The Importance of Base Reality

Jua Holt WrestlingEvery improv theater has its own style of teaching and performing. UCB preaches “the game” over everything else, while iO demands a wholesale commitment to organic group choices. Second City uses improv as a means to an end (sketches), and The Annoyance asks that you please just “do something.” No matter the particular theater’s creed, empirically good improv has a few principal tenants in common. The one that stuck out to my analytical brain the most when reading about the art form on my own was the idea that you should develop a “base reality.” Creating a vivid world for your improv helps bring the audience into the show. The people watching your run are like a talented-if-not-arrogant high school basketball team. They’re ready to laugh, but only by getting them to buy into the work you’re doing can you maximize their potential. When they’re fully invested in the show, they start to forget that they’re watching a group of goofballs make stuff up for 25 minutes.

Every time you drop a cup or look directly at the person making side support noises offstage, you remind the audience that none of this is real. It’s as if you’re forcing them to take the red pill when they were having a perfectly good time in the Matrix.

In addition to painting a picture for the audience, a base reality functions as a set of ground rules for you and your scene partner. In our everyday life, gravity, finding zombies scary, and dogs not talking are all part of our base reality. We have a more-or-less-agreed-upon expectation of the normal, so when something outside of the normal happens, we have a shared reaction.

Red paint doesn’t show up on red canvas. Only with a grounded backdrop can the absurd stand out. That’s how the UCB manual defines “crazy town” (p. 89). I often hear people bring up this phrase when talking about a particularly exotic scene or run. To me, “crazy town” isn’t just a descriptor for bizarre scene work, it means that the improv being performed didn’t have any grounding principles. A scene about riding pigs through an abandoned theme park isn’t necessarily taking place in crazy town. If the characters are participating in an honest discussion about the merits of having children, you’ve got a grounded scene. It’s when the improvisers in the scene don’t agree on a set of common rules about the world in which they live that they ride the eccentric CT monorail.

The best way to avoid crazy town is to listen and react to the words and actions of your scene partner. The UCB manual also prescribes solutions like the “peas in a pod” mentality (p. 169) — which is essentially a more analytical approach to mirroring.

If you and your scene partner react differently to something that happens on stage, the scene isn’t necessarily shot. When one character considers an occurrence normal and another character considers the same occurrence absurd, we may witness a conflict in expectations and reactions. Conflict, in this case, isn’t bad, but it needs to be explored. Why did Character X react differently than Character Y? Even if you fail to react to a scene partner pulling a gun, you’ve told the audience something about you and the world you’re inhabiting (e.g., you see guns all the time, or you’re unafraid of death).

Because this post sounds teachy/preachy upon rereading it, I want to incorporate a real-life example to support the base reality point.

Even with a recent surge in mainstream-adjacent popularity, most people don’t watch professional wrestling. If you didn’t fall in love with it as a kid, you’re unlikely to develop an infatuation with this form of entertainment as an adult. However, wrestling offers plenty of guidelines for strong improv scene work:

The outcomes of wrestling matches are predetermined, but the athleticism and danger on display are real. Without a shared understanding between two wrestlers, things could spiral out of control quickly.

When one wrestler reacts to taking a bump from another wrestler, they help maintain the reality of in-ring conflict. While the characters wrestling are at odds, the wrestlers themselves are in agreement.

Additionally, professional wrestling is about putting on a show. Competitors telegraph their moves not only for their opponents’ sake but for the audience, as well. This creates an expectation and anticipation for a coming clothesline or a leap from the top rope. When the opposing wrestler counters or dodges the move, the subversion of audience expectations stimulates an audible reaction.

At the start of every match, wrestlers assume an identity. There’s usually a good guy (face) and a bad guy (heel). The way they interact with the crowd and the way they wrestle tells the audience how to feel about them. They have strong perspectives established at the top of the match that they carry through to the end.

To close, here’s DCH’s resident professional wrestling advocate, Jua Holt, on the connection between the two artforms:

“At a basic level, pro wrestling is two people working together to put on a good performance. If you trust the other person and share the load, then your match — more often than not — will go well. One of the biggest things I’ve been able to bring to improv from wrestling is that the commitment level of your character can make or break a performance.”

Danny Neely is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. He works part time at a bakery and another part of  the time as a freelance writer. You can see him perform as a member of Big Turtle, Clover, Coiffelganger, Empty Inside, and Warm Milk.

Bigger, Badder, ImprovMania

I would like to preface this blog post, by stating upfront, that I don’t really know anything about professional wrestling, WrestleMania, WWE/WWF, or any other bits of wrestling-related trivia. Now that that’s off my chest, and I’ve hopefully prevented misguiding any of you fine readers, this post can officially commence. The little I do know about professional wrestling, though, is a few of its more iconic characters, and that in some ways wrestling is a little bit like improv and sketch comedy. What do pro-wrestling, sketch, and improv have in common? It’s that their foundations all lie in storytelling, using clearly defined characters, raised stakes, and heightened emotions. While the best improv or sketch scenes might not be filled with dramatic chair shots and elbow drops (or maybe they are...), what makes those scenes run like a hijinks-filled WWE match is that they probably involve instances where the performers make bold character choices and filter their scene motivations and emotional reactions through their characters.

Because WrestleMania 32 took place in Arlington, Texas, last weekend, and because one of my awesome Ewing teammates made a wrestling themed poster for our show this past week, and also because my Facebook newsfeed in general seemed to have exploded with a bunch of wrestling posts, the topic has been on my mind. So, I thought what better way to combine my love of Dallas Comedy House (DCH) with this sudden inundation of pro-wrestling in the brain space than to determine which iconic pro-wrestlers some of my favorite DCH troupes embody.

If you want me to continue this blog post with my reimagining of DCH troupes as iconic wrestling characters, just gimme a “hell yeah!” (Or don’t because I’m going to do it anyway.)

Trish StrausTrish Stratus is Local Honey

Like the ladies of Local Honey, Trish Stratus is an all-around badass babe. She’s funny, she’s female empowering, and she’s got glutes muscles the size of basketballs that could easily destroy anybody who gets in her way. She’s also Canadian, which means that, like the gals in Local Honey, she’s generally easygoing and polite and would probably be down for nomming on some Tim Hortons.

Dude Love“Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Dude Love is Age Appropriate

When two very different individuals come together to perform, sometimes both improv and wrestling magic can be created. Like the somewhat odd, yet endearing, tag-team of Stone Cold and Dude Love, Age Appropriate has just the right balance of fun-loving, party-time spirit and serious performance chops. Together the gents of Age Appropriate come together like yin and yang, kicking comedy butt. Also, lots of object work. Mind-blowing object work, that’s the bottom line, because Age Appropriate said so!

The RockThe Rock is Photobomb

Like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Photobomb, awarded “best troupe” at DCH, is the people’s champ. Charismatic, full of fun catchphrases, and literally the only dude to pull off a complete chains-on-turtleneck-with-a-fanny-pack-on-mom-jeans ensemble, The Rock has won over the hearts and minds of many a WWE fan. With brains, beauty, and custom t-shirts, it’s also easy to see how Photobomb has won over the hearts and minds of DCH fans.

Jericho ShowJeri-Show is David & Terry

Full of quick wit, spontaneity, animated performances, vibrant reactions, and lots of shenanigans, David & Terry are much like the tag team of Chris Jericho and Big Show. When paired in the ring, Jericho and Show just seemed to click. Always supportive and able to deliver some great comedic punches, David & Terry click, too. They’re just a couple of cool dudes who can put on an equally cool show. They’re awesome. DCH has mad love for David & Terry. In some ways, DCH... is...David & Terry!

Hulk HoganHulk Hogan is Cupcake

Just as Hulk Hogan was one of the first wrestlers I ever learned about (and not just because he had a brief VH1 reality show, although that helped), Cupcake was one of the first troupes I watched/learned about at DCH. Hogan is an American classic—a man with a feather boa and a mustache as big and strong as his personality. Cupcake too is full of strong personalities. For both Hulkamania and Cupcakeamania, a central feature involves making and adhering to bold character choices. I've yet to see a Cupcake show where the character choices weren't bold and zesty like evenly coated nacho cheese Doritos. In addition, like the Hulkster, the members of cupcake would probably all look fabulous wearing various shades of red and yellow.

Macho Man Randy Savage“Macho Man” Randy Savage is On-Time Delivery

If I had to sum up “Macho Man” Randy Savage in one word, I would say Slim Jim. If I was allowed to use a few other words in my summarization, I would include charismatic, fun, high energy, consistently entertaining, a not-so-good rap album, and also Slim Jim. Most of these words could easily be applied to a description of DCH troupe On-Time Delivery. On-Time Delivery, like the late great Macho Man, seems to have it all: Brilliant stage presence, unique points of view, beef-stick endorsement abilities, and a sick set of performance skillz. Ohhh yeahhh!

I would keep going, but that’s all the wrestlers and catchphrases I know.

Feel free to post your thoughts, WWE trivia, or your own reimagining’s of DCH troupes as pro-wrestlers in the comments below.

Lauren Levine is currently a Level 4 student at DCH. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.