Yes And…part 23 – Liam Brennan and “the Boss”

This week it was back to the Tuesday drop in, I haven’t been in a while due to everything that has been happening but it was great to return. I really like the Tuesday drop ins, they may be aimed at beginners, but i really like the people that turn up and the social scene that comes with it.

This week was a great lesson that I really enjoyed but more about that in a second. First things first, when I lived in Newcastle I was a regular on the improv scene and had a lot of friends and one of those friends was called Karam. He was a great little improviser and as i have mentioned in many blog posts before he has a great energy on the stage. Just like myself, he enjoys doing improv where you are more physical instead of just standing around ( it even made him win King Rat – read here) – so when he told me two of his friends wanted to try out improv I had a feeling that if they were like him they would be the same – full of energy and life and they really were! They enjoyed it and you could see it from the get go the enthusiasm in their eyes when they were thrown into scenes and games.

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Performing a scene with Karam on stage at The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle

OK, now back to the lesson at hand. This weeks drop in was taught by an improviser I hadn’t met before, Liam Brennan. He’s fairly new to teaching for C3Something but has been doing it for years elsewhere and is a very familiar name on the London Improv scene, so i was intrigued to see what he would teach us.

We started off the lesson by playing a game all about tongue twisters. If you went around the circle to the left you would say Whisky Mixtures, if you went round the circle to the right you would say Misty Viscures (or something similar, i am sitting here trying to say the ones we did and to me thats pretty much the closest you are going to get) and if you pointed across the circle you would say Mr Whiskers. The aim of the game was to pass the words around the circle really fast – in any direction you chose – which is where all the confusion started to come in. It tied the tongue and made some comedy moments.

The next game we did was similar to the sort of thing that you see at a TED talks.We would be given a topic and then we would have to stand in the centre of the circle and talk like we are professionals of that topic. The aim of the game is to tag people out and continue the story where they left off trying to make it flow and see where it goes. So for example, we did a “talk” about snails, where it all started out talking about the normality of the creature and about where they live, escalating to the “crazy” about their shell houses being built into flats that create a source of energy and fluid that can be used as an electricity source as well as a liquid to trace down criminals when they break into a house.

We then played this game a few more times but this time it was all about speed – tagging people out as fast as possible and seeing how many times we can get the story to change hands in a matter of a minute. This meant that people only had to say maybe one or two words to see how fast we could talk about a chosen subject and what the direction the story would take. We mangled to get something like 19 changes in a minute – which isn’t too shabby!

We then went onto a group game which involved half of the class at a time. The idea of the game was to be part of a meeting of a new project and come up with ideas of how to market a brand new item on the market that was made up by the other team. Again, playing with the concept of “crazy” you always accepted what people said in your group even if it was damn right bizarre. The game worked best where the energy was really high in the scene and everyone was bouncing off each others ideas.

The next thing we did was two person scenes where the aim of them was to be “the boss” of that profession and just act like you know everything about that topic. When we first started doing scenes we were all just playing the idea of the characters and experimenting as to how a scene would play out wth them in it.

Liam then started to direct us in the scene to use more long words to make it sound like we really were the top of our profession. Even if you didn’t know what the profession used for long words – make them up and make the audience believe you own the scene! Even if you are playing a Doctor and there is a Doctor in the audience and you make stuff up – it doesn’t matter! As long as you own the scene, you own the audience. (so to speak…)

The last thing we did that evening was face our fears In scenes, play a profession we hate or try and stay clear of and try and act like we own it. This was really interesting to watch the scenes in this concept because even though people were saying that they were scared of scenes about tax, science, history etc you couldn’t tell as everyone owned the scene – its amazing what a few words that sound professional and sophisticated can completely create a scene and make you own it.


Case Study 1 – Liam Brennan

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The first case study this week is non other then our teacher for the day, Liam. Since being back in London in September I have been taught by quite a lot of different trainers and you never think that someone else will bring a whole different twist on the style of improv / the way that you learn things, but yet again I was proved wrong.

The one thing that I enjoyed about being taught by Liam was the way we got paired off into scenes. A lot of the time, especially when you do improv with the same people you end up being picky as to who you do a scene with. Now, everyone does this, i admit I sometimes do this too, but being randomly chosen to go into scenes with other people in the scene instead of waiting for people to go up for a scene really worked and created some pairing that may not of happened before.

Another thing that was great style of teaching was Liam’s use of the whiteboard to portray a point across. A lot of teachers don’t tend to use them to describe something, I think maybe once Stephan from Improbable and maybe Will from C3Something may of used a whiteboard but that was about it. Seeing the dynamics of a scene drawn on a board so you can see it visually as to what you want to achieve in a scene is really helpful and gives you a clearer vision of the game at hand.

It was good fun having Liam as a tutor and learnt a lot and I look forward to being taught by him again in the future.

Case Study 2 – The Boss / The Lonely Island / Rachel Bloom 

This weeks lesson reminded me of two different music videos that are both about being “the boss” but focus it in completely different ways.

“Promote Synergy!”

The first video is Lonely Island SNL Digital Short called Like A Boss. The music Video starring Seth Rogen and Andy Samberg is about a Boss being pulled in for his Performance review. The reason why this music video reminded me of this weeks lesson was that Andy is trying to impress his managers about what he does as a boss and even though his manager is shocked it creates great comedy to the audience because of the cocky and confident character that Samberg plays.

By acting in this confident way about all the crazy things he actually does as a boss means that the “crazy” doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary and makes the audience laugh even if they are in management because the confidence that is used in the things that Andy is saying as well as the buzzwords he mentions makes him look like he really knows what he is doing. This is a great reference video for the improv skills we learnt this week.

The second boss related music video that reflects this week lesson is Rachel Blooms music video she produced for Vanity Fair. Whilst it looks solely at the women in the work place and being the leader of your own company. Whilst it goes on about feminine worries in a comical sense ( “how much boob is too much boob”) it also has some really good advice in the lyrics that actually funnily enough relate to improv.

“Being a boss is empowering but also kinda weird”

This is what people feel when they have to do a scene being the “boss” of a scene where they do not know much about the topic at hand. You feel weird making up random words or using unusual buzz words but at the same time it really is empowering to he improviser because you are making an audience laugh.

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