We just finished the last of our relatively well received “Dinner and a Movie with Genre Claude Van Damme” shows. Running a weekly 4 hour improv show with 3 people sometimes doing up to 8 sets in an evening was … a little silly. But we’ll still be putting on a show every Sunday – a condensed 2 hour version of the DropIn. And some of Genre Claude Van Damme will be there doing the Movie form. But I wanted to talk a little about doing “Dinner” – the part of the show where we’d improvise scenes based off the audience’s terrible dating stories, and audience interview shows in general.
Audience interview shows aren’t unusual. In fact the whole premise of the show came after a trip to LA and seeing how many of the shows had a strong hook to get non-improv audiences in – Shitty Jobs, Facebook, Outside Dog Gets One Star or Search History to name but 4. “An Atomic Harold with organic transitions” means nothing to most people, whereas “comedy based on your worst dating stories” does.
Interview shows are also a good opening – we’d mix the audience interview in with relaxed crowd-work as fun way to warm the room. Rather than leaping straight into a sound and movement, you get to connect the room, and the “shiny” moments really resonate throughout the crowd. The collective “what the fuck” at “he said that if I was a prostitute he’d pay for me, which he thought was a compliment” is a wonderful space to improvise from. And it’s more fun crowd-work than “what do you do and where do you come from”.
Interview shows are also a really easy way to introduce people to what long form improv is, especially as we’d pull in people who’d never seen improv before. If you’re initiating well, there’s a really clear link between what the whole crowd heard and the scene that follows. And the base reality is already there for you to play with.
I once asked Neil Casey for advice on running audience interview shows. At the time Neil was a member of UCB’s Death By Roo Roo “the best motherfucking improv team in the universe” – their words … but also mine. Roo Roo’s “Your Fucked Up Family” show opened with them talking to the audience about their terrible family lives and improvising scenes inspired by these. “Think of it like a second beat … interviews can run long and they’re already familiar with the base reality, so when you hit those scenes you really want to hit them hard”.
“Dinner” was also a good push for us as comedians. We always asked our audience for “terrible dating stories”. A wonderful tale of your true love, proposing on in a fancy restaurant in Paris isn’t as rich with usual details as that time when someone went on a double date with a dominatrix, or the person who asked for personal feedback at the end, or the fellow who walked into the room dressed as a bird. My favourite stories always began with “this isn’t funny but” and then launching into a wonderful tale. Working with people’s pain is delicate and stops you from playing for a cheap laugh. It forces you to play empathetically, truthfully and to the top of your emotional intelligence. As a comedian you get to highlight life’s absurdity and provide a shared cathartic experience. Watching someone share an awful evening in their life and seeing them roar with laughter at the scene that followed was easily one of the best parts of the job.
We’ll still be at the Horse & Stables every Sunday with the new and improved “DropIn”. There’s even one this Sunday Come by!