Short Form Improv is a series of quick, exciting, and fun games. Each game has its own chance for audience interaction. Think of a game like Pictionary where you know who draws and who guesses.
Most shows at Baltimore Improv Group tackle explore audience suggestion(s) or ideas over the course of several scenes. Each scene is built in the moment without restriction that goes on at such length that it's actually called Long Form Improv.
Luckily for us, we have performer and coach Kim Scarfe (GUS) bringing together some of our cities top performers to compete – not to the death. In the below transcript, we find explore Comedy Deathmatch 3000 and it's producer in the past, present, and future:
Tell us all about your show, Deathmatch 3000. How might you describe it to someone who knew nothing about improv?
Improv Comedy Deathmatch 3000 is Short Form improv. Something that doesn't get seen here a lot at BIG, unless you go to the Friday night show at 7pm and watch Plan B. So it's a different taste to what some of the outside audience members, BIG students, and performers are used to seeing.
Improv Comedy Deathmatch 3000 takes 3 teams of 3 improvisers and puts them through games, and short scenes – similar to what people would see on Whose Line Is It Anyway? – for audience votes.
After the first 2 rounds, the audience chooses their top 2 teams to go into a Final round of an improv game. In the finals, both teams play the same exact game. Whoever the audience likes the best wins the coveted and most awesome Deathmatch 3000 BELT!!!!!
It's a super fun dynamic show filled with hype, healthy and fun competition and very nice trash talking!
For the more knowledgeable improv crowd, what do you hope they’ll take away from the show.
1) That Short Form is fun! It's silly and fun, and there's a lot of joy in playing it and watching it be played.
2) Short Form is HARD. To do it correctly, you need to split your brain, part of you as an improviser is working the scene, listening, making sure you are in the moment of the scene, setting base reality, and finding game and making game moves, while the other part of you is having to calculate the outside rules and constraints put on you by the rules of the one particular Short Form game. To do it well, with great scene work, is very very difficult. I don't think Short Form gets enough credit, for just how difficult it is to do WELL.
3) Finally, that developing skills outside of your regular improv routine will make you a much better player! It's like doing chin-ups when all you're used to are push-ups, it is hard to make the change, but when you come back to push-ups, you will be stronger! :)
What’s the story of how you entered into improv? (Why/When/How etc)
I was working in Singapore, at The Little Gym in Singapore, and my Visa was up. I had a decision to make, I could stay in Singapore (where I was working a lot of long hours). I could go back to London (which was where I lived and worked for 10 years prior to the Singapore move). Or I could go to Iowa, a place where my mom and dad moved to while I was living in London.
My mom was doing theater there, and I have always wanted to try acting. It was in my blood as my mother, Aunt, and grandmother were/are all actresses. I had done some acting and musicals in Singapore, and I thought Iowa would be a safe place to attempt to try acting for 6 months and then I would go back to London and work at The Little Gym there.
My mom cut out an article on improv classes a few weeks into my arrival, and as she always does when she wants me to see something, she laid it out in front of me while I was eating my Cheerios. "You should try this," she said. So, with a BUNCH of hesitation, I decided to sign up and go to my first improv class. After that, the search was over. I felt like improv fit my natural personality so well, and it was like a duck to water. I literally thought to myself "Ahhh, THIS is why I'm so weird! Now I have a vehicle to express my weirdness and my inclination to be silly all the time." It truly was coming home.
What brought you into coaching? Is there anything you’d like to share about your style, how you work to get the most out of teams, or your experience coaching?
I love teaching. I think a lot of teachers tend to gravitate towards coaching. In Des Moines, I was helping with running auditions for The Last Laugh Comedy Main Stage cast and we would have a lot of people try out, and we wouldn't be able to take them all.
I realized that here was a bunch of enthusiastic lovers of improv without anywhere to go. Because at the time, after you took level C, there was nowhere to go for improv. So, I put together a list of people from the auditions and newly graduated improvisers from the level C class and split them into 2 long-form improv teams, and I coached one team and had another "oldie" in the Des Moines scene coach the other team.
I love sharing my knowledge with improvisers. I love watching them grow. I love watching timid improvisers become fearless and bold. I love watching anxious improvisers fall in love with the joy and silliness of improv to the point of not being anxious about what they are doing anymore. For my job at The Little Gym, our whole entire purpose is to build self-esteem and self-confidence and teach children that they are OK just the way they are through the vehicle of gymnastics.
My goal as a coach and a teacher is to give that self-love and positivity to adults through the vehicle of improv. It makes such a huge difference in your life and in your improv playing to have confidence in the decisions you are making, AND to let go and have FUN with what weird and crazy stuff we all end up doing in improv, while also guiding them to become better performers.
What other skills might people in improv develop to further enhance themselves in their craft?
The skill of getting out of a negative self-talk loop, and focusing on the moment. I think this is KEY for becoming a better improviser. We love to be mean to ourselves as human beings, and that's no way to live! :) It is easier to practice this in the real world; to practice shifting your mindset slowly to a more positive one. It takes longer for our brain to think positively than it does to think negatively, which is why negative stuff tends to be the first thing we think of in improv and in life. Training yourself to think positively will help re-wire your brain to start using that path more often.
Something useful – and a little weird – is when you find yourself in your head thinking about bills, or a fight you may have had with someone, or that you are running late, or whatever it is. Stop and pick something up, or stop and look at what's right in front of you and describe the details out loud. If you are in your car, it would like maybe feeling the steering wheel and saying "this feels hard and scaley (well mine does anyway) it has bumps on it etc" OR pick up a pen and notice all the small little details of the pen, how it shines, what the letters look like. This takes you out of your head for even 10 seconds. and helps you to stop worrying.
Another thing that could help would be replacing vocab you tell yourself. I used to call myself Stupid all the time, for running late, etc. When I decided that I wanted to treat myself better I changed that one word to "silly" and it changed my entire perspective about myself.
What brought you to Baltimore and Maryland?
I met my boyfriend in Iowa, at The Last Laugh Comedy Club. We dated for 2 years and then he moved back to Baltimore (he's from here) we did the long distance thing for a year and a half, he'd fly into Chicago, and I would drive the 5 hours up from Des Moines, and for the first year we would only have the weekends.
When we couldn't stand long distance anymore, he asked me if I wanted to move to Baltimore, I was at a crossroads with improv, looking to push myself out of my comfort zone and was going to either move to Chicago, or move to Baltimore, BUT I needed to check out the improv scene first. I was like "if it's not good, then I am going to Chicago. Even though we didn't want to do long distance anymore" hahaha!
I went and saw some improv shows. Then I saw Unscripted, and that was amazing. Seeing that show made me go "yeah. I can move here." That was it! :)
Often things we liked as a kid reflect in our adult lives? How is that true for you?
My entire childhood is now reflected in my adult like with improv and acting. There was a time when I was 8 years old. A family friend had come to dinner, and she very casually asked me how I was doing. I launched into a character and told her all about how I struggled as a ballerina but I broke my arms so I had to go into baseball, but then I broke my legs and became a successful skier! So, I had always done characters and improv growing up, I just never knew what it was called until I was 32! :)
Improv helped me find my childhood self again, one that was hidden underneath the crap the world puts us through and I will be forever grateful to this art form for that.
Describe your ideal way to spend the weekend?
A good run in a beautiful place, good food, a good book, and a good cuddle!
Who and what do you want to compliment that you have wanted to share, but haven’t
Jenn and Terry have done a great job with the new vision for the theater. It's an enormously scary task to uproot everything a community has known, turn it upside down say "trust us it will take a few years just trust us" The community has done an incredible job with the task of trusting. I believe we are already seeing the buds of what will be great and yummy and nutritious improv fruit.
Finally, a particular shout out to Jenn, who has kept an open mind and heart when it comes to the programming of the theater. Improv is art, and it comes in many different formats with many different faces and Jenn has been open to all kinds of improv shows and styles being presented here, which is so important for developing a broad audience and broad improvisers and will make the theater that much stronger.
What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t gotten around to it?
Kitesurfing! And pickles.
Outside of improv, what do you spend time doing that you enjoy?
Running and reading, anything active as well, eating BLTs and ice cream
What in your personal life influences you either as a performer or a person?
My boyfriend is a strong support system for me here, and he influences me not only through our silliness in improvising in our daily life, (which I then steal to make sketches with) but also through the goodness of his character. He reminds me to be patient when I want to have road rage. And to remember to take time out for myself if I am feeling overwhelmed. When I am feeling doubtful or lacking confidence in life, he always reminds me of who I am.
What’s an event in your life that helped shape who you are today?
It's not an event, but having low self-esteem and self-confidence and being bullied helped shape me 100%. It took me many years to unravel all that pain (I have an entire shelf dedicated to self-help books!) but I have come out the other side and found the joy that lives in the heart of who I am. I want to be able to give that freedom to as many people as I can, because, I know exactly where they are coming from.
How has improv influenced your life outside of the theater for the better?
It taught me to trust myself, my decisions in life, and listen to that small voice. Because that small voice inside you that tells you to go out there and be a carrier pigeon in an improv scene is the same voice that tells you to call your mother or make this decision in life. As I built my trust in following improv decisions, I built my trust in following my life decisions.
What’s your favorite improv game and why?
HOT SPOT!! Because it's fun, high energy, it takes a lot of courage to step in the middle and sing, and it takes a lot of support from those outside the circle. You go in the middle totally vulnerable, trusting that once you start you won't be alone, and you get supported! AND it's just a lot of fun!
What advice do you have for people looking to do improv?
Take a chance, let go of your fear and put your toes in the water.
Seek to apply the lessons learned in the beginning of improv to your everyday life. Listen to those lessons with your heart not just your head.
Describe a memorable improv scene from a show that you were in?
There are a lot, but here's just a moment. In Des Moines, my dear friend and fellow improviser Jill came on to a scene me and my scene partner were already in. She came out and just did a random physical action back and forth across the stage.
Ryan and I just stared at her with no idea what she was doing. But Jill is notorious for bringing wonderfully weird and bringing big choices to a scene, so Ryan and I just waited and we just watched in silence as she went back and forth and back and forth, knowing she would eventually justify and explain what she was doing.
When she finally did, it was brilliant and it was exactly what our scene needed. When we asked about it later, Jill said she came out and had no idea what she was doing, she just started doing something, but she knew she would find some way to justify it and she knew we would wait.
It was such a beautiful example of patience, knowing your teammates, trusting your teammates, and acting without needing to know the outcome. Trusting the process of improv and group mind.
What was a memorable show that you were in the audience for? What made it memorable and what did you take away from it?
I saw TJ and Dave live in Chicago, and their patience, organic slow play, and connectedness was brilliant.
Visit our calendar or ask our staff to find the next performance of Comedy Deathmatch 3000. If you're a Facebook and Instagram user, you can find out there too. Kim also performs with weekend team GUS.
Behind the scenes of Baltimore Improv Group's workshops, classes, and FREE comedy shows. Learn more about the teachers, students, and staff that create improv comedy magic every day.
Various BIG members and friends contribute to the blog. Enjoy!