Improv Technique Training Blog

This blog is focused on continued improv education… technique and critique. Understudies, students and current performers are encouraged to used this blog as an assistant in training, leaning and growing in improv. We will try to make the content both entertaining and informative. Please feel out the form on the right with any specific question… and you are encouraged to comment and elaborate in then comment section.

Enjoy the reading!

How to increase “Entertainment Value”

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What’s most important to you?

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We work hard for our money, right?   And although we Americans love to just throw money away, we don’t see it as throwing it away if it makes us happy.  A good restaurant, a great movie, a unique oddity “as seen on TV” that we must have!!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it only feels like we are throwing money away if we didn’t like it.  The price of a movie hasn’t changed much over the last few years – but you and I have both walked out of movie or comedy show saying “that was a waste of money”.  If you don’t like it – the Value of your entertainment goes down.  LOVE IT?  Would you pay double?

Whatever makes you happy, right?

I’ve taught improv comedy classes for over 13 years.   Below is a conversation I regularly have with my advanced improv students:

ME: “What does our audience want?”
THEM:  “To be entertained”
“How do we do that?”
“um…  We make them laugh.”
“How do we do that?”
“um…  we say or do something funny.”
“So if you make them laugh, it’s guaranteed they are entertained?”
“um… not necessarily.”

 

So, if we are in the business of entertaining all ages – how do we do that?   I think most improv groups, comics, writers, poets, musicians, (insert more entertainers here) on an professional level give the audience what they want.  It’s gotta be a lot more than they expect, because “making them laugh” isn’t entertaining enough.

For the purpose of my point, I will use movies.  However, books, TV, commercials, plays, etc. all can be used as well.

I love a good movie.  I think everyone can relate to movies, because there are good movies, great movies and terrible movies!  Let’s look at these and analyze why we love them… I’ve come up with 3 denominators.

Consider the following:

1.  Action! 

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Shoot em up, blow em up!!  Car chases, adventures, fighting, superhero’s, etc.   James Bond, Ironman, Die Hard, Mission Impossible stuff!!  Last year Ironman 3 grossed 408 Million dollars…  We love it and can’t get enough action in our movies.

Action moviesWe need action in our entertainment to feel that we are getting things done.  Even in Cast Away… There was Action.

2.  Emotion  ;O)

tumblr_lmktuaDrRG1qd9x6to1_250Sappy, lovey-dovey, chick-flick love stories.  From The Notebook to Sleepless in Seattle – our heartstrings yearn for feel-good movies.  Love story and fantasies that give our routine, daily life, a little dose of hope.

Romance Movies

3. Details

Friends803BrandNewInformationIt’s information about what’s going on, who’s involved and where it’s happening.  Documentaries have hours of interviews, facts, figures, opinions – the details that peak our curiosity and arouse our intellect.  Details help us understand what’s going on…  period.

DocumentariesBut “Details” are not just for documentaries…  they are necessary for ALL films, stories, skits, etc!   Exposition: who, where, what, when, how & why?

If you are missing details you are bound to get a bad review!!

Every movie has a variety of these three

Think about it…   what is your favorite movie?  Why?  Because it provides you with just the right amount of action, emotion and details (depending on the genre) and they present it with engaging characters and story to support the right balance of those elements.  If an action movie has too much sappy romance or a chick-flick doesn’t have enough detail – are you satisfied as a viewer?

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So what does all this have to do with the Entertainment Value of an improv comedy show?

Let’s go back to our conversation:

“What does an audience want?”
“To be entertained”
“How do we do that?”

 

Let’s insert information we just learned:

“We provide audiences with a show where each scene has a variety of Action, Emotion and Detail – all wrapped up in fun, energetic improvised skits.  Since they are coming to a comedy show, we add in the fundamentals of humor.  Every scene should have details that helps them understand who, where and what is going on; a range of emotions (how do I feel about what was just said or done); and action that keeps them visually stimulated and anxious for what’s next.”

 

When you give the audience

MORE than they expected,

the “VALUE” of the entertainment

is increased.

Top 10 comedic GREATS

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Over the years, friends, reporters, patrons and students have asked me “Who are your favorite comedians?”  So I thought I’d share with you, my Top 10 comedic “GREATS” of all-time – the ones that inspire me, each for different reasons – but they all have one thing in common – Clean Comedy:

  1. Carol Burnett – quite possibly the strongest comedian hands down!! From her variety of characters to her deadpan delivery
  2. Tim Conway – his responses to everything, his comedic timing was flawless.  and most importantly his PTC Integrity award recipient for life long clean comedy.
  3. Bob Newhart – dry, straight forward and proof that comedy is a serious business
  4. Dick Van Dyke – his physical comedy, facial reactions and he “has fun” with all he does
  5. Red Skelton – his wide variety of characters and facial reactions
  6. Bob Hope - every stand up performances in his USO tours is better than any stand up comic today
  7. Lucille Ball - her delivery, her facial expressions and emotional reactions
  8. Laurel & Hardy – true “straight man / funny man” team…  the masters of slapstick and the use of silence
  9. The Marx Brothers – The use of their other talents to compliment their funny (singing, dancing, musical instruments)
  10. Bill Cosby – his clean stand up career, his “everyday people” style, and family values he incorporates

and although he missed the mark on “clean comedy” I must give recognition to Robin Williams – quite possibly the fastest comedic brain EVER… his mouth cannot keep up with his ideas.

When I tell my students to study comedic actors, I tell them to avoid MANY of the comedians of today.  If they want TRUE comedic genius – watch any of the above list…  they understood “why” audiences laughed.  There was no “shock” value in their work.  They understood what it meant to set up a joke, set up your partner for a punchline, etc.

I may also say that this list is just the list for the clean comedians that inspire me.  I have a separate list that includes more recent greats like Dan Ackroyd, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Monty Python, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, etc. etc. – the list goes on and on and includes more recent comedians.  That list will be made another day.

Who inspires you?  Who are your favorite comedians?  and WHY??   Go to our facebook page and give us your list!!

Improv Camp for Youth!

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SIGN UP TODAY:

This event has expired or is no longer available.


LAST YEAR:

We had a GREAT Improv Camp this summer
and oh man, did we have a BLAST!
Youth (ages 10-17) from all over the Valley
came ready to have a great time &
JesterZ Improv was prepared to make that happen!

The week long camp focused on the fundamentals of improv
and was packed with games and exercises
to get these young adults more comfortable on stage
and collaborating as a group.
Some kids came with experience while others
had never even been on a stage before,
but by the end of camp you’d never be able to guess which was which!

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The youth worked in pairs and groups to practice improv basics like:
YES, AND:
validating your partner’s ideas while also contributing your ideas
ACTIVE LISTENING:
responding honestly to what is said to you
instead of thinking of what you’ll say next
EMOTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS:
basing scenes on exploring different relationships
rather than “stuff and things”

Each of these prepares them not only to be successful in scenes,
but also in real life!

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They also learned to push the boundaries of their own creativity,
maximizing their skill set while stepping outside of their comfort zone.
Many of the teens were surprised to find they were
able to morph into different characters
and adapt to various settings more successfully than they imagined!


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The teens had a blast playing with props and
learning to think outside the box!
We were constantly amazed with the ideas they were able to come up with!
They’re so smart and funny!

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Everyday we created a safe place for creativity,
where no one was allowed to judge each other so that everyone
was allowed to have the most fun they possibly could.
The teens were so receptive to showing respect for one another
and the support they learned to show each other
on and off stage was truly inspiring!

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On the last day of camp, we had a showcase for all the parents
to come, kick back and be amazed at their kids’ genius!
The teens learned how to perform in a standard improv show
in front of an audience and the show was a hit! Nonstop laughs!

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With a different mix of learning, creating, playing and performing everyday,
we didn’t let these kids have one second of boredom!
We couldn’t be prouder of how they excelled in only one week of training!

SIGN UP FOR THE 2014 TEEN IMPROV SUMMER CAMP HERE!
June 9-13 & July 7-11, 2014

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Improv Team Work (Group Mind)

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Author: Preston Smith

When people hear I do improv the expect me to be much funnier they I actually am. Recently, I was told by a group that I presented to that I was not nearly as funny as they had hoped… they announced prior to my presentation that I do improv (thanks, right?).

Everything-you-need-is-right-thereThe truth is, improv is a team sport, It is hard for me to do improv on my own, I need other people. The pinnacle of improv group performance is referred to as group mind. It is hard to explain what group mind is, but every improvisor that has achieved it, they know what it feels like. It is a lot like being able to finish your best friends sentence.

Group mind is best achieved through, listening and agreement. If you are listening, your will understand and know what needs to happen next in a scene. If you are agreeing, you are able to accept what needs to happen in a scene and provide the important information to make it happen.


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Who is this person to me and how do I feel about them…

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Author: Preston Smith

Ask yourself at the beginning of every scene:

Who is this person to me?
How do I feel about them?

Asking yourself these questions will help you focus on the emotion and relationship of the scene.


Get Real

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Author: Preston Smith

The best reactions are real reactions. Reactions that aren’t planned are real. When you plan a reaction you usually stop listening to what your scene partner is doing or saying.

Be honest and real. If something that is said in a scene shocks you, say it, act shocked. If something in the scene makes you sad, act sad… don’t ignore those natural impulses that hit you in a scene.

If you are “in character” and emotionally invested in the scene… natural reactions will keep the reality of the scene and will help you find the funny, not force the funny.


Relationship Relationship Relationship

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Author: Michael Yichao

When in doubt, say “I love you.”

This is true in marriages and improv scenes. (Well, really, I can only speak from experience on one of those two subjects, but still.)

It all comes down to the relationship.

Whenever I’m uncertain what to say or do next, I make eye contact with my partner and tell them as honestly as possible how I feel in the moment — about them, about our surroundings, about whatever’s been established so far.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing brother and sister fighting over your messy room, or a married couple on vacation, or monkeys stealing rifles from a safari expedition. (That last scene happens more often than you think.) Ultimately, it isn’t about the stuff and things that are happening, or the crazy antics you are doing — it’s about the relationship of the characters.

How you feel about each other. How you know each other. The interaction, the struggle, the connection between you and the other human being there with you. Believe it or not, that’s the secret and the difference between an okay moment and an amazing one.

Doesn’t matter the games you play. Doesn’t matter the length of the scene. People are interested in how people relate to other people. It’s what every great play in history is built on. It’s what every great improv scene is built on.

And it’s also what good relationships are built on.

Hm. Coincidence?

The truth is funny

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Author: Preston Smith

A lot of the time an improvisor will spend so much time trying to create funny moments in scenes. This generally ends badly, with a joke or some forced epitaph that is completely unrelated to what is happening in a scene.

Every time I teach a class of new students or an intro class, I always ask them if they can tell me the funniest moment of their life, I usually give them a few minutes to think about it (the suck ups always tell me it was this or that Jester’Z Show, which I appreciate but I know they are lying). Inevitably the funniest moments in an individual’s life is surrounded by friends and family when something just happens. Funny. Just. Happens.

Del Close and Keith Johnstone understood this principal.

“The best laughs are on the recognition of truth.” – Keith Johnstone

“The truth is funny. Honest discovery, observation, and reaction is better than contrived invention.” – Del Close

Stop worrying about being funny and just be in the moment, the funny will take care of itself.


Everything you need is right there

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Author: Preston Smith

Everything-you-need-is-right-thereA scene is not a complicated thing or, at least it shouldn’t be. When you enter a scene, with in the first 30 seconds you should have everything you need to have a great scene. Accepting the reality that has been created is absolutely important to having a good scene.

Not only what is happening in a scene but also, who you are in the scene. Accepting who you are in a scene is much different then forcing your character on a scene. For example, if someone says to you in a scene; “You dirty rotten bum, I can’t believe you would steal from me.” You know two things, 1. You are a dirty rotten bum and 2. you stole from your scene partner. You natural tendency will be to deny that you are a dirty rotten bum because who wants to be a dirty rotten bum? Well, let me clue you in on something, just because you play a dirty rotten bum in a scene, doesn’t actually mean you are one in real life. Accept the gifts that you are given as reality and run with it.

Recently we were doing some exercises that focused on this, one scene partner entered a scene and the other scene partner was suppose to totally support that the other person brought to the scene. My scene partner entered the scene are said, “Hey chief, we need to get this engine working again.” I responded in my best indian accent because after all, I was called chief.


 

This is the moment…

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This is the moment…

I say this a lot when I’m teaching improv because it is what makes a scene interesting to watch and participate in. This is what it means.

Improv consists of short scenes… even long-form improv consists of relatively short scenes (when compared to one life time). Each short scene is a moment in which players enter the stage and plays out a short snippet of another person’s life. The character you are playing lived before you played them and they’ll live on after you are done with the stage (in most cases).

The key is to make this a pivotal moment in the characters life. If your character has been picked on at school for years… this is the moment they stand up to that. If a husband and wife have been avoiding fighting about something for years, this is the moment that the fight reaches an apex.

An improv scene is not the time for avoidance… take scene themes and dialogue head on and make THIS a powerful moment in your characters life.