Look like you know what you're doing

Saw the improv group Mother at UCB recently. They were all strong but one guy, Jason Mantzoukas, really killed it. This interview with him has some good bits about improv and comedy in general.

On owning the stage...

That’s what makes improv fail onstage -- when people can’t be confident on stage or feel comfortable on stage. Improv is the only world in which there’s a contract between the audience and the group that we all know you’re making this up so we’ll be forgiving to a degree, but if you show any weakness, if you’re at all nervous or hesitant, the audience shuts you off completely. ‘I don’t feel comfortable because I know the person’s failing.’ And they clam up.

That’s why people who just own the stage will get laughs at something that’s not even that funny. The audience is reacting with relief that it’s going well. ‘Thank god this person knows what they’re doing. This is great.’ That’s something you learn by standing in front of an audience and doing it.


On comedy career paths...

That’s one of the super-frustrating things about a career in this industry -- there is no path, there is no way to do it. Everyone starts out at the beginning of the forest, is given a machete and told the end is somewhere out there, figure it out. You have to chop your way through the whole things.


On using patterns onstage...

The thing is, all games are is patterns -- patterns of behavior. Patterns should be a tool you use all the time. It’s a grounding device that allows you, your partner and the audience to understand that you’re still playing within the constructs that you’ve established for them to understand forward movement...Otherwise improv could be so diffuse that you could very easily lose people because it doesn’t make sense, so a pattern always helps you.

It’s like chord changes in a jazz solo. You understand what’s underneath it and you get it. It’s different now but it’s still John Coltrane playing “My Favorite Things.” You recognize “My Favorite Things” even though it sounds nothing like it right now. I grew up playing drums and playing jazz, so that’s how I think of it a lot. The pattern exists, and then I’m just playing on top of it.


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