Piers Morgan or Alex Jones: who is the better improviser?Posted: 11 January 2013
Both as a British person and as a human being, it is uncomfortable to agree with Piers Morgan, but his stance on gun control is completely right. Sadly, he is using this serious issue to accumulate publicity for himself, rather than to propagate the debate that is necessary. His invitation to inflammatory gun-nut and talk radio host Alex Jones on to his CNN show was more about chasing ratings than anything else. The conversation was bound to be combatative and eye-watering, and the clip has gone viral on YouTube. I am not opposed to allowing deranged misfits on television, no matter how poisonous and dangerous their opinions are, especially if they have the money and resources to influence people, as Alex Jones clearly does. We need to find out about them.
Yet the interview is a failure. Jones doesn’t answer Morgan’s questions, of course. But more crucially, Morgan doesn’t listen to Jones. He repeatedly insists on a line of questioning that Jones has already dismissed, and doesn’t even acknowledge Jones’s anger. Why should he? He has no interest in the conversation, only in how much attention Jones is attracting on his behalf. But as an improvised scene, it’s tedious and unenlightening. If we were watching it on stage we’d be praying for it to end. In spite of the high energy, the emotional stakes and the seriousness of the subject matter, it’s as dull as watching a drunk couple bicker.
The one thing Alex Jones has, however, is passion. So although he is dreadful at listening to his fellow improvisers, I was intrigued to find out what his solo improv is like, and how he performs when the only people he has to respond to are the voices in his head. Luckily YouTube has collected many examples of his radio rants on The Alex Jones Show, which broadcasts from Austin, Texas. Watch this clip, with this caveat in mind: judge it purely as a piece of improvisation, and put to one side (for now) the hatefulness of the content of his words.
This self-generated rant is much more compelling than the one with which he bombards Piers Morgan. He is enjoying himself, for starters, which is always important. He talks more expansively and allows emotion and imagery to take flight. I love the way he launches into sentences at breakneck speed without any idea how the idea he initiates is going to develop, leading to a kaleidoscopic and baffling use of language that keeps the listeners on the edge of their seats. Although he is evidently insincere, his singular commitment to an emotional state, when he has chosen one – be it pride, dismay, anger or pity – is a real strength, and he pushes these emotions to his limits, always skirting the edges of his own, and the audience’s, comfort zones. Above all, he allows the emotion to drive the content of the scene, never bothering himself with thoughts of “Do I look ridiculous?” or “Does this make sense?”
Yes, Alex Jones has a lot to teach improvisers. And we can learn from the Piers Morgan interview the perils of not listening. Enhanced improv skills will move the gun control debate forward, leading eventually to measures that will reduce the number of brutal and tragic shootings.