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.