Playing with your improv nemesis
Now for the darker side of improv.
Read first: Crazy/Status
I’ve cheerfully talked about how every improviser is a superhero, and they have unique special abilities to them based on their Crazy/Status levels. But here’s a dirty secret. Improv doesn’t always work.
We all have an archenemy— a nemesis— that player you never seem to mesh with. Not players who are doing bad things and violate code of conduct (they are out the door, asap). I’m talking about players who play in a particular way that, you already know playing scenes with them will be hard. They can be Crazy, Logical, High Status or Low Status. It’s not about experience: they can be a veteran or a newbie. They can be someone you respect, and you can’t put a finger on why it doesn’t work. At worst you develop a bit of resentment. Maybe you start to hang around in the opposite corner of the workshop room, or wait until they get their turn, to avoid being paired up.
It’s okay to feel that way.
Ideally, yes, you should be able to play with anyone. But you are not forced to play with everyone. On those occasion that you do get paired up with your nemesis, though, it is an opportunity to grow. Do:
- Realize what your partner is doing
- Don’t get spiteful
- Do whatever necessary to make the scene work
- Thank your partner, don’t teach them how to be ‘better’
- Move on
That’s it. An improv scene is a fleeting moment that shouldn’t carry over. Improvise and learn. You are not forced to team up on a long-term partnership with someone you don’t enjoy playing with. (Of course, if both of you are locked in one team it’s more complicated. Frustrations get high. Then get a coach.)
Your nemesis is often an extreme version of you.
You might think your improv nemesis is someone who plays so radically different from you. They would be the ones who are diametrically opposite, so it is hard to make a connection. But there are cases where it is not.
Ready for it? Here’s my theory: They are you.
Iron Man vs. Iron Monger. Superman vs. General Zod. Black Panther vs. Killmonger. You may have difficulty with improvisers with the same abilities. Because you feel like your superpowers are gone. You feel dominated by their superpowers, or it becomes an arms race with someone who has bigger weapons. As a throw-in, you might be less empathetic / less aware of the shortcomings of your own playing style.
When you play against your nemesis, you have to change your ways for balance. That’s very uncomfortable. Don’t get bitter about your partner not changing their ways. This will make you stronger.
Here’s a handy guide on how to play with (not versus) your nemesis, in Batman villains.
The battle for supremacy. These players would force every scene their way. Playing against Crazy/High partners who are both big and unpredictable is a problem for many, and unfortunately, there is not much space for you. If you’re a Crazy/High player yourself, it quickly becomes a battle for the high ground. What you can do is become The Great Justifier. Say a lot of “Yeah!”, repeat what they just said. For this role, you have to be really egoless. You are really servicing the scene (Logical/Low), not yourself. Scenes will become tension, not conflict, and you will get improviser audience to love you for it. It’s damn irritating to think “they got away with it”, after the scene. Quite often the crazy/high player feels the scene was successful because of them. Don’t care.
Nemesis: Crazy / Low
The wrench. For some, playing against Crazy/Low partners who respond to your moves in unpredictable ways is difficult. If you are a Logical/High, you get irritated because you cannot push a plan onto them. Your game initiations goes awry. They are the wrench in your plan. In this case you have to let go of control and just see what they do. Be willing to abandon your plans and be extra present to the moment (true for all improv anyway)
The nebula. Crazy/Low and Crazy/Low players actually are a good match for another. But sometimes if your partner is crazier, it can be difficult. You might end up just gasping for air not sure what to do. The scene deteriorates often into ambiguous scenes in nebula, where nobody knows what is going on, and nobody is courageous enough to define it. If this happens, you have to play more Logical. This would help the scene be understood.
Nemesis: Logical / Low
The whiff. Logical/Low partners bend to the wind, like bamboo. In martial arts it’s like fighters who are so fluid, they are difficult to hit. If you find it hard to play with them, your scene is often a whiff, like someone had pulled a chair from under you. You try to push a move to create tension, and expect to lean against a solid wall. Instead, they give way, and all the tension is gone. For instance, you want to provoke them into anger and you are afraid… then they feel bad about your response and change their character into becoming very apologetic. They might be doing this because they are still figuring out HOW you want them to respond. In this case you want to give them a lot of reassurance. Make sure to convey whatever they do is great. If needed, be as comically obvious — replace finesse with clarity when you have trouble playing with Logical/Low players.
Nemesis: Logical / High
The manual. Logical/High partners are dominating players with a plan. This can be your nemesis too — if you feel you have to do what they say in the manual of the scene. You feel your creativity is stifled, and if you are a Crazy/High or a Crazy/Low, that hurts. Now sometimes, Logical/High players take control of the scene because they need that sense of security. If you are too Crazy, Logical/High partners would either take even more control, or get flustered and give up on the scene. Again, being selfless is key. Give them something to hold onto, you can follow their plan a little bit, and at the right time strike back. By now they would be more receptive to ideas. Give them something they don’t expect but would enjoy, and you’ll laugh it off together.
Dedicated to Andel Sudik, who makes every partner great.