by Matt Holmes
Writers are advised with the axiom “Kill Your Darlings,” which should be traced back to Sir Arthur Quiller-Crouch. The idea is that writers should not to be too precious about their creations.
If you craft something that you love, you might shun any criticism or advice. Even if it’s perfect and beautiful, you might include it where it doesn’t belong. You might like it, but will your audience get what you mean? Your terrific turn of phrase might be one word too long for your limit; what can you do?
Maybe you don’t hit delete and instead save it to be used elsewhere (Will and Grace started as traditional wacky neighbors until they became the main focus). Whatever you do with your work, you must not coddle it.
Writers usually work in private and alone; they spend time on their work and don’t know what the readers think until long after publishing. Improv, in contrast, is usually a group effort done in the moment with a public, immediate response.
In improv, the equivalent of this concept might be “Love Your Garbage.”
Sometimes, you’re blessed with good stuff that magically, automatically falls into place. That stuff takes care of itself. If you know what you’re doing, even the mediocre stuff gets heightened and used. The tricky part is the bad stuff.
Make the mistakes part of the pattern. You can’t edit anything out, so you have to make it so you wanted it to happen for some reason. Make it seem on purpose.
If you’re embarrassed that those words came out of your mouth, make them important and meaningful in retrospect. Make the beginning work because of the ending. Now is the time to make your partner look good. Make their dumb move into a brilliant choice. If you do something stupid, do it again and figure out why.
When we watch improv, we want to see your brilliance, but we also like to see the tightrope wiggle a bit. Let it wiggle, let us see the process of you using your skills. Then make something good out of it.
Matt Holmes is an improviser in Philly. He performs a full improv comedy set with a complete stranger from the audience in Matt& (“playful and winning” –TimeOut Chicago). He also teaches improv, coaches improv groups, and co-founded Rare Bird Show (“Top Shelf Improv” –The Apiary, “arguably the best improv group Philly has ever produced” –AV Club).
Look for the next installment of “Discussing a Bit,” Matt’s monthly WitOut column, on July 1st.
Have a comedy issue or theory you’d like Matt to examine? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.