Improv 101 — 185

185 is a simple game that can literally be played between at least two people during any free moment. To say it simply, it’s just a joke format where you come up with a pun. It doesn’t require any actual acting, and the only improv involved is the joke.

The joke is always in the same template. Given a suggestion (typically some sort of occupation, but object or animal works here, too), it goes as follows. “185 ___ walk into a bar. The bartender says ‘We don’t serve your kind here!’, so the ___ say, ____”. For example, “185 ducks walk into a bar. The bartender says ‘We don’t serve your kind here!’, so the ducks say ‘Oh come on, just put it on my bill’.” It sounds sort of dumb, I know, but the example always is sort of dumb. The point is, anything the ducks respond with should involve a duck or bird related pun. In a performance, the only real number requirement is however many people it takes to ensure there’s no downtime in between jokes (if you have an audience you always want something happening on stage). For a normal performance, this usually means the whole cast of eight to ten play this game, but if you’re good at coming up with puns you can do it with four or even less.

There actually isn’t much more to say about this game. It’s incredibly simple. There’s no ‘advanced’ way to play it, unlike many of the games I’ve explained so far. Once you play this game once, you know it. The only further steps you can take is practice.

There are two things I always tell beginning actors when I’m explaining this game, however. First things first, whenever you start playing this game, always enunciate your syllables. Some people in my performance cast have played this game so much they get bored saying the joke setup (especially since we all know it), and fly through it getting to the punchline. It’s a mistake, and a grave one in a performance. You want to make the first three or four jokes very clear so the audience can get familiar with the format. They won’t get the joke if you say “Ahuneif ducks walkintoabara’thebartendersays… (blah blah) put it on my bill!”. So, for the first minute you play this game, and every time you play this game, say the first few jokes slowly.

Another thing you can do with this game is play with the format. After the audience understands the game, you can pull a fast one on them and change it up. For example, “185 inspectors walk into a bar and are dissatisfied with the service, so they close it down. Now they don’t serve anyone anymore.” It’s only barely reminiscent of what the joke setup is, so it only works if the audience expects something else. (For the record I came up with that one on the fly as I wrote this. I’m pretty satisfied with it, too.)

The best part about this game is how easy and simple it is. If you and a friend are bored, you can play it. In the car, over the phone, doesn’t matter. It’s a great game that anyone can play, and you don’t even have to like acting to have fun with it.

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