Justification or philosophy is an improvisational concept. It refers to an act of clarification in scenework, when a choice needs to be further contextualized or explained for the benefit of the show.
It is difficult to completely separate justification from other improv concepts like Yes And, as it can, in a certain way, be framed as tool by which an improviser can better accept offers. It most frequently occurs in an isolated way when the continuity of a show has been disrupted (i.e. a character has been called by a name different from one that was previously established), or when an endowment has been given (a character has been labeled with a certain viewpoint or characteristic and must explain it). Will Hines refers to the latter as accusations.
Certain shortform games isolate the task of justification for its comedic and theatrical value. These "Justification Games" center around tossing a disparate or unexpected element into a scene and forcing the improvisers to make sense of it. Blind Line, Open Options, and Pillars are three examples.
Longform improvisers employ justification as a clarification tool as well, but they also use it to explore the absurd elements within a Game. It could be argued that the task of exploring a game delineated in the UCB Manual is, at its core, simply the task of justification. A straight man is often called upon to justify the absurd elements introduced by a more Game-influenced character. The mantra of choice for justification in longform improv is if this is true, then what else is true?, which is typically shortened to "if, then."
...if the first unusual thing is the thumb, the justification is the palm, and further instances of the game are the fingers. Granted, this isn’t necessarily any more illuminating than saying “If this is true, what else is true,” ...make strong justifications which justify not only the unusual thing that’s currently being dealt with, but which also justify a whole host of other unusual things which feel consistently unusual with the first.
Justification is crucial in improv scenes. It sets context, explains character motivation, clarifies game, and makes all the disparate and wandering strands of a scene make sense as a cohesive whole.
What you want is the choices to come from some authentic place...A phrase a fellow teacher uses is “someone’s home in there.” It’s a good phrase to use for characters in sketch and improv. Or for anyone in an improv scene. Is someone home in that character?
If someone is not home, then the actor is just doing things arbitrarily — making noise, doing physical things, and it feels thin and false. In improv practice we say “have a why” — but what I think we mean is — “Be a full person even if we only see a tip of it.”
We say “don’t think” but we don’t mean “be arbitrarily random,” we mean “let the very bottom of your brain make the choices and everything will fit together into an organic whole that the top of your brain didn’t see coming.” We say “justify” or “have a why” but we just mean — “be connected to it...
A wise man once told me that the best thing to do when you don’t know what to do is shout “I know exactly what to do!” because if nothing else, at least it commits you to action. If you actually shout this in front of an audience, often the sheer sense of panic at having established such a bold contract with them will get you through the barrier.
- Improv Encyclopedia definition
- Berg and Bot Blog where Alex Berg does improv with an Instant Messaging bot and attempts to justify its non-sequiturs