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Old 02-28-09, 02:05 PM   #1
Drew Richardson
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Join Date: Nov 2001
Location: Pittsburgh, PA US
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Lightbulb How to Steal Material Part One/The New Switcharoo

How to Steal Material Without Getting Caught

by Drew Richardson (November 2001)

1. Get a blank notebook and a not-blank pen. On the top of the first page write QUESTIONS, then somewhere in the middle of the notebook write IDEAS on the top of the page. Dog-ear this page so you can find it easily when you think of ideas to write down.

2. Question #1
"What other props can I use in place of the props in the gag?"
Write this down on the questions page.
List 10 different objects.
Or use these 10:
alarm clock
trash can
light bulb
wrapping paper

3. Pick an object from the list.

4. Replace one of the props from the example gag or your own chosen gag(hint: for this example itís probably easiest to replace the coat hanger. On the other hand, your imagination may stretch more if you replace the coat. After some practice with this game, try replacing both props).

5. Act out the gag using the new prop or props. If you donít have the props or itís technically impossible to pull a clock out of a banana, for example, pantomime the object or objects. If you donít have the space or privacy to act out the gag, visualize yourself performing it.

6. This improvisation session is akin to a game I played when I was a kid where I would quickly doodle an abstract squiggle, look at it, and add to the squiggle, trying to make it into something concrete: maybe it suggested a face or an airplane by itís shape. By taking the gag out of its context, the new situation now needs a justification that can be achieved by physical doodlingóBarry Lubin calls this action noodling.

7. Whenever an idea occurs to you, or just happens, write the idea down on the ideas page of your notebook. Sometimes the ideas will be flowing so fast that youíll only have time to jot a keyword or two. Hopefully youíll remember what the keyword meant. You might also want to have some kind of shorthand code for the question/exercise/prop this idea is related to. I personally like to number my ideas so I can reach a certain quota. The more ideas you list, the greater the chance youíll come up with something useful.

What follows is a description of me playing this game using the example gag. You get to vicariously observe my process with all itís repetitiveness, laziness, and blocks. I make no claims that great ideas were produced, but I did get ideas that I would like to build upon.


ďThere are no such things as good or bad ideas, only developed or undeveloped ones.ĒóJohn Towsen

The Props
I decide to replace the coat hanger with a drumstick (the kind you play drums with, not the chicken leg.) There was no real reason behind choosing a drumstick except that I saw one nearby.

I will admit I am a little lazy. Instead of getting into costume with tailcoat, I just stick the drumstick down the back of my T-shirt. This causes a problem as the drumstick slides down my back and onto the floor. I eventually solve this annoyance by tucking in my shirt.

No Problems
But wait! This is no problem; this is the beginning of an idea, or at least a direction for further exploration. The situation is now about trying to keep a drumstick from sliding out from underneath my shirt. Although the gag needs development (i.e. context), itís based in reality, and I have a special fondness for gags that come from life experiences.

Acting Out
Now that I have the drumstick in place, I begin to act out the gag pretty much as Bill Irwin performed it (except not as good): I am aware of an annoyance between my shoulder blades, so I wriggle, and then reach behind my neck as if to scratch an itch, and ó just as I reach for the drumstick, it drops down my back just out of reach!

Variations of the gag suggest themselves. What if I have more of a build up where the first couple of times the annoyance goes away and it isnít until the third time I pull out the drumstick. This gives the gag more of a rule-of-three structure. And what if (I like to phrase my ideas as what if questions; they appeal to my imagination.) as I reach for the drumstick I canít reach it, but as soon as I stop reaching, the drumstick drops out the bottom of my untucked shirt. With a tucked-in shirt I discover another comic moment: the fallen drumstick forms a shape as if I had a strange growth under my shirt.

Ask Why
To prod the process, I ask myself the question, why do I have this drumstick? To scratch my back, I answer. What if, when it looks like I am going to scratch, I pull out a backscratcher, which I then use to scratch the itch originally caused by the backscratcher found under my shirt.

Breaking Rules
Notice that I apparently broke the rules of the exercise by changing the prop. Is that so wrong? This is a game with bendable rules. Itís getting the ideas that Iím after.

Every moment has possibilitiesóeven or especially the mistakes (this is physical comedy after all). Sometimes we gloss over these moments in search of the best idea or to get to a preconceived bit, when we may have passed the seeds for many great routines without even noticing.

Ask What?
I perform the basic gag again. I pull out the drumstick and think, what am I going to do with this? I answer non-verbally by playing air drum with my right hand and drumstick. I notice my left hand feels empty and left out. My hips move as I get the idea to have a second drumstick in my pants and I pull out the drumstick to continue playing (your Freudian analysis of this gag can stop right now). And what if I was wearing a top hat that had a toy drum hidden inside. The theme of this gag? How the sad fool became happy.

Roadblocks and Speed bumps
At this point Iím still having problems with the drumstick falling out of reach. I observe my reaction as frustration and note this as a useful character reaction. But Iím starting to hate real-life gags (maybe comedy is only funny when it happens to someone else).

I decide to get my tailcoat, but I canít find it. I remember itís downstairs and on my way I drink a glass of water and then another. I think maybe Iíll stop now and eat lunch. No! I must persevere!

Before I put the drumstick behind the coat, I play around with the coat as if I were the object. Itís a fun, short, and nearly meaningless diversion, and I note the idea for possible further exploration.

Luckily, diversions and distractions are a part of my process.

The coat turns out to be an improvement; the stick isnít slipping.

Ask Why Again
I ask myself, why are the sticks in the tailcoat? To play drums with, of course. Sometimes the obvious answer is the best answer. What if I discover a drum and coat onstage, and when I put on the coat, the drumsticks that were hidden in the sleeves appear in my hands. Iím ready to play the drum.

I play around with this idea, note that this will take some practice and technical set-up, and I move on.

Ask How
But how did the drumstick get there in the first place? What onstage or offstage action justifies the situation? By justifying the gag and by creating context, I begin the long journey from doodle to finished painting.

To help keep my energy up, Iím listening to music, specifically the Talking Heads. Caught up in the rhythms, I begin drumming on myselfó I hit my legs, my chest, my head, my shoulders, my head and shoulders, my upper back. What if one of the sticks falls down the back of my coat while Iím getting into the music? There could be a brief moment before I notice the empty hand, and before I have time to think about where the drumstick has gone, I feel uncomfortable between my shoulder blades. I reach behind andóthe drumstick drops again. Itís underneath my coat and shirt. New idea: now I have to take off my clothes to get to the drumstick with all the comic possibilities inherent in that action. This is one of those times when the ideas are coming so quickly, I might miss one.

How else could the drumstick get under my coat? I use it to scratch my back (remember?) and lose my grip.

The supposedly solved problem of the slipping drumstick continues to plague me. I decide to play with the premise of dropping.

I wonder if I should videotape this in case I miss something.

I find the repetition fun as I put the stick under coat, have the stick drop before I can reach it, and pick it up, rinse and repeat. Iím Sisyphus the Clown.

Dropping the drumstick down the back could be a solution for reaching those itches on the lower back. I also like gags that are creative solutions to problems and ones that are character discoveries.

Back on Track
Why else, I write to get myself back on trackówhich I donít have to doóthatís not the point of this game, but Iíve done it, soÖ

Why do I need this drumstick that has suddenly appeared? To hit someone or something. A dropped juggling ball, perhaps? What if the writhing anger transformed itself into the wriggling of something annoying me on my back, then I reach behind pull out the drumstick I need to express my anger. I attack the dropped juggling ball and all makes sense in a clown-logical way.

Music by Poi Dog Pondering is playing now. I do the twist. As soon as I stop, the drumstick drops to the floor. I know, dťjŗ vu all over again, but you may notice how this game isnít all about progress and new ideas. Still I make note of dancing the twist as a small but nice development. The details count, too.

New Ideas
What if I went offstage with the intention of getting a coat and two drumsticks, and come back onstage with the coat on, but with only one drumstick in hand. The backstage story is that I put on the coat so fast that one of the sticks got lost in there.

This suggests to me the character of an absent-minded conductor, with a conductorís baton replacing the drumstick.

Speaking of character, what if a character had a paranoid reaction to this drumstick? He might think, what else is back there? Or, somethingís drumming on my back!

What if I tap my foot along to music playing, do a little dance, and the drumstick drops to the floor? Then what if I notice a cymbal onstage and think, I can use that drumstick.

Almost Finished
At this point I decide to quit this game as my ideas seem to be only slight variations on other ideas. I take off the coat, and immediately am struck with some more ideas. What if there was something sewn into the back of the coat like cardboard, or plywood or a drum machine, so that I could drape the coat on my lap and play the coat with the sticks?

What if I had a costume that didnít look out of the ordinary, but when taken apart became different instruments?

Notice how far the above idea is from the original coat hanger gag. This is the best way to steal without getting caught; the gag would be unrecognizable even to its creator

Sometimes I set a goal to follow a train of thoughts or a physical improvisation until I come up with one idea, or three ideas, or even ten. This discipline helps me to defeat the rational but often counter-creative tendency to quit when an exploration is "obviously" not working.

For fun, I try the hard part. Instead of replacing the coat hanger, I replace the coat with a drumstick. The new gag is now pulling a coat hanger out of a drumstick. My first impulse is that this is NOT POSSIBLE! QUIT NOW! STOP WASTING MY TIME! Yet think what I might missÖ

So I use my imagination to answer how and why. The immediate and easy solution to solving this impossible prop combination is to pantomime the props (or one of the props).

Prop Design
I come up with a sketch of a prop coat hanger whose top was wire, with a drumstick replacing the base (like the cardboard part of coat hangers one gets at the dry cleaners). This design suggests a sequence of events: Take coat off hanger. Remove drumstick from hanger. Fashion the wire into a musical triangle. Play triangle with drumstick.

Beside the fact that the wire will probably make no sound, I see this is really a case of taking a drumstick out of a coat hanger instead of the reverse. Good thing this exercise has bendable rules.

I could build a hollow drumstick out of which I pull wire, which I can then fashion into a coat hanger. I pantomime this idea and justify it as an absurd moment during a drum solo where I stop drumming, fashion the hanger, and hang up my coat because Iím getting hot.

Maybe I could hang up a coat with two drumsticks positioned so they can hold the coat. While trying this out, I discover that just one stick holds up the shoulders of my coat, and can be placed on a doorknob without losing shape. I figuratively pulled a coat hanger out of a drumstick.

Now itís time to justify this invention, but Iím so proud of myself (you had to be there), I quit while Iím ahead. But first I note pride as a character trait for this routine.

The End
Iím amazed that over an hour has gone by already, because after a short period of struggling, I lost any sense of time passing. This was no chore. I resolve to work out like this more often, but a month after writing this, I don't.

Next: Part Two/Abstracting the Concept

Last edited by Drew Richardson; 02-28-09 at 02:11 PM.
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Old 04-20-10, 06:10 AM   #2
Butterfly Man
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Wink D&C

drew ... go back and do a rewrite

edit this stuff and clarify

"Every moment has possibilitiesóeven or especially the mistakes"

is the only thing I got out of this except "THINK" and you'd think you wouldn't have to tell them that...don't you think?
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comedy writing, creativity, ideas, physical comedy, plagiarism, props, visual comedy

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