By Darren Held

Sonnjea and Tracy Talk Improv, Go-Go Boots and Bakeries

by Sonnjea Blackwell

Yesterday I had a conversation with Tracy about, uh, improv. It went exactly* like this.

Tracy: I’m not a gambler, but I do love walking.

Sonnjea: I understand TOTALLY, and I think there’s a happy medium. There are people who think as long as the audience laughs, you can do anything. Swell, the audience will laugh if you take off your shirt, but that’s not improv. Then there are people like me who feel like it’s an IMPROV show, and the goal must be to do the best IMPROV possible. The problem with that is, audiences do not know the rules, nor do they care about them.

Tracy: Are you going to flip your hair?

Sonnjea: I can get a lot of laughs by doing that. Is that okay? Well, I think it depends on what your intentions and goals are. If you are committed to working on your skills and getting better at improv, then your intention is to do the best improv you can. In the excitement of the moment, and in the adrenaline rush of laughter from an audience, will you always live up to that intention? No. Is that okay? Yes, as long as you don’t get hooked on the heroin of laughter and then start milking it by going jokey or doing things for cheap laughs.

Tracy: I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable staring at him for 2 hours.

Sonnjea: Well, as far as faces go, I think that’s one of an improvisor’s tools. Part of character, part of commitment. If it’s a stand-alone gimmick used only for a laugh to fuel your own energy, it’s not good. If it’s part of a complete character who has a point of view that is used to help build a scene, it’s fucking awesome.

Tracy: I was imagining how pissed you’d be at me.

Sonnjea: My enjoyment of an improv show is lessened when it’s mediocre improv done for the sake of milking the audience for laughs. I feel manipulated then, and it pisses me off. However, most people think I need to lighten up.

Tracy: I loves bakeries way too much.

Sonnjea: PLEASE stop beating yourself up.

Tracy: You always make sense.

Sonnjea: One thing I’ve learned is, we all do things we wished we hadn’t/things that could’ve been better/things that weren’t even in the same genre as improv… it’s part of learning and performing and being human. Improv is performing a tightrope act where you have to rely on others as much as yourself. The odds of things going perfectly are non-existent. The odds of things ending in a horrible crushing defeat are astronomical. The fact that we use things like jokiness or go-to characters or whatever to help us keep our balance is natural. As we all improve, our “crutches” will become stronger choices as well.

Tracy: That would be awesome with go-go boots!

Sonnjea: I really think sometimes we chase the cheap laughs because we don’t trust the audience. Sure, they don’t necessarily know the “rules” of improv, but I honestly think they’ll laugh MORE when we do good improv. Most of the time, they can see jokey stuff coming, and they laugh because it pays off their own thought process. But I believe they laugh even MORE when we do good improv because that’s the brilliant stuff they could never see coming and then they’re like, “Holy shit! How do they DO that?!”

*It didn’t go anything like this.