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by Darren Held

I noticed something interesting in justification night at H2G Level 2 class last night. Besides the fact that Sam is great at zip, zap, zop, I mean.

We were doing fishbowl when I had this epiphany. Fishbowl is a 2-person scene we do where we get a suggestion for a location and periodically throughout the scene, the improvisers pull from the fishbowl a sentence that audience members have written on slips of paper. They say this sentence as part of their dialogue, and then they have to justify why they said something like, “I’d like to put hot sauce on that.”

Fishbowl is inherently funny, because seeing people in a situation suddenly say these random lines is funny. Once. But if you don’t justify the lines, it just becomes crazy people spewing nonsense, which quickly loses its charm. Darren has emphasized over and over the importance of saying these random lines with emotion, as if the character is dying to tell the other “I love you” or “I hate you” or whatever, but substituting the fishbowl line for that big piece of emotionally-charged news.

When I watch these scenes, I can see that the ones where the improvisers remember that advice work much better. If the scene is too casual, then even though the justifications may happen, it seems like it’s forced somehow.

So my epiphany last night was this: When the improvisers say ALL their lines like they matter, something happens so that the lines drawn from the fishbowl actually seem to make sense. It’s not like the players magically start attracting just the right slips of paper to their fingers. But by having this emotional investment in everything that’s said, any random line can be justified within the context of the scene so that it seems logical to have said that. Or, if not logical, at least believable and funny. Which is pretty much what we’re going for. So the emotion takes the game from the level of simply justifying the lines to the level of truly integrating the lines. So when Walt and I are getting flirty at the prospect of his parents’ visit ending soon, “I’d like to put hot sauce on that” totally fits as part of our sexy banter. But if we are just kinda okay with his parents’ imminent departure, “I’d like to put hot sauce on that” is a weird line that, while justifiable, is never really going to feel like it was the line that was supposed to go there.

In real life, I’m pretty emotional about my justifications. For example, it’s absolutely, perfectly legitimate to mow through two orders of In-N-Out fries if you order the double-double protein style (no bun). Not that I would personally do such a thing. But I am very emotional about your right to do so.

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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