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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)

Don't squeeze your improv to bits. Or, you know, something like that.

Don’t squeeze your improv to bits. Or, you know, something like that.

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.  

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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