Denver Improv Scene

Judging Your Idea

Do you ever judge your scene partners’ ideas? One of the basic tenets of improv is to accept everything that our scene partner says as a gift and go with it.
I don’t know about you, but I know this concept is way harder than it sounds. I know I am guilty of judging my partners’ ideas, and I’ve seen lots of other improvisers in my classes and on stage who do it, too – unfortunately, a lot of the time.
Here’s how my judgment works. Let’s say someone makes an initiation at the top of a scene like “Hey, we are little kids at water park!” (Or insert the dumbest idea you’ve ever heard here).
My first thoughts would be:
1.    I hate playing little kids.
2.    I hate players that have to vomit out the who, what and where in the first line. I don’t like to play that way; I like to work more organically.
3.    I hate water.
Now, many judgmental improvisers will take the idea of “kids in the water park” and just ignore it and replace it with their better idea or simply deny it from the get go. And the more sophisticated judgmental player will identify the person on their team or in class who makes those so called “stupid” initiations and will find ways to avoid playing with them.
Me, I lie to myself and think, “I’m not judgmental. I would never deny your idea.” So instead of denying your idea on stage, I’ll just shut down and passively do nothing. No agreement, no yes and… nothing.
It’s like I go into a void, a black hole, and in the meantime the scene is on pause and I have taken you to improv purgatory.
And the sad thing is I thought all this judgment made me better. The truth is I have had this problem since I started taking improv classes as a fat, insecure and sarcastic teenager. As I got better at improv, I got worse at judging what was funny and what not, and I became more of an improv know-it-all than an “improv nerd.”
I hope I am bottoming out on this because it is killing my work.
Last weekend, I took Improv Nerd to Denver and my guests were Eric Farone from the Bovine Theater, Kerstin Caldwell from Yes! Lab and Justin Franzen from the Voodoo Theater. The interview was focused on the Denver improv scene, and then the four of us performed a group scene. We took a location for the suggestion, and someone shouted out either bed or bedroom.
Before we started the scene, I asked each of my guests how they were going to break down the suggestion, and I was already judging their process in my head. Then we went into the scene, and they moved four black bar chairs up against the back wall to make a bed. Eric, who is big and tall, starts the scene by squeezing himself under the four chairs. Judgment One: He is either a kid or an animal, both “bad” choices.
Then Justin declares it’s a fort. Judgment Two: We are kids.
Because I was judging the idea, I was paralyzed and was not “trying to make my partner look good.” I was doing the opposite — running from the scene of the accident. I was stuck, frozen. I could not move my body or my mouth, and it was clear I was not helping anyone look good, including myself.
After what seemed like the longest 60 seconds, I decide to improvise and join the scene and support Justin and Eric in their creation. We made discoveries that they were twin brothers and Kerstin and I became bickering Christian parents who were more concerned about appearance and what people would think if our kids were not in church with us. It turned out to be funny and real and silly. We all contributed our different styles to the scene and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. Most importantly, I enjoyed it.
After the scene, I shared that I was judging it, because I realize that admitting that I am being judgmental is the best way for me to change.
So if you’re caught in this trap as well, my advice is to first be aware that you’re doing it and don’t judge yourself for doing it. Understand that when you’re judging someone else’s idea, you’re really just afraid and want to control things you can’t control. Then, I would say jump in immediately — fake it ’til you make it. Go over the top with the agreement. It’s going to be uncomfortable, but it will help.
If you’ve got any other ideas that you have used to get over this issue please let me know. I am still a work in progress on this one, and I promise I won’t judge them. Well, most of them.
9 replies
  1. eileen jacobs
    eileen jacobs says:

    Hey it’s hard to judge others when you don’t trust your own judgement so I guess I am ahead of the game….p.s.
    audition was a hoot….will let you know if I get the part!
    Thanks for everything….hope to see you around the “scene”
    Eileen formerly known as Ellen

  2. Rob
    Rob says:

    I think it always helps to give your uncensored, honest emotional reaction — in character, of course (not as you, your real-life self). So if it’s something you loathe — to stay with your example — “I hate getting wet, and I hate wearing a bathing suit so everybody can see my fat sugar tits.” Or, “I hate forts because somebody’s immediately on the outs, and it’s always me.” Immediately you’ve got something going. It’s not blocking or denying, it’s yes/anding even though the language is on the surface negative. Y’know.

  3. Louis Hirsch
    Louis Hirsch says:

    Hear you Jimmy. As much as i try to avoid it I can’t help “steering” a scene sometimes in what I think is a “better” direction than my partners rather than letting it grow organically. On the other hand if your partner makes you kids and you hate being a kid there is nothing wrong wit saying(as a kid) “being a kid sucks”. Honest reaction without denying..

  4. Meghan
    Meghan says:

    I am a judgy mc judger at work and in my personal life. I think this is great advice for Improvisers, because its something I know I struggle with the most when I improvise. I think its almost worth trying to apply it to all parts of our lives and then maybe it will be come easier on stage.

    Thank you for another well-said post!

  5. Lisa Akroush
    Lisa Akroush says:

    I had seen partner in particular that would always go really blue. No matter how clever I tried to be to turn it around he would push at it even harder. “I have cancer and my balls are sweaty and my asshole is crumbling out of my ass. Why won’t you take care of me!” He would get quite disgusting and all you would hear was uncomfortable laughter and and groans from the audience. So, after many rehearsals and performances like this (our coach never approached him about this) I had had enough and walked out of a scene. I literally couldn’t take it anymore. Then I noticed that I was avoiding being in scenes with him and I felt slightly ashamed. Usually, I can handle what others come up with but this was too much for me.

  6. Ron H.
    Ron H. says:

    Great post, Jimmy! I also tend to avoid “bad” scene partners in class – “hey, we’re now fishing for no apparent reason, and guess what, there’s no water! HAHAHAHAHA! – , but the best thing to do is to figure out how to live/work with them. I will probably continue to secretly hate their guts, however.


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