Straight men, admit it: Ryan Gosling is a dreamboat. His puppy dog eyes and lupine abdominal muscles deserve to be painted on the ceiling of a famous chapel somewhere. That handsome bastard haunts our man-dreams.
But he’s also a damn fine actor. (And while yes, his recent roles have been primarily him standing very still, looking very intently at a pretty woman, and saying very little, he’s done plenty of juicy roles. In fact, his most amazing and unknown performance was as a Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer.)
Also, 94% of adult women in a recent poll conducted in my imagination admitted to wanting Ryan Gosling in their lives somehow.
And who wouldn’t want to be seen as the “Ryan Gosling of improv”?
Nobody, that’s who.
So here’s how you can make your scene partner look (not literally) like Ryan Gosling. In other words, here’s how you can make your scene partner look good, reeeaaaaal good:
1. Match Them
Whatever they do, you do. Match literally everything they do—physically, tonally, vocally, pacing—all of it, match all of it. Don’t do this for too long, as it will eventually grow strange and gamey. One person doing “something” can often look awkward or clumsy; two or more people doing it turns it into something interesting and watchable. And if you can get the entire audience doing it? A gaggle of Goslings…
2. Endow Them
Tell your scene partner what they are, who they are, what they feel, where they work, what they just did, their mood, their nationality, their personal quirks, their obsessions and hobbies, etc.
Consider how much improv fodder exists in a couple of simple lines like:
“You must be hungry, Tom. You’ve been out sweating in the field all day!”
By my count, Tom has at least 2,158 things he can now bounce off. Tom can:
- Wipe his brow of all that sweat-Breathe heavily to indicate his exhaustion
- Collapse into a chair
- Let out a long moan
- Start complaining about his back pain, his neck pain, his cramped feet
- Pull a hankerchief from his pocket and clean off his dirty hands
- Get angry because dinner’s not yet prepared
- Describe the trouble he had out in the field.
- Rub his tummy to indicate hunger pains
- Start searching the pantries for something to eat
- Get annoyed that his dinner isn’t ready yet
- Start excitedly explaining the progress he made in the fields today
- Pull an ear of corn from his pocket and offer it up for dinner
- Smoke a pipe like a kindly old farmer
- 2,144 other things
While a simple, clear endowment can be a blessing from the Improv Gods atop Mt. Implympous, a vague endowment can be stifling and confusing. Consider this one:
“Good morning, Frank. Your deposition yesterday didn’t go very well. Your pregnant wife must have been on your mind.”
These lines won’t spoil the scene or anything—and they’re perfectly lovely details to add. But they don’t endow Frank with much actable information. How does one “act” like they have a pregnant wife, or that they screwed up a legal deposition? A more constructive endowment might be:
“Good morning, Frank. You seem kind of sad. Tired too. I guess even the firm’s top lawyer can have off days.”
If your scene partner seems distracted or nervous, asking them a question will send them spiraling into Improv Hell (also known as Salt Lake City). It’s lazy and it puts the onus on them. Questions are best reserved for when the scene has (at least) some momentum and everyone seems to be on the same page.
The next time you ask a question in a scene, try instantly answering it too:
“Lisa, why didn’t you send those flowers to my wife on time? I suspect it’s because you’re still holding on to that crush you have on me. Or maybe you’re just looking to get fired!”
“Mom, what did the Admissions Director talk to you about in that meeting? I bet he said I was the most promising student the Wincester Academy has ever seen.”
4. Overwhelming Agreement
Some improvisers don’t do both the YES and the AND of the “Yes, and” equation. Newer improvisers tend to abandon the “and”—agreeing but not adding. Veterans are more apt to offer an “and” without agreeing.
You shouldn’t begin every line with the words “Yes, and.” That would also grow tiresome and gamey. But you should look for opportunities to instantly agree with your scene partner and then “and” your way to the next offer.
“I couldn’t agree more!”
“Sure thing, homey…”
“You have no idea…”
Shana Merlin refers to it as, I believe, “Instant Enthusiasm.” Inject some eager, enthusastic, instantaneous agreement into your scene and your partner will become more Goslinesque. This technique also has the added bonus of steering your scene toward more positive places.
5. Listen, Girl