In our last Level 1 class, our instructor told us not to “comment on the scene,” e.g. when you don’t know how to react to what your partner is doing, and you respond, “hey man, I don’t know, you’re weird.”
“What’s the difference between ‘commenting on the scene,’ which we shouldn’t do, and ‘calling out the crazy,’ which we should do?” I asked.
He paused to consider. “It’s a fine line,” he mused.
Here’s my understanding:
If your scene partner seems crazy to you, you have three basic ways to go (but don’t do the first one, ever):
- COMMENTING is “no, but”-ing. Your partner has established some weird reality where plesiosaurs eat submarines, and you respond with “Plesiosaurs went extinct millions of years ago. There are no plesiosaurs. I don’t know where you get this from.” (Bad. No. Don’t do this. You have just completely deflated the scene.)
- CALLING OUT THE CRAZY is “yes, and”-ing. Your partner has established some weird reality where plesiosaurs eat submarines, and you respond with, “Whoa, what? Really? The military actually got that sauropod-breeding experiment to work?” (I don’t know that much about Straight Men, but that term seems appropriate to describe this.)
- Alternatively, MATCHING THE CRAZY is another way to “yes, and.” But I think this works best for physical crazy, not verbal crazy.
- PHYSICAL CRAZY: If your partner is crab-walking and miming antennae… then you too can crab-walk and mime antennae, and how fun could that scene be!
- VERBAL CRAZY: If you and your partner both continue treating submarine-eating plesiosaurs like a totally normal thing, then before you know it, the scene has floated away and has zero grounding in reality, and neither you nor the audience has any idea what’s going on, and that’s no fun. It’s “yes, and”-ing, but it’s outta control.
(Ed.: And I just learned there is an actual term for this last situation: “CRAZY TOWN.” To quote the UCB Manual [p. 89]:
Failing to be affected can cause you and everything around you in the scene to seem absurd…. In a Crazy Town scene, there are so many absurd elements in play that it becomes difficult to distinguish the unusual from the ordinary…. Often, the best way to avoid Crazy Town is to be affected by your scene partner’s idea at the top of your intelligence with a grounded reaction.)