April gave the Fools a chance to breathe after a busy March. We continued to have our practices, and we had our annual Fearless Food Drive to benefit the food pantry at the Uptown Event Center. The show was a good time, especially for the Fools. That may sound odd because with comedy you would think we are always up on stage just goofing around and having a great time. But, there is more happening than the audience knows. I’m going to let you go behind the scenes with us to see how the mind of an improviser works.
In improv, there are a lot of codes of comedic conduct, such as “Yes, And,” “Don’t Edit,” “Play at the top of your intelligence,” and many more. When we practice, we aren’t rehearsing or planning what we’ll do on stage, but instead trying to commit those ideas to our mental muscle memory (why am I using so much alliteration?) so we don’t have to “think” on stage. If you start “thinking” you will no longer be in the moment, which is crucial to good improv. We don’t think; we react.
At most shows, our goal is to always give the best performance we can. After all, you the audience have paid money (or in that case, cans) to see a comedy show. We never go on stage to just get it over with or get the paycheck. If it weren’t for the travel and expenses to keep the team running, we would do it for free if we could. When we go on stage we put it all out there, for better or worse sometimes. After all, it is improv. We never know what will happen.
So, with many of our shows, we like to play it a little safe. Even though we are supposed to play in the moment, there is always an eye on the audience, trying to gauge what will go over well and what won’t. It can get a little stressful. We don’t want people to pay for a show that isn’t entertaining. In short, we are in our heads, thinking. That, for all intents and purposes, isn’t how one should improvise. We should always be in the moment and playing at the top of our intelligence (in other words, reacting truthfully to how that character would react at that moment), which can sometimes take us in directions that the player may not expect or want to go. So, when that happens we will often try to dial it back, staying to the safe space we know to keep the show from going off the rails and right in that sweet spot that keeps people laughing.
Every so often, we have shows where we are truly in the moment and playing fast and loose because we aren’t in our heads trying to edit as we go, or forcing the scene in one direction or another to find the laugh. We are just in the scene, living the lives of the characters we’ve created.
Even if the scene is bad, the Fools could be the only ones laughing because we know what is happening in the minds of the people on stage. We’ve been performing together for six years, so we know each other pretty well. There are times we can see into the future a bit and know what moves our fellow players are probably going to make. So, when we see one of our Fools going in directions they have never gone before and living in the moment, we get a real kick out of that. And, sometimes we are just wondering what the heck is happening. It is fantastic.
That’s what happened with our Fearless Food Drive. I didn’t have my camera that day, so the show wasn’t recorded. It will only live on in the memory of those who were there, as good improv should. It wasn’t as polished as some of our other shows, but it crackled with energy, because we were right in the middle of it, living second to second just like the audience, not knowing what was going to happen.
So, if you are ever at a show and you see us laughing really hard on that back line, know that something special is happening. The scene has just gone somewhere we have never been before. After hundreds of scenes about building birdhouses and out-houses, being a couple in marriage counseling or getting divorced, or being in the Bahamas, it is a true joy to find ourselves in a situation that is new. Because this means we are truly improvising.
Craig Snider is a founding member and currently the troupe director of the Fearless Fools. He was dragged into improv, kicking and screaming by his mentor and Fools co-founder, Steve Goff, and will always be grateful.
He followed Goff as he “spread the gospel of improv” around the state of West Virginia, and fell in love with the art form that didn’t require any forethought, tact, or skills other than being silly and impulsive, as a natural fit. Through improv, he has met some very dear friends, learned much about himself, and has found an outlet for all the crazy stuff lurking in his head.
Craig is also a writer and editor, but because he feels that it is self-aggrandizing to publish a book, become rich, and therefore a pawn of the system, he instead prefers to work away in the dark solitude of his library, refusing food or water, and yelling “my precious!” whenever someone dares to tread into his lair. Take that, the man!