Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Questions are a tricky improv subject matter, aren't they? The fundamental we all learned when first getting into improv is that questions are bad.

Why? Good question. The common viewpoints are:
  • Questions force other improvisers to make offers, rather than giving them offers
  • Questions don't add to the scene
  • Questions make for talking head scenes (scenes where people talk instead of act)
But, let's think about this. Questions aren't completely bad. Okay, some questions really suck, let's be honest. We'll call these information-gathering questions:
  • Who are you?
  • What should we do next?
  • Why did you do that?
  • Where are we?
  • What?
Questions such as those force the other improviser to think of interesting things, while you wait for their response. They don't lead the scene anywhere. Still, I like questions in normal life, so there must be a place for them in improv. Some questions are leading, and do offer information.
  • How could you possibly have killed your brother last weekend?
  • Why on earth would a beautiful girl like you need to wash her face again?
  • Why do you always have to chew with your mouth full?
  • What on earth am I doing with a controlling friend like you?
Even as much as I like all those questions, they still demand some sort of response. They're better than the information-gathering questions though. Even better, in my opinion--is the rhetorical question. Ironically, the question that doesn't require a response is often the easiest to respond to... (don't think about it too long)
  • Why am I still with you after all these years?
  • What do I look like, an idiot?
  • Oh, do you think you should go over there and apologize?
So, questions aren't entirely bad... but, they're a natural defense mechanism when we don't know what to do in an improv scene--put the stress on somebody else.

Interestingly, few people use this questioning technique in real-life conflict--usually the response is justifying their own behavior, making comments about other people, etc. --in another irony, those are the very things that make for good improv endowments.

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