Chorus of Fools

One of my absolute favorite scenes is one I like to call The Chorus of Fools.  It’s a very simple game: an authority figure asks simple questions and the rest of the ensemble responds inappropriately.

My favorite example of this scene is The Guy Who Plays Mr. Belvedere Fan Club from a 1992 episode of SNL.

Tom Hanks is the exasperated authority figure.  He asks simple questions and gets increasingly terrible responses from the cast.  (Rolling Stone called this the 26th greatest sketch in SNL history.)

Another masterful example is the Anti-War Protest sketch from the 2003 SNL season.  Matthew McConaughey is a protest leader, trying to rally a crowd against the Iraq war and everyone in the crowd misunderstands his point in a new, dumb way.

Protest Leader: Alright, we have one purpose today!

Whale Protester: SAVE THE WHALES!!

Protest Leader: Oh, come on, man! That’s so old school! I don’t even think the whales are in trouble anymore!

Whale Protester: With that attitude, they are!

Protest Leader: Hey! Can everybody sit with me a minute?! Alright?! We are talking about.. Iraq!

Whale Protester: Don’t send the whales to Iraq!!

See?  All McConaughey wants is for the crowd to agree with him.  The crowd’s only function in the scene is to do anything BUT agree with him.

Amy Schumer has another good example of this kind of scene.

As the therapist, she just wants to hear an appropriate way for these husbands to deal with their problems.  The husbands are increasingly inappropriate in their responses.

These scenes are really fun to play.  The authority figure gets increasingly flustered, but needs the crowd’s approval.  The crowd gets to be increasingly stupid.

I recently began a scene where I stepped up and announced to my castmates, “As principal, we’ve been getting reports of unnecessary visits to the school nurse.  So we just want to go over the appropriate reasons to visit the nurse.  What are some of those reasons?”

My fellow actors knew the game immediately.  Come up with the least appropriate reasons to visit the nurse.  As principal, my job was easy.  I just called on each student as they raised their hand with a new, terrible idea.  It was amazing how many wonderfully terrible ideas they were able to throw at me.

If you find yourself in a situation where a scene like this is possible, initiate as the authority figure.  The rest of your team will rally around you and play the Chorus of Fools.  You just have to keep a straight face.

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