Improv comedy course journal: week 6

This is an account of the final week of a six week improv comedy course run by The National Comedy Theater in San Diego. Read about week 1week 2week 3week 4, and week 5.

There was no specific theme for the final session. We played a series of games drawing on the skills developed in previous weeks and getting general feedback from the teacher.

As usual we warmed up with Zip, Zap, Zop and Zoom, Schwartz, Pofigliano. I’ve grown to love these games. I’m definitely going to continue using these games to warm up at future improv events. We even added a couple of extra rules to Zoom, Schwartz, Pofigliano. Here’s the final set of rules:

Everyone stands in a circle. On your turn you must point at another person in the circle and shout one of the following things.

  • Zoom – The game must start with a Zoom. Directed to anyone in the circle and the turn passes to that person. You can’t have two Zooms in a row.
  • Schwartz - Directed to anyone in the circle, but the turn passes back to the previous person.
  • Pofigliano -  Directed to the person directly on the left or right and passes them the turn.
  • Murph - Everyone shouts “ahh!”, the turn remains with the person.
  • Twisler - Directed to the person directly on the left or right, but the turn passes to the person on the other side.
  • Bork - like Pofigliano, but skip one person.
  • Twisle bork – like Twisler, but skip one person.

When somebody messes up everyone group hugs and shouts “Awooga!”

I think this game originated as a drinking game. And like any good drinking game it is designed to make people fail quickly and often. I love this game as it really develops an acceptance of failure as something funny and entertaining.

The warm up continued with a game of What are you doing, which I described in week 1. Then we moved onto some new games. I’ve actually seen all of these games performed before, either live or on TV. It was really nice to have a go at them myself and get some insight into how to play them well.

Forward, Reverse

There’s a nice video example of this game in this post.

The key to this game was to be very physical. Large gestures and pantomiming look very funny when repeated again and again; they also provide visual milestones to the performers helping them recall the sequence of events.

Fresh choice

This game helps develop presence (i.e. a feeling of being in the moment). It is impossible to over think the scene and plan out future events, as you are constantly being told to take the scene in new and surprising directions.

Freeze tag

This was a challenging game that required a lot of creative thinking. One of the rules of this game is “no dancing and no fighting” as you can move into these activities from almost any position.

Count down

In this game we were asked to play out a scene that took ninty seconds. We then had to replay the scene in fourty-five seconds, twenty two seconds and finally in eleven seconds. This game really helped you identify the key moments in a scene and get used to advancing the story quickly.

Object punchlines


In this game we were given random objects like a broom and a straw hat, and told to deliver a punchline involving that item. The punchline would re-purpose the object as something else like pretending a broom was a snooker queue. I found this one of the most difficult exercises!

So that’s the end of the six week level 1 course at the National Comedy Theatre in San Diego. They offer two more levels, and I’m very pleased that most of the class will be carrying on to the level two class starting in a couple of weeks.

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Improv comedy course journal: week 5

This is an account of the fifth week of a six week improv comedy course run by The National Comedy Theater in San Diego. Read about week 1week 2week 3, and week 4.

We spent the first few minutes warming up with Zip, Zap, Zop and Zoom, Schwartz, Pofigliano. We’re seriously awesome at this game now! We were introduced to a new warm up game called The Frog Game. This is an evil game! It’s one of the easiest set of rules, but requires a lot of concentration and the pressure to say the right thing really builds as the game progresses. Everyone stands in a circle and take turns to say the next statement in a sequence before passing the turn on to the person on their left. The sequence goes: One frog.. two eyes.. four legs.. kerplunk.. in the water. Two frogs.. four eyes.. eight legs.. kerplunk.. kerplunk.. in the water.. etc. See the pattern? Notice the second “kerplunk” for the second frog? Easy right? Just you try it!

The rest of this class focused on creating characters. During the class we got to play a lot of different characters and learn techniques for creating them out of thin air.

Hitchhiker
For the first game we set up a “car” (four chairs) on stage and put four passengers inside. They were told to play neutral characters. Another person was told to embody a strong character and to hitch a lift from the passengers. One passenger got out, the hitchhiker got in and then the scene continued with everyone taking on the characteristics of the hitchhiker. The game continued like this introducing loads more hitchers with strong characters. This was a fun game. The hitchers chose some interesting characters, and we got experience identifying character traits and attempting to embody them ourselves. We also got to interact with each other. I noticed that when four people are playing the same character the traits tend to get exaggerated as everyone introduces new ideas.

Good advice, bad advice, the worst advice
Three people make up a panel that will answer audience questions. They each make a strong character choice (e.g. maniacal billionaire, spiritual yoga instructor, anything really..). They are allocated the task of delivering good advice (genuinely so from that character’s perspective),  or bad advice, or the worst advice (taken to the comic extreme).

Identity Crisis
Three people play a scene, each making a strong character choice. Periodically the director shouts “switch” and the improvise switch positions and carry on the scene playing one of the other characters.

Drawing Inspiration from objects
It can be difficult to think of an original character. A tactic to overcome this could be to look around for physical objects in the room and ask yourself the question “if this object was a person, what kind of person would they be?”. And then use those attributes as a basis for your character.

We tried this out with a few objects. We decided a microphone might be overly loud and want to be the centre of attention. We thought a stuffed toy might be friendly and cuddly.

People really seemed to embrace the challenges of this class. The characters that were created led to some really funny scenes. Only one more week to go :(

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Improv comedy course journal: week 4

This is an account of the forth week of a six week improv comedy course run by The National Comedy Theater in San Diego. Read about week 1week 2 and week 3.

We did our usual warm up. The class is getting really good at playing Zip, Zap, Zop and Zoom, Schwartz, Pofigliano. We’re a lot faster and getting a lot further before making a mistake.

Red ball
Another group warm up game. The groups stands in a circle. One person mimes throwing a ball to another person. As they throw it they say “(name of person), Red ball”, the receiver mimes catching the ball and says “Red ball thank you” before passing it on to another person. Once we get the hang of this multiple balls are introduced until the game descends into chaos.

Scenes
We played some basic scenes in pairs. The first person began with an action/mime based off an audience suggestion. The second person came on stage and a short two to five line scene ensued. The teacher gave us some tips for a good scene, I can’t remember them all, but I think they included the following:

  • Don’t ask questions
  • Say yes
  • Add something

Playing scenes is really fun, both to watch and perform. Personally I found the best scenes were the ones that put an emphasis on developing the story and relationships. A few of the members were trying to through in one liners. They got laughs, but I felt they came at the expense of the scene.

Dirty hand randy
Six players stood in a line while the teacher kneeled in front randomly pointing at people. When we were pointed at we had to say something related to an audience suggestion (superhero, American presidents, super heroes, …). Hesitation, or repetition or an off topic response led to elimination.

Switching emotions
Four players are each assigned an emotion sourced from audience suggestions. A mix of positive and negative is best. A scene is played. When a character enters the scene all players in the scene have to inhabit that emotion and play it as strong as possible.

Another week, another fun selection of games and an introduction to more free-form improv with scenes. Looking forward to next week

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