Cassidy Russell – a member of our Mainstage Team as well as Rufio, Botox or Bangs, J.V., and Taylor & Cassidy – is constantly considering becoming a librarian. Every few weeks, she’ll review a different improv book. Get ready to get nerdy.
How to Be the Greatest Improviser on Earth
by Will Hines
What did I think in general?
Oh, sweet, weird Will Hines. One time Vincent & I sat on an inflatable couch with him for two hours while he just talked and we just nodded. I felt like I needed to tell you that off the bat. If you haven’t been lucky enough to sit on an inflatable couch with him, Will Hines is a fantastic performer and teacher at UCB. And this book is just as good as I hoped it would be.
Hines is smart as hell. So much of what is written in this book feels like what I try to tell students, but said in a much better way. (Damn him.) He compares the opening in a longform set to an overture at the beginning of a musical, in that you hear snippets of what you’ll hear later. Ugh. So good. He writes about how “straight man” characters don’t have to be boring! They should be excited and affected and fun – they’re just also the voice of reason. Thank you! He reminds us that the purpose of the rules is to get you to know (make a decision), care (be affected), and say (be forward) – after that you can forget the rules! YAY!
Also he gives this beautiful, beautiful piece of advice: “You will know that you are truly being present when this happens: you become the most riveting person on stage. They say you can’t teach charisma. But you can, and I just taught it to you. Be fully present, and the audience will watch you like a hawk.” So. True.
What’s my favorite part of the book?
I love how this book is set up. The chapters have great titles like “Be Brave” or “Be Authentic” and then within the chapter there are examples from real scenes, exercises to work on the specific thing the chapter is about, and just tons of good good good advice. The examples to back up his points are straight up fantastic and also really funny. One of my personal favorites is when he’s talking about not being too crazy on stage – “Don’t go too nuts or it’ll feel false. Just give about 20% more of a shit than we expect you to. Err on the side of caring more than we thought you would.” His example from a real scene?
Jimmy: I think I’m going to have a taco salad tonight. Have you thought about what you’re going to eat tonight?”
Michael: “Yes, deeply.”
Plus, the cover is really great looking and the book is well designed, which is a new thing for improv books. Just in case you’re into book design. WHICH IS A COOL THING TO BE INTO OK.
Who would this book be most helpful for?
This book is so great if you have something specific you’re working on. Are you often told to play more grounded? There’s advice for that: “Think of “being grounded” as “being connected to the ground.” The ground is whatever the world is.” Feel like you sometimes don’t recognize game? Bam: “There’s the real world and how things normally go – that’s the scene. And then there’s a weird part that is unusual – that’s the game.” Aren’t sure how to play Hitler on stage? Well: “Let me go on record here. I am opposed to Adolf Hitler. But if I get endowed as him in a scene, then I’m going to play even him with a degree of empathy.”
Don’t have something specific you’re working on? Bro, you probably should. Pick something.
And then get this book & work on it.
Finally, a great thought from the book:
(Or two. Because they’re both great.)
“Value real friends over status. Don’t drink too much too often. Avoid toxic people and groups. Take breaks. Miss things now and then – the show everyone says you have to watch, the workshop everyone’s dying to get into, even your own show – so you can re-charge. If your friend is getting married during the weekend of auditions for house teams, skip the audition. Letting go of improv and taking it off its pedestal is part of getting good at it.”
“Make big choices and commit, but be ready to change.”