Who, What, Where (is Cookie Monster)?

Look at this:


I will now submit this adorable clip to Serious Analysis.

I think you can learn a lot about performing and improvising from kids, not because of some mystical inner-kid type emulation, but because they are generally unguarded so you get to see the essence of human interaction.

This is a scene with clearly defined Who, What, Where, without any dialogue setting it up. Kermit is a Kid’s educator trying to sing the alphabet and Joey is a kid who loves Kermit and it trying to play with him by teasing him. They both have character agendas that involve the other character, and they keep accepting offers whilst still trying to get what they want.

Of course Joey can sing the alphabet! She also can’t help waving her arms and joining in with the song, but she’s still going to chuckle out ‘Cookie Monster’ to get Kermit’s attention.  Kermit doesn’t tell her to stop, but he stares quizzically at her every time, making her giggle even more. That’s a classic straight man role, check out Ronnie Corbett in the ‘Four Candles’ sketch for a similar act. The whole scene is a kind of scene that you can improvise.

I think these old clips on Youtube show that the kids are better improvisers than the puppets. They go along with any random request the puppet makes, with earnest enthusiasm. Check out Brian helping Grover. The kids are just enjoying the interaction. The puppets look a bit dry in comparison sometimes, they have an exercise to do and they are just getting the kid to go through it with them. Of course  there is a guy moving that puppet trying to make a show and thinking about time, but when you create a character in an improv scene you don’t need to worry about any of that. You can play the guy who has a cast-iron agenda and won’t budge, but you don’t have to.

The puppets are at a disadvantage because the guy working them can’t really watch the kid to see what they are doing. The kids eyes are like laser-sights on the puppets, if the puppets had real faces those kids would pick up every nuance and offer. Why do we stop attending to other people’s faces? (Because it’s impolite to stare).

The kids can play and listen at the same time, because playing and listening are the same thing. If you aren’t paying close attention to your partner then you aren’t really playing with them, and if you are thinking about other stuff then you aren’t playing close attention to your partner. Trying to look good or telling yourself you are rubbish are thinking about other things. Trying to get your partner to play along with your brilliant idea is thinking about other things. Standing on the side wondering if you just fucked up that edit is thinking about other things.


Headings Break Up the Text!

Looking at how kids improvise is really useful, because I have seen similar scenes to the one with Kermit and Joey that just didn’t work, I’ve been in similar scenes that didn’t work. You can imagine a scene where the kid just mucks around and the puppet character is getting annoyed and telling them to stop and the scene just feels muggy and doesn’t really click. But all it takes is one kid, one honest and attentive player and any scene can work.

The most useful bit is right at the end. She tells him she loves him, and it’s just a genuine gift to him. I don’t think she’s doing it to get a response back, she just wants to make sure he’s not upset. When she says “Oh thanks!” to his reply it’s just a genuine response to an unexpected gift, like a co-worker giving you twix at work they got from the vending machine. She just gave him an offer, that he responded was really cool. That’s a really solid attitude to have in a scene. It’s raw affection, that’s what people notice when they talk about people working really well together, they are noticing that those people really like playing with each other. It’s pure good will.

Also it’s interesting that the most useful bit is the most beautiful bit. The most useful thing your partner is doing is the most beautiful thing they are doing. Being useful in a scene is just giving offers and reactions freely. It’s playing. And because you see it in kids all the time I don’t think it’s something I’m learning I’m just remembering.

The more I practice dropping my agendas and paying attention to the other people around me, the more joyful my life becomes, never-mind my improv. As I have practiced this it has become more of a habit, and the more I develop this habit of being true to myself the more I feel like myself. It’s witchery of some sort, I can’t explain it! Oh no, it’s just being alive.

Can you improvise inner Luke-child? Yes. Yes I could.


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