How Improv Changed Our Lives

How Improv Changed Their Life – Brendan Way, The Parentheticals

Every week we like to talk to members of the Improv community about why they got into improv and how it changed their life. Today we speak to Brendan who does a lot in the world of improv including performing in a number of shows with his group The Parentheticals and also creator of the Dead Drunk Detective Podcasts. Today we hear his story. 

How Improv changed their Life – Brendan Way, The Parentheticals

When I was a teenager, I secretly rated the success of my conversations based on how many jokes I’d told. This is obviously sociopathic, not to mention completely arbitrary – I might as well have been counting high-fives. And yet, like some sort of Humour Bot 6000, I would memorise phrases that I could make callbacks to, look for pauses in which to slip in a quick gag. I was genuinely paying attention to my scene partners – sorry, FRIENDS – but only so I could figure out what to riff on next.

I went on to channel this “skill”/disease at university. There I experimented, not with sex or drugs like a normal human, but with comedy. I tried stand up, writing sketches, and, like most millennials nowadays, I had a podcast. In it, I probed my friends’ anecdotes until ruling which narrative pleased me the best. The winning tale was usually the story I’d been able to make fun of the most. Just a few years later, extrapolating material from monologues would be a key skill I’d employ when performing Armandos, but that was yet to come.

Before then, I explored a bunch of forms. I wrote flash fiction with each piece inspired by a short prompt. I cracked wise with my double act partner whilst co-hosting a comedy night. I created plays in small groups. I was essentially doing improv in all but name.

I was also explicitly doing improv. My aforementioned pal devised a podcast of short form games inspired by every player’s gateway drug, Whose Line is it Anyway. We didn’t know what we were doing – we had yet to be taught the golden rule ‘Yes, And’ – but we had fun. We almost made our stage debut too, but scrapped this idea on the night as we weren’t sure we’d be any good.

My Eureka moment came when I moved to London.

Wanting something to do after work and with a renewed interest in make-em-ups after learning most Saturday Night Live alums were improv trained, I decided to take a class. I recalled one of the comedian we’d hosted at our university stand-up show taught a comedy course, so I contacted him to ask what it was. That comedian was Max Dickins and that school was Hoopla.

I took a performance class with Chris Mead and immediately loved it. I had finally found an artform that had everything I wanted – freedom from the constraints of scripts, devising off of prompts, building stuff together, sharing silly stories. This was the dream.

So naturally I committed hard to this hobby. Chris recommended I check out Duck Duck Goose. I jammed there so often I was invited to become a host. I in turn brought along Dan (the guy who devised the podcast that gave me my first official taste of improv and my double act partner for the comedy night where I met Max) and he became a presenter too.

My classmates and I took a second course with Chris and then formed The Parentheticals. We started our own monthly show, Bracket Racket. Our Holiday Special in December will be our twenty-first night.

Last week, I had four consecutive evenings of improv, plus an early morning rehearsal. I admit that is a little excessive and certainly I wouldn’t want my schedule to perpetually be that packed, but improv is now my North Star. My life won’t revolve around it forever – I keep hearing vicious rumours that you should have experiences outside of improv to inspire your scenes – but I will always return to it. Even if I take a break, I can come back knowing there will always be a jam to join. I may not know anybody there, but that won’t matter because in two minutes we’ll all be mermaids called Clancy.

I have found my tribe. Improvisers are my people. They act in my projects. They cast me in theirs. They are the friends I will invite to my wedding (date and bride TBD). We are a family bonded not by blood, but by our love of embracing Yes, And.

Now when I evaluate if my interactions were funny, it’s not narcissism (well, maybe slightly) but critical reflection on my performance. When I amuse mates, it’s in front of a live crowd instead of via a podcast I recorded alone in my room. I have learnt to care less about being overtly witty and opt more for reacting honestly and instinctively.

Upon reflection, everything I have done until now was preparation for making up stuff with friends and strangers. Whatever Grand Plan was set for me by God, Zeus, or Cthulhu, improv is a part of it. It was always my logical endgame. And we Humour Bots love logic.

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