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by Richard Martinez

There’s a moment onstage during an improv scene, where you feel everything is going RIGHT.  The “who/what/where” has been taken care of,  and the big event has been established.  Now all you have to do is ride the wave of this awesome scene.



I had such an experience with the Last Laugh Saturday show at Hot Java in March. We were doing “Musical Understudy”, wherein my troupe mates, Darren, Kendra, Tracy and I, started the scene and our fellow Troupies would be repeating and exaggerating our performances afterward.


Darren, Kendra, and Tracy laid out a great foundation.  In the scene, the daughter found out that her elderly,  near-death father wanted to start doing serious hardcore recreational drugs, and had recently been seeing a woman of ill repute.  They sang awesome songs establishing their characters and the situation.  My role was to jump in as the character who could “fix” everything.  I decided to jump into the role of “Dr. Anderson.”  In character, (and in song) I revealed that I had made a mistake with Darren’s character’s diagnosis, and that he was going to live a long life.  I then suggested that instead of doing drugs, he should spend more time giving hugs to his daughter.


My song had pretty much run it’s course, but that’s when I had the brilliant idea to add an “outro” to the song I was improvising.   I thought singing a repeated refrain of “Hugs, Not Drugs!” would be the cherry on top of the scene. So I went for it. “Hugs, Not Drugs!  Hugs, Not Drugs!”


Except, as it turns out, my mouth hadn’t quite gotten the message from my brain, and I quickly realized based on everyone’s reactions that I was singing “Drugs, Not Hugs!” over and over, which didn’t exactly fit what I had established. I haven’t seen the video yet, but I’m pretty sure you can pinpoint on my face the exact moment where I wanted to die.


Luckily, audiences love goof-ups, and I’d given them a pretty decent one, so rather than feeling judgment or disdain from the audience or my fellow Troupies, the comedy of the moment shined through and I was able to laugh at myself.  Then I remembered that, in character, I had already established that I made mistakes.  So I just called that out, which got a great reaction from the audience, and then the scene was over.


In hindsight, I realized what a gift I’d given myself by labeling myself early on as someone who makes mistakes.  After the realization of the goof, I could have just shrugged it off, or given up on the scene, but by focusing on the situation and the characters we’d all developed, I was able to make a little sense out of a pretty nonsensical situation.  I spoke to my fellow Troupie, Andy after the show, and he reinforced this idea.  He told me what a great “improv choice” I had made by committing to the labels of the character I’d created.


Of course, I’d rather not have to justify my own mistake, but there’s really no getting around that.  Mistakes happen.  It’s up to us to figure out how we handle them, in improv and in life.


So…don’t be surprised if in every scene I’m in from now on, I label myself as a Mistake Maker.


Richard Martinez
About Richard Martinez
Richard Martinez is a member of the Held2gether troupe and social media guru, and overzealous pre-school teacher. He loves candy.

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