I was visiting family in NJ this week and took some time out to see improv in NYC. Both the shows I saw were at UCB: the first was hosted by the Improv Nerds and the second was Harold Night.

All the sets were laugh-out-loud funny, and I found myself doing just that during nearly every scene. There was another thing common to all the sets: the heightening in every scene happened really quickly, often within the first few lines. I suppose that’s not particularly surprising given UCB’s emphasis on finding the game; the players I saw had certainly mastered this. However, I was surprised at how consistently I observed this quick style of play.

There were no slow scenes or slow builds. Once I was tuned into this, I tried to find the setup for the game before the heightening started, which as an audience member, turned into a satisfying game of its own.

There are at least a couple caveats here. First, I only went to a couple shows, which isn’t enough to draw any strong conclusions about the UCB style of play. Second, I think fast-paced heightening generates one very specific style of comedy, the type one might find in an episode of Arrested Development but not in the movie A Serious Man or Inside Llewyn Davis. To put it another way, if building characters or the environment comes at the expense of an early laugh, then the players are implicitly making the choice to construct a different kind of scene, which can be just as fun and funny albeit stylistically different.

Thanks for the perspective, UCB!

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