Comedy is a serious business. Let that sink in for a moment. It’s a dangerous business too. Why else would some people rather have an eye poked out than stand up on stage and let it all hang out in the world of comedy improv? One of the best places in the whole wide world to answer such questions, and so much more, is iO West.
I laughed, and learned, so much from my visit to iO West. And it left me with plenty to process and incorporate into my own life, comedy-related or not. Let’s just say that what goes on in improv applies to life in a myriad of ways. Want to be a better problem-solver? Improv has got you covered. Want to be more creative? Improv all the way. Oh, yeah, want to be a better comedian, actor, and/or writer? Improv! Lucky for you, iO West is not only the place to see improv, it is also the place to train in improv. It also happens to be the place all the winners go to, like Amy Poehler. You know, the coolest and most successful comics and writers on the planet.
Go with your first instinct. That’s the golden rule. You think you’ve got something funny to say? Say it! Blurt it out and see what happens. You can see how that would apply to other aspects of your life. Everything under the sun, really. Don’t be afraid to go with your first thoughts. That’s what I got to see at a high level of skill. These were performances put on my teams of comics. Each team takes the stage and begins with a cue from the audience. They’re given something to work with and then create a narrative. How about the scintillating theme of…condiments? Or the alluring topic of being called a…schmuck. What is a schmuck, really? Well, a loser. This process of making with the funny is known as “Yes, and…” or “The Harold.” What it all comes down to is that this kind of contact sport comedy is as good as its players.
I took in a couple of sets from two fierce and hilarious House Harold teams, Heyday and King Ten. The key is trust. Each player makes a leap of faith that what he or she blurts out will be caught by another player and will either continue or be redirected or will be discreetly obliterated.
The object of the game is to not think, or not overthink. Do that when you’re writing. Just write. You already know this. But it always helps to remember that. You just do it. You edit later.
An improv team is both writing on the fly and editing on the fly. Heyday and King Ten are master storytellers able to create whole worlds from a single audience suggestion. Each team is made up of stellar players, like Heyday’s Mort Burke. I knew I’d seen him before somewhere. I saw him at the Seattle Improv Fest a while back. I really appreciate his droll style. If you’re performing at iO West, you’ve got the chops after many years of hard work, like Karen Graci, who is part of King Ten and is also an instructor at iO West. She has a distinctive bubbly vibe to her. Well, like I say, each player has his or her own unique qualities.
For me, I would love the danger of performing on stage. You would feel naked on stage, wouldn’t you? Ever have that dream where you’re naked while in a classroom full of students? Usually, you’re also taking a final exam. What does it mean? You want to bare your soul? You want to be, if you aren’t already, a nudist? How about: Everything is peeled away and you’re being tested. I have that dream a lot and I like it. I think it means I want to challenged. Reminds me of a comedy show I recently saw in Seattle and one set had a comic incorporate a confessional narrative with actually stripping down to nearly nothing. There’s a need in performers to expose a greater truth, let people see them raw. Yes, comedy is a serious business. It’s also an empowering business. Brings me back to the concept of “Yes, and…”
iO West is located at 6366 Hollywood Boulevard. If you are visiting Los Angeles, you need to go here. Did I mention the great drinks at great prices? Yes, you can order from the comfort of your own seat while watching the show too. If you want great comedy, if you want a taste of the real LA, then visit our friends at iO West right here.
4 responses to “LA Journal: iO West and the World of Comedy Improv”
So, that’s another place to visit if I ever get to LA. Improv on stage sounds truly scary, but you’re right that even if not on stage improve is something all artists in whatever medium need to do to get the creative rivers running.
Every high school, or earlier, should provide an improv class of some kind. Well, you end up getting a number of opportunities in school and some kids take all of them and others manage to slip away and avoid all or just about all of them. It’s fear of failure that we all need to overcome. It’s a friendly sport. A good improv group has got your back all the way.
Interesting post. We have good stand-up comedians here. Unfortunately, a lot of them seem to think that stand-up comedy just involves insulting the audience and laughing at the expense of other people in what they call “comedy” bars.
Yeah, the insulting angry comic is pretty typical. Of course, there’s a whole lot more beyond that.