What is your Favourite short form game?
Film Noir, Greatest Hits, or Irish Drinking Song
Best suggestion to be given?
Pretty much anything imaginative but grounded that I haven’t heard before.
Worst suggestion to be given?
Anything aggressively crude/offensive.
There is an ongoing debate about Short form improv – a lot of people, especially improvisers are not a fan. Do you think that there is still a place for this sort of comedy and why?
I’ve said before that I think the problem short-form suffers from is that improvisers think it’s easy or a stepping stone to other things, so very few people stick with it long enough to become truly great at it. If you want to get the best out of a game, you have to understand why it works – not just learn to play it – and then try different techniques, different scene partners, and different audiences. I’m quite Gladwellian about this – get your 10000 hours in, and then tell me it’s easy.
I also believe there’s a degree of frustration that short-form shows remain more easily marketable to mainstream audiences than anything that’s considered more “sophisticated”. I think that’s stupid though; there’s space for everyone.
Obviously audiences with non improv backgrounds can relate more to short form but do you think there is going to be a time when these perceptions will change?
It’ll take something massive, probably involving TV. Whose Line is still the common improv touchstone for the man-in-the-street, despite not having been on UK television since 1999. 20 years, and that’s still all we’ve got!
We’ve had nothing more recent to promote improv as a whole. In America, improv is known to be a thing; it’s part of the culture. Every SNL star went through Second City, UCB, the Groundlings, etc, and talk about their improv training being the making of them – audiences know it exists, and that it’s more than just short-form. Until we have that new platform, or some form of nationwide, unified promotional effort, nothing will change. A high tide raises all ships, so just one group getting through won’t be enough – we need a group effort.
What are some of the important aspects of short form that you believe have a stronger element than long form?
Justification. You need to be able to justify your choices in all forms of improv, but in short-form, not only do you have to justify your choices, but your partner’s choices, your musician’s choices, the audience’s choices, and occasionally all of them at once.
With short form it is all about the pace, what is your advice when you can see a scene is losing its energy and the audience are not responding?
Wait for the next half-decent laugh, and call “scene”. You can never go wrong by editing a scene early, but you can sacrifice so much momentum by letting it run, in the hope that it’ll fix itself. If the audience have lost faith in it, you won’t generally won’t earn that back. Better to scrap it and move on.
After the show, learn from it – why didn’t it work? Did those players’ skill sets not suit that game? Was the “ask for” too vague? Was the “ask for” too specific? Did it just run out of steam? Once you can answer *why* it didn’t work, you’ll be able to fix it for next time.
Other people argue that short form is hard to create strong characters in a small amount of time – what is your opinion on this?
Find it faster! You’re not TJ & Dave – you don’t need to spend 10 minutes “finding” what your show is about. Pick one thing (an accent, a problem, a way of moving, a recurring phrase) and build your character around that. Short-form is fast, so find your character fast. Being able to find it quickly will also help your long-form, as it’ll train you to make strong choices sooner.
Do you think there are ways you can make short form more challenging for the more advanced improviser?
Yes. Work to improve your success/failure rate. After 11 years, on my best night I’m probably at about 80/20 – until that’s at 100/0, I’ll still have a way to go.
But also, challenge yourself with more difficult games or things that aren’t your natural skill set. I’m not the best at improvising rhymes, so I like the challenge of musical games, and Film Noir is so technical, it’s like a high-wire act – you have to be so precise with each addition, or it can all drop to the floor. There’s always something you can get better at.
What makes a bad short form scene?
A lack of commitment, or a sense that the performer thinks they’re above it. The worst thing for me is unprofessionalism; over the years, we’ve occasionally performed to just a handful of people, and we’ve had guest players act like “oh, this doesn’t matter – no-one’s here, and it’s only short-form”. NO! Respect the audience who’ve turned up; no-one is too big for the gig.
What makes a good one?
Commitment to the bit, understanding of how to get the best out of the game, and playing to the top of your intelligence.
More from Tom Next Week…