?

Log in

No account? Create an account
adapted from a response to peter's livejournal. - Roy Janik [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Roy Janik

[ website | Parallelogramophonograph ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

adapted from a response to peter's livejournal. [Mar. 18th, 2008|11:41 am]
Roy Janik
[Tags|, , ]

So last week, the Upright Citizens Brigade came to Austin, performed some shows, and taught numerous workshops. I wanted to take the classes, but I was on vacation, so I was insanely curious about them. Fortunately, Peter made a few extensive overviews of Besser's classes, and Jastroch and others wrote about their experiences as well. I've read a LOT of interviews and articles about the UCB style, so nothing they said came as too much of a surprise, though it's great to get some more detail. I basically condense it down to:

  • hyper-hyper focus on game. In fact, ALL comedy is game-based, if you think about it, really.
  • don't knock, and in fact, encourage, coming out with a premise at the top of the scene.

That second point isn't as antithetical to Johnstone as I might think. Most of the teachers I've had the pleasure to learn under have said that having something when you come out is absolutely fine, but be prepared to joyfully throw it away if your partner beats you to the punch or it doesn't work out the way you're planning it.

A better "opposite" to UCB style, if you must have one, would be Dave Razowsky's style that he taught at the last Out of Bounds. He was really into building the entire scene by paying super close attention to your partner.. using their body language and facial expressions to build your scene up from nothing, and then building up from there, piece by piece.

So here's the primary difference that I see b/w UCB and Johnstone.

UCB's goal is to perform unscripted sketch comedy.
Johnstone's goal (well, MY goal, anyhow) is to perform unscripted theatre.*

Both perfectly valid things. There's a lot to learn from games and premises, I think. But in my mind it teaches you to do one very specific type of scene, and leads to a very quick paced show. And if that's the only type of scene you're interested in, then so be it.

I always feel a little weird claiming to be of the Johnstone school of improv. It's my basis, certainly, but I try pretty hard not to be dogmatic. I really want to pick up as much, skill-wise, from every source I can get my hands on. I could certainly improve my game-finding, heightening skills a lot more, and be a better improviser as a result.

*not that sketch comedy isn't theatre... just a very specific type.

LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: biscuitpig
2008-03-18 05:39 pm (UTC)
I want to go take their intensive or something and get it from the horse's mouth, because my knee-jerk reaction is similar to yours but I'd like to be informed.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zinereem
2008-03-18 05:56 pm (UTC)
Here's something close... a series of interviews with Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, and Matt Besser. They don't really get around to talking theory till page 2 or something.

Matt Besser 11/16/06 Part 1
Matt Besser 11/16/06 Part 2
Matt Besser 11/16/06 Part 3

Ian Roberts Part 1 - 2/16/07
Ian Roberts Part 2 - 2/16/07
Ian Roberts Part 3 - 2/16/07

Matt Walsh 7/19/06 Part 1
Matt Walsh 7/19/06 Part 2
Matt Walsh 7/19/06 Part 3
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: hujhax
2008-03-18 05:45 pm (UTC)
Fortunately, Peter made a few extensive overviews of Besser's classes [...]

Here's my post, in case folks are curious.

[...] and Jastroch and others wrote about their experiences as well [...]

Ooh -- where's Jastroch's post?
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zinereem
2008-03-18 05:51 pm (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: hujhax
2008-03-18 05:56 pm (UTC)
~ thanks! ~
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: bellatrixamici
2008-03-18 06:09 pm (UTC)
It's funny.
I love laughing. I love people who are fun to talk to and make me laugh. I love making others laugh.
But I don't like the idea of just "making comedy".
It might just be the way that the term is defined in my head, but especially when it comes to unscripted work I think there should be larger goals involved, the comedic aspect is naturally built into the form. Most improvisers, if they are reacting naturally and honestly in character, can be funny. Few improvisers are talented enough to bring out funny characters immediately, and pull it off. Or at least this is what my experience with watching improvisers has been.

I have never been a big sketch comedy geek, though SNL peaked my interest for a few years when I was younger. I never really got into UCB, Kids in the Hall, etc. I was too young to really get their stuff when they aired it on Comedy Central.
So my background is different from a lot of those ny dudes, and people we know doing improv. Including you and Kareem, I guess.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: marcusgerarde
2008-03-18 06:19 pm (UTC)
Even if you talk to people who are doing it for the comedy, as opposed to theater, I doubt you'd find many people who regard this work (and Sketch as well), who regard themselves as JUST making comedy. Otherwise, we'd be in the borscht belt telling one liners.

If I believed the Harold was just an avenue to tell jokes, I'd stick to writing.

The stuff that a lot of people aren't talking about vis a vis the UCB workshops is how much honest, grounded reactions and characters were discussed. Because we all take it for granted that every improv school of thought stresses deep character work and commitment to the reality of the scene. In the underlying sense.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: 40wattbulb
2008-03-18 06:22 pm (UTC)
again, didn't take besser's class, but matt walsh was HEAVY on the grounded, realistic reaactions to stuff, not to mention the need to really act -- be an actor -- with this stuff.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zinereem
2008-03-18 09:43 pm (UTC)
That's great, and good to hear. I really would've liked to take Walsh's workshop, I think.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: marcusgerarde
2008-03-18 06:12 pm (UTC)
I strongly agree that all comedy is game based. If we define a game as a pattern of behavior, and understand laughter as an emotional response to the brains recognition of patterns and their disruption. There's a reason the rule of threes exists.

Some games are really subtle, however. But if you point to a laugh, I can point to the game that was being played.

We can quibble over the relative artistic merits and audience satisfaction and engagement, but UCB and UCB connected improv shows are, in my experience (and I've seen a lot of improv), the funniest.

Also, my math mind gets off on this stuff--patterns and connections--which is the main reason I'm attracted to the Harold and such.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: bellatrixamici
2008-03-18 06:22 pm (UTC)

Patterns

When I think of patterns in improv, I also think of the improvisers as conveyors of patterns that we see in everyday life. The audience connects with us when we convey patterns that they are familiar with. It's not necessarily things coming in patterns, but more like daily routines, stigmas, rituals, traditions, stereotypes, etc.
Erika May often makes me laugh, because of the detail she puts behind her characters and statements. I think, "Oh wow, that's a good observation about how teenage girls act."
She doesn't need to do anything but add depth and detail, not in three ways with the third being disrupted (though she could and might).
The simple fact of her mocking something so genuinely works.
Is there a game in that? Can anything comedic be called a game?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: marcusgerarde
2008-03-18 06:34 pm (UTC)

Re: Patterns

I think you're spot on. About every day patterns. Every relationship has a game. As does every character. Right now, you and I are playing the game of improv discussion. KB is playing the game of plucky art student. I'm playing the game of too much coffee, not enough to do.

We laugh at Erika's behavior as teenage girl, because our brain is making connections between our knowledge of teenage girls and her behavior on stage as a teenage girl and the patterns involved with that behavior and our expectations about how those patterns should play out.

It's not as straight forward as, say, a game of one ups manship, but it's there.

Now that I'm putting it like this, there's a tie in here to the Circle of Expectations you guys talk about. Though I can't wrap my mind around it.

Arthur puts it like this: Short form is often more acessible to audiences, because the game is clear and defined for the audience (from world's worst to scene three ways). Long form, the performers and audience hav to figure out the game.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: marcusgerarde
2008-03-18 06:36 pm (UTC)

Re: Patterns

Also, I use the rule of threes only as a concrete example of how this plays out in comedy. It doesn't have to follow a three way pattern, though those tends to get the biggest laughs.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: firth
2008-03-18 06:58 pm (UTC)

Re: Patterns

I think the smartest game-play is what ties into the Circle of Expectations. It's when you don't just repeat the easy pattern 1-2-3, but you think "in a world where __ just happened, what else can happen".

But that kind of game work is not easy to do, and you don't see it as often as basic pattern following.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zinereem
2008-03-18 07:01 pm (UTC)

Re: Patterns

that's one reason I was interested to read Peter's post. Because he mentioned that Besser made a point to say that you have to justify the next thing that you heightened... which is something I don't often hear, and which certainly makes things mesh better with the circle of expectations.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: firth
2008-03-18 07:26 pm (UTC)

Re: Patterns

And I think it's an even better mesh when you move beyond the basic patterns.

Like the example Peter mentioned, no xray --> bring on guns, it's pretty straight-forward. And it's the way UCB starts teaching games. And it's the way people even on current UCB Harold teams can play them often.

But there is a level where you can move beyond that, that some UCB teachers especially tried to get us to do in 501. Where the first thing is no xray, but you don't just think "what other security measure will I break" you instead think "in this world where airport security is broken what else could there be?"... maybe the pilots/stewardesses have some funky way of adapting... maybe only a specific kind of person flies anymore... etc... (meanwhile, it should also be heightened stakes with each new reveal)

so that kind of thinking clearly ties into the circle of expectations
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zinereem
2008-03-18 07:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think it's all about points of view when it comes to this stuff. I think you can certainly view all of improv through a game-tinted lens. the interesting bit is what that lens does to your improv and your style. Just because the game exists in all comedy, doesn't mean that it's the only thing to focus on (I don't think anyone's really saying it is).

My personal lens right now is question-focused... What question the audience has at any given moment. At the top of the scene, it's "Who are these people? Who are they to each other?" Later on it might be "Will John work past his crippling shyness and ask Mary to lunch?". And then once you know the questions, figuring out how and when to answer them.

So all this stuff is fascinating and useful. The only time I get angry reading about other styles or viewpoints is when people start claiming that theirs is the best or only way to approach improv.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: marcusgerarde
2008-03-19 02:11 am (UTC)
Which is, of course, silly. I only get my panties in a bunch when people write off what they don't understand. We all get off in different ways. That should be celebrated.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: 40wattbulb
2008-03-18 06:19 pm (UTC)
I have to mention that, in Matt Walsh's class, he said something to the effect of avoiding coming in with a premise per se (a "scripted" idea for how it should go). In relation to a few scenes, he mentioned coming in with a basic idea but definitely incorporating in with what your scene partner is bringing (which is more in line with the organic scene building I remember learning at IO).

I did hear that Besser's was heavy on premise and "get straight to the funny" though.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zinereem
2008-03-18 06:50 pm (UTC)
When I read the three interviews with Besser, Walsh, and Roberts (linked in a comment above), I definitely found myself resonating the most with what Walsh had to say... because he placed less emphasis on premise, and more on acting and the joy of improvising. Unfortunately, he says in the interview that he doesn't teach much anymore, which seems a shame.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: g0_0n
2008-03-18 10:38 pm (UTC)
not that this is remotely interesting, but their theatre is a block from my work and I walk past it everyday
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zinereem
2008-03-18 10:39 pm (UTC)
It's interesting to me, for sure.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: g0_0n
2008-03-19 05:16 pm (UTC)
not that I don't find the theatre interesting, it's just "hey, I see something everyday, nah nah nah" isn't on par with some down and dirty gossip or shedding some new light on unknown facts
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: 44uglencoco
2008-03-25 06:50 am (UTC)
well Hell, I woulda loved to write up my german homework right now, but this entry is right in my wheelhouse...

within the UCB school there's two slightly different lines of thought, Besser and Roberts.

Besser is a very strong advocate of premise, and laying out a game in the very first line of a scene. His approach is probably more controversial to Johnstone-oriented improvisers.

Roberts is about starting the scene neutral, organically discovering the first unusual thing- the game- and then heightening and yes-anding it.

They both put a major premium on keeping the scene honest and grounded, outside of the game. As Roberts puts it, "Blue doesn't show up on a blue background."

At the UCBNY school, the Roberts philosophy is clearly the dominant line of thought. Although our teachers definitely do encourage some exercises where we initiate with game.

And I've definitely seen a lot of work that isn't at all game-scene-game-scene formulaic; there's a lot of fun, innovative, character-oriented improv at the theatre. Any implication of 'predictability' is certainly misguided.

I LOVE this clip. It's a great snippet of UCB style: Besser comes out with a premise, but Roberts finds an even more unusual detail- the game evolves, but they play the shit out of it, and they justify.

http://www.ucbcomedy.com/videos/play/51

(Reply) (Thread)