Let's talk about funny

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Let's talk about funny

Postby jrec747 » March 27th, 2013, 4:54 am

I want to talk about a subject that a lot of people in improv seem to shy away from, and that is what makes an improviser funny. I think it's a touchy subject because whenever it is brought up, there's always the argument about "you don't need to be funny, just interesting." Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that there are a plethora of very funny improvisers out there, and I really want to look analytically into the subject. I remember watching an interview with Charna Halpern at IO, and the question came up "what makes a funny improviser?," and she said that the funniest improvisers have the most honest reactions. They react instantly to what is said last, and it is usually what they are thinking of in that moment. In the funniest improvisers I have seen, I definitely see this. My favorite improviser Brendan Jennings will react to the very last thing said almost all the time, and since he adds such a strong emotion to it, he always kills.
I know there are a lot of things that make an improviser funny, but I have a hypothesis that it all comes down to character. There are people who are good at playing characters, and then there are people who are good at playing themselves. But I believe that even when you are playing yourself, you are playing the character of yourself....your point of view, your ticks, etc. So I think that the funniest improvisers are good actors who can accurately play the point of views of various characters, whether they be stereotypical characters, subtle characters, or the characters of themselves. The more accurate and real these points of views are, the more the audience can relate, and the funnier the improviser is. A good example of this would be Miles Stroth, who pretty much has a character for every type of person needed in a scene, and since he has such a strong understanding of their points of view, the dialogue of these characters are extremely accurate, and thus extremely hilarious.
What do you guys think makes an improviser funny?
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Re: Let's talk about funny

Postby PyroDan » March 27th, 2013, 5:38 pm

The best improvisors are capable and aware to do all the things necessary to improvise. Listen, create character, emote, be active, attend to and surprise the audience, create stage picture, call back etc.

The funniest improvisors can often do all of that and have the interesting ability to make it all work and serve comedy more often than everyone else.

Funny is always a subjective matter.
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Re: Let's talk about funny

Postby ratliff » March 28th, 2013, 10:07 am

This is a great topic, because even though a lot of teachers (me included) say that being funny doesn't make you a good improviser (which is TRUE), the fact is that some people are naturally a lot funnier than others.

Some of my greatest admiration is reserved for players who are funny from the moment they first set foot onstage but who go ahead and commit to the hard work of becoming good improvisers on top of that. Those of us who really struggle with it at the beginning have no choice but to do the work, because we can tell we suck, but someone who's already getting laughs has to make a conscious decision to pursue something larger than the immediate payoff of the laugh. I think in a way that's even more difficult, and some very funny people lose interest at that point.

I agree with Dan that it's subjective. It's also dependent on context. What's funny in a crazy Maestro scene might be a real showkiller in a grounded monoscene.

I also agree that for those of us who are not automatically hilarious, the best way to be funny is to really commit to a character, however realistic or absurd. I've gotten way more laughs in shows from real reactions than I have from clever or creative lines ... which comes back to the idea that if you commit to the principles of supporting your partner and being true to your choices, you can do really funny improv work even if you're not usually the funniest person in the room. (Before I started doing improv and hanging out with improvisers, I was often the funniest person in the room. Now I never am. I'm okay with that.)
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Re: Let's talk about funny

Postby Spots » March 29th, 2013, 9:17 am

Jrec, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I love watching the type of player you described. For a while I used the word commitment to describe them. Commitment or "being grounded."

And then I used the word honesty for a while.



But there are two types of play depending on playing yourself or as a character. How do we talk about honest? Or being natural? That's not really honesty. It's something else.




Your post made me think of the word "congruency" and that's a word I'm sticking with from now on.

Not everyone will be inspired by this word. But to me I choose for it to mean: Being comfortable in your own skin, in the moment.

Perhaps being in harmony with your or your character's intent.

Doesn't necessarily mean your character and you share the same intent. That's where commitment comes in. But you as an improviser are congruent with your intent. Your feelings. Being congruent allows the audience to "believe along" with you so much stronger. With so much more meaning and impact. Your congruency and charm picks us up on a big old wave and carries us to the farthest places.

"He was natural throughout the whole scene."

If you are congruent with following the tension the audience senses in you, if you stay true to that, you will be perceived as "naturally funny".


You're just being honest in the moment. That's all you're doing. I speak in abstract terms as always. But the more congruent you can be, the more the audience feels invited to come along with you.


A seemless, inspired character choice would be considered "congruent."
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Re: Let's talk about funny

Postby jillybee72 » April 14th, 2013, 6:22 pm

Being trained in comic theory is just another tool in my toolkit, a bit of cross-training, the same way people who are dancers use their bodies as they improvise, and people who are actors use their acting skills.
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Re: Let's talk about funny

Postby Spots » April 15th, 2013, 8:20 pm

Comic theory could be viewed as both:

1.) the ability to produce laughs

2.) the ability to highlight absurdity while still staying believable


Which means acting is a part of a lot of folk's comic theory. jrec has a valid point about that.


jrec747 wrote:The more accurate and real these points of views are, the more the audience can relate, and the funnier the improviser is. A good example of this would be Miles Stroth, who pretty much has a character for every type of person needed in a scene, and since he has such a strong understanding of their points of view, the dialogue of these characters are extremely accurate, and thus extremely hilarious. What do you guys think makes an improviser funny?
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