Improv Corner – Mega Improv Month Special – Online Improv

This month we are very excited to be able to sit down with David Escobedo of The Improv Boost to talk everything about the comedy art form! Over the next few weeks we will talk about everything from performance to writing impro books! As an added bonus this month we have also dedicated Improv Corner to Dave as well and over the next few weeks there are some really interesting topics that are being highlighted. Today we speak to Dave about adapting to the world of Online Improv.

I think something that’s very different, is I can’t watch a lot of improv online.  Only because I’m working on my PhD.  So much of my life is on a screen, that when I do want to take a break I want to step away from my couch and my computer. But I think it’s worth mentioning that part of my PhD *is* watching improv shows and panels.

As far as doing improv online, I think it’s just like in the real world where I like silences. I love how some scenes are built by the tension and the words are discovered. Rather than we anxious label things because that’s what we’re told. I like finding people who create a confidence on screen. That really hasn’t changed, it’s much more heightened. I think people have less confidence in online improv – which I sometimes call “onprov” because not only “online” but when you’re on screen you are always “on.”  You don’t get to be in the “background.”  When you turn your camera on you are always at the front of the stage, and if you make a sound you are always centre stage.   There is not passive ability for subtlety. There has to be an intention to be subtle. 

I like it, but I don’t like everything I see or do.  You know what’s funny?  I didn’t think about it till right now. I like online improv jams or online improv with specific people.  Those are like polar opposites. I like online improv with chaotic skill levels and people I’ve never met, or with lots of control.  I think one of the reasons why I like online improv more with people I know or with control is because I think with online improv it’s easier for people to dominate.  It’s easier for people who have commonly dominated the stage to continue to do so. So, spaces where marginalized communities were already struggling for a voice, are finding it difficult working with people who dominated. Dominating can be in talking over, interrupting, volume and steamrolling, but it can also be found in labelling everything, writing contracts with the audience and endowments. 

Now, a lot of these things are just tools. Volume is a tool for delivery.  Labelling everything is a tool to create specifics. Just like in life tools have no morality. A hammer is neither good nor bad.  A hammer can be good and help you build a boat, or it can bad and used as a weapon. It’s not really the existence of the tool, it’s how the tool is used.  And I find that some people are so anxious about being entertaining that they end up being draining. In this fear of “not being funny” we end up being  the thing we fear the most.  So all these tools end up being used in an effort to build a good scene, but then my voice gets diminished in scenes.  Those moments of silence don’t exist because they get filled with volume, contracts and labels. Even those terms sound overwhelming.  But if instead of words and cerebral choices we filled those silences with relationship and discovery … oh! I love it. 

People I love to do improv with leave those silences.  They allow the moment to just come up.  Lean into the awkward. I don’t want it to look polished like a scripted theatre piece where everyone knows their exact words. I want it to have hems and haws and stutters and repeated lines and questions and … the cat walking into screen. I am drawn to the authenticity, not the performance of authenticity. We should be reflecting life, not reflecting the performance of life.

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