During the nearly two decades he's been on stage, Matt Nelson has
noticed something troubling about improv comedy. "People come and watch
it, they fall in love with it, and then they want to do it, so we lose
our audience," he says. "We end up performing for each other quite a
Tonight, the eighth annual Philadelphia Improv Festival kicks
off at the Prince Music Theater. And while Nelson -- the festival's
executive producer and a performer with the Adrift troupe -- is hoping
you'll be content to stay in the audience, he did offer us some insight
into what makes a successful improv actor.
Be a team player: Working
together doesn't just make the sketch more successful; it's actually
easier. "You're not trying to make yourself funny. You're trying to
support the people with you and make them funny," says Nelson. "It's a
lot easier to take care of someone than to be funny yourself."
Work with what you've got:
With improv, you're relying on your audience to yell out a suggestion
for a skit -- and your audience is full of people who think
"proctologist" is a hilarious, original suggestion. "We've heard that
one a thousand times," admits Nelson. "But that said, any suggestion can
be a good one if the performer is willing to do it."
Relax -- they like you: Even
the guy yelling "proctologist" understands that there wasn't a dress
rehearsal. "Stand-up comedians have the benefit and also the Achilles'
heel of preparation. Audiences are quick to boo a stand-up," says
Nelson. "But with improv, the audience is really forgiving."
Forget about funny: “You
have to let go of being humorous,” says Nelson. “It naturally arises in
the situations we encounter, but it’s a matter of finding truth and
honesty. As long as improvisers are gong forward and trying to create
something honest and in-the-moment, they’ll succeed. The quick laughs
are the ones that deflate and leave you with nothing to build on.”
If you go
Philadelphia Improv Festival (tonight-Nov. 11) is part of Philadelphia
Comedy Month, which also includes the Philly Sketch Fest (Nov. 12-17).
For tickets and show information, visit www.phlcomedy.com or call 267-441-4780.