Improv isn’t a competition, this isn’t some Last Comic Standing shit. The ‘rules’ are simple and diverse: Don’t Deny what your partner(s) are bringing into the scene; Don’t just ask questions (i.e. don’t leave your partner(s) to do all the work); Make your partner look good; Tell a story. It was on everyone on stage to make the scene work. Giving up or getting mad because the scene wasn’t going your way ruins everything.
There was something else I learned, that was specific to my former trope. We had a ‘no scatology during shows’ rule. Because we were college students performing for other college students, and our short form games required audience suggestions, we tended to hear some of the same suggestions: “blowjobs!” “poop!”, “sex!”
Host: “I need a location!”
Audience Member (usually a guy): “Proctologist’s office!”
Host: “I need a situation!”
Audience Member: “Late to an orgy!”
…and so on. Here’s how we handled those suggestions and why:
Host: “I need a location?”
“The gynecologist!” (apparently just yelling “vagina” was just not classy enough?)
Host: “Come on, that’s one’s too easy. Give us a challenge!”
It was too easy. It’s too easy to make funny out of sex and bodily functions. KIDS find bodily functions insanely funny. We wanted a challenge.
I took that lesson with me, stuck deep into my conciousness, and it didn’t reappear until I started getting involved with social justice for the second time (the first time around left me very cold, with white progressives trying to tell me what I should find offensive). I discovered the concept of Punching Down vs. Punching Up, and that gendered insults were no bueno (unless you’re taking it back). That lesson came roaring back, “oh yeah, calling this terrible conservative woman a bitch isn’t funny. It’s Too Easy.”
And my worldview then expanded. I love comedy, grew up watching Comedy Central (where my love of improv was first planted in the British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?), but as I grew up and realized these concepts, I found a lot of stand up, well, easy. The “Take my Wife Please” type jokes, the “Men are so stupid” type jokes, the allusions to rape and domestic abuse, the “marriage is a load of suck” jokes, “Non-White people are so weird!”, Too Easy.
So now, I punch up, I miss the easy insult, I avoid the obvious. Fewer ‘bitches’ and ‘cunts’, more ‘assholes’ and ‘shitheels’ and various combinations where I can use the term ‘douche’ (hat, canoe, bag, cake, weasel…). Hell, someone used “shitfrigates” and I’m making it a point to use it until it is part of my vocabulary. I am a lot more vulgar, yes, but my insults are sharper, more likely to get a notice. My mind gets a good stretch as I stopped using various forms of “-tard’ in my vocab in place of other words that lack the splash damage.
Does it feel like I’m walking some sort of PC mindfield of stifled creativity? Oh hell no. This is awesome. I like the challenge, and the more I do it, the easier it gets.
It’s not that hard, folks. Get creative. Stop going for the easy shot. Don’t be a hack.
“You’re a cunt!”Me: “Well, you’re a butt, and your parents dress you funny and also you smell like cheese. So there.”