Sunday, April 1, 2012

For Great Justice!

Okay, this title is kind of a stretch. Today I'm going to talk about justification.

Justification is such a basic skill that we do it all the time without even noticing. Anytime you do, well, anything, really, you have to justify it. If you start doing something without ever explaining it, it's not just bad improv, it's a really basic failure at human communication.

Justification becomes a key skill when someone makes a mistake. The most important trait of a good improviser is making your partner look good, so being able to smooth out mistakes that your teammates make is an extremely powerful skill; it makes your team that much more impressive as a group. Mistakes happen all the time, and they're going to keep happening no matter how good you get at improv. How you deal with them is what makes all the difference.

A classic example of justification is what I like to call "the two-name character." Somebody accidentally refers to a character named Susan as Sally, or gives a character a second name not realizing that they already have one. Rather than just hoping no one notices the mistake, the character says something like, "you know that I like to go by my middle name!" or, "Now that I'm married my last name isn't Smith anymore." Boom. Incongruity solved!

Being able to smooth out inconsistencies makes you a huge asset to your team, and allows your pieces to flow much more smoothly. Generally an audience will either laugh because they noticed the mistake too, or they will be impressed. "Did they mean for it to be that way all along?"

I was once doing a scene where I was the Great Snowman of Bulgaria, but I accidentally referred to myself as the Great Snowman of Bolivia. Rather than just let the mistake go, my scene partner (shoutout to the gorgeous and talented Robel Arega) called me out, saying that I was an imposter. The audience thought it was way funnier than if he had let the mistake stand. I talked to an audience member afterward who thought that I had made the mistake on purpose, knowing Robel would catch it.

By justifying my mistake instead of letting it slide, Robel made me and the scene as a whole look better.

So whether you make a mistake, your partner makes a mistake, or your partner is just playing a really weird character, being able to justify is a vital skill.


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