Origin Story, Part 3: What Kind of Improv?

Jeremy Guskin, Jonica Patella, John Newman, and Mercedes Manning in "Hummus" (Episode 1)

Jeremy Guskin, Jonica Patella, John Newman, and Mercedes Manning in "Hummus" (Episode 1)

But what were we actually going to do?  Both creatively speaking, what were the plans for making No Plans?  

Creatively, this was not going to be WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY.  This was not going to be a collection of improv games.  I think that the joy of watching good improv games, done on stage, is the high-wire-act nature of the thing.  You see them, live, no breaks, no second chances, makin' it up as they go along.  We wouldn't have that.  As much as we tell you that No Plans is improvised -- and it is -- the fact that it's improvised becomes less a part of the comedy, since we can obviouslly do a second and third take, and since it's all obviously edited.      

So there would have to be more to the comedy than the fact that it was improvised.  In our case, the improvision process was just going to be taking the place of the writing process.  It would be a different means to similar ends.  It wouldn't be funny because we were improvising.  I would have to ultimately be funny even if the viewer didn't know we were improvising.  Essentially, I was hiring a writing staff who happened to really be actors who wrote on the fly, as they spoke.  

While I truly wanted to just show up and say "So, any ideas?" I felt like I should probably come with some concepts in mind.  Actually, it didn't even start out as such a deliberate plan.  In the weeks before the shoot, ideas for sketches started to come to me.  I could have set some kinds of rule for myself: "No, I want to really have No Plans when I arrive."  But that fell apart in light of the other rule I had already established, that "I really don't want to look like An Asshole when we can't come up with anything.  So, I started keeping a list.

On the day, then, it went oddly as planned.  As unplanned.  One of the sketches we shot on Day 1 was what is now called, "HUMMUS" (Episode 1).  That idea actually came from JEREMY, who started to do a crazy Farmer's Market Guy Who Sells Hummus at one of our early meetings.  The concept we started with was... thin.  It was: "Jeremy sells hummus."  At the last second, we put JONICA in there as his (literally) silent partner.  We then took JOHN and MERCEDES and said, "Go ask Jeremy about the hummus."  And that was it.  Then, as he starting answering their questions with his aggressive, ridiculous answers, those of us on the sidelines started to get ideas of our own, or notice things he was doing that could be expanded upon.  "Ask him for a list of ingredients."  "Tell him what food allergies you have."  Etc.  We then replaced John and Merce with CHRISTY and LAUREN, and gave them the equally useful prompt: "Go ask Jeremy about the hummus."  And on it went.

Creatively, that has pretty much held as the system.  I bring in a one-line concept, and we take whoever is there, and we just go for it for about 30-60 minutes.  In terms of the technical side of production and the insanity of editing... well those call for future blog posts.