When you read the title of this article you are probably wondering how is this relevant to Improv well actually it is a lot closer then you think. From time to time at work I have to work alongside a Director who is a stand up comedian in their spare time. I have recently worked with him lot and when we have been waiting from feedback from clients we end up comparing stories about shows.
He has been a stand up comedian a lot longer then I have been doing improv so it is really insightful to hear about his experiences on different tours and the Edinburgh fringe. From all the conversations that we have had i have picked up some really interesting things that are actually important to think about when doing an improv show.
One of the most important things for any show is to make sure that the lighting is correct – if the lighting is too dark or dull on stage the audience will not give you the respect or focus that you deserve. Make sure that you are happy with the lighting that you are going to have when you approach the stage and discuss it with the technician before hand no matter how small the request – that is why they are there!
Part of a musical improv troupe? why not ask the technician to get creative with your lighting. Whenever I do the light for Newsical I move some of the lights in time to the beat to create a fun environment for the audience.
Part of a long form troupe? Why not ask the technician to maybe create some mood lighting when your scenes go a tad dark, mystical, romantic or light hearted. Good lighting makes all the difference.
It is really important to think about how the audience is seating when you approach a show. Luckily, a lot of the theatres that Improv is performed in London have theatres where the seats are facing directly at the stage. However, what if you are doing a show in a venue that doesn’t host improv very often?
The stand up comedian told me that some of the worst shows that he has had to perform at where in venues, predominantly pubs, where the seating has not been thought about. The hardest audience to please is ones that are watching you from an angle (so like sitting at the side of a round table) because their attention isn’t 100% on you. This means that they can create distractions such as talking to the person next to them or not always looking at you.
Also – think of the angle, that is really off putting to look out at into an audience because when you are on stage you are constantly thinking in the back of your head ‘hey, look at me I am over here’ and it could lead to you isolating the rest of the audience as you are so focused on this one person.
Energy and Persona
The one thing that is important in Stand Up Comedy is the energy and persona on stage. He was telling me that every stand up comedian he has met throughout his career (which is quite a lot) are all very shy or quiet in real life. Their on stage persona is an exaggerated version on themselves.
I suppose in some ways this is relevant to improv because as much as you may deny it you do go on stage as a heightened version of yourself. You cannot help it, the energy that improv creates pushes you to become this and of course the characters that you produce on stage.
I never really thought about this as such until my best friend saw me perform in a show, straight after the first thing she said to me was ‘ you are such a different person on stage, your eyes sort of light up and you become your best you. I wish you were stage Holly everyday as it is so different!’
Know Your Edits
The thing that irritates this stand up comedian more then anything is when a comedian approaches the stage and they have a joke that they could of written a lot less words to make it more snappy or they could of edited it in a much better way to get the laughs bigger and better.
This to me is a problem I have with a lot of longform imrpov. There are many groups put there that do not know the right time to edit a scene, I think because I am a Video Editor in my normal day job, this irritates me a lot more then the norm as when I watch some shows I am shouting in my head ‘EDIT EDIT EDIT’ as the scene is about to go on too long.
In rehearsals, try and get your edit skills knuckled in, know when it is the right time to cut, practise makes perfect. Also, my advice as a video editor, watch television shows, watch where the shot changes, watch when they add an advert, watch when they change the scene to a different location, these all help a lot and will help you become a better Improv Editor. Shows I suggest to watch that do this very well are Sherlock, Once Upon A Time and Gotham.
In Stand up, timing is everything, if you do not know how to deliver a joke and the punchline then your set can fall flat and miss the laughter that the joke more then likely deserved.
This probably isn’t a deal breaker in improv because even in short form it is not about joke after joke instead it’s about just having fun and playing the scene. The only thing I would say here is that if you feel you have the right thing to say in a scene – say it as soon as you think of it – otherwise the moment will be gone and so will the laugh moment that could of been.
Once thing that I learnt from this stand up comedian is that even if you do a lot of shows, don’t feel afraid to watch your favourite comedians even then to gain influence. Whilst you are not watching them to BE them, they are inspiring to watch to see how they do the little things such as approach the scene, interact with the audience use the stage, etc
I do this on a regular basis – I will watch re-runs of Whose Line Is It Anyway to see how they players interact on stage, I go regularly to the Comedy Store to watch the Players and I have seen The Noise Next Door so many times and everytime I do I watch how they approach the stage (seen them in both small and big locations) how they interact with the audience and the physicality and everything else.
So, I hope that has been some use to you. I found it really helpful talking to this Stand Up Comedian as I learnt about things I don’t think I have properly thought about before and I will definately be tallking to him a lot more about things in the future.