By: Drew Coolidge (Staff)
One skill that every great improviser and comedian seems to have is self-awareness. It’s the part of you that’s listening to everything you’re saying and doing. We’re taught to listen and pay attention onstage but it’s important to remember that YOU are half of what you need to be listening to in the scene. When self-awareness is working properly onstage it doesn’t judge anything as right or wrong it merely heightens by asking “If this is true, what else is true?” or explores by asking “Why?”
Here’s an example from Ben Siemon and Brian Gallivan of the team Fun Town. I recommend watching the clip before reading the breakdown to enjoy it more:
In this clip I think Ben does a great job of using his self-awareness to heighten and explore his character and game. Here’s a breakdown, the sentences in parentheses () are Ben the Improviser’s inner monologue. *
Brian: “Ooo, you have calluses.”
Ben: (I should yes-and to explain why) “Oh yes, I work out at Pink Fitness.
(Why is it called PINK fitness?) “It’s a ladies’ gym where all of the equipment’s pink.”
(That sounds like a stupid idea for a gym) “…it’s pretty stupid.”
(If I think it’s stupid, then why do I go?) “But guys don’t hit on me there, so I’m safe.”
(SAFE sounds a bit extreme, what do I feel I need to be safe from?) “After I was punched in the face at LA Fitness.”
(This feels unusual/absurd enough to be the beginning of a fun game, especially if the punches seemingly come out of nowhere) “It wasn’t even sexual, a man just came up and punched me in the face.”
(If this is true, what else is true?) “Then I tried Bally’s, punch in the face. 24 hours, 24 punches in the face. At Pink Fitness I’m safe.”
(I’ve talked a lot) “…I’ve talked a lot.”
I just realized while typing this that all of the “inner monologue” could have been said as dialogue from a straight man in the scene, albeit a bit clunky. Perhaps self-awareness is our own internal straight man. Always listen to this voice. If you’re playing the absurd character in the scene, answer the questions that your internal straight man asks to clarify your character’s game and POV. If you’re the straight man in the scene, let your inner straight man’s concerns be voiced, within the context of the scene.1 Don’t just become a question machine, answer the questions that your character may know the answer to. They’re gifts to your scene partner.
I wanted to expand a bit more on the difference between self-awareness and self-consciousness but I’m using my inner straight man to tell me that the difference is obvious and that I’ve typed for long enough.
*. As a third party observer, I’m obviously the leading authority on what Ben was thinking and feeling at the time.
- It should also be noted that Brian did a great job of realizing that he didn’t need to call these questions out because Ben was already answering them. He also noticed that it was wise and funnier if he just listened. His performance is a lesson is self-restraint.