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Written by Rob Schultz (human).

Work was hard, so we quit.

I've been playing a little bit of Type Racer lately.  So far, I'm averaging 95 wpm over 150 races.  Winning a race is a nice way to add a little sense of false accomplishment to your day.  The other reason I like it is that it's an oracle every now and then, giving you a paragraph to type that you need to read right now. I got this one last week: 

"Being able to quit things that don’t work is integral to being a winner. Going into a project or job without defining when worthwhile becomes wasteful is like going into a casino without a cap on what you will gamble: dangerous and foolish." -Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

The week before I got that, I did some recording of improvisers improvising, based on the Random Article button on wikipedia. The idea was to release a daily improv scene via podcast. The hope was to give a variety of improvisers that I know a chance to play and since by now I know a bunch of 'em, it wouldn't be too much an inconvenience for anyone.

The week before I set out on this quest, I contributed to the hastily thrown together idea of De-Gifting. I like the (jokey) concept, but certainly I didn't or haven't yet committed hard enough to really drive the site around the internets. It'll come back around later, but it's probably less interesting to me right now than Burritos Against Terror was (and it's a shame that bit of performance art / political statementing / out and out hoaxery didn't get more than 24 hours to be perpetrated...) because, future topic for discussion #1: I'm not sure if I have any beliefs at the moment.

So a couple weeks after getting the site online, I'm sitting around spending a lot of time on syncing audio tracks and wondering if I shouldn't just cheat and cut up these scenes to be shorter. Or sharper. Or something. And along with getting the podcast thing going, I notice that the work vs. reward, and especially the opportunity costs, are not stacking up favorably.

What I learned is that this particular project is not as simple or as trivial as I had thought. There are some challenges and techniques specific to audio-only improv, and the more the cast rotates, the more cast members will meet these challenges the hard way. Without a practiced radio team, time is more a requirement than a luxury - we should be able to throw away scenes we've recorded if they're not up to scratch. You look at your Whose Line is it Anyway?, synonymous with improv in the public consciousness, and they record at least five times as much material as they air in order to make sure the stuff that goes out is good enough to make you doubt it's improvised.

Whose Line is short-form: they tell you what game they're about to play, and then they play it. My would-be show had its sights set on long-form, which begs a single suggestion from the audience and then explores and plays with it for an arbitrary length of time. Different games and characters may come and go, the goal isn't a laugh every 5 seconds, but over time the ideas that accumulate are often more satisfying. When played well, longform scenes can (should?) be as good as sketches. And a good sketch, like good standup, should not only explore an idea but do so immediately, not meander around the topic, circling like a dog preparing to nap.

A live audience will accept slower or weaker portions of an improvised show, because they can see it being created from nothing, and to be in the room when it happens gives an audience the not-entirely-inaccurate impression that they are a part of the creation taking place before them.

An audience that has been asked to take a moment to watch or listen to a prepared clip is not so forgiving. There is always the struggle to convince the audience that the clip is unscripted, maybe because the semiotics of TV and film tell us that nothing we're shown is by chance. And from there the question becomes 'if this might be, could be a scripted performance, why isn't it better?' Unless it is better, which only reinforces improv-doubt.

Topic for future discussion #2 is a theory of Trying that I'm stitching together. When I prepared a scene that I was in, and I was editing together the outro (all of the episodes would have the same introduction and ending, with the performers names cut into the closing segment), I found myself wondering if I couldn't just leave the names off because the scene wasn't that good. This is a problem.

There's no point in releasing work done for free that I'm reluctant to put my name on, but it's foolish to divert time and resources to create such a thing when there are other, better projects waiting in the wings. Time spent hitting a daily deadline would have been time not spent editing Amy's Prank, or would continue to be time not spent on the forthcoming podcast (which is very real, and scripted, and scheduled to be at least 10 installments starting next month.)

This post is long and light on jokes, but there's something ingrained in me that balks at quitting a thing just about before it's even gotten started. In this case, it happens to be the right move, and now I can explain why. We recorded about a dozen scenes, and I'll probably post some or all of them in the near future, though with less promotion and fanfare than they would have gotten as a de-gifting promotional tool.

I had planned to suggest that if comedy theory instead of actual comedy was a let-down for you, you check this out, but I'm pretty sure the sync manages to fail every which way, so you might want to try a different video clip.

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