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Episode 139 — Penis T-Zone

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Seth Morris, Mary Holland, and Stephanie Allynne get into the difference between short form and long form improv on this week’s improv4humans with Matt Besser! Tune in to find out what the consequences are when you take your mother’s lucky pantyhose, the results of taking an acting role too far, and the repercussions of faking an alien demon possession in a court room. Make sure to get the UCB Comedy Improv Manual, Matt Besser’s new comedy album at mattbesser.com, and Dragoon’s new album at dragoongalaxy.bandcamp.com! Check out improv4humans with Matt Besser LIVE at the Del Close Marathon on Saturday, June 28th at UCB East! Go to www.delclosemarathon.com for more info.

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Matt, I would SO love you to have one of the Whose Line guys on the show for a Case Closed.

 

I don't think they're unfunny at all, by the way. They play funny party games. But I totally agree they shouldn't get the word "improv."

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I definitely feel like there should be some interaction with Whose Line alumni. They've been referenced a few times on the show.

 

This episode was great, though. I really enjoyed the courtroom and debate scenes.

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I'm imagining the the difference between short-form and long-form improv being like the difference between casual/phone gaming and hardcore gaming (PC and consoles) but called the same thing but both very different. Though I'm assuming short-form improv doesn't feature nickel and diming, unethical, child exploiting microtransactions and in-app purchases but I might be going off on my own stuff here...

 

Perhaps Matt could explain his issues with short-form? Its a beef I truthfully know nothing about.

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I don't think they're unfunny at all, by the way. They play funny party games.

I think that's exactly it. They're playing games in a more literal sense than the way games are used in long-form. I think that's where the "Stumped Ya!" mentality comes into play:

 

The Who's Line audience isn't likely to suggest "School Picture Day" because they can already imagine that scenario being funny. In their mind, a challenge for the players, say, "German U-Boat" would require more skill and thus be more rewarding.

 

Meanwhile, in I4H format, "School Picture Day" is a great suggestion because it's loaded with personal connotations and anecdotes to draw from. Whereas if someone sent in "German U-Boat" I can already hear Besser in my head: "Jesus... Anyone have any good German-U Boat stories?"

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I would have no problem with German U-Boat. I don't have a problem with most nouns besides foods. It's when they say an obscure SAT type word like "percutaneous". Seems like more an effort to stump us than inspire us.

 

If I had someone on from Whose Line, what is the topic supposed to be without me insulting them? I don't have anything against those guys but I just hate a million things about short form. The biggest being how it negatively effects my long form pitches to tv networks.

 

I think it's good for college kids learning to be on stage and do "comedy" for the first time, but after that it's time to move on if you want to be a real comedian. To me it's no different than watching someone play pictionairy.

 

Didn't I cover my (bitter) hatred of short form on one of the Ask the UCB episodes?

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My favorite Matt Besser's catchphrases are 'Excuse me?' in a scene and 'HOLY SHIT!' between scenes.

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Yeah, Matt, it was "Ask the UCB 3" where you talked about shortform/Whose Line. And you did mention not having a problem with those guys, even mentioning seeing Ryan Stiles do a Harold well.

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I would have no problem with German U-Boat. I don't have a problem with most nouns besides foods. It's when they say an obscure SAT type word like "percutaneous". Seems like more an effort to stump us than inspire us.

 

If I had someone on from Whose Line, what is the topic supposed to be without me insulting them? I don't have anything against those guys but I just hate a million things about short form. The biggest being how it negatively effects my long form pitches to tv networks.

 

I think it's good for college kids learning to be on stage and do "comedy" for the first time, but after that it's time to move on if you want to be a real comedian. To me it's no different than watching someone play pictionairy.

 

Didn't I cover my (bitter) hatred of short form on one of the Ask the UCB episodes?

I guess that's true. I think I'd like to see it just because it's something that you're passionate about; and it's obviously something that they're passionate about. I found your points about how the mentality of short-form is totally different. Short form is all about one-upsmanship and long form is all about support. I think it would be interesting to hear their side of it, because even though I hate that Whose Line is associated with improv rather than UCB or improv4humans (which is the best sketch comedy show, improvised or otherwise, of the past decade) I have to admit I find their show entertaining for what it is. But I feel like they should use the term "comedic party games" instead of "improv."

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Just saw Matt's post- season 3 of UCB is (finally) coming out next week! Don't forget to use the Amazon link on the Improv4humans page.

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I have a logistical question about I4H that I have thought about a little and never seen asked (on the message board at least). I assume that when you have several members of an improv team on at one time, they all know that they will be there together and car pool and stuff. But in general, do the guests know who they will be on the show with? Do you tell them ahead of time if you are going to do a case closed segment? It's probably not that relevant but I often think about dumb stuff.

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While we're at it, I have a semi-related question - There are sometimes four guests, so do you always (or often) invite four people, knowing that one will probably not be able to do it (or will eventually have to drop out)?

 

Anyway, awesome group, great episode. The courtroom video and ensuing scene were amazing. And the biggest highlight of all may have been Dr. Ducca, penis diagnoser.

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THE SWEATY ZEPHYR IS AN AMAZING NAME FOR A TRAIN

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Also, Seth must really know some things about canning and craft hobbies. Between this ep and the last one with his astronaut's wife character, one could make a pretty solid case. ^_^

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I agree with Matt about short form being a good way of getting into comedy and i'm glad to hear him giving it some slack.

I'll fucking say it; I fucking love Whose Line and always will. It's always had a place in my heart because it's something i've enjoyed as an 8 year old and as an adult. It got me into improv before i even knew what it was. Even after eventually doing it myself and now moving on to long form, I still find short form really fun.

By the way, on Greg Proops podcast he sometimes mentions something along the lines of not really respecting short form and doing it coz its easy money and he gets to hang out with the boys and bro out or whatever. That breaks my heart as much as hearing Matt and the crew ltake the piss on I4H this week. But yeah i have to say, that game did not need that long of an introduction at all.

Anyway, great episode, great guests. A real trip out at the end, fuckin genius.

nice one.

T

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I'm so amped about season 3 being released. Looks like I'll have a night of Titte Brothers, Supercool and Thunderball next week. Seriously, Besser as Silky Slim on the basketball court, and the car roving the infield are two of my favorite things ever... Plus Steve Youngblood, and the Decatur Fist mascot drinking bleach. Holy fuck.

 

Also, I feel like I have to say that Colin Mochrie was definitely mocking the audience a bit with the 'Do you understand?' long explanation stuff... Stiles and Mochrie are definitely smart and funny guys.

 

I do fully agree with the stance of short vs. long form though. When I talk about improv, people assume it's Whose Line stuff and they instantly turn off. They don't even know what long form is because it falls under the same nomenclature. Pretty shitty, especially for pitching a show or spreading word like Besser said.

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Bitching about what makes people laugh is lame. Putting yourself above other comedians as a judge of what improv may or may not be makes you look small. It carries as much weight as Jackie Mason complaining about "today's comics" or complaining about Carrot Top. Don't watch Who's line myself, but the criticism affects me conversely, as I'm less inclined to listen to I4H when MB adopts the whole "long form is pure" bull, attached to the "why aren't I on TV?" lament. Work hard and succeed on your own without tearing other people down and folks will be more apt to liking you, which could put you back on a show.

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Bitching about what makes people laugh is lame. Putting yourself above other comedians as a judge of what improv may or may not be makes you look small. It carries as much weight as Jackie Mason complaining about "today's comics" or complaining about Carrot Top. Don't watch Who's line myself, but the criticism affects me conversely, as I'm less inclined to listen to I4H when MB adopts the whole "long form is pure" bull, attached to the "why aren't I on TV?" lament. Work hard and succeed on your own without tearing other people down and folks will be more apt to liking you, which could put you back on a show.

I'm just being honest about a sentiment that is pretty universal about short form to long formers. I admited that I am bitter and envious of their success. I literally went to a pitch this week where the tv executive wanted i4h to be more like Whose Line. That affects my life and makes me bitter. And even besides that I find the set ups of short form to be ridiculous and worth making fun of. Actually I felt like I was holding back. I didn't even mention what's going on the show RIot. I could go on for hours about Wayne Brady. I also think Carrot Top is worth making fun of and he is not indicative of "today's comics".

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Matt Besser is passionate about what he does and that naturally leads to bitterness about more commercial comedy succeeding over the in depth stuff. But without his passion we would not get the quality comedy he provides us for free every week (more if i lived in the US but sadly here in the UK the only stuff i can get is through the podcasts, youtube etc.). I will defend short form as a legitimate form of entertainment, but i will never dispute the passion and anger that drives Besser and other long-formers.

Correct me if i'm wrong Adair.

T

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Matt Besser is passionate about what he does and that naturally leads to bitterness about more commercial comedy succeeding over the in depth stuff. But without his passion we would not get the quality comedy he provides us for free every week (more if i lived in the US but sadly here in the UK the only stuff i can get is through the podcasts, youtube etc.). I will defend short form as a legitimate form of entertainment, but i will never dispute the passion and anger that drives Besser and other long-formers.

Correct me if i'm wrong Adair.

T

I'm glad you feel that way. Yes, we do run a school and just wrote a book about improv so I do have more opinions about improv than just about anything. Seems weird that I would not share that with my audience. I never named those guys or made it about them. Fact is I really don't think that short form is the same discipline at all. I never said anything about "purity" since I don't believe them to be the same. If I were to consider them the same discipline then of course long form is more pure. Short form provides each game with its own bells and whistles before the scene even starts. If you want to argue that then you are invited to Case Closed.

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I'm just being honest about a sentiment that is pretty universal about short form to long formers. I admited that I am bitter and envious of their success. I literally went to a pitch this week where the tv executive wanted i4h to be more like Whose Line. That affects my life and makes me bitter. And even besides that I find the set ups of short form to be ridiculous and worth making fun of. Actually I felt like I was holding back. I didn't even mention what's going on the show RIot. I could go on for hours about Wayne Brady. I also think Carrot Top is worth making fun of and he is not indicative of "today's comics".

 

My only point is that when you come from a more positive place publicly, you may find it easier to insert your brand of what I consider funnier and more original comedy into the public square(tv). But some people like the easy laugh. I think you have to remember comedy is a big and evolving place, and folks need time to graduate to what it is you do. What you may consider banal is very avant garde for people who are just getting into different brands of humor past the knock knock joke. As for Carrot Top, he and his props speak for themselves- funny stuff for 3rd grade boys(still a large audience). I love your show, consistently brilliant. It was just a little "hey you kids get off my lawn" is all, and takes the listener out of the moment. Thanks for responding and continued success. (sits on whoopee cushion)

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Hey, this is actually something I'm dealing with right now! Huzzah. I am a part of a short form improv (or party games) group in Portland. We do short form, we acknowledge constantly that it is a low form of improvisation and that we're doing it primarily as a comedic performance. We're okay with that. We don't get huge crowds at our shows, and our director and host goes out of his way to explain the games as quickly as possible to the audience so they don't get bogged down. We love Whose Line and steal some of their games (though we also have incorporated Matt's "cut to's" in our games as well). We know our audience came to laugh at relatively cheap jokes, but we also try hard to do the best we can. We started as a college group but are slowly trying to break out of that, as almost none of us are in college anymore. We're also mostly in our 30s, and the majority of us have never really done improv before, but are theatre nerds and know the basic basics of improv.

 

There is another college group, peers of mine and friends, who do long form and basically think we're terrible. They talk about us in much the same way Matt talks about short form, and their mentor, a terrific improviser, calls long form "storytelling" and short form "stand up comedy," which I can't really disagree with. We hear a lot of criticism from the improv community here simply because we do short form games. Yet every time we have a show it goes great: people laugh, they enjoy feeling like they are a part of the show because they get to throw out suggestions, they very rarely actually shout out suggestions to "stump" us. We have a good time and that's really all I want out of it. I go to the other group's shows and enjoy them and go to other long form shows and enjoy them too. I feel like that makes me seem "dumb," like I don't give a shit or something, but honestly, I don't really care, I just want to enjoy good performance art, wherever it comes from.

 

I had a point originally but I lost track. Short form is easier to market, unfortunately. If it makes you feel any better, we've done all of our shows for free so far and I don't expect us to make any real money anytime soon. Improv may be somewhat lucrative in LA/Chi/NYC, but everywhere else, not so much.

 

Sorry, this got way longer than I had expected. I love this podcast, and Matt and UCB's improv (what I've been able to see, at least) has given me a profoundly better impression of improv than I had ten years ago, living in Boise among a theatre community that thought ANY form of improv was a pile of shit. I also agree that short form should not be lumped with "improv," but the logistics of distancing it in the mind's eye of the entire country, a large percentage of which has no clue about improv whatsoever, or doesn't care, or only knows Whose Line, will be difficult. I AM RAMBLING, but only because I love.

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A humon on twitter made the perfect analogy that I was searching to make during the podcast. Short form is to improv what karoke is to music. Sometime you'll see someone do karaoke and they kick ass and actually give you goose bumps. You are entertained and they are fulfilled as well. But how do you compare somebody covering a song in karaoke to someone performing thier own song with a band? If I consistantly kicked ass at karaoke I think I'd want to try out fronting a band eventually.

Portland, I think you should do whatever makes you happy but I bet you'd get more satisfaction in every way doing a long form over a short form. I'd rather bomb at long form than suceed at short form. Climb the mountian not the rock wall because the journey is more,,,wait for it...pure.

To me one of the true tests of comedy is how does it hold up the next day. Can you recount the way a short form scene went? Rarely. A good long form scene is as good as a good sketch because it is one.

Have you guys worked with our book? Try a form like The Movie! That's the most fun I've ever had doing long form and it has the perfect audience pleasing format.

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A humon on twitter made the perfect analogy that I was searching to make during the podcast. Short form is to improv what karoke is to music. Sometime you'll see someone do karaoke and they kick ass and actually give you goose bumps. You are entertained and they are fulfilled as well. But how do you compare somebody covering a song in karaoke to someone performing thier own song with a band? If I consistantly kicked ass at karaoke I think I'd want to try out fronting a band eventually.

Portland, I think you should do whatever makes you happy but I bet you'd get more satisfaction in every way doing a long form over a short form. I'd rather bomb at long form than suceed at short form. Climb the mountian not the rock wall because the journey is more,,,wait for it...pure.

To me one of the true tests of comedy is how does it hold up the next day. Can you recount the way a short form scene went? Rarely. A good long form scene is as good as a good sketch because it is one.

Have you guys worked with our book? Try a form like The Movie! That's the most fun I've ever had doing long form and it has the perfect audience pleasing format.

 

I haven't read the book yet, actually! Like I said, I came into improv really hating it (except Whose Line, sorry), but the scene here is large enough that I couldn't escape it. Plus I went to school for theatre and thus am desperate to be on the stage all the goddamn time, so I started going to rehearsals for the group I'm in. I know some people in the scene who do long form and am interested in pursuing whatever I can that will get me in front of an audience to entertain them. So I reckon the book is a good start, improv-wise.

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