Improv Technique: Absurdity
One more exercise, okay? We're gonna do this we're gonna do this in twos, I like putting you guys in twos, okay. We've talked about building, we've talked about riffing, we've talked about courage but in my opinion the benefit of improv in the creative process, its greatest benefit is this one right here. It's the thing that it gives us that I think no other medium teaches us, from a creative standpoint and it's something that's vital to the creative process and you're gonna see why, okay. So you guys are gonna stay seated, you guys are in your pairs, alright, you're gonna stay seated. I'm gonna give you a scene to play out. Relationship what you guys have with each other in a scene to play out and you guys are gonna play it out, okay, but I'm, you guys have to be able to see the screen obviously, be able to see the screen, because you need to react to what's happening on the screen, okay? So for instance. This is what you need to see. One of you is the left and one of you is the right...
, okay your association with that, one of you is the left, one of you is the right, the scene that you're playing out is that you both are hairdressers. You're both hairdressers and you're driving back from Vegas while, where you were attending a hairdressing convention. The hairdressing convention is over, you two are driving back from Vegas, late night drive, okay? One of you is left one of you is right, identify who's left and right now, just so you know, don't get confused, whenever, whenever, you guys are gonna have a conversation a normal conversation, you guys are gonna, we'll just riff off each other in this scene okay. Whenever your side is green you're happy whenever it's red you're angry, immediately, for whatever is happening in this moment. Okay, so you're gonna have a conversation so you're gonna go back and forth between angry and happy back and forth, and you just gotta continue having that conversation based on what side you're on and whether or not you are green or red, got it? Okay, so normal conversation, hairdressers coming back from a convention in Vegas, you're both clearly happy right now, ready go.
Haircon 2017 was such a success, I learned so many new techniques, can't wait to get back and try 'em out on all my clients.
It was crazy right?
Yeah. What did you like best about it?
I just met so many people and I met so many creative people did see the, did you just, did you just see.
It really pissed me off when someone had one of my designs in exactly the same color.
Wow I didn't see that no.
Okay well let me tell you about it. This person used to be a friend of mine and I actually told her about my ideas, and she--
Wait wait, is this Stephanie.
It's yeah, it's Stephanie.
I can't stand Stephanie. She did the same thing to me.
Oh my god.
You know that cut, the cut with the sharp line.
And the fade to the side. Yeah yeah, I came up with that.
Oh my god you did?
Okay you know what, that's all the rage right now and I love it.
Well I'm glad you think so but I mean--
Do you mind if can teach me how to do that because I would love to know how you do that.
Hmm yeah man, I mean I mean you know just so long as you give credit where credit's due I'm more than happy to teach you that cut.
Oh absolutely I would yeah as long as you can do that I'd be really happy.
I mean of course I can do that. Are you saying you don't trust in my abilities as a designer as a hair stylist come on. I've been doing this for 10 years.
Like I don't like it when you take that tone with me.
Okay let's just take a step back just relax I didn't mean it that way.
You're right, you're right, you know, I just get a little stressed when we're driving and you know traffic on the 15, I just, you know I need a moment I'm sorry.
It's okay, it's okay.
Do you see this guy, he just cut us off.
I saw that I saw that.
Nevada drivers just don't know how to drive, every time you know it's a freeway you're supposed to go there's no cops from here to Watts I mean, let's just you know, speed it up a little bit.
Exactly can you believe this guy? What we need to do is chase him down and teach him a lesson! What do you think of that.
You know that didn't work out the last time I tried it and I actually have some points on my license--
What you're scared? You scared?
I'm not scared I'm just, you know, the three strikes rule.
Okay okay you know what, I just saw a little bit of red there, I'm really sorry, I, okay, you know what, I'm done, I'm done.
Why what did I do?
I'm done, I'm just pissed because, you know, this whole, this guy cuts us off and then, I'm just feeling really, I'm just seeing red right now and I wanna--
Yeah yeah you know what, I just realized too that I left my curling iron in the hotel room. I spent $200 on that thing you know. This was Jean Paul Michel, what am I gonna do man, I have an appointment tomorrow, signature do, I need to use that iron.
Okay how about this, how about I lend you my iron?
Alright that's pretty sweet, yeah I appreciate that, you know.
Yeah it's probably not a--
Oh my God.
How about no, 'cause then you know what, I just remembered that I actually got you that iron and you didn't even say thank you.
You're so petty, you're so petty. This happens every time we take a trip together, I don't wanna do anymore of these trips together next time I'm just gonna come by myself.
Well fine, fine. See if I care.
Alright time, alright. My favorite is obviously when it goes red. Just because you guys have to figure out how to be angry at each other and it's so funny because you're half laughing at the time, like whoever's reacting to it right? In those moments how you get angry at each other, how you calm back down, you know, I most instances you're reacting to each other like, I'm angry at you, but it's okay, you know like, you were just like I saw red for a second I'm sorry, and then it turned red again and you're like no, you know what I'm not sorry, and you gotta move into it it's, there's a wonderful absurdity that exists within the relationship of doing this, of forcing you to be mad at each other, in some ways it's cathartic, I mean you don't know each other but you kinda got some things out off your chest, didn't you. Like you were able to just yell at each other and scream at each other in that moment. And that's really the advantage that improv gives us and in my experience the thing that, from a creative standpoint, has the greatest value. Is that it teaches you how to be absurd. See, we talked about that relationship, that definition of creativity, right, creativity being problem solving with relevance and novelty. And we as adults, we don't struggle with relevance but what we struggle with is novelty. We struggle with generating ideas that are new or different or unique, because we've conditioned ourselves to only solve problems the most relevant way possible. And one of the fastest ways for us to find novelty is to go to the absurd. Is to find the most absurd version of that idea and find a way to pull that back see most of our ideas have to actually be pushed forward to be interesting. Because we start with our own perspective and experience we usually start with an idea we've seen. Right, if somebody comes to you and says, okay here's what we need to do, we need to come up with something, we'll usually look at, okay, well what have I seen that exists? And then how do I modify that to be unique for me? You're taking an already existing idea and average idea and trying to push it forward. You're trying to add things to it to make it unique and you're trying to get closer to something novel. Absurdity exists within that scale and it exists all the way at the end, what if we started with the most absurd version of that idea and pulled it back, instead of starting with the most average version and trying to push it forward. And improv teaches us to find absurdity really quick 'cause the funniest environment we can be in is when we're just being totally absurd and we have the freedom to do so when the people around us are allowing us to do so. You guys could say whatever you wanted to each other because you talk next and you want the same freedom and isn't that awesome, that's the freedom that you wanna have, the way that you feel through this exercise of being able to say whatever you wanted to say. That's the freedom we should have in the context of our group ideation. Absurdity is a way for us to get there faster. What's the most absurd version of this and how do I pull that back, and improv can teach us how to do that. So. Building, riffing, courage, absurdity. Any questions?
We're good out here!
Good off the internet, any questions here, anything we've talked about to this point? Yeah.
Okay so I'm kind of curious as to what an improv exercise would look like in, like a workplace.
Right? I mean would it be like these exact exercises say you know it's like the creative department and you're trying to figure out a new idea for a slogan or campaign or something like that, you know, is it these specific exercises that you would use or is there a different way--
You don't have to do things as physical as we're doing them, so what we're doing, we're setting up through comedy improv environments right. I'm giving you a relationship that you have with one another and asking you to act out scenes together under a certain set of rules. In most cases if you ask, for instance, if you're gonna go to a creative department, half that room is gonna be introverts. And asking them to act out any scene together is probably gonna be a futile response, right? They have very little interest in acting out anything. It's the spirit of these activities that really that you can pull from, right? You don't have to physically act out something, all you have to do is be able to have something that you can react to in a random way, okay. All you need is something with which multiple reactions can happen so, say for instance you know, we had the question earlier about, can I improv alone, I said well yeah, as long as you have something to react to. If you wanted to improv about something in a creative environment if you're talking about for instances headlines. You could take random words and adjectives and just throw out random words and say use it in a sentence. And people can just throw them out what sentence they come up with or they could just write them down what sentence that they could use that random word in. All they're doing is reacting to the random nature of what that is, or when they see an image asking for, asking for meaning for that image. If you show a picture of a whale and you attach it to a brand, here's a product I have a picture of a whale and this dishwasher soap. What's the headline that I would use this picture to use that dishwasher soap?
Yeah of course right there see? You're beginning to improv, this is the nature of improv and what you're doing is you're brainstorming. 'cause then you would say something and he would hear it and go, oh yeah, you know what, what if it was this? And all you're doing is reacting to those things. The more restriction you add to it the more you can improv to it. So you don't have to play out physical games to get to these points, all you have to do is have something random with which to react to. Whenever I start off a brainstorming session I always start it off with an exercise. They're just creative exercises what they are, they're little acts of improv and I'll put two people together and I'll give them an exercise to solve something small something random something, you know I'll give them a picture of a fire hydrant. And say you have to turn this fire hydrant into something else, or they reach across onto each other's paper and they draw a squiggle and they have to turn the squiggle into something else. Well they can't turn the squiggle into something else until their partner draws it. So therefore they couldn't pre plan anything. I didn't give them something three days ago and said draw something in this, they simply have to turn that paper and see something in that moment. And what they're doing is they're practicing this art of improvisation, offering up ideas and then forgetting them. Offering up and forgetting them and being able to do that over and over and over again. So you don't have to go through the context of all of this, you don't have to go through physical action in order to do it, but you do have to do something where you can react to it together and be able to play off of one another. You can have exercises where like, our beginning exercise where you basically, it was a building exercise, you said a word and then you had to say the word that first came to mind and what you're doing is you're building upon that, you're building verbal word webs that we would draw out you're just doing it verbally. So they're just exercises that allows us to get into the right frame of mind to be able to offer ideas, in a free and open environment, and then being able to do it together over and over and over again for a period of time.
Question from over here from Jeff, wanted to know do you have any advice on bringing sort of negative people into a more positive space around this process?
Yeah so yes and is a great way to do this. That if you if you use the yes and as a primary mechanism of communication that no ideas can be shut down, people who are negative have a tendency to judge immediately and so if you remove judgment from the process and say we're not allowed to judge any ideas, our goal here is possibility, we'll come back in and judge them later. As a matter of fact you might wanna involve them in that convergence exercise. But in the divergence exercise of possibility there has to be a rule of building, right? There has to be a positive nature to it, so. If you can set those ground rules ahead of time, right and allow that person to participate in a way that says okay we can only yes and exercises here, we can only build upon them and you have somebody that is leading that brainstorm see most brainstorms fail because they don't have proper leadership. They're saying let's put five people in a room and everyone's equal come up with whatever you want you have to have somebody who's guiding that conversation 'cause just like we talked about, you know, you generate a bunch of ideas and the room gets quiet, somebody has to be there to go, okay well then let's do this, and let's do this, and let's do this, and have those exercises be positive. And the leads a diversion or the conversion exercise of judging the quality of those ideas to something else. You know there's an old story about Walt Disney's creative process and we haven't been able to identify whether or not it's true but the story for me at least, it's a fine story about his creative process happening over the course of three days and happening over the course of three separate rooms. So the first part of the creative process would be a very large room, very open ceilings, round table and he'd bring in eight to 10 people and a chalkboard and he, the reason why there was a round table is he wanted everyone at the table to feel like they were equal regardless of whether or not they were a president of the company or working in the mail room everybody at that table was equal. And the goal of that was idea generation, as many ideas as you can come up with and you're just gonna write them down on the board and then he would have these people go away. The next day he would go into a much smaller room and he would put five seats in a semi circle and he would take each of the ideas and start to knock them off the list, okay, let's, which ones aren't gonna work, so the first day was about divergence the second day was about convergence which ones aren't gonna work, and they would just start crossing them off the list he would put people on a half, in a semi circle so that they could see the board, but then see each other at the same time, to be able to have those conversations about what's gonna work or not gonna work. Ultimately it would get down to two, or three, or four ideas, the ones that are left. The next day they'd go away, they would come back in and he'd put three people in three chairs in a row. And he would take each idea separately, bring it up to a new board, write it up and say our job's to kill it, can we kill this idea? And they would talk about all the different things that wouldn't work about that idea. Most of these are movie ideas. What isn't gonna work about the story, what can and can't we do with it and if they can get through one of those ideas without destroying it that's the movie they made. That is, it's a three day creative process that we have shoved into 45 minutes into a board room. And we do all of it. Every idea that comes out we immediately judge it we put it into that second room and into the third room immediately based on our own experiences and perspectives. And unfortunately the relationship that we have with each other in that way keeps us from being able to offer up those possibilities. So the negative people are usually people who are judging it's not usually people who are just generally negative it's that they're going through a convergence process. Based on the efficiency of time, I don't, we don't have time we have to start making this, I don't have three days to go through an ideation process I only have 45 minutes. Well if you only have 45 minutes then spend or 30 minutes generating as many possibilities as you can and then spend the other time narrowing those possibilities don't do them simultaneously and negative people they generally want to go to the judgment process first, because they know the germ of an idea is a waste of time, let's not even go down this path because it's not going to work I already know it well you already know it at the idea as it currently sits but when somebody else takes it and moves it over here like whoa that solved the problem that was in my head that I never shared with you. So going through the divergent process first and the convergent process second, allows you to set up the rules at the beginning of this so that people can participate in a positive way and then they can be involved from a negative standpoint to help the convergence 'cause you do need those people you need someone to say, I'm looking at that idea and I don't think it's gonna work, you need that but you don't need it at the time of ideation you need it at the time of convergence.