This guy is back on his wobbly little soapbox. Tony bills himself as a “writer” and his work as “a joke/humor blog,” with the warning: “Do not read this page unless you have a sense of humor and a good looking mother.” He lists his interests as “Kansas City, Movies, News, Porn, Snack Cakes.”
With that kind of ironic self-awareness, you just know he’s a funny guy.
For someone who hates improv, he seems to read Keith’s blog pretty religiously. So, to borrow the vernacular of his people, what’s the deal? My guess: He’s either a stand-up wannabe, a failed stand-up, or a mediocre local stand-up with appearances in places that would make the Comedy Pouch sound good.
Because no one hates improv like stand-ups.
We chatted with Darron Story about it before his gig with us last Friday; after he’d booked Tantrum and Full Frontal on his show, a comedian friend asked why he’d do such a thing. (Because, as we know, improv blows.) Darron couldn’t figure out where the animus came from.
Maybe it’s because all they’ve seen is hacks. There are plenty of improv groups who pun their way through 185, play Freeze Tag as a one-liner game and always make sure they can close out Da Doo Run Run with the name Chuck. They take a class, see a show or watch Whose Line Is It, Anyway? and they're ready to put on a show. Often, they wear wacky ties and Chuck Taylors.
But there are hacks in every field—so surely that’s not the only reason for all this anger.*
My guess it’s because some of the most important tenets of stand-up and improv are diametrically opposed:
Improv is about collaboration.
Stand-up is about self-promotion.
Improv training focuses on listening and agreeing.
Stand-up training focuses on…wait, training? Don’t stand-ups know everything already?
Improvisation is about creating new material every rehearsal and every show.
Stand-up is about practicing and polishing the same material over and over and over.
Improv is about heightening relationships, building on ideas and “yes-anding.”
Stand-up is usually about tearing people, ideas and things down.
Improvisers respect their audiences—they're the spark.
Stand-ups condescend to their audiences—they're the enemy.
Improvisers practice like sports teams—we run drills, improve skills and learn new techniques.
Stand-ups rehearse like they masturbate—alone, in front of a mirror.
Something Darron said the other night: “It seems like improvisers might make good stand-ups—but not the other way around.”
In my experience, that’s true. I’ve seen improvisers win open mic night competitions because they go in with a story to tell—and then listen to the audience to know where to slow down and where to fast-forward. But you put a stand-up comedian in an improv class—or God help us, on stage in a scene—and one of three things happens:
- He concentrates on coming up with something funny to say instead of listening to the scene, so when he finally enters, he’s missed everything the other players have been building.
- He steam-rolls his scene partners and shoehorns in recycled bits.
- He ignores the most basic rule: The harder you try to be funny, the less funny you'll be. Successful improv is about being real, human and vulnerable.
I’m not against stand-up comedy or comedians. I’d never say all stand-up is “horrible, doesn't take any talent and it's all about attitude," as Tony does about improv. Steve Martin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Andy Griffith, Woody Allen, Bob Newhart…all brilliant, innovative comedians, each with a clear, creative point of view.
But if Bad Improv is marked by hack bits, repeated jokes, sloppy stage work, and undisciplined performers…then Bad Stand-up is its much-more-arrogant evil twin.
Oh, and. AND. In answer to Tony's challenge:
Prove me wrong: Here are five random phrases I'm suggesting for local improv aficionados to play with (ew):It's improv, dumbass. You want to see someone "play with it," pay for a ticket and shout something out as a suggestion. (You'll also probably amuse yourself by yelling "dildo" every time we ask for an object and "proctologist" every time we asked for an occupation. That will be hilarious. Because no one has ever thought to do that before.)- waste of time
- 2 drink minimum
- Women aren't funny
- Insurance salesmen
* At least a bad improv show is usually no more than 90 minutes long. I’d rather suffer through that than sit through five hours at a local open mic night, watching amateur stand-ups slog through overwrought material and drinking overpriced beer.