The Improv Diaries – Part 21 – Theatre vs TV (case study Mcintyre)

The May sessions of Improv start tomorrow and was going to wait until later in the week to re-start writing again. However something I read this morning opened up a whole can of worms in my brain and opened up a great discussion that links nicely into our last improv lesson of April, that I haven’t discussed yet. 13148042_10156818947040361_1324713341_o

I am currently reading the Sherlock Holmes books and because there are so many of them, in between each book I like to read a different genre altogether to give myself a break and so that I go into the next one looking forward to it and not just thinking
‘oh here we go again.’ So I decided to delve into a book that I have been briefly looking at when i have the odd spare 5 minutes and that book is the one pictured to the right, you guessed it, all about improv.

I was reading it this morning on the commute to work and it brought up a very interesting topic that I had never really thought of, which when i tell you what it is, is silly i haven’t as I work in the industry.

In the book Theatrical Improvisation in the chapter Short Form Improv Live and Die by the Game it discusses the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway and the effects it has had on the improv society. Whilst it delves into some really interesting information about the show, some key quotes have arisen that got me thinking.

The book discusses an interview that Ron West did about the television show :

“It’s not about improv; it’s about TV, and having a consistent commercial product. It is very important to understand that the goal for TV is different than the goal for the stage.”

Ron West cited in Theatrical Improvisation, Jeanne Leep,2008, page 38, line 21

Working in Television, I do look at shows differently then the average person, I will look at the edits, the mis-en-scene, the graphics and look a little more closer. I know that television shows are casted / certain characters are head hunted but I was still a bit surprised I had not thought about this in improv and television before. The book goes onto explain that

“They tape maybe thirty games. Usually three shows come out of that. Maybe 6 games a show, so that’s 18 games that actually get used, leaving 12 games at the end up on the floor completely. Each game that is kept they take out about half, easily.”

Ron West cited in Theatrical Improvisation, Jeanne Leep,2008, page 40 -41, line 41

This made me feel a little bit shocked and metaphorically naked, I always wondered why improv scenes in the shows that we do are always so long compared to what was on Whose Line and just thought that it could potentially a different style of the theatre sport. I know that game shows are cut down but it never occurred to me that improv would be snipped down so harshly for a television show. Now i know this it makes sense and predictable because thats what Television is like – manipulating and creating an entertaining television however i just didn’t think it was that possible for Improv. The book goes onto explain that they will never leave boring bits in and that even the suggestions from the audience is cut down or cut out altogether as it takes up too much time. So there is no chance to build up a scene and is all about gag after gag after gag.

The show has done wonders to the improv community as it has got a lot of people interested in the theatre genre and has also opened many doors for new clubs to begin and share the interest, however the book does go onto state that ‘to seasoned improv performers, Whose Line is not considered cutting edge improvisation.’ [ Theatrical Improvisation, Jeanne Leep,2008, page 41, line 37 ]

From this one section in the book it’s sort of defined in a nutshell that Whose Line is It Anyway has sort of acted like ‘a perfected mask’ to entice people into the world of improvisation. It has formed an identity that people now know and love, where as if you take the mask away and look at theatre improvisation it is different because you have time to build a scene and create a character.

In the last improv lesson of April we started to look at characters being built by using masks (see how i linked that all in there? *bom bom cha* ) and creating an identity. Ian brought in face masks that he and Bev had made by hand and were so amazingly made that they easily could of been sold in shops. The idea was to wear a mask and look in the mirror to create a character, become someone else, form an identity.

Me (fourth from the left) with the rest of my improv group

It was crazy how much impact the mask had on the person it took you into this whole different world and magically made you want to become this person. Once we had done a few scenes in the masks only being allowed to talk in slight gibberish, we had to then take the masks away and develop the masked character as a person. Whilst this wasn’t one of my favourite things to do, it was interesting to start learning more about long form improv and how slowly characters identities are built and formed.

The long form was based around a hotel and the characters that were in the hotel, we created approx 5 scenes and then had to re-do all of them at the end with our masks back on and talking gibberish again to show how differently the characters changed the scene.

This all interlinks as to what I was saying earlier about Whose Line and the way improv is portrayed to the audience. It has this power to reel in the audience into this comedy realm that they probably wasn’t aware of before and could persuade them to go and see live improv theatre shows. But behind the mask (the actual theatre version of improv) they prefer the pace as it has this element of build up and forming a character. Whose Line is in some ways the gibberish character that we played in the lesson, it doesn’t take much to understand and you absorb what you are watching, the long form where we developed characters becomes the theatre version of improv – that you pay more attention for the thing being created in front of you.

Case Study – Michael McIntyre

Now to a lot of you readers this will seem an extremely weird case study to associate with a prestigious show like Whose Line and the theories I was discussing above, but to me it makes sense and once I have explained my reasons, it will make sense to you as well.

I am a fan of McIntyre, but like most of his fans I have never seen him do his arena comedy shows. I have seen him about 4 times and everytime I have its been an audience of no more then 200. The first time was a £5 work in progress show for his stand up tour Showtime and the rest were all based around the Michael McIntyre Chat show. In this small surroundings, McIntyre to me comes across as such a down to earth person, interacting left right and centre with the audience and genuinely funny.

These days, McIntyre is becoming bigger and bigger and is becoming a very big name for evening entertainment on the BBC, whilst I am not a big fan of these new shows that he is doing I think a focus needs to be put on two things – his failed chat show and his most recent stand up show.

I saw the two stages of the Mcintyre chat show – the rough run throughs at a random studio just off Tottenham Court Road and even at the real television recording that happened at South Bank. When watching these live, they were entertaining, had a lot of interesting elements and really reeled in the audience. However, when it came to watching the finished product I was utterly disappointing as to what the edit had lead the show to be. It was edited to come across as the UK version of an American chat show such as Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon and it did not work, it looked wrong and just didnt have the right feel. This to me was where the mask factor comes in. In reality (behind the mask) it really was a fun and entertaining show to watch being recorded, Michael really was great with the audience and it felt more lively and audience led. However the mask (the edited snazzy version) completely altered my original views on the show. I hated it, it felt like such a copy cat show which was clearly done to test the waters in the UK and also to break away from the norm chat shows like Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross.

Finally I am going to mention his latest stand up DVD Happy and Glorious I have watched every single McIntyre DVD for his stand up and own a few of them ( as well as other comedians) as they are great to put on in the background from time to time. I usually go into these DVDs excited and ready to laugh, this one had a completely different effect on me. Put it this way you could tell that his name as a comedian and family household name had completely risen since the last stand up DVD. It was polished, but too polished like it was going onto TV at Prime time. The introduction unlike other stand up DVDs was just pure cheese and utter cringe at the same time that i grated my teeth and sat through to watch the show. I was meant to of seen this gig live at Wembly but due to a contract in TV making me up and leave London meant I sold my ticket and you know what from watching the DVD I am glad i did. It had the ‘mask factor’ so shiny that it felt so false and not the McIntyre that I once loved and laughed at.

In conclusion, this blog post started out as something I wasn’t originally inspired to write ( i was only talking to my friend Peff yesterday as i didn’t ‘feel’ in the right space of mind to do it) and yet two pages of a book have just made me write a post longer then i thought i would. until next time, I will leave you with a quote that I love from Alan Partridges autobiography which probably explains why Whose Line had to be so sharp witted:

“People who work in broadcasting hate to admit this but it’s true: the vast majority of TV is unwanted. Audiences sit there, stuffing Doritos into their fat mouths, passively allowing television programmes to wash over them with the odd drib or drab landing in their eyes and ears.” – I, Partridge: We Need to Talk about Alan

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