My rule for the month of June is to “find the game.”
It’s sort of difficult to describe “finding the game” to people who don’t improvise, especially because there does not appear to be an agreed-upon definition, even among improvisers. The working definition that I have is that finding the game is figuring out what makes the scene
funny work. I crossed out “funny” because I think it’s a common misperception that improv has to be funny. Most of the time it is (hence the name “improv comedy“), but sometimes the funny comes not from what the improvisers are doing on stage but what the audience is taking away from that. (That’s another discussion for another post.)
Sometimes the game is something that’s repeated (in improv, we really like sets of 3’s – it’s implicit in the structure of a Harold.) For example, a scene in my class the other day: a woman is telling her friend how to detect if her boyfriend is cheating on her. “Well, I read in cosmo that if he has a lot of beer in his fridge, it means he’s drinking his sorrow. He’s probably cheating on you.” The girlfriend explains it away – he’s been stressed with work lately. “Well, I read in cosmo that if he said he’s been stressed with work, it means he’s been stressed with keeping a secret.” The girlfriend explains again – she knows his eye twitches when he’s keeping a secret. “Well, I read in cosmo that if his eye isn’t twitching when he’s talking to you, it means he’s thinking about someone else.” Etc. etc. etc., each time heightening the stakes or the ridiculousness. Sometimes the game is the absurdity of the scene. At a roommate meeting, one roommate is singled out for driving up the electricity bill. For leaving the lights on when she’s out of the house? Nope – for using her vibrator too much. Two bros are getting pumped (chest bumps involved) for their dude’s night while their girlfriends are out of town. What do they do? Watch Titanic, drink Sex on the Beaches, and cry their eyes out. Sometimes the game is the depth of the relationship between the two characters. Newlyweds are so in love that they both want to demonstrate the extent of their commitment by making sacrifices. Who will give who a massage? Who will take the cold shower? Who will pop the zit on the other person’s back?
All of these “games” take the form of “If this is true, what else is true?” If cosmo can detect a cheater from their beer consumption (and furthermore, that woman believes this is possible), then what else can cosmo detect (and what else does this woman believe)? If roommates have meetings to discuss issues or guys have “dudes’ nights”, what are all the possible alternative occurrences that could happen at such events (and which is the best choice for exploring these characters and generating material)? If this couple is in love with each other enough to take a cold shower for the other, what else would they be willing to do (and what does this tell us about their relationship)?
Thus far, here are some situations where I’ve put this rule to use, and what I’ve discovered:
- Meeting my boyfriend’s family – they really like to play games (not of the improv sort!)
- Going to a friend’s grandfather’s wake – he was a really well-loved yet vulgar old man
- Taking my boyfriend to meet my family – my family really likes to talk
- Exploring a relationship with a faculty member – I anticipate a really strong working relationship
- Getting critique at improv class – I need to be more “alive” on stage; exude more passion for the art
The whole idea of “finding the game” sort of reminds me of this classic children’s book, which I’ve adopted to fit my adult life:
So this month, my task is to find the game. Given my intense predisposed curiosity, I don’t anticipate myself having trouble pushing other people’s buttons. (Just ask my mother – I’m sure I pushed my sister’s plenty when we were growing up.) I’ll be interested to see if I can observe patterns in myself, as well.