Here are two sentences. Try reading them out loud:
I’m going to join the Army, and I’m really scared to go to war.
I’m going to join the Army, but I’m really scared to go to war.
Both of these are legit improv offers. Neither one is necessarily a roadblock. Using “but” in this instance doesn’t grind the show to a halt. Your scene partner could bounce off either of these lines easily and maybe create something great.
However, the first sentence—the “and”—has more juice. It’s got a little stank on it. Another example (read them aloud):
My dog is missing, and that’s OK because I didn’t like him anyway.
My dog is missing, but that’s OK because I didn’t like him anyway.
If you’re anything like me you read the first version with a bit more “pep” in your voice. You might’ve even seemed giddy at the prospect of your missing dog.
Meanwhile, the second offer came off seeming like a self-delusion, like you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re OK with your missing dog when you’re, in fact, pretty upset about it.
Finally, one last example:
Your dress is gorgeous, and I bet you didn’t pay for it yourself.
Your dress is gorgeous, but I bet you didn’t pay for it yourself.
Again, trading one conjunction for another can lend a line a vibe that sends the scene, or your character, in a whole new direction. In this case, the “and” version makes the speaker sound like a sycophant, like someone admiring her friend’s ability to get such nice clothes for free. The “but” version is combative, accusatory, and sets up a conflict.
And in every case I prefer the “and” version.
Certainly the word “but” has a place in improv scenes; sometimes you just can’t help yourself. After all, if we took a poll, which word would most people use in the following sentence:
My favorite restaurant is Uchi _________ it’s too expensive for me.
I bet 98% of folks would fill in the blank with “but.” Instead, try saying it with the word “and” to see what happens.
My favorite restaurant is Uchi and it’s too expensive for me.
Now that line stands out! It’s not so ordinary and expected. It won’t lead you in the same direction that “but” would have. In fact, now you’re creating a character who takes delight in gluttony and over-spending, someone who actually enjoys spending an inappropriate amount of money to eat at her favorite restaurant.
And isn’t that more interesting?
So, if we accept that the word “and” can often replace the word “but” and give it the line an extra injection of awesome, what now? After all, in the frenzied pace of an improv scene we’re probably going to say “but.” It’s the natural choice.
But if we can, just once in a show, force ourselves to inject the word “and” into a sentence that would normally require a “but” we will find new treasures that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Maybe wait for a slower moment, or when someone onstage asks your character a question … force an “and” in there and see what happens. But see what happens? And see what happens? And, definitely and.