‘Don’t ask questions’ sounded wrong to me the very first time I heard it said, in real life we ask questions, so why the hell should improv be so vulnerable to questions when other forms of comedy seem to cope with them without any problems?
Maybe there are different types of questions:
Lets say you walk into a scene, point at the floor and say ‘what is that?’ - oh dear, what the hell were you thinking? In your mind you might have thought ‘maybe there is something on the floor, I’ll just check with my partner and see if that’s ok’. You complete idiot, you just killed comedy forever.
What the audience saw was you walk out on stage, point at the floor and ask ‘what is that?’. The audience are probably thinking ‘who is this character, what does this character want and why are they so interested in the thing on the floor?’. Little do they know how badly you just fucked up, by this point you are probably thinking ‘I hope nobody who is any good at improv just saw me do that’ or ‘oh no, I asked a question in an improv scene, I’ll probably never see old age’.
If you did ‘think’ anything then you wouldn’t really have been listening to the offer. If you were listening instead of judging, you could respond in any number of ways.
1. (Sad) ‘I’ve never seen it before’ - perhaps we are watching the start of a scene about a guilty dog being told off for pooing on the carpet.
2. (Excited) ‘What do you think it is?’ - perhaps we are watching the start of a scene about an amazing gift that had to be saved up for by a loving parent.
3. (Guilty) ‘I crashed it’ - perhaps the start of a scene about a new driver confessing an accident in a borrowed car.
4. (Blank) ‘It’s a lamp’ - perhaps we are watching the start of a scene where 2 people talk about a lamp.
The issue with asking this kind of question is not the question itself but the speed at which we forget what we are doing, perhaps because we have been taught that questions kill improv and as soon as we catch ourselves doing something ‘wrong’ we are fired out of the scene and into our minds.
Improv is a world of mime and imagination, we only have to say it or pretend it, and the audience will join in with our fantasy for as long as we can maintain the integrity of the scene. In real life, if someone pointed at something on the floor and asked me what it was, then I would quickly have to make a decision about what was going on for them on a cognitive level.
1. Do they genuinely not know what it is, ie is this a foreign object to them.
2. Are they literally blind, are their eyes closed, is it dark or is their vision otherwise a problem?
3. Are they being sarcastic?
What I probably wouldn’t do in real life is completely switch off from the conversation and run a monologue in my own head about how this person isn’t allowed to ask me questions, and judgementally consider how much of a rubbish human being they are, and how this terrible mistake will lift us up from this world and dump us both into a new world of pain and suffering.
Lets say you are in a scene, your partner says something and you ask ‘why?’ - oh dear, you’ve done it again haven’t you, maybe improv just isn’t for you. In your head you might have thought ‘my partner just said something I don’t understand, I’ll just ask them to clarify, just like I do in real life’. That’s probably what the audience saw. What are the audience thinking? They might be thinking ‘this seems like a normal conversation, I wonder what the answer is’. But, the audience are fools, again they don’t realise the severity of what has just happened, this time you’ve gone too far, you must leave improv forever.
Or maybe not, in real life people ask questions occasionally. So what if you are in a scene and your partner asked you ‘why?’ Well what would you do in real life? You probably wouldn’t go off into your own head and decide this person was not very good at conversations and that this conversation has just been ruined. You would probably just answer them, sometimes, one person will know something that the other person doesn’t know. Sometimes, we have to ask questions, what is far more important is maintaining the integrity of the scene.
But, ‘asking questions is lazy’ because one person is doing all the work….. what work? Grow up - this isn’t work, its play.
Now, if I was in a scene and I mimed something in my own hand, then pointed at it and asked my partner ‘what is this?’ then they answered ‘its your watch, I’m sorry honey, I broke it’ then I asked ‘where are we?’ and when they told me I asked ‘what is we doing?’ and when they told me I asked another question. There is a difference between asking questions and ONLY asking questions, I hope we can see the difference. The only way this situation could ever really happen in real life is if somebody was very confused or unwell.