Looking to make your scene stand out? Sprinkle in some specifics.
If you’re at a restaurant, name it. Are you eating at Chez Marquis? Steak ‘n’ Shake? Burrito Barn? By naming the environment, you help crystallize it in the minds of the audience and your partner.
The more specific something is, the easier it is to remember. And if you can remember something, that opens the door for the easiest laugh in comedy – the callback.
An audience may not respond to something you say at the top of the scene, but if it’s repeated, they will come to expect it, anticipate it, and even crave it.
Look at most of “Saturday Night Live’s” digital shorts. It’s basically an exercise in Andy Samberg repeating himself. “Throw it on the ground!” “I’m on a boat!” “Like a boss!” It doesn’t matter what he says, so long as he repeats it. And then you go in to work the next day and say the catchphrase with your friends, and it becomes a secret language that only the cool kids know. But it’s totally arbitrary. It’s repeated, so it gains power. (Until the inevitable “jump the shark” moment when the power dies. No one says “Schwing” anymore.)
I know it can be hard in the heat of a scene to think of something specific. You think “dinosaur” and it comes out “dinosaur.” But your scene will improve if you take the extra step to think of a specific kind of dinosaur. “Triceratops” or “pterodactyl” will paint a more vivid picture. And later in the show, when you reference the triceratops, you will get that laugh of recognition.
Recall is especially important in long form improv. When you go to do a callback of a previous scene, you’ll need to communicate the callback to your partner and to the audience. A vague scene is harder to call back. (Remember that scene where people were in a nondescript room and they talked about random things? Me neither.)
You don’t want to derail a scene with too many specifics, but that almost never happens. Just take a moment in the course of your scene to describe something precisely. What do you imagine when you hear the line, “Throw me that ball!”?
Now, what do you imagine when you hear the line, “Throw me that red Nerf ball!”?
Specifics make things stick. Be specific.