The following informant is a performer for an improv troupe at USC called Second Nature. She told me about this game they play in order to warm up when I asked her how they get ready for performances.
“There’s this game that’s been played for generations in Second Nature, where everyone has their own catchphrase, and so you go around in a circle and like I have six catchphrases and you have six catchphrases, and the way that the game is, is that I pass my catchphrase to you, so like one of my catch phrases is ‘what a DUMP!’ and one of yours might be like ‘or when are we?’ I don’t know, so they just pass like that and it’s just something that’s weird and so everyone keeps their catchphrases and its kind of passed on, like the funny catch phrases are always well-remembered… whenever you come on to the troupe, its like your duty is to learn, to come up with six catchphrases and they can be anything that you want and we play as we warm up, so like every rehearsal we warm up for 15 or 30 minutes, before and then before shows we warm up 15-30 minutes and then I’d say almost always play that game before hand. It’s always the same catch phrases for yourself. There are no written down rules, we just pass it along to each other and really good catch phrases from generations stick around ”
The above game is similar to the type of games Second Nature plays during shows, and it’s easy to see why they use it as a warmup. Different troupes have different strategies and techniques, but Second Nature’s inherited method appears to be the catch phrase game. It’s quite possible that the nature of the game itself has been transformed through the many generations, as improv is, after all, a theatrical art that is constantly changing; every performance is unique and ephemeral because of the inherent nature of improv, which is short for “improvisation.”
The following informant is a performer for an improv troupe at USC called Second Nature. She told me about some of the basics of improv, including unwritten rules, when I asked her about it.
“There are other like, rules of improv, like the ‘unwritten code’ of improv… always say ‘yes and…’ so like you’re always adding to a scene. And you always, you can’t deny anything that anyone else says. You have to work to make the other person look good on stage. There’s some funny ones. Like you’re not supposed to ever start a teaching scene, and you’re not supposed to be a child, like if it can be avoided, you’re not supposed to be a child on stage… The UCB is a method, the Groundlings is a method, and IO is a method, and they all have very different styles, but people usually subscribe to one. UCB is Upright Citizens Brigade, the Groundlings was based in Chicago, like Amy Poller and Tina Fey got their start at the Groundlings, and IO is Improv Olympics but I think they got sued for saying Olympics, so now it’s just IO, like that’s their name. They’re like different schools of improv. So people go and take classes… they’re like theatres but they hold classes for people and they also have their own troupes that perform weekly or whatever. So our improv troupe is very much UCB because a lot of people on our troupe have gone to UCB, and so it’s very much long form and coming back to stories and I don’t know, they’re different little ways to get information that we use.”
Improv troupes seem to be very quirky bunches of people. Many of them have their own inside jokes, legends, customs, traditions, rituals… everything a folklorist can dream of. Observing their inside behavior can be quite intriguing, but still difficult to understand. I was hoping that my informant would explain a bit more about the catch phrase game, but she seemed to not understand what I didn’t understand about it, perhaps because it is so obvious to her. It’s also ironic that the IO school got sued for using the word “olympics,” because name ownership and copyrights are a topic of constant debate in the world of folklore.