Recently, my hometown newspaper, the Kalamazoo Gazette, interviewed me for a story about the upcoming Kalamazoo Improv Festival. Here’s the article.
Improv is hard enough to deconstruct when you’re talking to someone who knows the game. When you’re describing it to a reporter, who tries to make sense of it and repackage it for an article, things are bound to get mangled.
Think of the greatest improvised moments you’ve ever seen. Try to tell me that story so I’ll laugh just as hard as you did when you saw it. Can’t happen.
Del Close believed improv was its own art form. It happens and it’s gone. It will never happen again. Second City believes improv is a great writing tool. And that’s true, too. But I’m willing to wager there are moments of joyous creation during the Second City creative process that they can never recapture.
In 2001, Joey Bland and I were assigned to do a scene together in a Second City Conservatory show. We discussed the scenario beforehand. I would play a superhero, interviewing a prospective sidekick. That’s all we knew. (And yes, that’s more than you’ll have to begin most scenes, but this was an exercise.)
That scene was perhaps the best I’ve ever improvised. My superhero was cocky and had no real powers to back it up. Joey’s sidekick was infinitely more powerful. And as this dawned on the audience, they ate it up. By the end of the scene, my character was revealed as an illiterate, powerless, pompous fraud. I remember the lights falling on that scene and feeling a huge smile break across my face.
After the show, I wrote down as many lines as I could remember. But I couldn’t recapture all of them. Months later, we’d try to recreate that scene in a show. It was a disaster.
Re-improvising is one of the hardest things you’ll attempt in an improv career. It almost never works. Where the first scene had discovery and unexpected turns, the second attempt was merely an exercise in trying to recreate funny lines and the established outline of the scene. It didn’t work. And it put a very sour taste in my mouth.
Since I left the Conservatory, I haven’t tried to recapture a past glory. Every scene is different, and I owe it to my scene partner to treat every moment as a new one. You can’t fully recreate an improv moment any more than you can relive your first kiss.
And you can’t tell stories about scenes you loved without falling very, very flat. Go to the theater. See it all happen in person. Because once it’s gone, it’s never coming back.