Improvisational comedy

(VOVWORLD)- Improvisational Comedy or Improv, a form of live theater in which the plot, characters and dialogue are made up on the spot, first appeared in Hanoi in 2005. In 2015, with the establishment of the Rotten Grapes Club performing Improv in English, improv became popular among English learners and foreigners living in Vietnam. But improv has found a wider audience thanks to a recent show performing improv in Vietnamese, co-organized by The Rotten Grapes and the newly-established Hanoi Improvisation Club.  In this week’s Sunday Show, we’ll talk to the two clubs’ comics to find out more about this exciting form of theater. 

An upstairs room at the Blackbox Studio, 56 Nguyen Khuyen, Hanoi, was crammed with a boisterous crowd who came here expecting to laugh. Satisfying this audience seemed a tough task for Hoang Long, head of The Rotten Grapes Improvisational Comedy Club and his members, especially while standing on the stage, trying to tickle the spectators without using any prepared scripts.

 Improvisational comedy - ảnh 1 Members of the Rotten Grapes Improvisational Comedy Club (Source: Hanoigrapevines)

Some still doubted whether it could be done until the show started unloading tons of surprises and fun games. “New choice”, for example, is a game in which two people begin a conversation inspired by a random word from the audience.  If the word is “bird”, you might get:

A: I’m trying to be a bird
New choice - A: I’m trying to think like a bird
New choice - A: I’ve been trying to eat like a bird for the last few weeks 
New choice - A: I’m a bird *laughing*
Anyone can say “new choice” when he wants the onstage player to say something new, thus, the game will continue until the players run out of ideas. Each improv show includes several short-form games. Besides simple game like “New choice”, there are many other games, for example, “Typewriter”, “Couple”, and so on. Let’s hear Hoang Long describe those games. “So we have a game called “typewriter". It is the game when I am the host and I will write the story and then the rest of the group will act it out on the stage. I will write the game based on the audience’s suggestion, so, for example; I will start “Later that night, Janie was going to the bank, but it”…  yes, something like that, and then “Janie” will appear on the stage and I will add the narrative for the story and together we will add out the dialogues to complete the scenes. We also have another game called “Couple”, which is a game where we ask couples in the audience to join us on stage. They will tell us about their stories, their first date or the first time they met, and then our 2 improvisers will act that first date on stage, which contains a lot of fun.” 

Now is a short-form game called "Helping hands", which was recorded at The Rotten Grapes Improv Comedy show Oct 17th 2015.

Though no formal preparation or training is required; improvisers do need a lot practice to master all the important techniques and necessary skills that help them turn the audience’s random suggestions into comedy. Two of the most important skills are “Listening” and “Yes-and”. Hoang Long again: “Listening is a very important skill in Improv. You must listen to your partner and understand his or her ideas. The next thing is to agree and add on. This means you always agree with what your partners have established, and then you add your own information. So, together, as a team, you build up a unique, interesting story that has never been created before.”

Advanced improvisers may apply the “No-and” technique, which means denying some part of their partner’s statements while switching the scene into something else interesting and more surprising. The audience can become part of the show by providing suggestions to the actors. Actor Pham Toan told us: “Some situation, the audience will be the one who give us some ideas and we even act together as well.” 

Hoang Long again: “We have a lot of games that need audience’s suggestion. Or even in some games, we ask the audience to provide some sound effect for us. Or even somehow like control the improvisers. And the improvisers will become a puppet for the audience to control and then we will have to make a story based on something like that.” 

For now, let's watch an Improv - Game in the Ellen Degeneres show  11/03/2008

Improv can be divided into two categories: short-form and long-form. Luong Thanh Duc, founder of the Hanoi Improvisation Club described the difference between the two forms. “In improvisation, we have long form and short form ones. Long form is more than 10 minutes, or up to 15 minutes; it’s long form. And short form games, well, only 5 minutes. In short form, we have only 2 actors, and in long form, we have, maybe 7 or 10 improvisers join that scene.”

For long-form improv comedy, actors have to stay with the characters and make things fit into the story for at least 5 to 15 minutes, so it requires greater acting skill and the ability to work as a team.  Hoang Long said: “Short form is just game and you have rules for that. So, the games relies more on jokes. But for long form, it’s more about the team work, because we just do free scene, and we have to come up with some thing funny. So that’s why long form is really satisfying as it shows the creativity of the improvisers. And it’s actually quite fun to do.”  

 Improvisational comedy - ảnh 2 "Yes-and" means you always agree with what your partners have established, and then you add your own information. Together as a  team, you build up a unique, interesting story that has never been created before. (Photo: Pinterest)

Improv sometimes is purely comedy-based, while at other times it can be a mix of both comedy and drama, or just drama. Actor Pham Toan said: “In some comedy shows, they also combine a lot of the emotion inside; they can earn the tear drops from audience. We want to combine them together, include the pain, the love added to the comedy.”
The improv technique is not just for professional actors. It can be used as an educational tool or a way to develop communication skills, creative problem solving, or team-work, Let’s hear a piece of music that suggests what improv can bring to you. 

Song lyrics: When you just joined a party / Don’t know any body/ And you have to dance with weird music/ Or you got into a new team/ Where nobody knows you/ And there are some cranky people that you will work with/ or you maybe live with/ For the rest of your life/And that’s when Improv comes in handy/ Having fun and laughing hard/ Boost your self-confidence/ Understand there’s no mistake that you could make during a scene/ And you just get all of that by just playing some fun games/ Question only/ Two-headed monster/ Hoedown/ Irish Drinking song/ … Since you master Improv, you will never get bored as you will always find a funny way to live .
These comics want to popularize and bring improve closer to the Vietnamese people. Thanh Duc said: “I know in some countries they have a lot of improvisation clubs, it’s like in every state, they have at least 1 improvisation club. So every year, they have a festival and they have Improv competitions. I want every city in Vietnam to have 1 improvisation club. Maybe we can even hold a festival each year.”
This week, we’ve been talking about the Improvisation comedy. We welcome your feedback at: English section, VOVworld, Radio Voice of Vietnam, 45 Ba Trieu Street, Hanoi, Vietnam. Or you can email us at: Tune in to our English program on the Internet at Good bye. See you next time.


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