This week, I had a surge of creativity. I don’t know that you can generate that out of nowhere. Even the greats struggle with writer’s block or a lack of ideas. I find I’m most creative when I’m exposed to things I feel strongly about. Tapping into that emotional center triggers a natural response. Then it’s a matter of harnessing the response to create something.
Improvisers have tons of ideas. Tons. But unless we’re performing, we often sit on them. In some cases, even assigning a creative task to an improviser can shut down their brains. What gives?
This week, I tried to remove the shackles from my brain. When I had an idea, I’d execute it on video. Added challenge: I’d have to film myself, and I had no other actors available, since I did this during free time at work.
I began by trying to ride a meme. Last week, Marilyn Hagerty’s gushing review of the Olive Garden in the Grand Forks Herald became a viral sensation. To turn it into a video, I stole this guy’s idea when he read “Where the Wild Things Are” as Christopher Walken. I thought I’d try my Ian McKellen impression, reading the review.
I got 10,000 views in two days. Clearly, I was on to something. But the general consensus in the comments is that my impression is either “awful” or “annoying.” Thanks, YouTube commenters.
The next day, I read an article about the psyche of internet trolls. So I decided to make this short video summing it all up.
It seemed a more universal theme, but it proved far less popular. Only 144 views so far.
The next day, the Discovery Channel fired Bear Grylls from “Man vs. Wild.” I figured part of my Olive Garden video’s success was due to its combination of currency and a (fake) celebrity factor. So I tried to recreate the success with this video.
It proved the second most popular video I’d create all week. Nearly 1,000 views to date. Celebrity and currency seemed to be the keys to YouTube success.
I happened to hear some dubstep music online, and I was reminded how much I hate it. The stuff makes my clinch my fists. It’s just awful. So I tried portraying dubstep kingpin Skrillex, explaining his music to his mother.
Only 124 views so far. Clearly, I’m not Skrillex. His fans would see that from the thumbnail. While this might be my favorite of the videos I did this week, it was more about scratching an itch than fishing for views.
So for my final video of the week, I tried copying the exact same formula from the first video. A big viral story this week was about how a cameraman stepped on an earless baby bunny and killed it. So I busted out an Owen Wilson impression and tried reading my way through that.
And it was my least popular video of the week. Just 110 views.
What began as inspiration turned into an experiment to land views. So now I can forgive SNL for going back to the well over and over and over again. You want to recreate the magic of the first time that character appeared. But it never happens.
Also this week, fellow Chicago improvisers The Katydids released a video about how to live like Beyonce. It got picked up by the Huffington Post and MTV.com. 39,000 views so far. My initial reaction? Jealousy. My secondary reaction? Good for them. They worked hard and there’s no finite amount of success in the world. We can all share the good fortune. And they bothered to… you know… get a cameraman and shoot in a bunch of locations. Their effort was rewarded.
And my goofy ideas were seen by 15,000 people this week. Probably a bigger audience than have seen my five years of improv performances combined. I should celebrate that opportunity. Ten people in Guam watched my videos. Twenty-two in Pakistan. Two views from Iraq. You’re welcome, Planet Earth!
Back to the roundabout point of this entry. When I did all this, it was a conscious effort to get the ideas out of my head and into the world. It’s the real-life equivalent of a walk-on in a scene. You have the impulse, you act on it. No hesitation. Why can we do that in shows, but not in other artistic pursuits?
Also, if you can strike a nerve, you can actually make money on YouTube. For some completely inexplicable reason this jag-nozzle makes a million dollars a year through YouTube. I want that job. But I don’t want to be a jag-nozzle.
For the sheer amount of creativity bursting in Chicago, we don’t produce that much permanent media. That’s what happens when you go to New York or LA. I’m trying to change that.
If you have an idea, force yourself to follow through. Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, you will fail along the way. Yes, you will have to get around obstacles. But when it’s done, you have something to add to your resume. No one will hire you based on an awesome idea you had and forgot.
Fight the impulse to be lazy. Create.
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com