic just saying disparate words and try to create a mental image of them. I would sit there alone and be like ‘cat. Clock. How do I put those together?’ then I would imagine a clock made out of a cat. I would just put strange little connections together constantly, training my brain to be open to the idea of making a connection with something I didn’t expect.
Mirror neurons are cells in the brain which activate not only when an performs an action, but also when it observes some other animal performing the same action.
Taken together, the psychological concept of flow and the neurological evidence for the role of mirror neurons seem capable of forming a basic theory of the factors at play during an improv show.
Mind blown, for real.
Flow is a state of intense focus and concentration brought about when an individual’s skill level is matched to the level of difficulty of a task they are engaged in. Subjectively, a flow state is marked by a feeling of effortlessness and a kind of almost out-of-body sensation where ‘you’ drop…
This will be a UCB-specific post, as the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is where I’ve had my experience. But I hope a lot of what I write can be useful to anyone writing sketch comedy or submitting writing packets.
This is all based on my personal experience. I don’t work for UCB, I’m not a…
I’ve written before about the nuances of denial in improv, how when we say “don’t deny” what we mean is “don’t deny the reality of the universe your scene partner has created,” rather than “never say no.” But recently I was talking with an old high school improv student about another type of…
I mentioned in an earlier post how I was getting less and less out of going to panels about screenwriting. They really are hit and miss. The only thing I despise more than wasting my time, is PAYING to waste my time. So when it comes to screenwriting lessons or info, I err on…
1. THE NAME-DROPPER/IMPROV OVERLORD
This person worships at the altar of Amy, Tina, Matt, Susan, TJ, Dave, Keith, Mick, Charna, and Del. (Oh, and they only ever refer to their Improv Gods by their first names). They also saw this like, totally legendary Stepfathers performance that you probably missed and had a beer once with Betsy after a Bangarang! show at UCB LA. This person knows everyone and has taken a class with everyone and listens to every podcast, so just STOP TRYING TO COMPETE WITH THIS PERSON. This person is also the worst.
2. THE TERRIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER
Every improv show feels like their first. Whenever a team asks for a suggestion or heaven forbid asks for a volunteer from the audience, this person shrinks in their seat and wishes for death. Relax friend, improvisers are really nice people. Except for the name-droppers.
3. THE ACADEMIC
They’ve read every book of improv there is and found connections to Goethe and Nietzsche and they really, REALLY want to tell you their theories. This is the one time you might want to avoid the golden rule of “Yes and…”
4. THE BRO IN THE AUDIENCE WHO SCREAMS “VAGINA!” AS A SUGGESTION
High-fives with his fellow drunken buffoons usually ensues. Everyone hates this guy.
5. THE PERSON IN THE AUDIENCE WHO SCREAMS “PINEAPPLE!” AS A SUGGESTION
The people on the stage actually hate this person more than the “Vagina!” guy. Pineapple is ALWAYS the suggestion.
6. THE PERSON WITH THE SNACKS
A little light noshing is tolerable, but you really need to keep your loud chips and sloppy sandwiches in check, person.
7. THE GUY WHO SPILLS HIS PBR
Good luck getting the smell out of your bag.
8. THE PERSON WITH A QUESTIONABLE ODOR
Ah improv, how you attract the finest kind.
9. THE PERSON WHO IS THERE BECAUSE OF YELP
They’re having a fun night out from the suburbs. They might not get all of the “In” humor, but they’re definitely the most genuine person there.
10. THE WORN-OUT FRIEND
This person has been seeing their friend’s improv shows for years, and each time they tell themselves it’ll be the show that gets their BFF “recognized.” Bless this person, for you are the lifeblood of improv theaters.
11. THE EVEN MORE WORN OUT SIGNIFICANT OTHER
This person has been to almost every show of their girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/partner. And even if their significant other just mimed fellatio on a robot in space, they’ll still be supportive and say, “I love you” at the end of the night. That is is commitment, folks.
12. THE GRUMPY STAND-UP
They’re there to hate-watch, and nothing else.
13. THE GIRL WHO NEVER LAUGHS
She’s the manic pixie dream girl of improv shows. She’s so mysterious and moody. All of the guys in plaid will hit on her. So that means every guy will hit on her.
14. THE REALLY ENTHUSIASTIC NEWBIE
Improv babies! So precious. This person just discovered improv comedy and signed up for their first 101 class. They’re just really excited to make new friends and be weird with six to nine people on a future team. YAY IMPROV!
I started out as type no 14, and now I’m type no 3! Hooray for me!
Cellular automata are grids of cells evolving through time who’s behavior are governed by a simple set of rules acting upon the initial state of the grid. The most famous of these, Conway’s Game of Life, assigns one of two values to each cell in the grid: alive or dead. After the initial grid of…
Alex Berg uses the concepts of cellular automata (CA) to talk about improv, which both my nerdy side and my improv nerdy side like. I would like to mention that simple rules can produce interesting, “emergent” behavior/results, but it’s not necessarily the case.
Stephen Wolfram classifies CA rules into four categories, which I would paraphrase as “leading to stasis” (1), “leading to boring repetition” (2), “leading to total chaos” (3), and “leading to interesting results” (4). It might be worthwhile to extend Berg’s analogy a bit further, considering concepts like following the game of the scene as a “rule” that hopefully gets us to category 4 and hopefully avoiding 1 and 3, though admittedly with the potential pitfall of landing in category 2.
Everything you ever needed to know about the Del Close Marathon as told by everyone who performed there for 15 years
Do your homework before this incredible weekend begins!