Thematic harolds were king in the second half of the Harold Night.

We’re talking BoomBox harold by GoodGirl, some Namaste action and that sweet-sweet apocalypse harold from The Regulars. 

Comedy game = strong.

Harold Night: 3/18/14. Namaste and Graceland.

Harold Night - 3/4 (second block)

Okay, i’m just as disappointed as you may be, but due to technical difficulties (namely that my video won’t save or render to Youtube!!), you’re stuck reading last week’s observations. SORRY! I’m so sorry. For those of you new to this thing, this isn’t necessarily focused on recapping entire harolds as much as it’s focused on things I respect and learn from. Full disclosure, it morphs into a recap, sometimes. 
Graceland - Disney
Great opening. I love active openings, I could be wrong, but as an audience member, they’re fun to watch and seem to produce a ton of ideas, inspiration, etc. Also, just watching an island of misfit disney toys, characters and failed actors play out is pretty amusing too. Kudos to Graceland, when shit got weird, everyone joined in and piled on. Cue segue, I can’t say enough about how the tandem of Joey Price and Justin Lamb greased the wheels of this harold. Lamb had so many funny lines and sub games, it was almost hard to keep track. Watching Joey play an asshole talent agent/casting director to the T was highly rewarding. 
The first and second beats of the first game were really, REALLY fun/funny. Peter Sheer places a starving disney artist deeply committed to his craft was great. What made this scene work was how quickly everyone supported it, Sean grounded it to give the scene immediate stakes, reminding this mickey-actor guy that his job is to please kids which obviously juxtaposes Sheer’s position of being a real time method actor trying to make it big. Second beat here is just as good. Kudos again to Lamb for grounding this scene but allowing it to move forward. I’ve always heard teachers say that, “Say no to the character but yes to the scene." It was delightful to watch Justin lightly reprimand Peter on his first day at Fun Burger King his job is to collect money and punch orders no matter how enthusiastically he wants to get. The justification was spot on and was just sort of a throwaway line in a largely funny scene. Other throw away funny lines - Sean fucking with Peter (also, reacting to the last thing his scene partner said) when he asked Peter if his wife really left and handed him a $20 when she dumped him. Just easy laughs, that’s table nuggets right there. The button move was great, Joel walking on as a casting director who of course, Peter clamors to serve, spot on! 
I don’t want to call out too much but I will say, Graceland group games come correct. These were some of my favorite scenes from the night. The first, the $250,000 Secret Disney Tour. You know when they say you can make anything up in improv? They’re not kidding. Watching this group game reminds me. Want to walk on as a reanimated Walt Disney? Please do. Want to put a Shamu in the underground tunnel? Why not? Credit to Johnna who really was so honestly committed to real tour specifics that it really filled out the world for me. Sidenote: give yourself a sub-game. It was cool to watch Justin heighten his sub-game as a fixer-upper along the way. Whenever the game heightens to anti-semitic Walt Disney meeting a Jewish guy who’s got a question for him, always edit. Props to Graceland for not missing the button and closing out on a big laugh. 
Their second group game was the one that really stole my heart. I think as improvisers, sometimes the tendency is to find the game in the first 3-4 lines and not let anything build. Graceland had the patience to wait and see where this went, so what began as a scene about two farmers talking, feeding a bunch of chicken turned into a scene about how monotonous and cyclical life is. Yeah, I know, i just typed that, but i’m not kidding. Chickens do as farmers do, who in turn do as chicken feed does. Such a clean game and simple but mostly a real great example of people just trusting one another and being on board with something coming from absolutely nothing. 
Final thought: Joel nails “Goat Lord” and i guess the lesson for me is don’t feel bad about making strong character choices, especially when “Goat Lord” is a thing that gets referenced no less than eight times in a first beat. 
The Regulars - Courtney Cox 
I’m a sucker for the documentary opening so naturally, i’m sucked in right away but the thing i notice and a thing that changes the harold is an accident but the subsequent team support. Just when it looked like Pat was going to edit the opening, Zach took a seat to do one more duo and instead of making it weird and awkward, he made a character choice which Pat immediately matched to be overly-excited guys who are so excited about waking people up that they barely have enough time to sit down. Also, something i forget until i see this team is that they are SO good at establishing clear premises in their opening. 
The first and second beats of this game are pretty thin but still PRETTY funny. Grant plays an actress who only wants to take the roles of Monica - naturally she didn’t get cast as the one on Friends so she goes off in search of others, including famed 90s musician and well, you know the only other famous Monica from the 90’s (hint: blow job + blue dress). Bonus points to Shalyah for her 90’s agent specifics. I could just feel that this character had big hair. The second beat is where a lot more magic happens though because Grant is auditioning for a Sprint commercial - the sprint “lady” is called Cynthia which means we get to witness Grant have a lot of trouble auditioning/breaking on stage. I want to shout out Zack P. here because there’s a throwaway line which he calls back in third beats which leads to a black out. During the commercial, it’s established that Monica uses Sprint because it helps her run fast, but more on that later. 
While i loved the first group game - especially because it involved British accents and built towards subtle racism mapping slavery to beastiality, the second game is more pertinent. What at first glance started as a “Kids get in here” scene, is changed because if you, like i, assumed the question and tone “what’s on the floor?” would imply a negative connotation the simple answer they gave “carpet” did not. Such an easy choice and everyone was immediately on board. This led to a fun discovery that the kids were little architects because as Shalyah appropriately justified, was the job their non-existent father did. Only when it got too much, after the kids had put a kitchen island in and made other home improvements, she changed her tune, explaining the true nature of the relationship: just some guy she slept with at a bar. Without missing a beat, everyone begins humping the air or trying to hump their mother. Weird, but honestly, so funny. 
Final thought: Callback to Zack from earlier, in third beats, he starts with a pitch for Sprint about how they don’t want a commercial that talks about actual phones - that’s what he assumed from the fact that a sprint commercial was about running, instead of phones. Pat says Sprint is just like rent. Someone makes a move to clarify that Sprint is just like Rent. A tag follows for the pivotal set up question, “How many minutes do you get?” without missing a beat the back line support chimes in appropriately with 525,600 minutes. Blackout. Respect. That was barely a kernel of an idea but somewhere, Zack thought that would be fun to play with and he brought it back.   
Bucky - Velcro
What can i say? This performance was absolutely something special. I love that Laura Wilcox and Nicole Drespel can have such strong opinions as women playing women on stage and play them well enough to not make it cartoony. At one point in the show, Laura fainted and it just felt so on game because of her level of commitment, but honestly the harold was successful because it was believable. The loser shoe guy Frank played, the corny/kind of gross sales guy Nate played, the turbo jocks, the over concerned mother, IT WAS SO REAL! It might be hard for me to do their entire monscene justice so again, I’ll call out the highlights. 
The battle of Frank and Nate’s characters was great. Francis (Frank) was this loser who was on the verge of committing suicide whereas Ted (Nate) was this super slick shoe guy who got you multiple discounts at other stores around the mall or opened credit cards for kids to make the sale. Ted’s theme song is Flash by Queen, Frank’s is the Escape (The Piña Colada song) by Rupert Holmes. I mean, it gets pretty stark for Frank who’s idea of exercise is rollerblading around the park versus Ted who’s got a lifetime membership to Crunch Fitness (home of the douches). They really built these guys up over the course of the Harold. 
I’ve touched on this already but the commitment Laura used in being an overly-cautious/caring mom who equated modesty and velcro nursing shoes with somehow preventing her daughter from growing up and becoming a woman was great. Nicole as her daughter, already going through the stages of puberty and looking to break out with a sensible flat or a pump and wheel shoe - a shoe that does something for her, was really perfect. In fact, now that i mention it, Nicole playing an overly sheltered girl breaking out of that shell and striking out for herself was something else. Really fun specifics - especially when her mum leaves her alone and she accidentally joins a shoe cult.
Jeremy Bent and Matt Cutler both played two of my favorite characters in this entire show, and that’s really tough to call. But their overzealous dumb jocks who likened buying the proper athletic shoes to being gods versus ants were amazing. Their rants were insane but made absolute sense. Fun specifics - “This is Footlocker, athletic shoes are supposed to be 75% of their business, period.” and them repeating, “Try running suicides in loafers” repeatedly with heightened states of emotion was priceless. Laura walking on and directing their attention to the back wall, which they’d apparently never bother looking at was of course, stocked entirely with athletic shoes. This is important for me, because it wasn’t a denial of the fact that they hadn’t searched the store, it was an educated guess, that two guys standing on chairs or benches in the front of the store, hadn’t bothered to go all the way back and look. Not a denial. This is not a denial! Watching Bent and Cutler play the lesser known Kennedy brothers - Ken and Gary, whom scandal/the Kennedy curse had yet to touch, was also insanely rewarding because they committed. If you’re going to do a Kennedy impersonation, fucking do it. Kudos to Nate who was at the ready with all the relevant boat shoe brands. 
The BOGO (buy one, get one) group game was really fun and silly. It really encapsulated what it is to be in one of those stores during one of those promotions. Of course, the fun is partly in seeing adults run around and ravage whatever items they can find on the Chelsea stage - chairs and podium, but in the confusion over what BOGO actually means. Bring one, Get one? Bo Jackson one, Get one? I birthed one, get one? So good. 

I love how the justification for Laura’s character didn’t come until way late in the harold, but when it did, it was so much more rewarding in some way. We learned that she was an overly protective mother was because she was scared of the Kennedy family curse. The monoscene ended with a gay wedding and a minute later, a Kennedy scandal when it was revealed that new husband Francis shit in the OJ at Jamba Juice.  

Final Thoughts: Frank’s suicide sub game with shoe specifics - make laces into a noose/eat shoe polish and die. Matt Cutler working in a True Detective reference. Jeremy Bent’s Boston/Kennedy accent and quote, “There are no lesser Kennedy’s only Kennedy’s wearing lesser boat shoes.” What does it even mean? Who cares? It sounded amazing. 

Improv Observations Returns!

We’re back in business! Harold Night 3/4, 9:15pm…you’re up first. 

Grandma’s Ashes - 7/17/13

Hello….seems i’ve been gone for a short while, but not to worry…I’M back…sort of. 

I didn’t plan on going to the Grandma’s Ashes show last night, I some how wound up there though. You know the deal, you’re feeling weird because you’ve had a hell of a day and you just want to sort of cut loose and laugh, a lot? Maybe you don’t but i’ll just get into it. 

Grandma’s Ashes is/was/will always be my favorite harold team. (I wasn’t fortunate enough to grow up watching Bastian.) They have a connection, and if you look closely now at Harold Night, you’ll see shimmers of it here and there  (i.e. GoodGirl, Regulars, etc.) in teams that JUST LOVE PLAYING with each other. I’m not talking about that forced bullshit, there’s plenty of that. But i’m talking about teams who live to make each other laugh, audience be damned. 

The show’s format has changed slightly, if you haven’t been in ages. There’s no interview anymore which I think is actually beneficial, the entire audience seems more engaged, more on the edge of their seats waiting to see if the secrets will be hits or duds, if theirs or an iteration of theirs will be picked. A pleasant mixture of both from last night. “I ate the last cupcake” which I thought was the most mundane secret of the night actually led to, I think, the most fun group game of the night. 

I won’t recall the entire set but I’ll highlight some fine points. 

One - callbacks. There were SO many great callbacks. The second set was basically a callback to the group game that opened the second half for the blackout. BSJ was a callback machine - watching him tag out a stage full of golfers to cutback to a video investigation was great.

Two - following the fun/tag runs. Watching two guys ejaculate on Dru and then a tag run which explained why what happened to Dru actually wasn’t actually a 3-way was great. The manner in which GA quickly yes-anded that idea while simultaneously heightening it was great. Abra’s STD move i.e. sticking a q-tip up Dru’s peehole, and Ryan’s ketchup on your dick (bonus points for callback), i.e. checking if Dru was pregnant were all spot on.

Three - Being a devil for the details. In the first scene of the show, Winston was a High School drama teacher and a business entrepreneur who had staged a robbery at his store, seemingly using some of his performers wherein a single TIN OF BEANS had been stolen. After BSJ proclaimed himself a “Top Cop, the best in the biz” Winston called out the fact that it was in fact just a tin of bins, what sort of top cop would be investigating small-time crime like that? It was a tennis game of accusations but being that BSJ was quick on his game he was able to respond that the insurance fraud claim was in fact filed for a million dollars, thereby making it big time crime resulting in EASY LAUGHTER!

Four - Group games. And i think here’s where Grandma’s Ashes really fucks other peoples’ shit up is in the their simple ability to get along as a group on stage, SHARING IDEAS & FOCUS! The group game of Morgan and her mediocre lemon bars and her attempted departure for Chicago, where a family member moved to and disappeared to was great to watch. The balance of the team secretly hating these lemon bars but not wanting her to leave because they needed 8 keys to open some family vault for the family riches. So was the Business Men Do Dave & Busters scene. 

Five - Support. Support makes it magical, because when someone’s reviewing a crime tape, it makes sense to do a split-screen and see a reenactment of said crime. 

If you’ve ever fallen out of love with improv or taken an extended hiatus for whatever reason, go watch Grandma’s Ashes and remember why you give a shit in the first place. 

Goliath vs. Goliath at Cagematch

I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve posted any observations! So here are some observations.

The great thing about improv titans going head-to-head is pure improv—it always comes down to the performance, not necessarily the people who are on stage during the show. I don’t think anyone will make any bones about Cagematch being a bringer show, I think it’s designed that way, so it’s not uncommon to see a team win, perhaps even go on a run, that might not always deserve to do so. That’s just the nature of the beast. But a few times every season at Cagematch, a really cool thing happens. Two improv greats face off, effectively eliminating the ‘bringer’ factor, uniting factions of students and improv lovers alike to see a show where the winning teams’ performance quite literally takes center stage. For the performers too, as much as I’ve surmised, those big matchups are really about leaving it all on the stage, to utilize and apply an antiquated sports metaphor for no good reason.

Last night was one of those nights as The Stepfathers faced off against Grandma’s Ashes. Newsflash: if you missed it, I’m sorry. Should’ve been there. It definitely wasn’t the same thing as missing The Stepfathers’ DCM14 Rewind show, but it was pretty spectacular.

Speaking with Amos and Diston before the show, they wanted to pick my brain about my thoughts on the upcoming match, seriously—this isn’t a joke. What would the night come down to? In my opinion, whether or not The Stepfathers could come out with the right level of energy would impact the set. Would the Stepfathers get weird (if you watch them regularly, you know what I mean)? Had Connor had a nap that afternoon? Was Gethard in the house? Would Shannon be Shannon—BTW? Would Will find a character game early on, garner enough laughs per minute to sustain it throughout? Would Grandma’s Ashes play fast and loose? Would BSJ lose his mind? What would Abra do? It’s really a bevy of factors that makes Cagematch shows into what they are, but it’s the winning over of the crowd, and sustainment of a solid performance that REALLY makes it what it is.

Hands down both teams delivered. I won’t give you the blow by blow but rather a few highlights of the match. The Stepfathers settled into a monoscene fairly quickly and had the audience on board instantly through bold choices up top. After realizing they were sitting at a Russian roulette table, and without a ‘dealer’, Silvija got up to become one. It was seamless, no one made a big deal about it but it’s important to note that she was indeed sitting to start the set—we all saw it, improv is undeniable to the audience in that sense, but mostly because with about five minutes left to the show, The Stepfathers addressed it and spent a great deal of time talking, engaging and interacting with that lady, despite the fact that none of us could see her! They remember. Will Hines remembered every bet he placed and the correct amount. Will Hines heightened his character’s emotional stakes on life/death like a real human being, with credible justifications, just like Will would and should. Specifics. Shannon O’Neill called everything out, had fun and proceeded to play a game where she tried to crack everyone up “Cool WHEELCHAIR lady.” Connor Ratliff accepted gifts like it was going out of style. When his character was likened to a weak lineage of Kramer’s family, he made sure to exit and re-enter the scene in Kramer-esque fashion. They had history, connections, reasons for being there. It was a tidy monoscene that was resolved properly. It was beautifully paced. You expect that from a team of veterans – everyone has a strong character game/point of view and was driving the scene somewhere. No one is ambling about wondering what’s happening next. They’re sitting there like human beings would in such a situation. It’s just believable. No matter how insane the concept of Russian roulette table sounds, I bought it up. Grounded. Play grounded.

Grandma’s Ashes had a fun, high energetic set too. Montages – some scenes long, some short, all good, most great. Some scenes with cutaways or complete tag outs (LOVE THAT), reenactments, award shows, weird characters, fun characters, awkward situations—just the full gamut of what you can do on that stage when you’re having fun, trusting your teammates and supporting one another. What’s there to say about GA that you don’t already know? Game monsters. Support machines. The greatest thing about GA is that teamwork is their biggest strength. They are quick to jump in and flesh things out while adding to the reality. Sure everyone’s got their INDIVIDUAL strengths and that certainly helps a team flourish and play exceptionally well but I guess it goes back to the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” thing.  They jump on board so hard once they find something fun to play and won’t stop until the game has been exhausted. Watching Grandma’s Ashes play makes me MISS 401. They are having fun. Improv is FUN guys, let’s not forget or maybe I need to remember!

Again, I won’t beat their set to death. The first scene was Rue McClanahan and Brad Paisley as presenters at an Award Show. Now we could’ve just seen that—BSJ and Dru presenting the awards, and that would’ve been a funny scene, but GA builds the world right before your eyes and so quickly, that you get to see the producers, you see the actual movies been named, you see the action of the movie, and get to see the gift giving overlapping. What’s a meet-cute? I didn’t know until last night but it’s a made up word for that thing that happens when you force a cute/romantic interaction—it happens a lot in romcom movies I guess. Who’s Lupe and why’s she soliciting people in a Gap? There were just a string of killer scenes that evolved into group games – Prom scene, virginity story, etc. They just follow the fun to the ninth degree and it’s so rewarding to see. A team built on great game moves and strongly grounded in support is great at making connections, they landed a pretty big one last night to close the show but it didn’t earn them a victory.

And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. If you’re a true purist, none of that really matters. Because when improv goliaths go head to head at cagematch, you’re rooting for the best team—the one that gave the better performance but ultimately, you’re just pleased and grateful that you got to see two great sets of improv. Or at least I am.

Final Score
Stepfathers 107, Grandma’s Ashes 84

Winners
Everyone on stage, everyone in attendance

Harold Night - 1/29

Man, was it good to get back to Harold Night this evening! Sitting out of place, stage left? for the first time in ages, I really appreciated everything each of the teams did. In order, I saw A Sparrow, Rocks (playing two men down), and Bucky (despite the fact that the hosts forgot they were up). Each show was great in its own way. 

A Sparrow kicked things off with a high energy, tightly edited show in the first slot. I thought it was a good performance. Kolsky played some solid characters and Kate Riley, as always, just softballed those game moves to her scene partners. There really is something to be said for being EXPLICITLY clear at the top of the scene as things have the ability to take off so much more quickly. Patrick was there straight-manning it up while Glidewell proved you could talk about ‘doing good sex’ over and over and have it still be funny. JTim provided some excellent movie references as Jim Carrey and some real physical ‘prov. I love watching A Sparrow play because it’s ALWAYS a group effort (as harolds obviously should be), Dies and Cory Palmer might not take center stage every show, but they absolutely contribute those lines, justifications, that THING—whatever it is, and seem to be there to give a scene just what it needs. Gulya? What can you say about that guy that hasn’t already been said? Really high energy and superbly fun to watch. There was a three stooges moment in the show that came as a result of Gulya’s choice and it was fucking priceless. Real nice work.

Rocks was up second and with just six people, you sometimes wonder, gosh, can they keep it up? And did they ever. I think they had a nice sound and movement to open the harold, lots of physicality and the decision to move ahead once an idea was grabbed. It was definitely one of those “MEMORABLE HAROLDS” people will talk about for eons, or until the next memorable harold pops up I suppose. The "sleepy harold" was cool and possible as a direct result of a team making the decision to support one player’s unusual choice. Riley made a choice to stay asleep after the first beat had been edited. Instead of anyone shitting on that move, two other people joined him and suddenly they were kids sleeping in the back of a car. When it came time for the third scene, Klinman in a semi-meta move grab Riley and shoved him on stage saying it was time to start his beat. Effortlessly, Riley not only incorporated the beat comment by endowing himself as a musical producer there to make beats, but also carrying the sleep effect over, nodding off while his client was in the booth. It was SOMETHING ELSE I tell you. We also got to witness Caroline Cotter as a Bill Gates’ son, making music despite the fact that his heart wasn’t in it. He’d later go on to become president, again, without his heart in it. But it was all so fun to watch.

At some point, the Harold becomes a dream sequence, we’re exploring dreams AND dreams within dreams, this might have been after the first group game? I think that group game bled right back into the second beats and at some point, Riley went off to get milk, literally went to McDonald’s to buy milk. In a dream within a dream, Steve Thesis consumed that milk, on stage. THEN, someone asked Riley what his travels were like and we got to see his interaction at a McDonalds. Note to self, don’t sleep on Josh Sharp. If you haven’t seen this guy play a cashier, or a snotty dad with an iphone for a navigation system, you’re missing out. He killed it tonight. Caroline maybe forgot the location as she walked on in that McDonald’s scene and asked about checkout (initially, Riley was sent to Gristedes to get milk) but Sharp responded with such an attitude that it was hard NOT to believe he wasn’t a cashier at McDonald’s. Maybe i’ve been to that one too much and have experienced those ladies’ attitudes, but he played that shit so real. Such a cool ending to the show, too. On a suggestion like Tiger, you get a cool sleep harold. Those guys move quick. Very cool, very good to see.

Bucky anchored the first half of harold night and it was just magnificent to see them obliterate a monoscene harold! I know a few members were concerned with getting the harold form nailed down within the monoscene based on a prior performance. But tonight there was absolutely no question as it was clear as bloody day. You could tell where the beats were and it was clearly established by the stage picture and the pairings. I thought Nate and Jeremy did a great job of initiating the group game (as Rangers entering the camping ground) and it really helped nail the structure. The monoscene had a great pace and i think the entire team shared focus really well. Capozzoli’s always great for a few lines a harold and tonight was no different, adding a little layer to he and Cutler’s peeping tom game from the duck blinds, by stating that if they were eating fancy food they were likely to appear less creepy. Loved that Nicole brought brie and crackers when she joined them in the second beat. Also loved Nicole and Laura’s dynamic as overly protective mom and eager to please 17 year old daughter. That was a fun scene. MAN! IT WAS A GREAT harold!

I might just be obsessed with this show because it’s the first harold night i’ve seen in nearly a month and a half, but I don’t think so. It really was an exceptionally good show, top to bottom. Nice work gang(s).

Improv Observations: Rita talks about City Mouse and Huxtable! Also, what to watch for this week. 

Stay tuned for a BONUS observation with thoughts on 3x3 and UCB Tourco All-stars.

Rita talks a little bit about the recent additions to Harold/Lloyd and discusses The Spooky Ghost Spooktacular. 

Also, what to watch this week.

Reckon I’ll Talk About GoodGirl and Salmon Diane. 

Rita talks about GoodGirl, Salmon Diane, and Hot For Teacher. Some commentary on Rocks, The Regulars and what to watch this week.