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by Darren Held

labelby Sonnjea Blackwell

This week is labeling week in the Level 1 improv classes, and that always leads to some, uh, interesting information. Students get a little drunk with power, enjoying the opportunity to say the biggest, macho-est guy is wearing a tutu or the calm school teacher is wearing pasties and a g-string, or somebody is in love with a fish, or another person’s arms are so weak she can’t lift a pencil.

I know the urge to give bizarro information is strong, and I don’t worry about it too much – once people learn they have to justify the crazy shit they throw out, they’ll be less inclined to say their scene partner is stealing cat poop from the neighbor’s litter boxes.

But what I love about the initial attempts at labeling is how specific people’s information is. The other night, somebody was wearing a biohazard suit because she cleaned up after elephants in the circus and she wanted to smell fresh for her date. Somebody else was wearing vintage Dior because she always wears Dior when she cries in Paris.

There are a couple reasons why being super specific will help you in your improv scene. First, and perhaps most obvious, is that the more clearly you call something out, the more likely your scene partner will understand your meaning and get on board with you. If you say, “I’m cold,” maybe that means you’re at the North Pole, or maybe it means you’re naked or maybe it means you’re unemotional. On the other hand, if you say, “This room is filling up with liquid nitrogen! I’m freezing to death!” there’s no room for misunderstanding.

The second reason is that really specific information tends to stick in our brains better, and you and your partner will be less likely to forget what you’ve set up. Once in 7th grade a boy told me, “You look like you traded legs with a chicken and lost your ass in the deal.” That’s pretty fucking specific and I still remember it.

Shut up, I’m not bitter.

A red dress is better than a dress. A short red dress is better than a red dress. A short red dress with a torn hem and moth holes in the sleeve is fantastic.

The more your label can help you, your partner and the audience actually see what you’re describing, the better. Just don’t tell somebody they have chicken legs. That’s just mean.

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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