24 Dec Things an improviser will get asked at Christmas
Holidays can be a challenging time of year. They encourage reflection on the current state of the your life, your career and (most scarily) your world, and whether that leads to sober assessment or drunken melancholy, you have to do it all in a nylon jumper having ingested two kilograms of fat and carbs.
Now I am not a party pooper. I like the Christmas season and my family is pretty sane, all told. This blog will help you get the most out of the festive season by giving you helpful answers to a variety of things that your family might say about improv if you mention that you do it. They were crowd sourced from Nursery staff members. I have addressed this to an imaginary Uncle Stuart, and any resemblance between him and your own relatives is your own problem. Merry Christmas.
You do improv? Tell me a joke then (Molly Merwin)
Thanks for the opportunity, Uncle Stuart. Let’s talk about humour and its complexities a bit. The idea that it is best expressed in the medium of a set-up-and-pay-off joke is a pretty thin understanding, don’t you think? Humour is an extraordinary cognitive mechanism, indeed it’s a human universal. Take a moment to think about that: it is found in every known culture. Sure, I am can tell you that the best way to catch a squirrel is to climb up a tree and act like a nut, but that is to reduce the complexity of humour to its simplest form. Humour is more often in the noticing of little irregularities, hypocrisies and oddities of the human condition and placing them at the distance of art to allow us to laugh at ourselves.
Oh, and you are a vet/salesman/builder/calligrapher, right? Can you inoculate my cat/sell me some insurance/take this wall out/design my wedding invites?
But it’s not really improvised, is it? (Sam Irving)
If there is one thing that nearly forty years on this earth has taught me, it’s that plans don’t ever come off perfectly. The first stage after making a plan is to make peace with the fact that it won’t happen exactly and ensure you have the emotional and practical flexibility to deal with the changes when they come. So yes, it is improvised, because, and I know you won’t believe me, but it’s true, it’s easier that way. It’s easier to actually react than it is to pretend to do so, don’t you think?
Besides, if you have seen what we do and think that it is planned, that is a high compliment.
You can use this bit in your next sketch (Chris Mead)
I can do that, and I will, but probably not as you expect. Like all artists, I am constantly transfiguring the full rich texture of my lived experience to inform both the art that I make and the way that I make it. After all, all art is fashioned from a base medium and, as a statue is hewn from marble, improv is chipped out of life itself. Therefore, just as Michelangelo used to seek inspiration in the patterns of mould on his wall, so will I seek inspiration in tales of your mate farty John.
Are you getting paid? (Juwel Huque)
Thanks for the question Uncle Stuart. I understand why you’re asking it. Bills have to get paid and who knows what the value of the pound will be in a post-Brexit Britain? However, concealed within it is an unfortunate confusion that late stage-capitalism makes between price and value. Not that money isn’t a useful indicator of desire and even way to nudge human behaviours, but in the same way that not all expensive things prove to be worth it, not all free things have no value. In fact, I can go one stage further and that I am proud to be an amateur. Professionalisation is a wonderful thing in terms of the raising of standards, but it can damage the love you have for something if you are turning up to do it because you are contractually obliged to do so. Doing effortful things regularly for free allows you to constantly interrogate what you find valuable and why. What a wonderful thing to learn.
How’s the am-dram/stand up/sketch going? (Various)
I am sure they are going great, I just wouldn’t know! Those are all fine art forms that have their eccentricities, challenges and triumphs, and I understand that they are often confused with improv, but that is a little like confusing Formula One with monster truck, drag racing and motocross. It shows a lack of understanding, a lack of desire to understand and that you are a asshole. Fuck you, Stuart. You had that weird girlfriend for a while and no one commented. We all tried to be nice to her, and what about that year you invited farty John to Christmas last minute? That’s not how it works Stuart, families are delicate ecosystems that take understanding and flexibility to make work. Stuart? Stuart, are you asleep?
Deal with Uncle Stuart as best you can, and if you like, come work out the trauma at ‘Happy in their Own Way’, my show about families in the new year. There’s an audition notice on the auditions page.