- You need to know the rules of improv before you can effectively break them.
- The more you do improv, the more you find applications in your own life.
- Improv skills will only become more prevalent as streaming and video-based social sharing continues to grow.
- The pandemic has been tough on traditional improv outlets, but performers are finding creative ways to get their work out into the world digitally.
Shawn Frambach has logged countless hours studying and teaching improv. On-stage, it’s entertaining, funny, and occasionally transcendent; off-stage, improv skills can enhance everyday work and life. Take, for example, the ability to communicate silently:
I do think there is a ton of silent communication that happens on stage between improvisers that a lot of the audience isn’t really seeing because they’re not up on those nuances—something you kind of only notice if you’re doing improv. A lot of improvisers watch a lot of improv. And those are the ones who are usually saying, ‘Oh, I see how they’re communicating or talking to each other without having to do that on stage so blatantly.’
In these socially distant times, core improv skills like “yes, and-ing” and active listening help us adapt to new ways of interacting—mainly via Zoom—and push performers to find new ways to flex their creative muscles digitally.
I think those improv skills are really giving those people the tools they need to make their own stuff, especially right now when there’s not classes happening. You’re getting a ton of online content being made and produced by improvisers.
Shawn Frambach is a marketer, writer, actor, and comedian.
Stream episode 21 now, or subscribe on your favorite podcast platform below.
Note: This transcript may contain some minor wording and formatting errors. Apologies in advance!
Todd: Welcome to The Future of Content. I’m your host, Todd Nienkerk. On this podcast, we explore content—its creation, management, and distribution—by talking with the people who make content possible. Our goal is to learn from diverse perspectives and industries to become better creators. The Future of Content is brought to you by Four Kitchens. We design and develop digital content solutions that get results. Today, I’m joined by marketer, actor, writer, and comedian Shawn Frambach. Did I get that right?
Shawn: Yeah. Good enough. Yeah.
Todd: Peeling back the fourth wall here, I usually ask somebody before I start an interview, but hey, this is improv. Oh, by the way, we’re going to be talking about improv comedy. Welcome to The Future of Content. This is a very professional podcast show, I promise. Welcome.
Shawn: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Todd: A little bit of totally unnecessary improvisation to start us off. Okay, great. So improv comedy. We all know it, whether we know it or not. And it’s become a really big deal over the last, I don’t know, five, 10 years. And you know something’s big when Ira Glass decides to do like three episodes of This American Life in a row all about it.
Shawn: That’s usually my judgment for anything, is anything he covers.
Todd: That’s right. So tell me a little bit about your background in Improv and how you got started there. And then we’ll kick it off.
Shawn: Yeah, definitely. I started— I guess I was— I got into Improv when I was about 18 or so fresh out of high school. I took some classes at a local theater, and ended up interning there. And I worked exclusively at that place for several years and taught improv classes, performed on a weekly basis, and did that for about nine or 10 years. Now, till a couple of years ago, I moved to LA, and I did that exclusively in the Fort Worth-Dallas, Texas area. And I’ve been in LA for a couple of years now and kind of doing the same thing out here, getting into some classes, just performing things like that.
Todd: And improv is one of the many— What would you call it? Sort of fountains of talent that places like SNL and TV shows and people like that or organizations like that tend to mine, right?
Shawn: Yeah, definitely. Improv is definitely a hotspot that I think a lot of facets of entertainment tend to pull from. There’s a lot of great talent there that are able to think on their feet and work without a script and also be creatively productive as well on the spot, which is nice. So, yeah, I think I think a lot of facets of entertainment kind of pull from that improv world.
Todd: So for anybody who’s ever been to an improv show, you have undoubtedly heard the introduction that’s always given, and it’s something along the lines of improv comedy is made up on the spot. What you’re about to witness has never been done before. It was not to be done again [crosstalk], right. Everything’s made up on the spot. It’ll never happen— Like all of that. But it’s not totally without structure. It’s not totally without some convention. You have performed it and you have taught it for years and years. How is improv content created, really?
Shawn: So yeah, like you said, it’s— While it is definitely spur of the moment, the things that are happening on stage, any improviser who is hopefully performing on stage has these tools or a system in place of which they can use to create content. And those things are tools like, “Yes and-ing,” which is just accepting the current situation or any information you’ve been given and building on it. Creating something on top of that. And that continually happens throughout every second of every improv show, ideally. The second most important of those or just as important would be active listening. Listening to what people are saying so you can “Yes and,” it. You can’t, “Yes and,” something you’re not aware of or not listening to. And I would say those are the two definitely main cornerstones. When I was teaching in Texas those are the two first things you learn at our improv theater. And those are the two tools I think that also are most effective and you start to notice changing throughout your day-to-day life as well.
Todd: To dig into, “Yes and-ing,” a little bit more, just to illustrate that: This is the notion that if you and I were on stage and I were to start miming like I’m pushing a broom and say something like, “Oh, I can’t believe they made me pull a double shift.” And then you do something like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Like, “You’re driving a car,” like, “Shut up, taxi driver,” right? You have—
Shawn: Which happens all the time.
Todd: Of course, of course it does. It just ruins the— It ruins the whole flow of the thing because you’re supposed to say like, “Yeah, I hate having— I’ve been here 12 hours,” and blah, blah. Like the idea is you go with what the other person is doing or the other team members and you multiply it, you add to it constantly.
Shawn: Definitely, yeah. And I think it’s also easier to think about something I would say to students is it’s just easier to keep the momentum going than start new momentum every line. It’s just so much easier when you know that the other person is going to be picking up what you’re doing and taking off with it rather than having to restart every other line a new game or a new bit, whatever the thing is you’re doing. Yeah it’s way easier when you are listening to what they’re saying and you can build on it. Just good things to do in general, in your general life.
Todd: Right. Exactly.
Shawn: That’s really all that is too is just you’re just mimicking being a normal human on a stage while people are watching you. And those are the two key things that kind of help bring that normality to the stage.
Todd: And it’s so interesting that you mentioned normality in this context, because I think so many people assume that improv comedy starts with these big, crazy, outlandish, premises and situations and characters and all of that. And that’s not really the case it’s— There can be things that are outlandish or unusual or strange that happen. But what makes it— Part of what makes it work is that it is kind of normal and that people are behaving normally and not as if there’s some vaudevillian actor or silent film actor, right, overplaying everything.
Shawn: Yeah unless you’re doing vaudeville improv, yeah [laughter]. Yeah definitely. It’s way easier to— So you do have a couple of styles of improv, and some of those do kind of pull a little bit here and push a little more here. But generally, and specifically more with the improv that I taught, which is relationship-based, yeah it’s way easier to start somewhere grounded and to keep something grounded. And I think improv does have a bit of a stereotype, especially with people who don’t do it, of being very silly and outlandish, which it definitely can be. But almost without substance—that it’s only silly and outlandish—but there definitely can be— I’ve seen so many improv shows from so many really amazing performers and actors, even if they didn’t consider themself actors, they just blew me away because they were so grounded and so real to start from the get-go. And those are even funnier scenes, too.
Todd: Well, you mentioned tools earlier. So there are individual tools like, “Yes and-ing,” what’s happening in the scene and actively listening to the other people on stage so that you can contribute in a meaningful way that actually allows the scene to move forward. But there’s also some aspects of the structure. There are some baseline things that you set up before the scene, typically, about like— What is the flavor of the scene or the style of the scene that you’re going to do? And the audience isn’t at all aware of this because they don’t participate in the choice, right? So there’s different formats like short form and long form. There are different structures such as—
Todd: Yeah, such as the Harold and all of that.
Shawn: Maybe the most famous, Harolds.
Todd: Maybe the most famous.
Shawn: Short form. [laughter]
Todd: Yeah. So I think that a lot of people and— I think that a lot of people feel that improv is sort of silly because maybe their only exposure to improv is something like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which is short form and kind of like a— I’ve heard it referred to also as “comedy sports.” I don’t know if that’s the same thing or if comedy sports is actually a format, or what.
Shawn: Yeah. So it’s very similar. It’s like competitive improv, almost. It does tend to be very— From what I’ve seen, at least, it does tend to be very Whose Line-y, more fast-paced quick games almost, rather than fully fleshed-out scenes. And then kind of on the other end of the spectrum, you have the really long mono scene, maybe, on the other end of that. So traditionally, when you’re doing improv, you do have an agreed-upon format or structure of a show that you are doing. So you also know that going into it. So if we’re going to be doing one scene for 25 minutes, then I know that this is never going to get edited and no one will save us. It’s just the two of us on stage. We either sink or we do well—we do okay. And yeah, I do think there is a ton of silent communication that happens on stage between improvisers that a lot of the audience isn’t really seeing because they’re not up on those nuances—something you kind of only notice if you’re doing improv. A lot of improvisers watch a lot of improv. And those are the ones who are usually saying, “Oh, I see how they’re communicating or talking to each other without having to do that on stage so blatantly.”
Todd: What shape does that take? Is it eye movements? Is it sort of body language?
Shawn: So that’s a good question, actually. [laughter] We have something in improv called “group mind.” And essentially, there was a team I was playing with for the longest time called Stand. They were super fun, all filled with my best friends—people I really enjoy being around and really thrive being around. And when you’ve been playing with people like that for so long— for five, six, seven, eight years, some of these teams have been together for years—you develop this group mind where you start to almost think the same way. You know the moves people are going to make before they make them. And you develop this silent communication or things to look out for. And it kind of can depend on whoever you’re performing with, which is kind of the fun with it. I played on a ton of different teams throughout my time in improv, and each team is kind of its own unit, and you kind of learn how to read that unit the longer you play with them, if that all makes sense.
Todd: Sure. When you and I talked earlier, you described it as being able to see into the matrix.
Shawn: Yeah, definitely. I had a mentor who used to say— When I was in classes, yeah, he would say, “It’s like seeing the matrix. You can see all the moves you can make, you can see the moves that your partners are making and where that’s going to go.” And you can kind of— Almost like a branch. It all dwindles down as the choices are made all the way into maybe the few handful of options you have left to maybe finish the scene or wherever the scene is heading. And you’re all kind of on the same page with this. It is a weird way to communicate. It’s a whole world of silent communication that I was never aware of until I got into improv—this weird inter-social communication. It’s also really thrilling to be able to go, “I knew they were going to make this move,” and they did and you were able to capitalize on that. It creates this really fun scene that you—
Todd: Yeah. It’s like making a great catch.
Shawn: Yes. Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
Todd: “You threw it and I caught it and we were just on the same plane.” Yeah.
Shawn: And saved the day. Yeah. Yeah. That can also turn really bad shows around, too. I’ve had hundreds of bad shows, if not, I’m sure, plenty, plenty more. But once you kind of find yourself falling into sync, it’s easier to just relax and just follow what’s happening, know that you’re on a team, and just kind of keep up, I guess.
Todd: The cousin of improv, of course, is sketch comedy, which I’m pretty sure that a lot of sketch comedians get ideas from doing improv. But it is scripted, right? It’s performed. It’s rehearsed, all of that. Some of the most successful, I don’t know, critically or at least sketch shows that I really like— Some of the most successful sketch shows I’ve seen are ones that all tend to kind of wrap up neatly in the end, like Mr. Show, Upright Citizens Brigade (the show). They all had this habit of— You’d meet all these characters along the way in all these situations, and they’d sort of merge right at the end or they’d all sort of tie together thematically. And I believe that that approach has its roots in improv with the Harold.
Shawn: I’d agree. Yeah.
Todd: Tell us about the Harold and what it is and how it works.
Shawn: So the Harold is a format. So if you go to Chicago, you will learn the Harold. It is one of the more common forms of improv shows out there. Less popular in places like Texas, although it does exist. I was excited to learn a version of the Harold in Texas really early on. And basically, it is a series of segments where you are introduced to— So essentially you have three parts: a first act, a second act, and a third act, and each of those acts is broken into three acts as well. So you have A1, B1, C1. Act two is A2, B2, C2, so on into a third act. And you take these three scenes or stories at the very beginning of the show, you find a way to mix them all up throughout the show, and then by the time the end of the show happens, you hopefully have a really nice bow to tie on all of these characters and stories tying into one another, which is very, very, very difficult to do. And there are some people out there who are incredible at it, and they dedicate a lot of their improv career doing it. It’s something that takes a lot of time and skill and understanding and patience to be able to learn and do.
Todd: How much of the ability to have all of these different storylines—the As, the Bs, and the Cs—all tied together at the end? How much of that is human nature of wanting to construct a narrative, wanting to find meaning and things, wanting to find their— Wanting to find a story in what’s happening versus the skill of the people on stage?
Shawn: That is a good question. It’s a little tough to answer, only because I really think it varies. You have some people who are just technically really proficient and who honestly don’t really struggle that much with seeing the matrix or seeing the weaving in the pattern of how these characters come together. I played with a guy in Texas for a really long time who was one of those guys that just got improv. He could see it all kind of laid out in front of him and was able to just make these moves that tied all of our shows together and made perfect sense. He was the saving grace of our team. And I think you have a lot of people like me. I got into improv because I really wanted to construct quick narratives. And the Harold is just a nice place to get that satisfaction for people like me, and maybe the technical satisfaction for people like the other guy who I was just talking about, Nick Scott—very wonderful improviser. And so, yeah, I think it’s kind of a meshing of both. You have a lot of different kinds of improvisers and kinds of people who all find their home or calling in improv, and they happen to mesh in a really beautiful way sometimes. And you can catch some really, really great Harolds that will just blow your socks off with what somebody can do unscripted and based off of a one-word suggestion. And those guys usually just have years and years of practice of doing the same format over and over and over again. So they’ve been living in this nuanced world of this format for a long time. And as an audience member, you’re just coming to see it for that one night. That’s the only time you’re exposed to it, and really blows you away. It’s insane.
Todd: You mentioned regional differences earlier. You said that you learned a version of the Harold when you were in Dallas-Fort Worth, and then you went out to LA, and you learned something a little bit different. And you said if you go to Chicago, you’re going to learn the Harold. What’s that all about? What are the regional differences in improv?
Shawn: That’s a good question as well. So definitely, I would say—and this is purely off of my own experience and the experiences I’ve had—you do have some stereotypes as far as regions go. LA has been much more gamey improv, which is the more of the UCB style—less about relationship or story, more about creating a normality and finding the un-normal thing and capitalizing on it by heightening that one thing. Very sketch similar. Very, very similar to sketch. You have a lot of sketch people who are born out of UCB thought and their improv is very similar. And it’s a ton of fun to do. I really enjoy it. In Texas, I found— And the place I taught at and was taught at initially was much more relationship based. And that kind of sat more— While it used to be maybe a little more Harold or gamey improv, this would be longer scenes that are relationship based. They’re very narrative driven, much less about finding a game and heightening something, more about creating a unique relationship and just following it and seeing what you get into and where it goes. And I thoroughly, really, really enjoy playing narrative. That’s something I thrive off of. That is my particular niche of improv I really just enjoy doing. And coming up, I found some really amazing people. There was a gentleman named Terry Catlett who did these two-man shows for 45 minutes. They were just unbelievable shows that I couldn’t believe two people on stage could just do this. And then you move to Chicago, and it’s a little more character based, in my opinion and experience. And you find a lot of that character stuff out here in LA too. Groundlings does a bunch of— Will Ferrell’s from Groundlings; he does a ton of character-based.
Todd: Yeah. Kristen Wiig.
Shawn: Yeah, yeah. So you kind of have these smaller regions within each area. But I would say generally, yeah, a lot more gamey stuff in LA. Texas, just by default. My experience has been a much more relationship-based, longer scenes, slower pace in Chicago is Harolds. You can find a ton of the Harolds out there. I mean, Chicago’s the Mecca. You can find any kind of improv in Chicago as well.
Todd: I don’t know how much this relates to improv in particular, but something that being just like a lifelong comedy fan and paying really close attention to what goes on in that world. Something I’ve noticed is, I go back and watch really old seasons of Saturday Night Live—’70s, mid-late ’70s stuff. The sketches there are unrecognizable compared to like what you see now on SNL. It’s just like a different language almost. But the thing that stands out more than anything else to me is that so many of the sketches are like they’re just character studies, like the John Belushi character where he’s a samurai. I forget exactly what the whole thing was. But it’s not really funny, not by today’s standards. It’s just sort of immersive. But it’s just about this character. And it’s this character doing a thing. And it might be that idea of Chicago improv being you make this normal, and you find the unnormality in it.
Shawn: Yeah. I definitely do find that the old SNL was much more performer reliant. It definitely had these big names and entertainers that went on to do movies because they themselves were really great character actors and could really play their character or their niche well. Yeah. And I definitely do think you find that in Chicago, in my experience.
Todd: Sure. We’re going to take a short break. And when we return, we will talk with Shawn about how you can apply improv to your personal and professional lives.[music]
Todd: Hey, everyone. Todd here. We’ll get back to the episode in a moment. But I wanted to just quickly tell you about Four Kitchens. You probably know that Four Kitchens creates websites. But we do so much more than that. We’ve helped public broadcasters increase donations. We’ve helped universities enroll more students. And we’ve helped media companies streamline their streaming platforms. To find out more about how Four Kitchens can help you, visit us at fourkitchens.com. Now, back to the episode.
Todd: Welcome back to The Future of Content. Our guest today is Shawn Frambach, marketer, actor, writer, and comedian. So a lot of people who do improv, teach improv, have found success in improv classes and team-building environments and things like that or team-building exercises for the corporate world. I’ve been involved in a few of those myself at my job. How did you think that came about? And what use does improv have in a business environment?
Shawn: I feel like it was probably a pretty natural extension of improv. I feel like it was only a matter of time until somebody was like, “You can make money doing this in the corporate world,” and justifiably so. I do think it’s a very well a very needed skill in just about any facet of work, but also in your personal life. I mean, a lot of the classes I taught, or when I was being taught, everything I was being taught was— You start to see those— It’s not just a thing you come into class and you’re seeing the effects in class. When you walk away from class, especially when you’ve been doing this for a while and you’re really invested, you start to see these effects and changes throughout your normal daily life. You start picking up on things a little more because you’re listening better. You become a better communicator. People around you just like you more because you’re a better communicator, and you’re able to sort of be that friend that is able to talk and communicate and listen to someone in just a totally normal way. And that only has more of a payoff in the corporate or work environment. It’s the same thing. Those are skills you need anywhere. And if you’re good at them, I would imagine or hope you see some sort of benefit from a work environment that way as well.
Todd: So a lot of this goes back to just the basic tools that you mentioned earlier. Your toolbox has “Yes and-ing” and active listening. You’re not applying a Harold to a business meeting.
Shawn: I wish. [laughter]
Todd: Right. You are applying “Yes and-ing,” which in a business context would be something like, “Hey, we should do this.” “Yeah. And, we should do this other thing.” And “That’s a great idea.” And you kind of keep going. And it’s sort of a more positive collaborative attitude than you hear an idea and you’re instantly thinking of ways where it can fail.
Shawn: Yes, definitely, you almost took the words right out of my mouth of when we were doing workshops, it really is just initially a focus away from this competitive corporate mindset of trying to be better than your co-workers or other employees. And instead of really just listening to them and figuring out how together you can build something better than you could do on your own.
Todd: Like literally team building.
Shawn: Literally team building. Yeah, and I would also venture to say, too, just on a personal note, I would much rather work around people who are much more willing to listen to my ideas and reciprocate that as well. Knowing I felt comfortable or confident coming in to work with something that I know was going to be valuably listened to or at least given an opportunity to follow that idea by being “Yes and-ed” down whatever path that takes us. And maybe that ends up being nowhere and that’s okay. But the idea that we at least took that opportunity to follow that, because sometimes that’s where you stumble upon— This is also true in writing. You follow those ideas that aren’t necessarily gold, but eventually, you find something along the way that was something none of you would have thought of or come up with on your own volition. So it can really— If you use it as a good tool, it can really open you up and your team up to some things you would have previously been unable to find.
Todd: You mentioned writing, and I’m immediately struck by the concept of not editing as you write. And editing, as you write, is basically like “No, but-ing,” right?
Todd: It’s not taking that “Yes, and” attitude to writing where it’s just like, “Just go. You can come back to it later. You can edit later.” Right? “Just go, go, go, go, go.”
Shawn: Yeah, definitely, you are 100% correct. I spend, especially nowadays in this situation we’re in with pandemic, I find myself writing as much as I can and I do still find myself “No, but-ing” myself all the time. It’s a skill that you have to consistently be working. It’s not something that— And improv in general and these skills are not something that are really to be mastered. They’re to continually be growing. And yeah, I find myself in that situation quite a bit, “No, but-ing” myself. I write morning pages as often as I can, and that’s the opportunity. That’s that moment in my day I take to say, “No editing, no nothing, just write whatever you write and you can come back to it and then you can tear it apart.”
Todd: Morning pages. What does that mean?
Shawn: So morning pages is an exercise if you’re a writer or you just casually enjoy writing. Something you can do to kind of get yourself out of your head. It’s great for writing block as well, but you can just pull out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and you just— It’s just unfiltered writing. There’s no real mission or goal in mind other than to write and not edit yourself. Don’t stop yourself or stop a thought. Just keep writing and writing and writing, and “Yes, and” yourself through this page until maybe you find something that you’re like, “Oh, this is a fun idea. I can write a sketch about this,” or I can “whatever I want to do with these ideas I have.” Those ideas are sometimes hard to find when you are constantly editing yourself.
Todd: Yeah. You said that you find yourself writing more in the pandemic. So I have to ask, how do you feel that some of these tools that improv uses are being used during the pandemic?
Shawn: Personally? So yeah, the pandemic has been just a crazy time for everyone. And I’m living in LA, and I got here a little while before the pandemic, but I don’t have the kind of community that I had back in Texas. So I do find myself kind of resorting to my improv skills, so I can get things done throughout the day. I’m so used to writing with people and being in an environment almost like a writing room where I can bounce ideas off of people and get immediate feedback. And when you don’t have that, you really have to learn how to “Yes, and” yourself and not edit yourself so much because you just won’t get very far. So I’m thankful to have at least a little bit of self-awareness to be able to recognize that and hopefully, “Yes, and” myself into something—some sketch, some short story, whatever it is I’m working on.
Todd: How is the world of improv coping with the pandemic? What are some people doing to try to innovate or do things differently in that space?
Shawn: It’s been really tough. Improve is— I mean, you’re paying money to be in a room full of strangers. So it is not very COVID friendly at the time. You do obviously have online classes and whatnot. But I do think it is something that we in the improv community have not had to really face before—something so interruptive as this. A lot of theaters have had to close. Dallas Comedy House was the theater I performed at on a weekly basis. They were kind enough to give me and Stan, the team I performed with for a very long time, they gave us a wonderful home there and they unfortunately had to close down and they were so resilient. They went to three different locations and then due to COVID finally had to shut down. And there’s been stories like that all over the country. Small improv theaters—just small businesses—have had to shut down. It has not been kind. And it’s almost impossible to do— Excuse me, it’s almost impossible to do any sort of show right now unless it’s online. And so I think there’s been a lot of experimentation with the Zoom classes, online classes, especially on the writing front. Sketch is really big right now because you can do it by yourself and write.
Todd: Well, just watching SNL’s transition midseason last year to try to figure out like, “Oh, okay. This has completely changed all of a sudden.” How do you do sketch comedy that’s not live and everybody’s at home and they’re all over the place, right? It’s just wild.
Shawn: Seeing that episode—their first episode at home—was really a weird moment for me because to see such a juggernaut of comedy, I’d almost say, brought down to that, but having to adapt in a way they’ve never had to do before is really insane. And, obviously, there’s a ton of awful things happening right now. But it’s just really wild to see that. That was a really weird moment for me, a very surreal moment. And I think a lot of— Even as big as UCB is or Groundlings, there’s a lot. Every theater, every facet of improv is struggling right now. There’s a lot of teachers who made— That’s how they made money—they’re coaching teams and they’re teaching. And that’s all they’re doing. And that has been tough on those guys as well. So, yeah, it’s been a hard hit all around for improv.
Todd: Well, the pandemic notwithstanding, how have you seen improv change over time, and where do you think it’s going?
Shawn: Definitely, so, again, in my experience, it’s been really interesting to see a— And I know pandemic withstanding, but I think even with that, a lot of stuff is just moving. It’s becoming a creation tool it almost seems, a way for people to get together and brainstorm and improvise a little bit with each other and create an online product or whatever that is. And I don’t mean that in a negative term—to create a sketch or whatever piece of online content you’re creating. Especially in LA, I see that quite a bit. It’s people getting together or Zooming together to brainstorm. And I think those improv skills are really giving those people the tools they need to make their own little units and go off and make their own stuff, especially right now when there’s not classes happening. You’re getting a ton of online content being made and produced by improvisers.
Todd: So in other words, there are people who are using the tools and the structures and the format of improv, not as a means unto itself—meaning not just you do that, and that’s a show, and people see it, and they pay to see it. But you do that is just a creative exercise to arrive at a different product in the end. It might be a sketch that arises out of— You do long-form improv for 20 minutes, and you get some idea that’s really interesting. And then you turn that into a video and you put it on YouTube.
Shawn: Definitely. And I think exclusively during this COVID time, there’s a lot of those teams that I was talking about that have that group mind. And they have nowhere to perform. Sorry, hold on.
Todd: Oh, no problem. [laughter]
Shawn: My cat is using the restroom right behind me, so I apologize.
Todd: Hey, we’re all doing this from home.
Shawn: Yeah, but you’re seeing these teams or these groups that have a really incredible group mind together who have no outlet for that. And they’re finding other avenues for that energy and taking that process that they usually do on stage, and whether that’s through a group text, or a Zoom, or a get-together, or whatever that is, using that to create a different end result.
Todd: So do you think that the use of improv as a set of tools to arrive at a creative output that isn’t merely the performance of improv, do you see that being a trend that’s going to continue into the future?
Shawn: I can’t imagine it not continuing. Yeah, especially as digital content just becomes more prevalent. I mean, it’s everywhere. Especially with things like TikTok now, and Instagram with their Reels, you have so many avenues now for very short-form, especially, like, comedic-angled content. And I can’t imagine that going away. So I imagine that improv and those skills are only going to become more important. If not, I don’t know what. But I just can’t imagine that going anywhere.
Todd: Has there been a rise or a growth in short-form as a result of things like Twitter, Vine, TikTok, Instagram, and just the fact that it limits you to a certain amount of content, like, a character count or a number of seconds that you’re allowed to upload at any given time?
Shawn: Yeah. That would make sense. So my personal performance experience with short-form is limited, and that was just by choice. I want to see that correlation because short-form is not anything that I would want to downtalk at all. I had a very niche focus going into improv. And I just don’t see short-form making a huge comeback or impact on those more short-form videos, in my own opinion. I do still think that would pull from the more gamey or sketch-based UCB style of improv, especially here in LA. You have a lot of people— I mean, everyone out here is making content of some sort. And a lot of the improv that is taught out here is very sketch angled. It’s very similar in its system. And so I think that is more applicable to these, even these hyper short-form videos or forms of content. The process is very similar, even though the— Yeah, Vine went away real quick. But it was filled in pretty quickly afterwards as well. And, I think, I can’t tell you how many comedians I see on TikTok or are on Instagram Reels who are– I mean, they’re pumping out four or five videos a day.
Todd: Wow. Wow. Well, Shawn, is there anything that you’d like to plug? How can people learn more about the work that you do?
Shawn: Yeah. So I am on Instagram always as @ShawnFrambach. And you can find me on Twitter @ShawnFrambach as well. Those are the two places I’m mostly active. That’s where I am usually most of the time. Feel free to at-me.
Todd: Thank you, Shawn. This has been a lot of fun. And it’s so rare that I get an opportunity to talk about comedy because it’s something that’s so close to my heart. So thank you for joining us.
Shawn: Yeah. Of course, it’s rare that I get to talk to anyone right now. So I appreciate this.
Todd: Well, for everybody listening, I hope that you learned as much as I did. And I can’t wait to see the content that you create. Feel free to send it my way via email at email@example.com. And you can also reach out to me @FoCpodcast on Twitter. To find out more about Four Kitchens and how we solve complex content problems, visit fourkitchens.com. And finally, make sure to search for The Future of Content in your preferred podcasting platform and click subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. Until next time, keep creating content.[music]
Making the web a better place to teach, learn, and advocate starts here...
When you subscribe to our newsletter!