250 Improv: Don’t Call Yourself Stupid

There are a couple of phrases that I’ve heard people say when working on improv. Variations on the theme of not being good enough. Phrases like; “I don’t know how.” “I can’t think of anything.” “I’m so dumb when it comes to…” “I can’t do that.” etc. etc.


Certainly these phrases have a place in real life, and probably in improv too. We all start out not knowing anything and sometimes you have to tell people you need help so they’ll help you. However, I’ve found that when this comes up in improv it’s not that they don’t know what to do next, but they’re afraid their answer won’t be “good enough”


Which isn’t true. In improv every idea is “good enough.” Sure, some ideas are better than others, but every idea has some merit. Once we get an idea out there the rest of the group will “yes, and” the idea and we’re rolling.


The phrase I say often is “Do something rather than nothing.”


Don’t call yourself stupid, or dumb, or any other put down. Especially don’t say it out loud. Here’s what happens: 1. You think the thought. 2. Your brain makes your mouth move and say the thought. 3. You hear the thought spoke out loud (even though it’s your thought, you still hear it.) 4. Your brain hears the information and re-thinks it again. So, something that’s not even true (“I’m stupid” ) has now been re-enforced four times!  
No wonder people lack self-confidence. Trust yourself.


Hey, if you’re on this site, and you haven’t bought my novel “Cards with the Devil” yet… what are you waiting for??  A written invitation?… oh, you are? Okay, I personally invite you to buy it here. Thanks!


Cards with the Devil

It’s finally here. My first novel. Cards with the Devil. You can get it on Amazon for you Kindle, or you can order the Paperback version.

Cards Book Cover 1.0


250 Improv: Rock, Paper, Scissors

In improv the game rock paper scissors is not funny. That’s a bold statement, and I stand by it. I’ve seen it many times in performances. Heck, I’ve done it myself in performances. I’ve even written it into a play or two. And, it’s never gotten a laugh.

So why does it seem like such a good idea?

In theory is the juxtaposition of a childish game being played by adults in important situations should be funny.

Unexpected opposites are funny. Like the fat guy who’s really good at ballet.

But it’s not funny. It’s a block, it’s stalling the action. You remember that whole “yes, and” thing that we got going on, right? Well, how have we got to the point of trying to decide who gets to do something via a childish game? Probably because someone didn’t “yes, and.” They either avoided because they were afraid of doing something, or were being polite, allowing their scene partner do something, or they thought a delay in action would build tension.*

Either way, what’s now happening is a delay in action. A delay that we’re going to solve with a child’s game.

Best case scenario, we’ve built tension, but the game has limited endings, so the tension can/won’t be released with any sort of surprise leading to laughter.

Some simple comedy equations: Tension + Release = Action (perhaps small laugh)   Tension + (Release x Surprise) = Big Laugh.

Comedy isn’t an exact science, but you get the idea.

*Also: Fear or Politeness ≠ Comedy.


250 Improv: The Smartest Dumb Guy

I’ve heard this advice multiple times; Play to the top of your intelligence. Why? Because you’re doing Improv with a fellow performer, not Make-em-Ups by yourself. When you play “dumb you don’t add anything to the scene. You get laughs, but your scene partner does all the work.

But, what happens if you don’t play to the top of your intelligence? You accidentally say something “dumb” or play “dumb” because… well it’s funny, damnit. To hell with the high-minded “Improv” purity. You did it for the cheap laugh. Cheap laughs are still laughs, right?

You’ve improved sinned. Now what?

Make your dumb guy is really smart at something, and feel strongly about it. Make him the smartest dumb guy.

At a recent performance I played a character who didn’t understand how to “count cards” for BlackJack. He was just counting the actual cards “1… 2… 3…” That’s a dumb guy. However! It did get a laugh.

But, if I continued to be the “dumb guy” I wouldn’t have to do anything more to participate in improv. I could just keep making stupid statements. Misunderstanding things. Reacting in ways unrelated to whatever my scene partner said. So easy. So selfish. More importantly, not Improv.

To fix this, I made him the smartest of dumb guys. He was really good at counting the cards. He’d written a book about it. Chapters 1 – 10 were numbers “1… 2… 3… etc.”

Even the dumbest character can be really smart at something. Focus on that.


Improv 250: Move Specifically

Jeff is a tall lanky fella, he says 6’3”, but I believe he’s 6’7”

He’s physically awkward. Knocking a hole in stage drywall, breaking our mailing-list box, and injuring himself on our new stage brick wall.

I asked Jeff how many things he’s broken. The list was shorter than I thought it would be. However, the point is similar to his perceived height. He moves and acts taller, more awkward and more accident prone than he is. He’s not an intimidating guy, but you find yourself flinching if he gestures.

The other night we were practicing dancing. I have a goal for my troupe this year to improve their physicality on stage and I think that dancing is a great way to lay a good foundation for that.

We were creating “new” dances based on random suggestions (“the Toaster!” “the Flamingo!”, etc.)

Jeff got the dance “the Flag.”

He created a simple movement with arms flapping out to the side like a flag. Then a knee bend for the flag to go up and down the pole.

There’s something about having his feet planted as the “pole” that centered the dance. I compared him to a giant lever.

He accomplished more by moving less. Smaller, tighter, specific movements.

The advice; Move less, and show more. Later he did a scene involving boxing, which would’ve been a dangerous idea previously, however this time his character was controlled, specific, and hilarious.

I’m not suggesting performers move less. I’m suggesting performers move specifically.


Wake up on the wrong side of the bowl, did we?

bad Hair Fish


Continuing Adventures Continue

Finished up my other novel, so I now have time to get back to this on-going story. I’ve uploaded chapter 3, it’s about the game Rock Ball! Check out chapters 1 – 3 here at “The Continuing Adventures of Byron & Bing”

I could also use some help from you Grammar Nazis out there. I’d like to open source the editing of this project. If you want to take a cruel cruel look at these pages and submit any edits you’d do, I’ll reward you handsomely… well, probably with a customized Lunch Note, and/or a “Thank You.”

I’ve also figured out how to insert pictures in with the text. This one features Rock Ball equipment.

Rock Ball Uniform

Here’s also an early design of the equipment…

Rock Ball Uniform 1.0

Rock Ball players quickly realized they couldn’t breath with their Bouncer on.


Writing Advice E-mail to Dan

I don’t have much reason to believe I know what I’m talking about when it comes to writing. However, almost a year ago now a friend of mine (Dan Van Dellen .. not to name drop or anything) asked me for some advice on writing a novel. I sent him this e-mail. Today, while cleaning out my email inbox (yes, I still have emails older than a year in my inbox. I’ve got one in there that’s going on six years old,… do something!) I found this e-mail exchange.

Since people don’t exchange letters anymore, this writerly advice would just disappear into electrons… and actually probably still will, but posting it here will keep it alive for a little longer anyway.

Oh, and the Ira Glass video I mention IS brilliant, and inspiring… you should watch it too. Here.

Anyway, here it goes:


Good to hear from you. Yes, the answer is as simple as you think, just do it. However, there are some bonus tips within that simple statement.
1. While it’s great that you’ve got an outline and notes, don’t feel tied to them. As the story progresses it may change. When you’re doing your first draft don’t worry at all if you stray from your outline… unless you’re OCD, then I have no idea why you’d be asking me for any kind of advice.
2. The first draft is the fun part, so let it be fun. I worked for 2 years on my first draft and it was a lot of fun (some days weren’t, but 90% of the time it was.) Currently I’m at the 2 year mark of the rewrite and it looks like it’s going to be another 3 – 6 months. In other words… the editing and rewriting are the hard part and the actual “work.”
3. Momentum is an amazing thing. I wouldn’t suggest a daily word goal (once again, unless you’re into that sort of thing.) I personally found that when I used a goal of a number of words a day I would tend to ad filler stuff that ended up getting eliminated from the final draft. Be that as it may, it did get me writing. Some sort of goal and rewards system to get the momentum going. That’s the most important part; Momentum. If you get enough of it, you’ll be writing for an hour and won’t even notice the time going by.
4. Definitely write for the first draft for one audience person… you. First draft, fuck everyone else’s opinions. Don’t even bother asking if it’s a good idea. Just do it for yourself. You’ll have plenty of time to try to please everyone else (impossible) in the rewrites.
5. Even if whatever you write absolutely sucks, remember that before you wrote it down it didn’t EXIST IN THE UNIVERSE AT ALL… that’s a fairly amazing idea that often keeps me moving.
If you haven’t seen this Ira Glass thing before, check it out. It’s like 1 1/2 minutes of brilliant help for beginning any art project.
I was going to make a video today discussing this topic, but had some technical problems. Hoping to do one tomorrow. If/when I do, I have you to thank… so, in advance, Thank you.
Let me know how it goes. The other thing I found that helped to no end was to have a fellow adventurer.
Oh, and one huge thing you could do for me, is to share/promote my web-site to anyone and everyone. My marketing is all just word of mouth right now. You’ve got a large mouth… use it.  www.eserkaln.com
Talk to you soon.

Hug Blog Day #14, #15, #16: Systems Falling Apart

I don’t quite know how this entry is going to end up. I’ve been falling behind on updating this blog. Day #14 was this past Sunday… it’s currently Thursday night. This experiment is falling apart quickly.

Sunday, went pumpkin patchin’ with the Kid. Got some Halloween decor, we’ll be carving them next week. Got my dose of Kid hugs. She’s been great about this. We haven’t talked as much about it since the first week. But, she’s pretty insistent on giving me some big quality hugs. She also gives hugs to the cat, who hates it, but she insists. It’s pretty funny actually.

Taught a small workshop for new performers, didn’t get hugs, but did get a group circle, arms around each other kinda thing. So, some human contact.

Then, I had a meeting with my Editor (I’ve been finishing up the final draft of a novel for months now.) We got in an argument, that quickly spiraled into me getting angry and firing him. Those of you who know me, know that I rarely get angry, but when I do… watch out! So, he got himself fired. And I got myself a night with a bottle of wine, and some grammar editing alone.

So. Hug Project is now in a downward spiral. As stated before, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays I interact with very few people. Monday, and Tuesday didn’t get any except the Kid hugs (don’t get me wrong, those are great and do sustain me, but they’re not enough for the Project.)

Here’s the thing… or a thing, I’ve noticed about myself in the past couple years. I am a very collaborative person. In the creative realm, but also in the interpersonal realm. I’m stating this poorly… Let me put it in the example of dating the ladies. In the past couple years I’ve had a bunch of dates with a bunch of different women. (not bragging… which will become painfully clear in a moment.) Usually, 2 – 3 dates. But, I hit a wall where I need to collaborate. That is to say, I need the other person to be as interested or enthusiastic about the project as I am. (In this current example the “project” is future dating.) I can’t know their perspective, because… well, because that’s how humans work. I only know from my perspective that it seems I am doing all the initiating. ….


At the start of this post I said I didn’t know how this entry was going to end up. Looks like it’s ended up with me rambling about my lack of ability to date women… and wallowing in self-pity. Which is a weird place for a Hug Blog to end up. The self-pity thing is really annoying to me, and I’m the one writing it. I can’t imagine how dull and annoying it is to a reader.

So, let’s just stop for a bit. …

Summary for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Hugs from Kid, and even then not the minimum of 5 a day. Fired my Editor. Can’t find a lady. Prone to self-pity spiraling.

Oh, I remember where I was going with the collaboration thing. I want to not always be pursuing Hugs for the project. I want more people pursing hugs from me. As Cheap Trick once said, “I want you to want me.” or something like that….

Weekend is coming up, let’s see if we can turn this around.



Hug Blog Day #13: New Friends

Saturday continued our Improv Festival with a visiting team from Purdue University, the Crazy Monkeys. This is not the first time that I’ve performed with people who are younger than me… Young enough that I’ve been performing improv professionally longer than they’ve been alive…. yeah.. let that sink in.

But, it is the first time that I’ve had a chance to perform with a group of people that age. It went great. One of best things about improvisation is that it’s like learning a second language. (A second secret language.) And so, we’re instantly able to work with people we’ve never met. Different ages, different upbringing, different accents… whatever. I haven’t yet had a chance to perform with someone who doesn’t speak English, but I bet we could do it. It’s all about looking at your fellow performer and reacting to how they’re feeling. It’s really less about words and more about how we show ourselves.

In Saturday’s show, I had the unique experience of starting a scene with Christina Buckley (one of the Crazy Monkeys). Without saying a word, we were on exactly the same page about who our characters were and the dynamic between us (suggestion was: Dining Room) We were a wealthy disconnected older married couple having an icy conversation over dinner. We even had the space visualized the same way (with a gigantic dining room table separating us.)  It’s a neat feeling to connect with someone you’ve just met in that way.

But, I digress from the Hug Blog…

After shows, the Crazy Monkeys had to get going pretty quickly. I got hugs from all of them. They don’t yet know about the Hug Blog or my daily quota needs. We were just new friends with a bonus connection that new friends don’t often get. I’m extremely happy to have met them.


Get a customized Lunch Note here.