Occam’s Razor and Improv

When performing improv, every improviser has a desire to seem intelligent. If you are like me you’ve probably looked up to improvisers with lots of experience who seem to wow audiences with subtlety which turns into high spots of the scenes they are in. Perhaps, you think you need to be subtle, on purpose, in scenes to do the same thing. Improv doesn’t work that way and Occam’s Razor explains why.

Occam’s Razor is a principle that implies that a simple explanation is better than a more complex one. Whether or not this is true is somewhat debatable. However, when you are trying to play to an audience that is trying to understand what you are doing it’s best to keep things obvious. That way, things come across loud and clear to both your audience and your fellow improvisers.

But how can you be like that improviser you look up to? How can you turn that earlier subtlety into something witty? You can do it by paying attention. Those improvisers you look up to are just great at seeing what happens in a scene and putting those pieces together in the moment. They didn’t plan it. They made this witty story line, attribute or joke obvious to the audience when they noticed a pattern that fit the scene. Sure, they may be good at subtlety but that comes from experience. The experience of turning ideas up to 11 and making it clear what they are doing. Then, over the years, feeling out the best times to turn it down to 10, then 9, then 8, etc. More importantly, they learned to make strong choices, in the moment and at the moment they come up with them.

So the next time you have a great idea for a place to take an improv scene, make it obvious right then and there. If you don’t know how to do that, just make any strong choice and stick with it. It’s the strong, obvious choices in the moment that the audience (and your fellow improvisers) can understand which make for a less confusing (read as more enjoyable) show.

Now, I just need to practice writing in a way that is simpler to understand and this blog would go a lot better too.
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2 thoughts on “Occam’s Razor and Improv”

  1. Hi Daryl ~ saw the Wedding Horror Stories show last night and found it very entertaining. I was reading through the program and saw the name Ducharme, which is mine too…got curious and went to your blog. I read Occam’s Razor, rubbed my chin, wrinkled up my face and said, “Yep” – just started Improv and it’s making silly putty of all neurons, patterns and pathways. According to the razor, I’m trying too hard…and feverishly looking for the formula that does not exist. Ahhh. Anyway, great show. You all make it look so easy.
    ~ And a pretty fabulous surname as well.
    Warmly, April Ducharme

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    1. Nice to hear that a fellow Ducharme was at the show. I’m glad you enjoyed it as well. The early part of improv is learning a lot of “rules.” These are actually guidelines but you need to learn them as rules. As rules you can choose to break them and it is a strong choice. Strong choices that you stick with are good things (except when they don’t work, but that happens). Just have fun out there and play as much as you can. Classes are great, but at some point you want to use what you’ve learned. That’s when things get really good. Also, don’t wait to audition for anything. Auditions are just more play time and should be treated that way. I didn’t even make it into callbacks for ComedySportz Seattle but somehow ended up on the team a few months later anyway (I was playing with the people a lot). Which brings me to my final point. If you are in Seattle, the best place to just play is Wednesdays at The Fremont Abbey Art Center from 8-10. We have an improv jam and the price is only $5-10 depending on how much fun you want to have. Anyway, I’m a bit wordy for an improviser. Too-Da-Loo.

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