from Little Nothings, Volume 4, by Lewis Trondheim
This is an essay about the natural defensiveness that rises up in improv and can hold us back. But to get there, I want to talk about a very common way to start a scene, and that’s the “explain this” method.
EXPLAIN THIS FUNNY THING
"Hey, Bill, you want to tell me why you brought a ten course buffet to eat on your desk at work?"
(Newer improvisers: don’t worry that this is a question —- it’s adding information so it’s not a the kind of question we worry about.)
It’s the “I’m giving you an unusual thing, now you explain it” initiation. You’re expecting that the other person will give some fun reason for what you endowed them with, and then you’ve got a game.
Maybe the person answers: “Yeah, man, I don’t want to get up. Working for that promotion, so I don’t have time to go to nice restaurants so I’m bringing the nice restaurants to ME.”
Some people, by the way, feel that that initiator should maybe supply the explanation also —- something like “I know you’re trying to treat yourself better, but could you not bring a ten course buffet to work for your lunch?” That’s got its problems too (too much information, your ‘why’ might be too inorganic and forced) — and besides, the way I describe above is a way that it just seems to naturally happen a lot. First person gives a weird thing, second explains why.
EXPLAIN THIS CRITICISM
But an interesting side effect with the “explain this” beginning is when the gift in the initiation is not clearly funny and maybe just a sort of criticism.
"Hey, Randy, did you eat my sandwich from the fridge?"
Often, you can see the other person start to just say “No, I didn’t.” But then they remember that they are supposed to yes-and and so instead they DEFLECT it, by just having a reasonable explanation.