Improv and Other Ramblings

My name is Charlie Roetting. I am an actor and improviser living in LA.
Who I Follow


A while ago I worked on a post for Splitsider that sought to reconcile the differences in game philosophy between UCB and iO. As someone who had been trained at both theaters, I never agreed with the characterization that “UCB is all about game; iO is about the relationship.”

After gathering…

I remember Dave Hill from iO West and Joe Wengert from UCB saying something very similar that married the two ideas, at least for me. I’m sure I’m going to misquote them here. Please forgive.

Dave Hill told us that in a scene, you need to build the relationship between the jokes. If a new dragon comes into the scene after every line, then the dragon isn’t funny anymore because we aren’t getting to learn anything new about the dragon slayer and his girlfriend.

Joe Wengert said that the relationship in the scene is like fuel for the game moves. The relationship is what develops in between the laughs.

To me, these mean the same thing. As we are playing together, while we build relationship, we are also building energy for the payoff that is the game. This is the same reason that at UCB, we (or at least I) got told so frequently, “you can play the game; now go back and remember how to do a scene”.

Great article!

September 6, 2012. That was my last post. Where have I been?

I moved home; the evening of Sunday, December 16, 2012.

On October 28, 2012, my grandfather (whom, along with my grandmother, raised me) went into the hospital for an elevated heart rate. A week later, he received a triple-bypass surgery. He was recovering wonderful for a few days. Then he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke which paralyzed the left side of his body and caused swelling of his brain. To allow for the swelling, a large portion of the right side of his cranium was removed. Complications have continued since, more than I can name. This, combined with how miserable LA had been making me, convinced me to come home.

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This is how I think 2-Person scenes can be defined. Am I off-base?

In any 2-person scene, there are a minimum of three parties involved: You, your partner, and the audience. There might be more in the case of support work or less in the case of a solo show (an improvised solo piece is still you and the audience). Regardless, for a scene to be successful, you need at least 2 Points of View, where at least one is normal and at least one is unusual. The audience will pretty much always play straight man, which leaves you, your scene partner, and/or the back line.

That leaves us with about 4 or 5 types of 2-Person Scenes:

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Dom submitted me FAR more often than I submitted him. I don’t know if I submitted him at all. Maybe once or twice total in our years of doing jiu jitsu together? Most of my submissions came via a pretty sneaky and quite nasty arm choke my friend and teacher Magno Gama taught me at the Renzo Gracie academy in NYC, but Dom was too smart for it. In my defense, Dom was aware that I had gimpy elbow joints and would almost exclusively target my left elbow, which he knew to be the weakest part of my entire skeletal structure. Smart play on Dom’s part? Or underhanded exploitation of a friend’s weakness? I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

As improv nerds, of course Dom and I compared jiu jitsu to improv. There are some odd coincidences on a basic level: First off, Renzo’s school is on 30th Street between 7th and 8th, and the UCB training center is on 30th between 6th and 7th. Secondly, Renzo’s school and the theater itself are both in basements.

But as for the comparison of the arts themselves? Always fun to talk about, and I would maintain that they match up eerily. Keep in mind the rest of this dumb essay comes filtered purely through the lenses of conversations held years ago between myself and Dom, who are Renzo/UCB guys to the core:

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ABCG Supports Planned Parenthood feat. Last Day of School, Don’t Delete, thrashtown!

This month, America’s Best Charity Group is supporting Planned Parenthood!

Thursday, August 23 from 9:30-11pm.
The Little Modern Theatre located at 6474 Santa Monica Boulevard.

Join thrashtown!, Don’t Delete, and headlining powerhouse team Last Day of School for an evening of improv in support of Planned Parenthood!

Hosted by Emily Maya Mills

Suggested donation of $5.

100% of proceeds toes to Planned Parenthood.

For reservations, contact


Last Day of School - Stephanie Allynne, Heather Campbell, Neil Campbell, David Harris, Paul Rust, Nick Wiger, Jim Woods

Don’t Delete - Lindsay Barrow, Patrick Carlyle, Dan Lippert, Allyn Rachel, Mark Rennie, Melissa Stephens, Steve Szlaga, Drew Tarver

thrashtown! - Franky Guttman, Topher Harless, Matt Lieberman, Angela Nordeng, Zach Olsen, Charlie Roetting, Alex Salem

RE: "Don't stoop." (Although I doubt it's a Del quote,) I believe it means to play to the top of your intelligence; in other words, don't stoop to a lowest common denominator. Don't stoop to what you think the audience's intelligence level is. They are much smarter than you think, and either way they will appreciate being treated as such. Don't stoop to a lower level just because you think you need to.
westcoastcharlie westcoastcharlie Said:

This is good. I like this. Thank you, Mike Short!

The above quote was shared with me one evening a while back after a show in The Loft. The fellow told me that these were the only 4 rules you needed to improvise…or something like that. He said that this is a Del quote. I have not confirmed this. I can’t find this quote being attributed to him anywhere.

I do, however, think these can be useful after some extrapolation. I say that because we’re only getting half of the equation. I know what you don’t want me to do. What DO you want me to do?

These are my thoughts on the matter.

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The only rule is ‘Serve The Scene’.
Jacob Reed attributes this quote to Owen Burke.


Here is a great Blog post from Understandingcomedy that took some of the best things from in my old blog from 10 years ago. I don’t always agree with a lot of the stuff I wrote about back then, I was smoking a lot of Pot and getting a divorce [Not related] but I do feel the core of what I wrote is still true to me today.

Thanks Understandingcomedy for putting this together.


Starting in 2002, Billy Merritt (of Ninja, Robot, Pirate fame) started writing what he called “Billy Merrit’s Improv Party.” It started as a story to share his thoughts on improv and turned into a full-blown thread of awesome improv tips.

I definitely recommend reading the entire thing (though it is a bit lengthy at 50 posts). It was originally posted on the Improv Resource Center. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s probably the most active forum on improv out there.

Note: I’ve fixed some spelling and grammatical errors, but everything comes from Billy. I’ve bolded tips that particularly resonate with me.

50 Improv Tips from Billy Merritt’s Improv Party

  1. Every scene has a sound track to it. All scenes have rhythm. Some scenes rock out like Rush. Some scenes hit you like the Call of the Valkries. 
  2. The Harold is a musical in a sense, You have the Overture, three songs that you revisit and a couple of rousing dance numbers. 
  3. You cannot effectivly play any GAME in any scene unless you know who you are and where you are.
  4. Don’t sever your connections to the outside world, don’t become totally isolated in the community we have created, if you do, you will implode. We are conduits. We observe, take in, and record into our sense memory. We then take that information and release it on the stage. Using our improv skills we make that information dance, sing, and jump through hoops. If you stop collecting information you just have hoops. 
  5. It’s a lot of work only if you make it alot of work. With each line of dialog your character’s history becomes more clear, the more clear it becomes, the easier the choices become. 
  6. Wit is not something you just have, it is something that you must earn. You must earn it everyday [by continuing to learn].
  7. Everybody has an opinion, so every character you portray should have an opinion. You start with an opinion and eventually it grows into a philosophy. 
  8. When in doubt talk about philosophy. 
  9. You become an improviser, once you feel you have it down enough that you can improvise with anyone at any time. 
  10. You can’t eliminate all bad habits. Sometimes you have to break the rules in order to further the scene and go where you never thought you could.
  11. Don’t be afraid of the unknown, don’t play it safe. How else will you make discoveries. 
  12. When a scene is started you tend to ask yourself who are these people, where are these people, and what is happening? But do you ever ask when are these people? 
  13. There is no heightening from blue, just more blue. 
  14. The most important thing is the Moment. You do all that work so that you can be in the “Moment.” 
  15. We need to check in with each other every now and then so that we all know what is going on, but we don’t need to do it all the time. 
  16. You can have a plot, but you don’t need to talk about it. 
  17. How can you expect to do an improvisational scene without really knowing the people in the scene. Once you know the people, the information flows all over the scene. 
  18. Not knowing where you are going to go in a scene yet knowing that it is going to come out all right is the core of great improv. 
  19. Having said all that, of course there is plot in improvisation, and most of the time it works really well. But when it works well, it is not because of the players playing to the plot. It is because of the players playing to each other and to the scene at hand. 
  20. Let the story come to you , don’t go looking for the story. 
  21. Any chance that you can place personal items into the scenes with you, do it. Make it personal, it grounds you to the scene, and it grounds you to the truth. 
  22. You should always walk away from an improv session and ask yourself, what have I learned, how can I use this information, how can I keep this information with me until I need it.? 
  23. Improvisation is an art form. Anyone can paint a picture, a good picture. But it takes more than being able to paint, to be a great artist, it takes patience, it takes observation, it takes an ability to learn when there is nothing left to learn. 
  24. Performing is art, it is about a sense of play, it is about growing and being allowed to fail. Producing is about business, it is about attendance, advertising, financial success. Get your art down first, develop confidence in your art , then focus on the production. Never let the production override your art. That is bad business. 
  25. You repeat back to your partner what you feel is important in what they just said, then both of you know whats important in the conversation you are having. 
  26. In acting you are told that your “being” comes from 4 places. The Head, The Heart, The Stomach, The Groin. Acting from the groin, that it is all about taking action. To find something in your scene to fuck, to engage, to become a part of. Coming from the gut, what does that mean? It means to react, to listen, to be affected. To act from the heart, is to act with emotion. To act with emotion is to feel the words that you are saying. 
  27. It is all about being observant, seeing things and always in the back of your head saying to yourself, I can use this in a scene. 
  28. To act from your head is to get in touch with your inner Robot. 
  29. Getting your brain programmed for “Don’t Think” takes years of preparation 
  30. An edit is not the end, it is the beginning of something new. 
  31. The key to improvisation is patience. You will not learn everything in a year, two years, 10 years. You will never learn all there is to know, once you realize that, it becomes easier to enjoy the ride. Enjoying the ride shows patience, patience is the key. 
  32. Relationship and game are one in the same. 
  33. Your relationship is constantly defined with each exchange of dialog. Knowing your relationship defines what you will say next, the more you know the more you have to say.  Your relationship with the location will also dictate what you will do in the scene. Relationship also has to do with object work. 
  34. Finding the game is finding the pattern. All scenes have patterns. Patterns are structure. Structure is Game. 
  35. It is important to remember to look for the first unusual thing within the reality of the scene, not the reality of the actors. 
  36. Words are the least important thing when it comes to communicating. 
  37. It is the struggle to survive that makes living so much fun. 
  38. Rage is not about anger, it is about passion.  Never lose your rage, keep it inside like sushi. Eat it when you need to. Rage drives you, pirates make you alive, minjas make you take action, and The robots make sense of it all. 
  39. What your character believes to be true can only be heightend if the oppisite is true for someone else. Philosophies must be compared with each other so that we the audience can decide for ourselves. 
  40. You must constantly look for the balance in everything you do onstage, once you find the balance, then unbalance it. Create a pattern then break it. In that you will find the truth. 
  41. I don’t have talent, I earned talent. 
  42. Success is Talent meeting Opportunity. 
  43. Every scene you improvise should have a Rosebud in it. Something that grounds your character into the scene, makes you take notice of your life, allows you to evaluate yourself in the place that you are at. 
  44. The moment you step on that stage, you own it, you are meant to be there and they were meant to watch you. That is the meaning of Stage Presence.  Stage Presence is simply the confidence to be where you are. 
  45. “Humor is not jokes. It is an attitude toward being alive without which you would long ago have jumped off the 59th street bridge. Humor is not being funny. It is the coin of exchange between human beings that makes it possible for us to get through the day. Humor exists even in the humorless.” - Michael Shurtleff
  46. The scene is already there before you do it. The characters have been living their lives, going to work, playing, falling in and out of love. You are just showing one moment in their lives, hopefully the funny ones. But it may not be funny to the characters at that time. You must play that real. If you play it real you will discover the humor in these peoples lives. 
  47. Yesing a scene does not make a scene go further, it is the “And” that breathes life into the scene. 
  48. There are over 100 performers that play on the UCB stage every week, of those 100 how many have given back to the space? Have painted anything? Repaired something? Lit an incense? 
  49. What is a moment in scenework? The moment is something that the characters, created in the scene, will remember for the rest of their lives. 
  50. Discovery = Truly not knowing were the scene is going to go, taking your idea and your scene partner’s idea and creating something both of you had not intended. Don’t drop your idea, meld it into another.

(via improvnonsense)