By Darren Held

Oh Captain, My (Improv) Captain

I’m often scared of what goes on inside of Viet’s head, but in this case, his improv thoughts are all wise and shit. Check it out:

In my line of work, I have a chance to interact with interns fairly regularly. And by interact, I mean in the Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society way, not the Bill Clinton way. Recently, I had an intern ask me my observation of the “soft skills” necessary for an intern to be successful. That got me thinking, which led to an a-ha moment: I look really, really good in a tight t-shirt. Most guys can’t pull off that look. But I can. And for that, I feel blessed. Then another a-ha came to me: “yes, and” is a soft skill critical to intern success.

Interns are a unique breed. They know they are hired by an organization for a limited duration, and therefore, need to thump their chests rather quickly to make a lasting impression. Chances are likely that there are multiple interns, but a much smaller number of full time job opportunities, and now the thumping isn’t just quick, it’s loud. They are also the creme de la creme of their class; hence, they were selected for an internship. There’s a need to make their alma mater proud, and so now guttural howling comes with the thumping. This combination of healthy egos in a highly competitive environment can make for a rather apish experience.

Standing proudly atop a school desk has given me perspective of a soft skill paramount to internship success. Interns make the best impression on organizations when they can honor the old guard by “yes-ing” that which has already been established, then “and-ing” by contributing their own unique, fresh approach. Interns who only know how to “yes” appear mindless and too eager to please, while interns who only know how to “and” can easily offend by not acknowledging valuable contributions made my others.

The same holds true in improv scenes. Skipping past your scene partner’s contribution and jumping right to your own idea makes you a stage hog. And simply agreeing with your scene partner without contributing doesn’t move the scene forward. Scenes are best played on stage with a hearty, “yes,” which shows you agree with information already established, followed by a committed, “and,” which moves ideas forward. Just like internships should be played in the workplace.

Now, let’s talk a little more about how good I look in a tight t-shirt…

By Darren Held

Don’t Kobe Your Improv Scene!

These are the improv musings of a troupe member who prefers anonymity. Also, there’s a sports analogy, so it’s clearly not Viet.

Not too long ago I was in the audience of a non-H2G improv show. It was different in that it was directed by two of the improvisers performing in the show, whereas we have the amazing Darren Held who directs without stepping on stage himself.

The improvisers/directors in this show were funny, had good stage presence and were clearly experienced actors. They were also in virtually every scene and did most of the talking. By the end of the show, I kinda hated them as much as one can rationally hate people based on live entertainment.

One of the reasons to love improv is that it can’t be done alone. (It can, but it’s never good.) You and your partners get up on a stage and work together to create something out of nothing. When it all goes right, you feel the connection and trust that allow you to seamlessly know what the other person is going to do without saying a word. Those moments are magical.

That is… unless you’re one of the stage whores in the show I watched. In which case, you treat your scene partners like a stage prop in your solo performance. Not cool. Also, a total waste of someone else’s talents. You don’t always get to say the killer line that brings everyone to their knees with laughter. But it’s just as satisfying to set up your partner to deliver that great line. Even though there is a prominent “I” in the word, improv is a team sport and no one wins when they play alone.

So don’t be surprised if you’re ever at an improv show and hear someone yell from the audience, “Hey, Kobe Bryant, pass the damn ball!” It’s probably me and it won’t be a scene suggestion.

By Darren Held

Improv: E=mc^2

Here’s what troupie Sean Fannon has to say about improv.


Whoa, really?! Is that math in an improv blog?! Yes it is, now quit asking me questions! This is an improv blog, you know better.

Energy = movement * commitment squared

Yes, I’m ripping off Einstein to help you remember an important aspect of any performing. Energy. No, not the fossil fuels you put in your car or the calories that go in your face hole, but the energy you bring to the stage.

When performing, your energy is comprised of your space work or movement multiplied by your commitment to said movement in your scene. I learned at an early age that my fundamentals in things like sports were not as good as my fellow teammates. So that meant I had to hussle to make up for it. (Math AND sports analogies now!)

Just like in sports, while I continue I work on the improv fundamentals, (labels, who, what, where, justifying etc.) I always try to bring big energy. I’ll be the first to admit that I use big energy to cover up my other shortcomings. But I’ve found energy and commitment are actually the easiest things to bring to a scene for me. And if you are fully committed and energized in a scene, the audience is more forgiving of mistakes. How many scenes have you watched where the “funny” came from the actors’ commitment and energy? My personal hero was Chris Farley. He took what Belushi did and amped it up further. How could you not laugh at Farley?! He was so committed to his big energy characters that even his scene mates couldn’t keep it together.

So jump into a scene and commit to your movement with high energy. You’ll never be disappointed and I promise the audience will award you with laughter. Even if they are just laughing at you jump around like a big dumb idiot.

Sonnjea’s disclaimer: don’t stop working on the fundamentals!!!

(Note: I didn’t even write my own disclaimer. Sean wrote that part too. He knows me so well… ~Sonnjea)

By Darren Held

Improv: The Most Important Meal of the Day

Homegirl Tracy Araujo has some interesting things to say about improv… Check it out, won’t you!?

Meister Eckhart said “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” And I totally take his advice. Well, only on Saturdays. Because I take level 1 improv class on Saturday mornings.

I’ve often been asked why, even though I’m an “advanced” student and troupe member, I still take level 1 classes on a consistent basis. My first response to that is “Duh. Sonnjea teaches it.” My second response is a bit more complex because I had actually never asked myself that same question – why do I still feel the need to take a “beginner” class? Let me see if I can explain:

We’ve been taught our whole lives that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Have a good, nutritious breakfast, and you’ll feel energized the rest of the day. If you leave the house without eating, it’s pretty certain you’ll crash in a few hours and you’re more likely to eat something unhealthy before lunchtime just so you won’t pass out (unless you actually LIKE McDonald’s, but I digress).

It’s the same way with improv.

In improv – regardless of the level – you always need a good, nourishing beginning to your scene. ALL improv scenes begin the same way: space work, eye contact, and emotion. A scene without these things will flounder and spend the entire three minutes trying to figure out relationship, what they’re doing, or where they are. Just like our people bodies, a good improv scene needs a healthy beginning that can strengthen it for the next three minutes.

In level 1, you learn all this stuff for the first time. And if you take level 1 a second time, you learn it again. And if you take level 1 a third time, you learn it again. And again. And again. In level 1, we learn a game called “Add-info Lineup.” The purpose of Add-Info is to learn to build a scene, block-by-block. You know – space work, eye contact, and emotion. Oh, did I already say that? That’s because IT NEVER CHANGES.

You can do one million improv scenes and no two of those scenes would ever be the same – ever (and it would take a really long time). Reinforcing these very basics in class again and again (and again) has helped me tremendously because I’m required to remember, over and over again, what constitutes a good, solid beginning to my scenes. And I get to see Sonnjea every week.

So see? Every single scene needs a good breakfast or it will be forced to eat a lot of “stuff” with no nutritional value. Probably somewhere in Gonna-ville.

By Darren Held


How about some words about improv from H2G troupe member Emily Formentini? You’re welcome.

I’d like to begin this piece as one would begin a fine meal: with a dinner roll.

The scene is The Cluck Bucket diner. Frienemies Tommy and Richard are seated across from one another in a post-argument silence brought forth from a long, fruitless day on the road.  Tommy wants chicken wings. Helen, the waitress, tells him the kitchen is closed. Tommy then feels the urge to share with her why he sucks as a salesman. Enter dinner roll.

Anyone following me here? For those of you that don’t (and for those of you who do… and I hope some of you do) this scene is from the classic comedy Tommy Boy, staring my man Chris Farley and my other man David Spade. The scene goes as follows:

Tommy: Helen, we’re both in sales. Let me tell you why I suck as a salesman. Let’s say I go into some guy’s office, and let’s say he’s even remotely interested in buyin’ something. Well, then I get all excited. I’m like JoJo, the Indian circus boy, with a pretty new pet.

(He picks up a dinner roll)

Tommy: The pet is my possible sale. Oh my pretty little pet, I love you. So I stroke it, and I pet it, and I massage it. Hehe, I love it, I love my little naughty pet. (He playfully pokes the roll) You’re naughty! And then I take my naughty pet and I go… (He demolishes the dinner roll in his hands) Uuuuuuh! I killed it! I killed my sale! And that’s when I blow it.

(See it for yourself here.)

I find myself returning to this scene as an analogy for instances in my life time and time again. When I’m not improvin’, I am a display coordinator and freelance artist by trade. I love what I do, but sometimes, like Tommy, I come across a project that I love too much. I get really excited about it very quickly. My mind is flooded with ideas. I can see it realized in my head in all its glory. But then… I start to stroke it. And massage it. And before I know it, I’ve squeezed it too hard and I’m left with a pile of crumbs.  

I’ve felt this same scene play out for me in improv as well. Being fairly new to the arts of improv and performing, I fell in love with them fairly quickly. Not only was I exploring a world that I had longed to explore for most of my life, I was discovering it was just as fun and amazing as I had always imagined. So, alas… then came the stroking… and the massaging… and you all can see where this is headed. Crumbs.

After killing many a bread pet, I have learned in both my craft and with improv, that I need to release my grip, put the roll down, and just hang out with it for a bit. Talk to it. Get to know it. See what it likes to do in its spare time. Show it love without squeezing the life out of it. I don’t need to be so hard on myself and put so much pressure on myself to perform to any sort of standard. I have learned that I must trust in myself and treat my creativity and ideas with kindness and respect so that they will do the same for me. Let the love inspire me rather than hinder me.

After Tommy’s spiel about his poor selling skills, Helen replied, “God, you’re sick.” But then you know what? She turned the friers back on and threw some wings in for him. He found success in his relaxed confidence and in being his awesome, sick self.

So go. Be sick. Get you some wings. Share ’em with your dinner roll.  

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