Improv comedy course journal: week 3

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

We began our third lesson with Zip, Zap, Zop, and quickly moved onto Zoom, Schwarts, Pofigliano. We added the rules: “Murph” everyone responds with “ahh”; and “Twisler” which is similar to pofigliano but directed to the person directly behind you. It was a fun game. Our teacher was mischeviously pointing and poking the wrong person during on his schwartzes and twislers.

Next we played a round of What are you doing?. This was palyed as an elimination game with two competing teams of three. The activities had to relate to a suggestion from the audience. Generally we started off with something easy like basing the round around a film or a sport. Then we moved on to letters using sequences of up to three letters.

Then learned how to talk gibberish. We went around the circle, each person translating a line of English into gibberish, then providing a new English line for the next person to translate. After this we paired off and told each other a true story from our life, periodically the teacher would shout “Gibberish” or “English” and we would have to switch. It was impressive how much we could understand in gibberish mode through tone, expression and gestures.

Next we were introduced to pantomiming. We all found a space and closed our eyes. The teacher told us to visualise ourselves standing in-front of a fridge. We were told to move a fridge magnet around, hold the handle, open the fridge, take out food and eat it. The exercise twas designed to show us the complexity of interacting with objects: there’s thickness, resistance, movement, temperature, smell. All these things should be considered and mimed.

Next we played a game that combined gibberish and mime. An player was sent out of earshot and another player was given a location, a profession and a weapon for a murder. He then had to mime these three things to the first person using only gibberish and pantomime.

The key to this game is that the improvisers must interact. The guesser cannot just stand static. They have to get involved.

We played a variation of this game where the information had to be passed on through multiple people, often times resulting in mistakes.

This was a fascinating game. There was a lot of subtlety to it. It was interesting to see how people contributed to avoidable mistakes. One pair mistook playing tennis for sword fighting. This was due to:

1. The miming of tennis being too unconvincing. The player jumped straight into enacting a fast rally with grunting. She could have interacted more with the racket and the ball: perhaps bouncing the ball, performing an overhead serve and running up to the net to return it. Perhaps she could have called out the score in gibberish, perhaps she could have interacted with the umpire.

2. Not confirming the guess is correct before moving on. As soon as the person doing the guessing guessed sword fighting he IMMEDIATELY mimed killing the person with a sword, which ended the game. A more experienced player might have acted out sword fighting a bit first, perhaps embellishing it so that the first person can confirm they have guessed correctly. If the second person had convincingly mimed fencing or Zorro-like sword fighting then the fest person could easily have set them straight and mimed tennis more convincingly.

In one of my rounds I had to guess “Psychic”.My partner was acting out looking into a crystal ball. I thought he was miming a potters wheel so I mimed that to him. Interestingly this got the biggest laugh of my section. Goes to show that it’s important for the guesser to really get involved even if they’re a bit lost. And it’s even funnier when you’re getting it wrong.

The teacher kept telling us to speak more gibberish to each other. Many of the games were almost completely silent and could be made easier by adding gibberish as the tone/emotion/etc. will be conveyed.

Great stuff. Can’t wait for next week.

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