The joy of giving the suggestion and why you shouldn’t steal it

You settle into the back of the improv venue. You’re a good person, generous with your time, laughter and love for the craft, so you’re supporting your fellow improvising pals by padding out the audience.

Look at this doofus

Most of all, you’re excited to be somewhere you love, watching something you love AND you get to perform later. What a deal.

Lights down, music on. Hoooo boy, this is fun. Your favourite team enter, and they need YOUR help! What an honour! A suggestion of a word, a confession, a noise, anything, to inspire their show.

What a perfect opportunity to stretch your creative muscles, and show how clever and fun you are. Offer up a spectacular prompt to wow the room and delight your pals on stage. SLAP. No! Sorry, please, no.

There’s many ways an improv show might use the suggestion. Some want just a word to kick-off an esoteric opening. Some have a detailed follow-up conversation with the suggestion-giver. Some don’t use a suggestion at all.

Any interaction between performers and audience up-top is mainly to establish rapport, convince non-improvisers that they’re in safe fun hands, or simply demonstrating that it’s all created in the moment.

You’re a good person. You wouldn’t steal that from a paying audience member. It might be their first ever improv show, their first chance to experience something you also love, to feel that joy for themselves.

Worst of all, there’s a good chance they’re skeptical. Most are about improv until they’re seen lots of it done well. It’s pretty reasonable to think it’s partly planned-out beforehand, or that there’s plants in the audience to help the performers.

So, it’s not ideal for someone they’ve just seen perform, about to see perform later, or in the bar post-show socialising with the acts, to give the suggestion. It looks suspect. Improv is niche enough without the performers themselves revealing it’s a small insider group of eager nerds jestering for each other (it mostly is, but let’s not be obvious).

Even if it isn’t their first show, for the audience member who sees their contribution spun into a totally unique and spontaneous comedy show, it could be transformational. That person will tell others, they’ll come back again, as will their friends (and they’ll pay, unlike you!) .

But you were helping, because you’re a good person: There were 3.5 seconds of silence after the call-out. Please, let there be silence. Give an audience member the time to summon the courage to take part in the show. Let the performers build their skills working a reluctant room. Just let it be. It wasn’t even 3.5 seconds anyway.

Support the show with your silence for the suggestion, your raucous laughter in the scenes and effusive praise afterwards. Support your art by letting the audience who gave it a chance take part.

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Shaun Lowthian is an improviser, actor and writer based in London. Performing and teaching with DNAYS, The Free Association & The Homunculus. shaunlowthian.com

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Shaun Lowthian

Shaun Lowthian

Shaun Lowthian is an improviser, actor and writer based in London. Performing and teaching with DNAYS, The Free Association & The Homunculus. shaunlowthian.com

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