This is a story about the art of improv, assuming, sustaining marketing and integrity, and lastly saying the wrong thing to someone who will write about it.
I. Let’s Talk About Improv
Two months ago my fellow improvisers and I were grateful to take part of Funny Bone’s experimental and new (monthly-turned-bi-monthly) improv night. I spoke to Manager, who–save the fact he had come from Chicago–wanted to start a monthly improv night series. We had a very large crowd in attendance, and we were received well. The sound was a bit off–Funny Bone has no sound system aside the microphones–but the show was enjoyable to perform. We put on an hour-and-a-half show and complete with a short-form set, a long-form set, and we concluded with another short-form set. This was asked of us, because Manager brought up Whose Line is it Anyway? when a colleague and I met with him one evening.
As a side note: Whose Line is it Anyway?, which is still going on today, began in the late 1980’s. Like all great comedy origins, the show came from the United Kingdom, specifically England. The United Kingdom is mentioned, because the Scottish and Irish have as great of a comedic sense. As Americans, we see something great and bring it to the States. After going off the air, the show came back on and plays today. However, this television show was not the birth of improv. This piece is not to get into the origins of everything, but keep these notions in mind.
Whose Line is short-form improv. The acts that the improvisers perform are games, and games have rules. Save this notion, because rules, although they are necessary to keep order, can be restricting. Long-form improv also has guidelines and rules, but these are less restricting. In long form, the improvisers take a word of inspiration and create a show. The goal is to make up a play on the spot, telling a few stories that tie in together by the end of the set.
Yes, it’s different. It’s not always funny. This is art and drama and acting. Improv, in the general sense, has patrons assuming the show is going to be funny when it may not be.
Improvisers are here to entertain. You cannot tell people to be funny, and you can ask as many times as you want, saying pretty please with or without the cherries, but there is no guarantee what will happen on stage. We accept what is given to us.
II. Comedians and Comedy
Comedians, few of them, can perform improv. Comedians are all about punch lines. Sure, you go to a show and laugh for an hour and a half, but in the grand scheme of things you’re laughing at punch lines that you’ve heard before. Yes, that’s why you go see a mainstream comic it is only due to your knowing his or her material.
Local comics, Anna Phillips and T Blunt to name two of them, you’re less likely to go see. Why? Because you’re afraid they aren’t going to be funny. You’re afraid you aren’t going to laugh. Anna and T are fantastic storytellers, and their sets engage you more with the art of storytelling with funny notions about life. They do not force their humor, which makes seeing them a treat. But the common person, those reluctant to support local comedy and arts, seem too timid to attend a comedy show that features acts they have never heard of .
They want that it’s-going-to-be-funny guarantee.
I love that clip.
That is neither here nor there. However, word on the street was that Chris Farley was great at improv.
Manager at Funny Bone wants the funny and people to bring the funny. He wants a guarantee. This is why Funny Bone fills their shows with semi-popular to popular to popular-and-washed-up comics due to these comics having a name and some sort of quirk to sell tickets.
This marketing works.
III. Live Action
What Manager doesn’t do is research. On the defense of the Syracuse Improv Collective and Salt City Improv, we companies carried the weight of promoting ourselves as improv collectives in Syracuse. Funny Bone simply can stick their own ad on their website, boosting their show, which wouldn’t happen without either of us. And we, the people of Syracuse, wonder why there was no September improv show. If there was, no one that I know heard about it.
Funny Bone does not have an adequate sound system for improv (as previously stated). The venue “fixed” a microphone to hear the improv last night. When we performed, Manager suggested that we hold on to the microphones.
If he knew anything about improv, which I will get into more of later in the post, he should have known that we create environments and work with our hands. Holding microphones would only be ridiculous.
Promotion consistency: it helps, so keep on it. If you want to promote something, bombard social media and create advertisements. Unfortunately, we improv collectives may not be able to afford the big advertisements. Funny Bone, also, failed to promote these two improv collectives on a local level. Despite the night of the performances, I have yet to see this chain comedy club promote the groups they take in.
Don’t Feed the Actors is Syracuse’s longest running improv troupe. They put on a monthly show at the CNY Playhouse in Shoppingtown Mall, and they follow the same guidelines as Whose Line is it Anyway?, following the short-form and game concepts credibly. If Manager did his research, he probably should have gone with DFTA. The shows they put on are fall-out-of-your-chair funny, and they pack a full house.
The members of Salt City Improv’s Pork Pie Hat are great people. I’ve worked closely with one member, took a workshop with another member, and I’ve seen and spoken to a third by simply being out and about in Syracuse. Salt City is facing the same dilemma as members of the Syracuse Improv Collective: we want people to come to our shows and enjoy themselves. Our collectives both have homes in Shoppingtown Mall as well; this is more of a reason to keep that mall thriving as well as possible.
My purpose of joining improv was to find another artistic outlet and to meet new people. Although, we may not get along with one another 100 percent of the time (we’re human, go figure), we still see past the nonsense and carry on. I am no expert at improv by any means, but I’m getting there. I’ve been taught by several people, individuals each having at least 15 years experience in improv.
Pork Pie Hat was bombarded by shitty suggestions by the audience, which allowed them to create “fart jokes” the majority of the time. As improvisers, we accept what we are given and roll with it. Some call it ignorance, and some call it low-brow humor; however, this is time for you, the readers, to classify the audience as you choose.
The troupe made rookie mistakes. These mistakes have been made by yours truly; hence, I am a rookie. It happens, and this is not the point of this post. My laughing out loud several times during the show could be heard, and the performance was enjoyable… aside the “fart jokes” that generated blatant redundancy.
I walked over to Manager after the show, and he shook my hand. The emcee and front runner of Salt City skidaddled as soon as I walked up. apparently, there is an intimidating aura around my person. He asked me how I liked the show, and my reply was that I enjoyed it. This was not a lie. He then said to me, which will be shortened and paraphrased: Quite a difference, huh?
He tells me there was a noticeable difference in experience.
This is where I called bullshit, but it was to myself. I didn’t want to make a scene in front of my lady friend. This statement uttered by Manager was actually reiterated in my dreaming last night, and it woke me up. The fury kept me up for a good hour and a half.
I personally know that many SIC members have more experience than the majority of the members of Pork Pie Hat combined. Several SIC members have have experience and education from Second City and IO and UCB. This is actually true. Many of these troupe members of Salt City haven’t been doing this much longer than I have.
The only significant difference between the two shows is that SIC included the performance of a Harold.
So, where does it say Manager has the authority to determine who has more experience? Manager’s goal is to bring people in and sell booze. He sold me booze. Off the drink menu, I ordered a beer from the list that they did not have; it did not exist. I ended up with a beer that was not actually listed on the drink list. And $5.50 for a Hoegaarden doesn’t make the beer taste any better.
Obviously, Manager doesn’t know anything about improv despite coming from Chicago, and he does not know improv troupes in Syracuse. To simply ask to promote either collective is too much to ask, because they simply want to bring people in, showing how diverse and flashy they can be. You’re not doing charity work for the Syracuse art scene when you don’t follow through.
Remember, folks, you cannot believe everything you hear or what is told to you. Manager didn’t do his research, and he didn’t take the time to get to know the performers. Manager did not swing by any improv shows in Syracuse, so he assumed all improv was regimented and blatantly funny.
We do fart jokes only so often. We make things up on the spot to tell you a story. It may be a clear story, it may be metaphorical, it may be surreal, AND/OR it may come out in the form of a lucid dream.
I have been trained and coached by teachers experienced in improv. I have taken months of classes, and I am hellbent on continuing improv. It’s help with communication, it’s heightened my personality, and it’s helped with my writing. It’s an outlet for artistic expression.
With improv, I can perform as Chris Malone. I can be onstage, but it’s not me performing. I’m gaining the confidence to take on various roles, and to play characters playing characters. I may be Chris Malone, but I will be performing as an ex-convict out on parole for some heinous crime, but this character will be taking on the role of a child in a family dinner scene.
I want to challenge myself, and I want to get in all of your heads. Yes, you, members of the audience.
So, for someone to say we didn’t have experience in improv is outlandish and cannot be backed. What I wanted to do was parallel a scene from a favorite movie of mine, which I have referenced in posts past.
Do not challenge my integrity. I’ll bring out the puppies and kittens.
IV. The Tie-In
You wanted improv. We gave you improv. We brought in a crowd. We made them laugh. We made them gasp even. We gave you what you wanted.
This was a metaphorical spit in my face, in front of my lady friend. There is a witness to your rudeness.
Funny Bone didn’t expect some serious topics or long-form improv. If they wanted simple Whose Line material, Manager should have confirmed simply that.
Audience, we gave you something you didn’t expect. You’re welcome.