The Improv Diaries – Part 9 – Charlie Chaplin

This weeks lesson for me had its ups and downs, the ups being that it was very hilarious watching other improvisers perform some very funny situations but the downs being that this week whenever I got up on stage I would suddenly realise the situation I was in and wonder why I got up in the first place as had nothing interesting really to say. I don’t know why I found it a tad difficult this week and I kept getting mind block that I ended up just blurting out real and utter rubbish but it could be because we were focusing on a different area of Improv – more the slapstick side.


how i felt a bit this week

I love slapstick comedy – I am a huge fan of actors such as Rowan Atkinson, Harold Lloyd, Steve Martin, Laurel and Hardy etc but watching it and actually learning it I find are two different types of things. For the slapstick games I sat out deliberately because I am always behind the camera with these type of things and not in front as if I am honest I don’t think I would be any good at slapstick. I know some people from University that are actors and they are fantastic at it and used to love filming projects with them (more about that later.)

We did other games apart from slapstick – so lets focus on them first. This week was also reflecting on what we learnt last week with Niall about slowing things down and really using expressions to increase the improve not just rely on words. This was done by playing a number of games which included just looking at a television screen in silence and seeing what comes out of that, only being able to talk when you are holding the bag and in a 2 minute scene only two lines of dialogue are allowed to be said. These were really helpful to watch as it made you think about the audience yet again and how they see improv.

The slapstick part of the evening was very different compared to the more focussed part. Ian got each time one improviser to come up on stage and be a ‘clown’ but not actually deliberately. The first game saw two guys come up one at a time and just stand there and then Ian would notice something they were doing (like twiddling a thumb etc) and asked them to make it more interesting until eventually it gets so out of hand that its so hilarious and you have no idea how much more crazier the situation can get.

The next game involved another improviser to stand up on the stage and perform something and when the audience start to count down they have to change what their doing each time. This also had very funny results. This sort of pressure / style of slapstick again is a really fun way to watch how improv can be developed through these two types of extremes – extreme physical humour and then the bare minimum which is what some actors can do so well that they are so popular for it because they can make the simplest facial expression to make a impression (think of Mr Bean) or can go the other way and use extreme physicality to create a reaction too (again, think of Mr Bean). This leads us to this weeks case study

Charlie Chaplin.

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I am a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin, I find him such an inspiration and find his films so entertaining because he can create the funniest of situations with just a movement of a facial expression. I have always been fascinated with Charlie so much so that I have also filmed two short films in the same style. One when I was 18 (called Mister Alf) and the other one when I had just finished university at 22 (which was called The Promenade and was a reprisal of the same character – you can read more about the production process here –   LINK TO BC BLOG)


Also when I was inter-railing around Switzerland at Christmas in 2014, we also went to the grave of Charlie Chaplin and a massive exhibition of behind the scene photographs of a variety of his films. In 2016/2017 I plan to go back to Switzerland as they are opening his house up as a massive museum dedicated to him which I cannot wait to see.


Charlie Chaplins Grave

The thing I love about Charlie Chaplin is the way simple situations can become instantly hilarious. One of my favourite films (and if you haven’t seen It I highly recommend you youtube it) is City Lights. I love the way that the music can really emphasise the humour as well as the facial expressions and the actions of The Tramp character.

The reason why I think actors like Charlie Chaplin are important in relation to improv is that they don’t need to make a sound to create humour they can do it in the most simplistic ways and from now on I am going to watch more silent films as a reference point. It is important in Improvising that you use all of your body and not just your words to create  a scene and help build up the surroundings. No-one wants to see someone standing like a statue talking or twiddling their thumbs, they want them interacting with invisible objects, eating invisible food etc.

After this week’s class I feel I have learnt a lot but also next week that I need to get out of the wall blocking my thoughts and coming out with complete and utter fluff.

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