Lighten Up, Francis. No One Stole Your Improv Game

Most improvisers I know who invent new games are happy to enter their creations into to the public domain for others to enjoy.  Yet I’ve also met improvisers who were upset and convinced others had stolen their games without giving credit.  George Carlin once quipped about how humans are prone to assume theft, even when simply losing things of questionable value like banana guacamole.  In the case of discovering others playing "your improv game," the answer likely has less to do with theft and more to do with the old saying great minds think alike (at least in the popular, truncated usage of the full saying) .


Around the time I took my first improv class I was managing a large company’s small division of consumer products based on high tech ceramics.  We mostly operated on a business-to-business level (one notable exception was the famed magician Teller, half of famed duo Penn & Teller, who had somehow become a direct customer.  So I got to talk to famed silent magician Teller before he much later revealed his voice to the world…).  I shared some customer service reps who supported a few other product lines as well.  These reps sometimes sat in another room (the company, a Japan based multinational, placed its office workers in large areas without any dividers like walls or cubicles; was not a fan…) and typically wore headsets since they spent a lot of time on the phone.

Often I would walk into the customer rep room to speak with someone.  Noting his or her silence, I would begin talking to find out suddenly that that the rep was actually on the phone.  I often thought: it would be great if the headset had a little read or green light on the end to indicate if the user was busy or not. Today such indicator lights are readily available on headsets.  Sadly I’m not making nice royalties from a patent.  Someone else clearly had the same idea.  I’m willing to be lots of people and headset companies had the same idea.

Throughout history many inventions and discoveries emerged separately from multiple sources.  For example, evidence supports the independent development of the numerical zero among several cultures.  This concept, multiple discovery, applies to improv games as well.

Several years ago during a ComedySportz Sacramento match, I challenged the Blue Team (I know it was the Blue Team because I always play on the Red team for reasons…) to Four Square.  Then I had the idea that the players in the back would dub the lines for the players in the front.  Thus, the game of Four Square Dubbing was born.  Except that it was probably born within a few other improv groups at a few other moments as well. Given that there are only so many ways to alter a scene, that there are a finite combination of alterations, and that improvisers are mega-creative, it’s a foregone conclusion that multiple discovery of improv games happens.

So should we stop trying to invent new games?  Of course not!  It’s fun, and you might just strike upon something new.  At least new for a little while.