Wednesday 10 February 2010

Welcome to Crazytown, population: 3 blue frogs and a wispy banana

For someone who grew up liking surreal comedy, I find it odd I dislike going to crazytown. Crazytown is that place on Planet Improv where everything is ultra, ultra weird. It's the place a lot of improvisers go when they think the scene isn't funny enough, or they don't trust that the audience wants to see scenes that are about real people and real things. I think I most dislike it because it is easy.
Most improvisers can stand there and list off random, quirky things, one after the other in a stream of conscious non sequiturs. I could do it for about an hour easily, I think.
It's a great tool to have, in the right scenes it can be perfect. But if you find every domestic scene has to have something incongruous like a dancing alligator or a portal to Spandex Hell or an elephant reverberator or unctuous middlemousings or "winding hours of taramasalata," something might be amiss.
I do realise that in improv a spanner in the works sometimes is exactly what the scene needs. But a spanner in every works is quite monotonous.
The harder thing to do in an improv scene is to keep all of the story strands together, keep your character up and play the reality of the scene. That's much harder than to simply become a dancing frog. And believe me, an audience would much rather see a good scene come together with an ending related to the elements of the scene than see a dancing frog. Unless they are six years old of course.
Crazytown is one of the many locations you, as an improviser, can take a scene. And there will be times and scenes where this the place to go. But only go there when the scene demands it. And I do mean the scene, not the performer.

1 comment:

  1. There is the "ick" crazy factor. I've had various experiences of players whose morbid casts of thought combined with the pull of the quirky that you've noted, has led to audience buzzkill, like when you get sprayed by monkey faeces when Bonzo really wants to show off.

    One such comedic turd happened when my partner in a scene managed to establish in a single scene opening sentence the gambit that we had just crucified our female boss. Unfortunately this was in a roller game, so I couldn't just do a gag about "health and safety" to end the scene. I soldiered on somehow, but I really didn't want to share stage with guy ever again.

    I have known really good improvisers who rely a little too heavily on the surreal, partially because even better ones like Paul Merton or Eddie Izzard get away with it. They get away with it because they surround themselves with top notch folk who can build on what they come up with, and more importantly, they know how to clean up their own messes. Random surrealists just shove their sensibilities upon their fellow performers without taking responsibility for it.

    It can help to treat the extraordinary in a scene as if it is ordinary to the inhabitants of the scene. "Oh, why won't the council do something about that Portal to Spandex Hell?" "My dad has a better elephant reverberator than yours...." Alternatively you can overcommit to the idea, but then shelve it, which isn't a great way out, but might help you keep a scene from going off the rails.