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The Concept of Other People

In the movie “Dumb & Dumber”, Comedian Fred Stoller stands outside a phone booth. Stay with me - this was the 90’s. He’s pacing because he has a phone call to make, but the goon (Mike Starr as “Joe Mentalino”) is handling serious business on the inside. Tired of waiting, Fred pounds on the glass and asks if Joe has ever heard of the concept of other people. In case you want to see it, please click and laugh:



Not being heard or seen hurts - maybe even worse than the punch Fred takes later in the scene. It is dehumanizing to be ignored and can leave you feeling worthless. This is why, in improvisation, we expend so much energy connecting to others. When you help someone else know that they are heard, valued and respected through two little words, “yes, and”, that person can’t help but want to reflect the same energy back to you. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that every scene or game is steeped in mindless, toxic positivity or surface level "faux love". Acceptance (Yes) does not mean agreement. (And) It means we accept and acknowledge the concept and being of the person in front of us as worthwhile. We slow down to listen, demonstrating we’ve heard them by saying, “I heard you say”. It’s incredible how many times we think we’ve heard someone say something only to have their original message get spun around and remixed in our heads. Then, head full of steam, we fire back based on whatever we were triggered by, rather than respond to what was actually said. Aaaaaand we’re off…running in opposite directions and screaming louder and louder at each other, “Nah ah! That’s not what I SAID!!!!!!” It's up there on the list of the most annoying sounds in the world.


We had a scene in our Jam for Joy improv class the other day where we had two players intentionally playing as “big mouth” characters - whatever that meant to them. We’d just done a bunch of vocal articulation games and warm ups to encourage big voices and characters. I asked for a location for the scene and got "baggage claim at an airport". Fun. Then I asked for a relationship and I got “two strangers fighting over the same bag”. Do the alarm bells go off for anyone else at this point? In my head, I’m screaming - no, they have to know each other for at least seven years. The reasoning behind this is it gets the players into assumed relationships quickly that they can agree with and justify - this often adds to all kinds of hilarity and heightened meaning. While there are no foolproof ways of making a scene work (i.e. being satisfying and engaging), the scenes with deep relationships have a better chance of working. On the other hand, "discovery scenes" between two absolute strangers can work - it just takes a higher level of skill on the part of the players, with a commitment to full characters, heightened stakes and a clear environment. That’s a lot to ask. Bottom line: it’s simpler to start with - you’ve known each other for at least seven years. But as my job as the class facilitator is to “yes, and” the class offers, so I said “oooookaaaaayyyyy…” and let the scene go.


Sure enough, the players started the scene by randomly screaming at each other with their big mouths. “Hey you!” this and “that’s mine!” that. After about a minute I called timeout and said let’s fix your relationship (if only life were this easy). Someone tell me who they are to each other. The class responded with "mother and daughter". Good stuff. The players took that and ran with it, still arguing over the bag…sort of. They were confused about what they were actually arguing about because, well, they were still arguing. It's not that moms and daughters don't argue - God bless us all. It's just not that interesting to watch unless there's a reason for it. And they couldn't find it because they weren’t listening. The concept of other people was rather foreign to both of them, even as improv blood relations. I called timeout again and told them to lose the bag and listen. Find out who they are to each other. Keep the big mouths and add some big ears.


The scene started for the third time and the woman playing the mom immediately put her arms out to her scene daughter and asked for a hug. It worked. A moment later, mom said let’s put down our baggage and just have a good time. My jaw hit the floor. She worked the baggage back in to put a perfect double entendre bow on the scene. 


The concept of other people is fascinating - it sure beats dehumanization. The reality of other people is even more interesting. The quickest pathway to discovering each other’s reality is to listen fully with love. Even with a really big mouth, we still have two ears. It would be dumb to think otherwise and dumber to act that way.


Interested in laughing more and exploring this concept of other people? Come play with us, online or in-person, by clicking here.


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This was a great example of how conversations in families get twisted. Also how sometimes a hug can make all the difference.

I look forward to reading more from the mind that composed this.

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