Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

Documentary film

Here’s something a little different from me – though there is a musical element. Some friends of mine have been writing and putting on plays around the country and at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe festivals so I decided to follow them around with a video camera while they did their latest one “Death and the Dominatrix”

It’s a great play, just one hour long (to fit in the festival schedules), and very funny as well as making you think so if it comes up anywhere near you, go and see it – or whatever else they’re putting on!

The play uses lots of music by Eurythmics but I didn’t want to get my YouTube channel hit with copyright claims and adverts so I did my own “Eurythmics-y” music to go under the narration.

This is my third attempt at documentaries. The first was on the local railway line and the second about the rehearsal studios we use. I need another project now!

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This is a podcast I heard some time ago and it really resonated with me. The podcast is about comedy, not music, but as the presenters often point out, there are a lot of parallels between the two art forms. This particular episode was about comedy improvisation, but the way it related to musical improvisation really stuck with me.

The presenters are two well established comedy writers, Joel Morris and Jason Hazely and the week’s guest is comedy improviser Cariad Lloyd. The format of the show is that the guest brings in some comedy that they love, and the three of them talk about it and dissect it, as well as quoting bits from it and laughing (both approaches are valid). This show is about 90s improvisation TV programme “Whose Line Is It Anyway” which was possibly one of the first improv shows on UK television.

Listening to the show I kept yelling “Yes, music too!” at my phone and I thus I think it’s worth listening to in that context. I do recommend you listen to the podcast as a whole (it’s an hour long but I’ll let you skip the bit about kids at the start). The main takeaway points, for me, are

1) Improvisation is, to some extent, ‘a trick’. There are techniques you can learn. There are things you know will work and things you know will not work in particular contexts. That comes with experience, both of improvising generally and experience of what your instrument (voice included here) can and will do under the circumstances (see later). So if (eg) the drummer gets into a jazz rhythm you need to be able to do something that will go with it, to have the skills and varied knowledge to work with what you are given and not try and do something stupid and inappropriate over the top of it*. Both of you know what will work a a given time, and how to do it. For a practical example of this listen to Josie Lawrence and Richard Vranch improvising Sondheim. Yes, I know it’s pastiche, but the point still stands. Which brings us to…

2) When improvising with other people, it’s ALL about the collaboration. Don’t naysay someone else’s line/lick/rhythm to feed your own ego. LISTEN to what is happening and think what you can add that builds on what has gone before. There’s a point in the podcast where Cariad talks about needing to go back on things that have happened earlier that were mistakes. Yes, you can do that but it needs to be done collaboratively, not unilaterally. If you know the people you’re working with or you’re all good at your job, this should just work.

3) “If I look good, you look good”. This is similar to point 2 but a) is more subtle and b) is worth saying again. Make the other people look good, and they will make you look good. TRUST them. And that includes not playing if you have nothing to add. I remember one improv gig I did where one guy in the band got into such a good groove on his own that the rest of us just stood back and let him get on with it – there was nothing we could have added to what he was doing and we all instinctively knew that. The other skill here is knowing when to come back in again after an event like that of course!

4) Improv is ‘live writing’/composition. I feel this quite strongly, especially as even my most composed pieces are actually at least partly improvised, and then possibly written down. Sometimes I just improvise a part in my head (when I can’t play the instrument I’m writing for this is essential!) and transcribe that to a staff.

5) This is a personal point but I’ll make it anyway. In music improv it’s essential to have total familiarity with your instrument. If you’re not in complete control of your instrument you just don’t have the tools to do the job. Practice!

Maybe there is no real parallel between ‘short form’ comedy and most musical improvisation but the skills you need for ‘long form’ are those you can learn from improvisation ‘games’ that are more short form. I’d be interested to hear comments on this.

I strongly recommend listening to this episode. Actually I recommend the whole series, it’s great fun as well as informative – and they even did a show on the songs of Tom Leherer recently!


* Of course, advanced improv allows you to do things like this PROVIDED you already know what the rules are and how they can be broken without destroying what you are trying to create.

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