Hi Everyone. Mouth here. Isn’t it fun to think about improv being all over the world? This guest blog is brought to us by iOwest Alumni, current Boom Chicago cast member and all around fucking awesome guy, James Kirkland.
Short form is looked down upon by most long form improvisers. It’s the cheap laughs, ‘who’s line’, yukka-yukka improv that is the relam of carinvals and the british. But, to be frank, the long and short of it is that long form is better for improvisers, and short form (unless your Dasariski or the like) is better for audiences. Especially audience where English is not their first language and they are most likely drunk and/or stoned like a cheech and chong fanstasy sequence. At Boom Chicago our job is to entertain tourists and Dutch people alike who spend 20+ euros not including food and drink to have a night out of comedy. I know. I would never spend that kind of money either. So we better be pretty fucking funny.
One of the biggest surprises of the last year for me occurred when I came back to LA for a project after being at boom for 2 years and went to a Harold night at the UCB. I was shocked. Shocked. The audience couldn’t be more different from the ones we have at Boom. At UCB it was filled to the gills with comedians and comedy people hanging on every word, giving gut-busting, side-splitting laughs to the subtlest of moves. The yes-ands and shrewd, sophisticated game play was awarded with thunderous applause. Though the Harold I saw were good and tight and funny, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the amazing audiences’ uproarious reaction. And, I’ll admit, I was a little jealous. Why can’t tables of drunk British tourists react like this to my indirect yet finespun playing of the game? Why doesn’t the party of Heineken employees from France applaud at my intricate, penetrating group play? And, moreover, how can these guys and girls be so funny when no one is shouting “dildo”, “gynecologist” or “poop sex” as suggestions throughout the entire show? Safe to say, improvising at Boom Chicago theater in Amsterdam is a little different then the ADT or main stage at IO WEST. Not better or worse, just different. There’s mics, a technician to call lights after every game, and the chance to yell at audience members presents it self quite often. This last factor, has come to be one of my favorite parts of the job at Boom. And its one of the main factors as to why short form is so great. The art of the Zing.
Short form is entertaining, and at the end of the day entertainment is what its all about
Though the most important thing about the zing, or zinging or the zang, is to establish the rules. Many if not most of the people seeing a boom show are experiencing improv for the first time. at the top of the show, we explain that this is interactive theater and we ask them to yell things out at us as “suggestions”, then unfortunately, all too often we turn around and make fun of them for yelling “bad” suggestions. This can really turn an audience off. If we zing or make fun of someone too fast it can make the vibe in the crowd turn from whimsical excitement to fear and dread. Like “Oh no! I better had not draw any attention to myself my yelling or even laughing or they surely will call negative attention to me and then my life will unravel like a ball of yarn down a hill made of kittens! Ahhhhh!” But if someone yells: DILDO!, the correct response, as taught by our director Jon ‘Pep’ Rosenfeld, is to say “welcome to Amsterdam, enjoy the red light district!” and then take another suggestion, its a mild zing, but does a good job of establishing the actors as living here, not tourists, and moves the show along. If they persist: I SAID DILDO!! DILDO! you can up the zing . “We are not asking for an object you are currently using sir, just an object.” If they KEEP GOING, then they are British, and you need to set up the rule so you can drop the hammer. “Okay, I am not going to take dildo, dildo boy, so please suggest something else.” Now you have told him what you expect AND named him something, “dildo boy” which you can use to great results through out the course of the show if any other audience member gets uppity. “Gynecologist? Really? Why do you and Dildo boy go hang out after the show and not get laid together.” If he has the dutch courage to suggest it one more time, (and this is very rare) then you can open up with both barrels. “Dildo? Again with the dildo? Seriously? We’re you not listening when I said I wouldn’t take it? Cause I’m not going to take it. Or are you so drunk and stupid that you don’t UNDERSTAND ENGLISH, or maybe you think ‘dildo’ is a universal word in dutch like Aloha in Hawaii. If that’s the case then dildo dildo you dildo dildoer go dildo your self mother dildo!” He will probably be quiet after that.
Zinging is just one of the reasons I have come to truly enjoy and even love short form, despite my previous biases being trained in long form at the IOW. Short form is entertaining, and at the end of the day entertainment is what its all about. Yes in long form there is more opportunity for magically callbacks and full circle Harold’s that imitate life. But short form keeps it simple, you laugh and you leave, hopefully still laughing. Of course there are many more reasons to love short form including propping up with zany costumes and stupid wigs and editing with bells. Editing with bells keeps everything moving, and can add a musical percussion to a series of short form games. The best part, if things are dragging on you can simply, DING! the bell and the pain is over. So, in keeping with the subject of this blog I figured I’d keep it short, save those for next time and–