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by Darren Held

Sometimes I have been known to be a wee bit sarcastic. No, really. I know that probably comes as a shock to three of you, but it’s true. It’s not a particularly great trait in real life, and it’s a downright bad trait in improv. Here’s why:

And there’s always a 99% chance that someone won’t pick up on the sarcasm. It’s not because they’re dumb, either. It’s because when you’re sarcastic, you are a) saying the opposite of what you mean, b) being subtle and/or c) being snarky to the person you’re talking to (or about).

In real life, it can be difficult to figure out if someone is being sarcastic or not when they say the opposite of what they mean. Add to that inherent difficulty the stress of trying to create a scene out of thin air with another person (or people) who have their own ideas, and there’s an excellent chance somebody will not pick up on the sarcasm. Then you have at least one person doing the scene based on what you literally said, and at least one person doing the scene based on the opposite of that. Ugh. Even if all the players “get it,” there’s still an excellent chance many people in the audience will have missed the sarcasm. So in improv, we don’t say the opposite of what we mean. We just say what we mean and call everything out in no uncertain terms.

In improv, we also don’t do subtle; there just isn’t time. You have a few short minutes to complete an entire scene, so you have to put everything right out there for the audience and your scene partner to see. Being coy or subtle often requires your scene partner to guess at what you mean and usually takes 3 or 4 lines to get out what could have been said in 1. Just get there! The other problem with subtle is it can frequently lead to casual, and casual is another thing that doesn’t work in improv. Everything has to matter. A LOT!! Big and bold is a much better choice than subtle and casual.

Finally, don’t waste effort being snarky. Be enraged, furious, devastated, homicidal, disgusted or downright hateful. Snarky is a “kinda” emotion (ie, kinda bitchy, kinda mad, kinda irritated) and there’s no kinda in improv.

If you’re always thinking in terms of making choices that GIVE your partner something solid to work with, you’ll see right away that sarcasm isn’t gonna be the optimal choice. In improv, I mean.

Oh, all right. In life, too.

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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