Hi, I’m Wyatt, an improv comedy performer / scholar / teacher, here with some fresh improv advice!

Treat Opinions Like Bears

Disclaimer: The example opinion below is just an example. Please don’t read too much into it.

Ok, so we’ve all learned about YES AND and when somebody starts a scene with a fact like “There’s a bear in the room!”, Improviser 2 will pretty much always YES AND that fact:

“Of course there’s a bear in the room. Nina, meet my new bodyguard, Hercules!”

So how come when somebody starts a scene with an opinion like “I can’t wait for Hillary to be president!”, Improviser 2 will frequently respond with an opposite opinion like:

“What? Hillary’s such a crook! I’m for Sanders!”

Where’d the YES ANDING go?! This happens way too often, and especially when Improviser 2 doesn’t actually agree with the initial opinion in real life! (more on this later)

Agreeing to a physical reality is obvious. If two people are together and one person sees a bear in the room, the other person must also be in the room with the bear. (Unless the bear is a delusion, but let’s try and avoid labeling things as crazy.)

Agreeing to a subjective reality is NOT obvious. We can easily imagine two people in a room arguing about who should be president. Improviser 2 may think: I am YES ANDING being a person in a room talking politics. So where’s the problem?? The problem is it’s not very easy to make two people fighting over an opinion into a fun compelling scene. It’s often boring because it feels like what we see all the time in our daily lives.

Scenes are easier to have fun in if you YES AND opinions just like you do with physical realities:

Improviser 1: I can’t wait for Hillary to be president!

Improviser 2: I know! Hillary’s the best and I can’t wait to see her face on this monument! Now hand me that chisel, and help me rappel down Washington’s nose!

Better, right?! I want to see more agreement like that. Let’s look at every moment, each line of dialog for opportunities to agree with our scene partners. Especially at the top of the scene!

Some people may feel like this technique will put us in crazy town too fast or it will makes scenes too predictable or it gives the first person to speak too much power. If you feel like that, an alternative is to respond with the more Annoyance style technique of making a big perpendicular character choice. You can choose to respond to a pro-Hillary opinion with a big character choice that isn’t oriented around politics at all.

Improviser 1: I can’t wait for Hillary to be president!

Improviser 2: Ommmm. Jenny, if you grew up like I did meditating in the Redwoods to Joni Mitchell records, you’d be able to wait forever, because here in the forest, nobody’s president.

Now what if someone drops a pro-Hillary line and you’re pro-Bernie in real life and you want to play that out on stage? Play satire. YES the opinion, then you can subvert it with your AND:

Improviser 1: I can’t wait for Hillary to be president!

Improviser 2: I know! Hillary’s the best! Now let’s shred all these Bernie votes! After all, Wall Street’s not paying us for nothing! Mwahahaha!

OR if you’re pro-Bernie, you can try agreeing to the larger opinion, that the country would be better off with a Democrat in the whitehouse. There is usually always a bigger opinion you can agree with.

Recap: Treat opinions like you treat Bears. Build your scenes on top of them! When a character offers an opinion, YES AND that opinion or make a perpendicular choice (which is just another form of YES AND)! Don’t disagree with opinions for no reason, cause that can often kill the momentum of a scene.

Last twist: if someone starts a scene with a pro-Hillary line, watch out! They may also be insinuating your character has a different opinion!

Improviser 1: I can’t wait for Hillary to be president! As my partner in life, Marissa, I thought you’d back me up on this!

If that happens, it sounds like you’re being set up to have a conflict. Your best option is probably to YES AND the offer by opposing the pro-Hillary opinion. Remember, this is just an exception case. It’s a case where you have a good reason to oppose the initial opinion.

Let the rule be: YES AND opinions more and start in conflict less; but that’s just my opinion. 😉