Saturday, February 25, 2017

New choice!

There was another great exercise for comedy writers in Andy Goldberg’s improv class recently. This one was called “New Choice!” Two people would do a scene and periodically someone would say something and Andy would interrupt with “New Choice!” The performer then had to devise an alternate line. If Andy wasn’t satisfied he’d again bark “New Choice!” Sometimes it would take two or three lines before the scene was allowed to proceed.

Example:

Me and Fred are in a Costco.

Fred: What are you here to buy?
Me: Cheerios.
Andy: New choice!
Me: 300 rolls of toilet paper.
Andy: New choice!
Me: A case of Trojans and a dozen oysters.

Later in the scene:

Fred: I don’t have cash. Do you take American Express?
Andy: New choice!
Fred: Do you take the Diner’s Club card?
Andy: New choice!
Fred: Do you take second-party Group-ons?

You get the idea.

Why is this such a good exercise?

When writing a script, it’s human nature to come up with a joke and want to just go with it. But more times than not you’re settling. You need to be tough on yourself. Write down the original joke for reference then say “New choice!” And don’t restrict yourself. You’re not limited to the number of choices. Come up with a crazy choice or two; let your imagination really run wild. Who knows? From time to time you might stumble onto something truly brilliant that you never would have thought of otherwise. But the point is, get in the habit of looking for alternatives.

Now that may sound obvious, but just wait. It’ll be the end of the day, you’re tired, or you’re behind schedule and all of a sudden you’re rationalizing that “Cheerios” is the best, funniest reason why anyone would ever shop at Costco.

Improv class in general is a great training ground for young comedy writers. It teaches you spontaneity.

New choice!

It teaches you character development.

New choice!

It forces you to challenge yourself.

New choice!

It’s a helluva lotta fun!

12 comments :

ChipO said...

I'm a technical report writer.

Your helpful suggestion will quite likely improve my writing.
NC
Many thanks for your helpful suggestion, it won't just apply to comedy.
NC
That's helpful, and not just in comedy writing.
NC
This will help.


Thanks.

mark bosselman said...

The press should say this every time Trump says something at a press conference. Don't you think?

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Fred: I don’t have cash. Do you take American Express?
Andy: New choice!
Fred: Do you take the Diner’s Club card?
Andy: New choice!
Fred: Do you take second-party Group-ons?

Andy: New choice!
Fred: Do you take Smith and Wesson?

VP81955 said...

Some would argue that if this exercise were applied to "2 Broke Girls," none of its scripts would ever get finished.

Brian said...


Will you post something on Oscars tomorrow Ken? A pre-cursor to the main event. Some Mel Gibson bashing perhaps?

Jeff Maxwell said...

Working with the right improv group will change your life and help develop a comfort level for situations in daily life that weren't always so comfortable. It's about exploration and discovery. Really cool stuff. And like Ken says, it is reeeeeealy fun.

Not all groups are the same, however. I think it's important to find one that doesn't have an underlying message to be funny. That will initially put too much pressure on the improvisors to be clever which can kill the meat under what you think is clever.

What?

Pat Reeder said...

I thought the reason you went to Costco was to buy one giant Cheerio.

Zappa the Unholy said...

Friday question. I recently saw the 'Major Topper' episode of M*A*S*H and saw that you and Mr. Isaacs were story editors. Was Boots Miller legitimately cat plans crazy, or did he fake it better than Klinger and decide to rub it in that he won when asking for the description of "Enemy Glider?" I'm not sure which would be funnier but I suppose that was the intention. Thanks, You rock!

Tommy Raiko said...

Here's a Friday Question: Aside from HOLLYWOOD & LEVINE (of course,) my favorite new-ish podcast is THE HILARIOUS WORLD OF DEPRESSION, where John Moe interviews a number of top comedians who've dealt with depression. (Honestly, it's a really good listen...) Since you are a funny person who has worked with lots of funny people, I'd be interested in your thoughts: do you think there's any correlation between depression and comedy, and has that played out in any way in any of the work you've been associated with?

Anthony said...

"Do you take vaginas?"

[Audience laughs uproariously. All networks immediately and simultaneously shut down, as television will have reached its peak.]

Covarr said...

VP81955 said... "Some would argue that if this exercise were applied to "2 Broke Girls," none of its scripts would ever get finished."

I can just see it now.

Caroline: Think fast!
She throws a football.
Max: Ow! My vagina!
NEW CHOICE
Max: That ball hit me in the vagina!
NEW CHOICE
Max: Where did you even get a football? Did you pull it out of your vagina?
NEW CHOICE
Max: Vagina.

Jerry Krull said...

I always liked that game in my improv classes. Not only taught me to try new lines, but the replacement lines are shorter - "better comedy through brevity".