IRC Podcast Transcript, Rich Talarico, 2010-02-10

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Introduction: In the show, you've got to say, "Look, there are no rules now." You know whatever happens, you've got to go with it. You can't stop it and say, "Well, he broke a rule."

Kevin Mullaney: Welcome to the Improv Resource Center Podcast. I'm Kevin Mullaney, your host. This week our guest is Rich Talarico. Rich was a performer for many years at improvOlympic in Chicago before moving on to Second City and eventually at Saturday Night Live as a writer. These days he lives in LA where he performs at iO West in Dasarisky, a long running improv show with Bob Dassie and Craig Cackowski.

So this podcast is all about improv exercises and techniques. What I do, is I invite a guest on and ask them about the exercises that they like to use in their classes or their workshops or rehearsals. Rich, why don't kick us off and share with us an exercise or two that you enjoy teaching?

Rich Talarico: You're catching me at a good time because right now I'm teaching a class and there's two exercises that come to mind when you asked what's got me most excited. One, if you go to my Facebook page, you'll see it there. It's the first thing on there right now, which are these improv drawings. I got this exercise from my friend Rebecca Northen in Toronto. She's a Keith Johnstone student and worked with Keith for years. I asked her for an exercise a few years ago and she gave me this one. I did it in Chicago and I was playing around with it and then just started doing it a bit more regularly, but basically you just give the students a blank piece of paper and a marker and you tell that they can't discuss it or deliberate and they have to agree to draw a picture one line at a time by passing the marker back and forth between them. The resulting pictures are really more often than not interesting if they're doing it right. To me, I hate to say that because there's no mistakes. Everything's right. To me the right way of doing it is when they all draw the same picture. You know what I mean? So, I don't even know if you can see this, but they're posted on my page. This is one I thought was pretty interesting. This one ended up being a chicken being hatched out an egg. It also happened to be on the same day Shortall's baby was born, so I ended up giving him this picture. This was done a line at a time by some students and I've got a whole bunch of them up there if you want to see them. You know, when you get out of the way, these cool things start to appear and these images and stories in and of themselves.

KM: And now you're showing me a picture of a... it looks like a pirate.

RT: Yea, this one was a pirate, and this one looks like a devil guy. There's all kinds of neat pictures that resulted from this exercise. Again, on my page you'll see there's a whole album called Improv Drawing. I did this exercise in Toronto. I did it in Austin, Texas. I've been doing it here in LA, I did it in New York, out east, People's Improv Theater. So that's one. The other one that has been a lot of fun has been... I like to talk about, especially in the first class, what are the rules. Because it's a weird art form where you'll have all these students who are together and imagine having a game, like baseball, where everybody's got a different version of the rules. Rules depends on who you ask in improv. You can ask one person and they'll say, "The most important thing is don't deny." Or "don't ask questions. That's the only thing you need." You know what I mean? To get everybody together where you can... the exercise I've been doing is giving them a half an hour and saying "break the rules." Do the things you're not supposed to do in improv. It's lovely because there's no game show buzzer waiting to go off. They're not like, "Oh my God, I'm going to do something wrong." And it usually frees everybody up. And it can take care of itself. My first class this last week, we had 13 people who didn't know each other, a lot of them. I asked them to just do a half hour long form with no rules. Don't be afraid, there's no rule that can... you know. I'm going to say this wrong, but you can... there's no rules here. You can't do anything wrong. And that was a paradigm shift that happened for me. I was taking classes at Second City and they were all ... all the rules were negatives. Don't ask questions. Don't deny. That kind of thing. And when I got to iO, they were the same rules, but they were all stated as positives. Like, make each other look good. Choose to know. Those kind of things.

KM: What do you think is the difference between a positive rule and a negative rule? How does that make it better for the student?

RT: Well, I think it's that game show buzzer. You don't want to have that feel of EEEEE, you've done something that's irreversibly wrong. You want to feel... in rehearsals it's different. You want to feel.. OK maybe we can talk about the mistakes here and figure it out, but in a show, you've got to say, "Look, there are no rules now." You know whatever happens, you've got to go with it. You can't stop it and say, "Well, he broke a rule." I don't know if I answered your question, Kevin, but I got off on a tangent there. I think it's that removing that game show buzzer feeling of something can be wrong here as opposed to everything's exactly right and we just have to follow the thread of what's now in front of us. Even if it's a mistake. Even if it's something that is a blatant improv mistake, you've got to work with that.

KM: When you ask people this question at the beginning of what the rules are, do you ever get any rules that people say that just sound absolutely crazy to you?

RT: Well, you know I've only asked this in my last few classes and I think there was maybe one or two like that, that I was like, "Wow, that's what you're thinking?" But I don't remember what it was off hand. But I had my own rule put in my face recently. I used to always think a big rule of improv was don't have a problem with what somebody else is doing. I think it's a good rule of thumb. I don't think it's a good guideline because it tends to keep things positive, moving forward. If you have a problem with what somebody's doing, then that's just the reality of the scene. I had a recent class where there was a performer who made a choice to start the scene apropo of nothing. Yelling at the other person, like "You didn't load the copier paper like you were supposed to! And now our reports aren't going to be due!" and I stopped the scene. "You know, this really isn't helping him create because you're not giving your partner... you're putting your partner on his heels." We ended up talking about it and I've got to say I was a little bit embarrassed to realize that I was wrong. I still think I was wrong because if that's the move the performer was making then the other performer needs to make that look right. I don't think it was as helpful as if they had given him an easier thing to deal with. You know, people yell at each other in life and people have problems with each other in life so we certainly should be able to explore that. In a scene, everybody's got to be able to identify what's going on in the moment and go with that. And that's the hardest part, just going, "OK, well this is what's in front of me. I've got to deal with this" as opposed to what you wish the scene was.

KM: Alright. Thank you, Rich. That's it for the show this week. We'll be back soon with another episode.

RT: Alright, buddy. Take care.