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by Darren Held

Good gravy, I’ve been bad about posting! It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about improv, it’s just that I don’t always know what it is you’d like to read about improv. Well, technically, I don’t ever know what you’d like to read, but sometimes I don’t let that stop me. And other times I let that get in my head, and then – as it is wont to do when there’s a lot of stuff in there – my brain won’t spit anything out.

But I digress.

My troupey Kendra and I saw an improv show recently, and we were both struck by how simple the players kept everything. One person threw out a short line of dialogue. Another person yes,anded that by adding another short line of dialogue. Nothing about aliens or weird second-cousin-twice removed relationships or outlandish scenarios. It was somebody’s 40th birthday. The married couple had met in college. A kid down the street had a horrible mother. A lady whose husband was in prison was kinda slutty. Simple, relatable concepts, characters and relationships.

There’s nothing wrong with more complex concepts. My point is simply that “funny” is not directly proportional to “complexity.” And sometimes improv students think they have to over-complicate things in order to create something unique. Whatever YOU do is going to be unique because it’s coming from your point of view, and nobody else has your unique way of looking at things.

The players in the show we saw didn’t over think things when it came to justifications either. An unlikely event occurred in prison, and they justified it calmly and simply by saying that the guard was absent that day. That’s actually hilarious because of absurd simplicity… as if a guard at a prison wouldn’t have a backup or whatever. But they didn’t get bogged down in the logic or convoluted explanations of the guard taking a break and the other one being distracted by something he saw on a security monitor or whatever. Just one line, “Well, Barry the guard wasn’t there that day.” Period.

Because I was a writer first and an improvisor second, I can get VERY wordy and descriptive sometimes… the way I would in a novel, for example. But this simplicity thing is really appealing to me and I’m going to work on simplifying my improv and trusting the audience to find the humor in situations they don’t need me to explain for 10 minutes.

You can try it if you wanna.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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