As you may recall, I have recently started taking Improv 101 at the Upright Citzens’ Brigade. I am slowly starting to suspect that UCB is a religion, possibly a cult.
Exhibit A. From what I have gleaned so far, Commandment One is:
“It’s easier to remember than to invent.”
-My improv teacher, who attributes it to Del Close, although Google could not find me that quote
This means, when you’re doing a scene, try to think of what your archetypal character would do in that situation. I personally love this rule because (we hope) it stops actors from going for a cheap laugh and lets the comedy come from just remembering the specifics of any given situation. Since I have a pretty good memory and only an ok wit, this works for me.
Exhibit B. So then I started reading the Bible, Truth In Comedy. Which, like the Christian Bible, was written by “God” (Del Close) indirectly, through his disciples, Kim “Howard” Johnson and Charna Halpern.
Also, like the Christian Bible, it’s rather dated, quoting dead white guys like Chris Farley, John Belushi, and Andy Dick.
THIS JUST IN: Andy Dick is still alive. Carry on, Andy Dick.
Exhibit C. This testament also takes priority over all religions (forms of improv) that came before it. To quote the apostle George Wendt (from Truth In Improv):
“To me, taking a theme and working on your feet — without discussions, qualifications, setups, blackouts, and the like — is a much purer and easier way[...]” explains Wendt.
“The exact opposite would be the Second City approach, which is to take a bunch of suggestions and write them on a piece of paper[...] I got nothing from that. Second City was a constant struggle for me in terms of it being fun to improvise[...]“
Oh snap! Second City, George Wendt said your
mama approach to improv was a constant struggle (20 years ago). The holy wars rage on.
Exhibit D. From there, this shit starts to get downright spiritual. Quoth Del Close, himself:
To assume that making the audience laugh is the goal of improvisation is almost as absurd as assuming that you go to a dojo to learn how to kick somebody’s face in. It’s just not true!
Still, they laugh. It is a side-effect of attempting to achieve something more beautiful, honest, and truthful[...]
I also like this tenet. So, if you come to see my performance on March 2, I don’t care if you laugh, ok?
Exhibit E. The main ritual of long form improv is something they call “The Harold”. To be honest, I’m still not sure what’s going on with Harold, but to summarize as neatly as I can:
If you see an improv show where they take a central theme and weave it through alternating scenes and games, then call back all the earlier jokes at the end, you’ve probably just been Harolded. If anyone’s interested, you can see Harold Night Tuesdays at UCB Chelsea.
So, am I converted? I’m guzzling more Kool-Aid than back when I used to collect Kool Points.
UCB is, like, a really fun community to be a part of, even if they’re sucking up all my money (just like a real cult!) for improv classes. And I’m only a little afraid of Amy Poehler reading this and going all Tom cruise on me.
Tell me, lovers and friends:
Have you ever bought into a pseudo-cult?
(Or a real cult? Ms. PC doesn’t judge.)