July 24th, 2004

Improv Olympic

I went to the Cage Match show at Improv Olympic last night. Or should I say very early today? The show started at 15 minutes past midnight. The cover was 6 dollars and the show ran just under an hour. Basically, two improv teams did a show, then the audience voted on which was better. It was a young crowd. I had the only visible grey hair in the place.

The first team wasn't having a good night. Their team name was Retarded, and it fit too well. It was a big team with 6 people. The second team was red hot. They were called On The El, or something like that. It was just two guys, but they were a scream.

They did a great bit where one guy stood on a chair and lowered his voice and played Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the famous basketball player. The other guy tried to talk him into doing a kung fu movie with Bruce Lee. (Yes, based on true story, film was called Game of Death, but Bruce Lee died during the film. Jabbar actually was one of Lee's students.)

The trouble with improv is the parts that crash. The glory of improv is the parts that soar, where it all comes together, and you can watch human inventiveness in action. There's a trade-off. You do have to spend some time panning through worthless gravel to get to the gold. So some people don't care for it. But I always enjoy it.

I suppose the mythical hero for improv players should be Odysseus, who was always inventing stories on his feet, sometimes just for the fun of it.

In improv training, you always hear two things: say yes to your partner, and speak the truth. "Say yes" means that when your partner refers to the fact that you are in a desert, you never respond that he is wrong. That kills the scene right there, because you are now out of the scene, arguing what the scene should be. "Speak the truth" doesn't mean the literal truth, but rather it means "say what people really think but will not say." The unspoken truths that people are reluctant to face are often the basis for the deep laughter of recognition.

As regards the unspoken truth, comedians today carry on the tradition of court jesters, being allowed to violate all norms of political correctness. No wait... in fact, comedians are allowed to violate all norms but one - the norm of being funny. Blow that one, and you are booed off the stage.

By the way, yes, the funny team won the audience vote, and was designated the new champion, and will be allowed to come back to face a challenger. The vote was 20 to 15, which was closer than I would have expected. Perhaps the Retarded team had a lot of friends in the audience.

You can scroll down this page to see a famous photo of Lee sparring Jabbar:

Improv Olympic home page:

Rhyme of the day:

Catch them unawares;
Say what no one dares.