I recently read an article where someone was writing about their dislike for the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway and was pretty much slating it for the way that it depicts improv and gives the rest of improv a bad name. I have read a lot of articles like this by improvisers and to be honest they sort of irritate me. A lot of the conversations discuss the fact that the television show sort of ‘damages’ things such as long form because the show is edited and only focuses on short form improv and the short and witty scenes that you can create in improv.
The show was completely improvised and was the many reasons that people got into improv. Like anything that is televised games are obviously cut down for the show to make them entertaining for the audience. That is an interesting thing because people who have watched the show always find it so surprising when they come to an improv show and the games are a lot longer. I think this is why people have a problem transitioning from short form to long form if they are non improvisers, it is like nothing they have never seen before and a lot of formats that are not recognisable can be really hard to adjust to the style and format.
I was the same, I came across improv like everyone, watching Whose Line When I was a kid and fell in love with it when I saw The Noise Next Door. If it wasn’t for a freelance editing job I don’t think I would ever of come across them. When I was first introduced to long form it irritated me. I didn’t in all honesty see the point of it. When I moved back to London after a year away, I was introduced to the London scene and it was predominantly Long Form meaning I saw a lot.
Whilst I now have a few long form formats that I would class as fantastic (Jack Left Town, Showstoppers, Jinni Lyons is An Only Child) I have a real problem with a lot of long form. The main thing I find frustrating is that a lot of groups expect you to know what style they are doing on stage and what to expect. If you are not used to long form improv you wonder what the hell is going on. I remember some of the first shows I went to at The Miller I was really aggitated as a lot of the shows were slow burn improv or organic and there was no introduction to the audience as to what they were doing. Some would just walk on stage with no suggestion either.
I work as a Video Editor and narrative and information to the audience is something so important to me and I think it’s the reason I like short form as their are clear edit points and everything such as the who, what, where are established straight away. I am getting used to long form but it is a bit like choosing a mate, it has to impress me and show me that they are worth falling in love with and whilst some have made me ‘flirt’ with the idea only a very small amount are long term appreciations.
Going back to Whose Line, I understand why some people in the improv industry find it frustrating – I get the fact that because it’s edited its a lot shorter, I get that people find it frustrating that it doesn’t introduce audiences to long form.
I personally don’t think any of above is a bad thing because the one thing it does that a lot of things haven’t done is introduce new and many audiences to improv. A lot of people today wouldn’t of probably known what it was if it wasn’t for that show. It’s the easiest way to explain what you do when someone asks what is improv. It may be taylor marketed for a commercial audience but hey, if I wasn’t for that I don’t think myself or many others would of wanted to learn the comedy form.
So if you do hate it, please don’t, appreciate what it has done for improv and yes it may be making audiences expect a certain type but it also makes them more confident to experiment and see different shows.