Room for Improv-ment

BBC3 endlessly repeats Family Guy at the weekends, but I’d forgottten about the one where Quagmire starts an improv group. Naturally it’s terrible, while still being funny. Watch it for yourself:


It’s a familiar problem – Peter’s got an idea (his only idea) which doesn’t fit well with the scene. The audience are delighted – it’s discordant, the other players are thrown and its apparent randomness is hilarious. So what’s bad about that then? Couple of things: first, it’s pre-planned. Naughty. Second, it violates like a million ‘rules’ of good play – he doesn’t listen to his partners, he doesn’t add to the scene.

Worse he panders to the audience; noting the laughs he just does the same thing again. That’s a tricky one. Often the thing the audience likes is something to play up or play on, but it’s risky. Audiences are amazingly fickle (they’re people dude, just like you and me), and they don’t actually know what they want you to do. And they can turn on you, man!

What people do enjoy is development and unexpected outcomes. The best way to get those is to acknowledge your laughs (should you get them!) and not get obsessed with them. Use it again later, but don’t rely on it – at best it will work for a while. At worst it’ll drag the scene to nowhere and your partner will want to kill you for screwing them over.

It’s hard to know what will be a good scene and what will get laughs… Listening and agreeing, adding details, making your partner look good, be emotional, avoid questions, take action.

On the plus side, Family Guy also shows that wonderful moment everyone has when they discover that they too can create stuff from nowhere:

Going bananas:

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