There is or was a divide on improv. Those who love short form, also known as games, as you might see on “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, and those who champion long form. The most famous of which is called a “Harold.” There is a feeling that short form is hacky and jokey, it can be, and conversely, long form is pretentious and self-important.

Both these things can be true, I’ve seen and participated in a lot of short form. It was the improv I learned doing, but to be fair to all my early teachers, we also did a lot of scene work. But it gave me skills to do long form. A lot of improvisers start this way.

Way back in the late nineties, a group of people I knew formed a group to do long form, with a very vocal and public distaste for short form. I didn’t agree with their position but they were friends and I went to the show.

Because they are my friends, I will not reveal the name of the group, which didn’t last long, nor the performers involved. The reason for this will be made clear shortly, though I’m sure you can guess why.

It is not necessary for improv to be funny, though it usually is. This show was aggressively unfunny. Which is not to say it was dramatic, more unintentionally tragic. I can’t site any particular moments, time has happily wiped them from my memory. However it was easily, if not the worst show I’ve ever seen, in the top five. I don’t say this out of meanness, they did great work previously and would go on to do it after. But that that night.

Not only was it not funny or dramatic, it was long. You might think, “Well, it’s called long form for a reason.” Maybe so, but a typical long form goes about forty-five to fifty minutes. There are practical reasons for this, primarily because there is another show after you or the theater needs to close up for the night.

Well, this show kept going on. And on. And on. I think they ran an hour and change. And if it were good, the audience would have enjoyed it, even if the next show might be mad. Sadly this was not the case.

They repeatedly approached an ending and then diverted to more show. Much in the way a dog will fetch a ball but rather than drop it for you to throw again, runs off to the other side of the yard.

Thankfully, they ended. And as the tradition goes, we all went to the bar. In talking to a friend of mine who was in the show, I remarked on the more serious tone of what was just done. That was the nicest way I could say it. He proudly replied, “Yeah, we don’t care about being funny!”

I nodded to him and took a sip of beer. But all I could think was, “Obviously.”

Improv is an art form that embraces spontaneity and creativity and should always do so. But remember, you should not be having a better time than the audience.


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