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Dannydoyle
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Obviously you havn't been to the Second City in recent years. They don't seem to be able to actually improv a burp.

They are more sketch comedy now. But the old school Second City yea.
Danny Doyle
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<BR>In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act....George Orwell
gabelson
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Agreed. But it also depend on which Second City "troupe" you see. Too many improvisors (and this INCLUDES those on "Whose Line" fall into the same pattern comics and magicians tend to, as well- which is, they get comfortable with material... then don't change it. And if ANYONE should be spontaneous, it's an improv performer. An improvisor will come up with a great, extemporanneous, real moment on stage... then remember it and try to duplicate it, rather than come up with something original the next time they're in that situation, so yes, it has become like a sketch. I'm equally guilty of it. During the 17 years I did stand-up for a living, there were bits I knew would kill, and since I was getting paid well, didn't want to drop them from my act, even though they were stale and outdated. I was in a comfort zone, and was more concerned about how the crowd would react, than keeping my act fresh. And when you speak of "old school" Second City, one must remember their alumni included Robert Klein, Mike Nichols, Joan Rivers, Paul Sand, (then later) Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Andrea Martin, etc. There wasn't a weak link in that chain.
Dannydoyle
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Your missing the point.

Second City does not even PRETEND to do improv. They are about sketches period.

I have no problem with how improv is done. I do it that way myself. A great improv artist is simply a guy with a great memory and a great sense of timing. I reherse my ad libs constantly to keep them fresh.

after 20 years you collect them for every situation you can. It makes you LOOK spontanious. Which is cool because we "look" magical too. May as well simulate as much as we can!
Danny Doyle
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gabelson
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But Danny, it is indeed the point. Yes, current day Second City developa their sketches based on improv, and yes, as you said, they are sketches. PURE improv, however, by definition, is working moment-to-moment, LISTENING to your partner- it's all about TRUST- that's the trick- pure improv is a test of teamwork- how well you play off others and more importantly, how you can make THEM look better, and build on something spontaneous. THAT'S truly magical-- at least for the performer. It's MUCH harder to actually listen to your partner, confident they will give you something to play off of, and run with, than it is to just THINK OF THE NEXT STOCK FUNNY LINE YOU CAN PLUG IN. The original Second City would take suggestions from the audience, IMPROVISE on it, then occasionally develop sketches BASED on what they had improvised. Then there are those who take their stand-up material, remember it, and plug it in to an improv where needed- sure, they look like brilliant minds (Robin Williams), and you have to tip your cap to their memory and ability to draw upon it in a given situation, but that's not Improv. and it's not an excercise in spontanaeity. Your statement, "I rehearse my ad libs" is a contradition in terms. When I performed stand-up for 17 years, nothing gave me more joy than getting heckled and truly coming up with a putdown IN THAT MOMENT- something I'd never said before- that rocked the house. People can somehow sense when something is truly spontaneous. Watch "Mr. Saturday Night" (not a great film, but an interesting one). See how funny Billy Crystal is when he's actually IN THE MOMENT, working off an audience member, and how stale and embarrassing it looks when he pulls out a stock put-down line, "See, that's what happens when cousins marry!" Uggh, "Simulated" improv is like anything else that's simulated. It's never quite as good as the real thing.
Dannydoyle
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OK let me explain. There are only so many human concerns. ONE of them will be shouted out each night. there is a fininte number of sketches you come up with after a while. You end up repeating them. It is called improv.

Sorry to spoil your "in the moment" theory. But it is true. Improv is actually a lot less spontanious than you may think.
Danny Doyle
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gabelson
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Danny- You are describing what Paul Sills calls "Playwriting on your feet" - which applies to insecure performers who are afraid of failing in front of an audience.

There are basically two forms of improvs - those done in workshops (exciting for the players exploring, frequently boring to observers) and performance based formats (our games and those seen on Who's Line Is It Anyway?) which only work if the players are in the moment, listening, working together and respecting the rules of the game. Sure, all of us are guilty of throwing in lines and pieces of business that worked
before, because we're in front of an audience. But, in every instance, it never worked as well as the first time it was done. I'sn't it funny how the audience instinctively knows where we're thinking on our feet?

Your (excuse the word) misguided opinion is based on your experiences with Second City. The goal of Second City is to entertain paying customers, who don't want to see players exploring on stage without a laugh every 30 seconds. So, yeah - what they're doing frequently is relying on their memory. Not really improv, it's called ACTING - doing something over and over again, but making it seem fresh and spontaneous every time. Which is perfectly understandable, because again, you're working for paying customers.

The content and technique of players performing improv varies if done in a club, on a stage, in a community center or someone's living room.

Danny, do you know who David Shepherd, Paul Sills, Keith Johnstone and Jeffrey Sweet are? If you're drawing a blank, you're probably not familiar with what true improv is. In which case, I heartily recommend the book "Something Wonderful Right Away", which backs up what I have been saying about improv, from the guys who created it.

Posted: Jun 30, 2006 3:36pm
By the way, some directors, like Mike Nichols use improv as a tool in their work. When a scene isn't working, Nichols frequently tells his actors to FORGET the lines, use their own words and work on the MOMENT of the situation to discover the right behavior. Once that's solved, they go back to the script.

Dustin Hoffman loves to improvise on the set, interspersing his own words within the scripted dialog and trying new pieces of business with each new take.

And by the way, "improv" does not exclusively apply to comedy. I say this as someone who's been involved in the worlds of conflict/resolution drama and drama therapy, in addition to having done comedy improv, stand-up for 17 years, was the head monologue writer for David Letterman and won four Emmys, and served as staff writer on Leno and Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect".

Sorry to sound so harsh, Danny, but when you said you'd "explain" things to me, and "spoil" my "in the moment theory", I feel I must give you a conception of my background, as I believe I have some credibility in this area.
Sonny Vegas
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It's all good guys...there are so many ways to develope comedy. All I meant was to give a few paths on where you can see and study that vicious, nefarious, obnoxious thing we call comedy.

It's all fun.

Peace and Love.
Believe in yourself and the magic will come.

www.SonnyVegas.com
www.TheVegasBrothers.com
Dannydoyle
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So you seem to be saying true improv is for the player and not the audience?

Yea your right, my misguided opinion is we perform for our audiences. How stupid could I possibly be. I mean after all they pay the money, I figure we consider them in the equasion. How misguided could my opinion be? What a moron I am.

My misguided opinion was that Second City and 99% of what is called IMPROV in the world today is not true improv. YOU have then gone and confirmed this opinion all at the same time while telling me how wrong I am.

Isn't it funny how we get so impressed with our own ideas we don't see how they are exactly the same as someone elses already stated misguided opinion.

As for Dustin Hoffman one of the most famous stories of him is from Marathon Man. He was a METHOD ACTOR by the way. He went out and ran for miles prior to his scenes so he would be "in the moment". Look tired and what have you.

Sir Lawerence Olivie(wow spellcheck that one) looked at him when he came back in the room from a long run and simply said "My dear boy, why don't you just act?".

So don't give me the Dustin Hoffman improv stories ok? The lines he throws in "on the spot" have been worked out in his head for days ahead of time. Not really improv, as much as a script improvment baised on where he takes the charecter. Yea I read the same thing.

I guess my point is there is no pure improv being practiced, and hardly ever was. YOU seem to concur. But still find the need to sound harsh.

So if I sounded harsh, well it just gives you an idea of MY background as I know for a fact I have some credability in this area. Maybe we can be less superior and just realize we agree.

Stop being offended and trying to give your resume and things are a lot easier.

Sonny YOU are so right man. there are tons of paths. Mine is rehersed till it sounds spontanious. (and yes you can get to that point my friend it is called rehersal.) Many others simply like to go with the flow, no real structure and as things pop into the mind they say them. To me that is dangerous.

One more thing you said gabelson that was interesting is "pure improv" is not really that interesting to an audience. My only experience is with an audience that wants to be entertained. So I am perhaps out of my depth speaking when that is not the case.

as for your assumption (we all know what that does) that an "insecure performer" is the only one who does it like you say, well lets just say it is not true. I am not afraid of failing in front of an audience. I simply like to make sure they get what they have paid for. Oh and so did Slydini, Houdini, Vernon, Robin Williams, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Carol O'conner and I am not going to insult your intelligence by continuing.

Now maybe we can stop the attacks and harshness and continue talking about what most people see, the I guess pseudo improv.
Danny Doyle
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<BR>In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act....George Orwell
Christophercarter
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Quote:
On 2006-06-30 22:24, Dannydoyle wrote:
As for Dustin Hoffman one of the most famous stories of him is from Marathon Man. He was a METHOD ACTOR by the way. He went out and ran for miles prior to his scenes so he would be "in the moment". Look tired and what have you.

Sir Lawerence Olivie(wow spellcheck that one) looked at him when he came back in the room from a long run and simply said "My dear boy, why don't you just act?".




Appropo of nothing, this story probably didn't really happen. Here's a source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074860/trivia

It's still a great story, though.

--Chris
gabelson
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You're right, Danny, and Sonny IS right-- there are a ton of paths. And you're also right when you say that the audience is the one paying to be entertained with their hard-earned dough. They don't want to watch people floundering on stage (see: bad improvising), they want to be entertained. That being said, you can't do it ALL for the audience. I do think the performer has to not only take the audience into account, but must do something for themselves once in awhile. And that includes trusting oneself (or their co-performers) to create on the spot. I know that if I didn't throw some truly improvised material into my stand-up, I'd feel like I was selling out. I'd feel like I was on automatic pilot every night (and how many of THOSE performers have we seen? Improvisers, singers, comics, magicians, etc.) One of the reasons I love Letterman is that he refuses to compromise. He'll do a joke that only 0.5% of the population will get, if that. Perhaps only comedy writers. Here's one of my favorites from about 5 years ago: "Everyone in New York is sick with the flu... in fact, the guy who wrote this joke got sick with the flu, had to go home... and couldn't finish it." You could hear crickets in the theater! But how f-ing brilliant is that joke? No other television performer I know would touch that joke. It's the same thing with improv. Even if it sometimes doesn't get a laugh, it's good to once in a while do one for YOU. Wing it. Take a chance. An improviser, by DEFINITION, should be different from an actor. He should create something on the spot. And as Chris said, Hoffman has denied the Marathon Man story. Yeah, he'd run till he was out of breath to prepare for his running scene, lock himself in the closet for a day, so he'd appear claustrophobic in the scene where he's cornered in his apartment... that's how an actor prepares. But once Hoffman prepared, he would constantly be thinking and improvising new material on his feet. (And he's not even an improviser!) Hoffman studied with Lee Strasberg. No one focused more on "being in the moment" than Lee, perhaps the greatest acting coach of our day. It was, in fact, one of Lee's favorite expressions. I have a good friend (a great comic) named Billy Jaye who starred in "Billy Bathgate" with Hoffman years ago. He said that Hoffman was constantly riffing and improvising on the spot. There would be a script revision-- he'd riff on the revision. Yes, pure improv is being practiced... although not nearly enough. After 17 years, I've had to sit through too much BAD improv. Nothing pis*ed me off more than seeing an improviser react to a "spontaneous" situation on stage with the EXACT same line, night after night....after night....after night. Stale, indeed.
Owen Anderson
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I thought this link might be of interest as a reference:

http://creativeandperformingarts.humber.......ate.html
Owen Anderson
Dannydoyle
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Ok gableson now we get to my point.

YOU AGREE WITH ME!

That really was what I was pointing out. Improv watched today is somewhat akin to Cinnnimin. Not what you think it is. Cinnimin we eat and flavor with is not actually cinnimin it is another spice much cheaper. Improv is the same thing. Not quite improv. but it is what everyone knows as imporv.

It really is bad and I agree with you completly. Nice to see the harshness put away.


As for Hoffman I don't care one way or the other. I like his movies and it is as simple as that. (believe it or not my favorite was Family Business. A little known movie but I liked)
Danny Doyle
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gabelson
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Actually, Danny... and I mean this kindly... I don't agree. True improv IS still being practiced.
You said, <<I guess my point is there is no pure improv being practiced, and hardly ever was.>>

That is incorrect. COMPASS, the first cabaret improv company inthe USA (which started the careers of Nichols & May, Alan Arkin, Alan Alda, Stiller & Meara, Shelly Berman, Barbara Harris, Paul Mazursky) nightly did "pure improv" (based on audience suggestions) in addition toscenarios developed through improv.

There are HUNDREDS (yes, hundreds) of companies all over the world who STILL practice flying without a
net. Just because you haven't heard of them, doesn't mean they don't exist.

Here's one:

http://www.improv.ca

It's the home site for the Canadian Improv Games.

Here's another:

http://www.groupcreativityproject.com

It's David Shepherd's site. David Shepherd co-created Compass with Paul Sills approximately 50 years ago.
Dennis Michael
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Let me chime in here on the question: Has anyone actualy studied comedy?

Comedy is an art and skill. Studying just comedians is not the best route to go it suppliment serious study. In the many posts above very litle is mentioned on reading material.:


  • Stand-Up Comedy, The Book by Judy Carter
  • Comedy Writing Step by Step Gene Perret
  • The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus
  • Step by Step Stand-up Comedy by Greg Dean
  • Comedy Techniques for Entertainers by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson
  • Steve Shrott's Comedy Course
  • How to Really be Funny by Mark Stolzenberg


There are many others as well as joke books to help you understand what you read and learned.

There are Comedy Magic Workshops by Steve Kissell See: http://www.familyentertainersworkshop.com/

Hope this helps in learning Comedy
Dennis Michael
Dannydoyle
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I guess we have gotten pretty far afield from my actual question.

Improv and its existance is really a red herring. Not too applicable to the actual question.

Thanks Dennis. Great sources. Dosn't the Steve Schrott course have 2 volumes? Not nit picking but just curious if my memory has completly faded or not.
Danny Doyle
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Dennis Michael
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Don't know, I must have Volume 1 because there is no mention of another volume.
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gabelson
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Judy Carter's books, IMHO, are the best for the "modern" comic. Gene Perret was a joke writer for Bob Hope, so his angle is more from the traditional "Borscht Belt"-type one-liner. Also, I'd say a must-see movie is Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedian"- the DVD. One of the extras is Jerry doing ALL NEW MATERIAL HE'D NEVER DONE BEFORE in a difficult private performance situation that all of us have found ourselves in- outdoors, under a tent, bad stage, bad sound... etc. It's a great, insightful movie, unlike "Punchline" with Tom Hanks, where they took a fascinating art form and created a completely fictitious world, where comics buy and sell jokes, only work ONE club, and have LOCKERS!! LOL! As with anything else, there is no substitute for experience, and the best way to "learn" stand-up is to get on stage as much as humanly possible. But don't just do a set- stick around, watch the other acts, good and bad. Tape every set and listen to it 50 times. You'll get laughs in places you never thought you would, and silence where you thought you'd get laughs. Every time you do this, it'll help you the next time out.
In terms of joke writing, I like describing a joke as having "the rug pulled out from under your mind". There's got to be a surprise or a twist at the end. Most jokes, as well, are TWO OR MORE IDEAS TIED TOGETHER IN A FUNNY WAY. You start with a premise, then go through a sort of "mental rolodex" to arrive at another topic that ties into your first one in a funny way. For example, here's a joke I wrote for Letterman after the Clinton scandal: "President Clinton has hired two spiritual advisors to come and pray with him every weekend. -Great, just what we need... more people kneeling in the Oval Office." When I read about the spiritual advisors, I went through that mental rolodex, and eventually came up with the image of people praying on their knees... and BAM! the joke popped out. It's a great feeling- like solving a tough math problem.
A major consideration: Economy of words. NO one can pull off telling even a one-minute story with a single payoff (except, perhaps, Bill Cosby). If you listen to Seinfeld's act, it's one set-up followed by 10 punch lines. The ultimate economy of words. Now, not everyone works this way. You could read Jerry's stand-up in a book, and it would be almost as funny as him delivering it, because it's not personality-dependent. If you have a strong "character" or persona, the frequency of the punch lines is not as important. Also, try to save your punch "word", or "surprise", till the end of your joke (something I did not do in my above example! That punch would have been better had it read, "Great, just what we need... more people in the Oval Office on their knees!" .... "Knees", being the punch word.

Later guys,
Gabelson
Dannydoyle
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Let me just say that you have hit the nail on the head here with the last post in 2 ways.

One economey of words. Buster Keaton said "there is nothing wrong with sound, that a little bit of silence cound't fix." Too many comics don't know when to shut up and are enamored with the sound of their own voice.

The saving the last word thing too. Jay Marshall used to be an absolute master at this. Keep them interested till the last word then turn it. Lead them down the garden path and turn the hose on them.

If anyone wants to take something away from this thread, that shound be it.
Danny Doyle
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Lee Darrow
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But Jay also used to say, "It takes a LOT of rehearsal to sound like you're ad-libbing." Which was one of the greatest pieces of advice I've ever been given for comedy delivery.

Also, there's the technique of interrupting ones'self, which many comics mess up. And, when working with others, FEEDING other people leads. Watching Robin Williams on Whose Line Is It, Anyway? was a master's class in that - he was feeding the OTHER players material all the way through the show.

And I am willing to bet that not one person on 1,000 even had a hint that he was doing it, either. He didn't grandstand, hog the spotlight and SHARED.

By the way, Nichols & May also came out of Second City, Chicago. And they STILL do audience toss-ins many nights, too.

Lee Darrow, C.H.
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Dannydoyle
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Lee as you know Jay and his advice really stuck with me. Yea reherse reherse reherse.

When I would call Jay from on the road he was "sitting arround rehersing his ad libs".

A master class in interupting yourself is Jake Johansen. One of the few of todays top comics who actually get the point.

It was indeed rare to see Robin share like that. To me he has always been the guy in the spotlight and wants that. No doubt he is at home there, and deserves to be there. Just he seeks it almost too much for me. That occasion was a fine example of when he does NOT do that.
Danny Doyle
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<BR>In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act....George Orwell
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