Code Blue: Improv Taboo

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Code Blue: Improv Taboo is a long-format that addresses transgressive topics, utilizing character monologues, premise based scenes, mapping games, and meta-narrative. In this fully improvised, late-night format, advanced players tickle the under-belly of political correctness, crossing lines few comedians dare to cross. Inspired by audience suggestions of the most cringe worthy subjects, Code Blue runs the gamut of improv taboo. No topic, no action, no word is safe in this hour long decent into madness created by Tavish Forsyth at the Baltimore Improv Group.


Original Cast

Tavish Forsyth, Julia Gerhardt, Patrick Hampton, Hannah Jeffrey, Jacob Joseph, Brian Leonard, Kristen McKenzie, Kim Scarfe, and Jeff Toppe.

Tavish Forsyth created the format and directed the first show at the Baltimore Improv Group in 2018. Tavish was inspired by the Town Council and Spokane formats, as well as play styles taught by Jimmy Carrane, Liz Allen, Keisha Zollar, Elana Fishbein, and Upright Citizens Brigade.

The Show's Format

  1. As a Code Blue Agent, every improviser chooses a provocative codename.
  2. Pre-show, the audience will submit taboo topics on 8.5”x11” paper. Each topic will be placed in a manila folder.
  3. The format is analogous to the Spokane and Town Council formats. Over the course of an hour the improvisers, or “agents,” will do scenes, or “missions,” based on the taboo topics. After each “mission,” the agents will return to the “briefing room,” the central scene.
  4. When beginning a new mission, one agent will read the topic aloud and decide how that topic or “mission” will be handled.
    • Option 1 – Going Undercover: An agent reads a topic out loud or silently. If silently, the agent will label the mission “top-secret” and initiate a scene or character monologue that directly addresses the taboo topic in the first line. Conversely, if the topic is read aloud, and the team decides to go undercover, any agent can initiate with a character that directly addresses the topic in a scene or monologue.
    • Option 2 – Interrogation Room: If an agent reads a topic and the team decides another agent has key insights, they will point to that agent. Two agents will then have a short and honest conversation about the topic. A montage of scenes will ensue that pulls one or two premises from the conversation. The scenes may explore the premise directly or through analogy.
    • Option 3 – Suicide Mission: If an agent reads a topic and the team decides to initiate a suicide mission, two players will perform an improv scene that is not funny, but directly addresses the issue. If the scene has strong potential for a mapping game, agents may replay the scene with an absurd twist. If the scene does not have strong potential for a mapping game, agents will move on to the next mission.
      • Strong Mapping Potential: Human folly, Human Vice, Universal Human Struggles, Abstract Concepts
        • Human Folly: Minor Accidents, Swear Words, Minor Offenses, Secrets
        • Human Vice: Alcoholism, Cheating, Addictions, Minor Crimes
        • Human Struggles: Money Problems, Minor Identity Issues, Politics, Common Ailments
        • Abstract Concepts: Homophobia, Sexism, Racism, Patriarchy, Equal Pay
      • Weak Mapping Potential: Specific Dehumanizing/Traumatizing Actions and Acts of Extreme Violence, Specific Extreme Human Struggles
        • Dehumanizing Acts: Slavery, Internment Camps, Harassment, The N Word, Child Labor
        • Extreme Violence: Sexual Assault, Genocide, Acts of Torture, School Shootings
        • Specific Struggles: Police Brutality, Refugees, Deportation, Disabilities
    • Option 4 – Call for Back Up: If an agent reads a topic and the team chooses to call for back up, they must point to another agent who must grab a new taboo topic. The two improvisers will then initiate a scene that addresses TWO taboo topics.
    • Option 5 – Classified Information: If an agent reads a topic and decides they have classified information on the topic, then they will tell a true-story monologue from the agent’s life. A montage of scenes will ensue that pulls premises from the story.
    • Option 6 – Going to the Archives: In this contingency mission, if a taboo topic is read that the agents do not know anything about, for instance “The Bowling Green Massacre,” one agent may “go to the archives.” That agent will exit the stage and Google the topic, while the other agents perform a separate mission. After the separate mission is completed, the archive agent will return and share their newfound knowledge, which will serve as a premise for the archive mission. When the agent returns, they could initiate a Living Room-style conversation.
  5. When a scene or run of scenes concludes, the agents yell “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” Then an agent grabs another mission file.
  6. If a scene becomes offensive by punching down, a scene may be aborted by yelling “MISSION ABORTED!” After the mission is aborted the agents run around the theatre apologizing to the audience cacophonously until an agent grabs another mission file.
  7. In the last 10-15 minutes of the show, agents can do callbacks, as they see fit.

Casting Note

Try to assemble a cast that is equitable in terms of gender, race, and orientation. What does that mean in practical terms? Well, it might mean that you don't perform this format with a group of all white, cis-gendered men. A diverse ensemble will bring a greater worldview to the stage, as well as stronger and more nuanced comedy, while avoiding unconscious biases that could sneak into scenework.

Format Notes

Performance Suggestions

    • Coordinate Outfits
    • The meta-scene (i.e. "the briefing room") should have a justification, such as “To test the limits of comedy and save humanity.”
    • The “briefing room” is just as important as the other scenes. It should feel like a meta scene and be very playful.
    • The agents should have a lot of banter. For instance, if an agent declares “I’m going on a suicide mission,” another agent can say “God, no! It’s too dangerous! Think of your children!”
    • While an improviser is in a scene, they should not be actively playing the meta-game. In other words, the audience should no longer be able to tell that you are an agent playing a character.
    • However, if an agent “crosses a line,” they can return to the meta-game and “contact HQ” to “abort the mission.” Similarly, a backline agent can call-out when a line has been crossed by radioing the “field agent” from “HQ.”
    • The game of the scenes should never directly exploit tragedy. Rather the tragedy should be a part of the base reality. For instance, if a scene took place during the holocaust, the holocaust could never be the game. The holocaust would be the base reality, and the game would be discovered. Ideally the game is totally unrelated the holocaust.
    • Beware introducing non-relevant taboos and superfluous stereotypes. For instance, if a scene was about AIDS we don’t want to see a gay man having sex with a monkey.

Things That Might Happen Onstage That We Should Be Okay With

    • Simulated sex
    • Saying Taboo Words
    • Playing Characters with Terminal Illnesses
    • Playing with accents
    • Touching each other
    • Referencing Historical Atrocities
    • Referencing the "isms"
    • Referencing Violence
    • Referencing Societal Woes
    • Doing Drugs
    • Making Poop Jokes

Things That Should Not Happen Onstage, That We Should Not Be Okay With

    • Re-enacting horrible acts of violence (like rape)
    • Laughing at human suffering (like the Holocaust)
    • Exploiting a marginalized group (like the disabled)
    • Being offensive for shock value (like swearing pointlessly)
    • Punching Down
    • Being mean to the audience or performers