Improv 101 — Dr. Know-it-All

Dr. Know-it-all is one of those games that doesn’t ever “fail”. It’s easy, and at worst you’ll get some mild chuckles. But it also has a lot of room to improve. It’s a hoop game, meaning a group of four (as is typical) improvisers playing around the gimmick of the game rather than building a proper scene, as is the case with scene games.

In this particular game, you can have between three to ten people, actually, but playing it seriously and at the performance level works best with the usual four. You have them line up, and the ref grabs questions from the audience. You can easily take questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “What’s the meaning of life?” but it works best to have the ref shut those questions down as you’ll get them every time you play. Better questions are ones that would have a wide variety of subjects, such as “How do I get my kids to eat their vegetables?” or “Is Australia real?” Once you get a suitable answer, you pose it to the improvisers. The idea here is that they form one person: Dr. Know-it-all. This character knows the answers to all questions, so they know exactly how to get your kids to eat their greens. The way it works is that the improvisers, down the line, answer one word at a time. That’s the whole game.

For the improvisers, there are a few things to keep in mind. It’s imperative that the other improvisers can hear what you say. Obviously it’s hard to form a cohesive sentence if the people after you couldn’t understand you. Once you do that, work on the actual content of your answer. Now, you as an improviser will have an idea of what silly thing you want to say, but remember you won’t get to say it, because you’ll only get to form a fourth of the words in this sentence. Don’t force anything out. Just say the first word that comes to mind when you hear what the person before you said. Again, you’re one person. People don’t typically think about the next word they’re going to say mid sentence, so you shouldn’t in this game. Your answers don’t actually have to make sense in this game (or even be an answer to the question), but most of the things Dr. Know-it-All says should be grounded in reality. Don’t bring up aliens or alternate dimensions in every answer because ludicrous answers to mundane questions gets old faster than you’d think.

As improvisers get more and more experienced with this game, they can start practicing extra tricks. Really the biggest one here is to churn out an answer with the same speed as if it had been one person speaking, but beyond that actors should work on further enunciation and clarity (so that the audience can better understand, too), and body language. Ideally, every improviser should be standing the same way, i.e. hands folded or behind their back to further and more thoroughly communicate a unity between them. Eventually the cast could get close enough that they can even make simultaneous hand gestures! You can also learn to be the part of Dr. Know it all that adds conjunctions repeatedly to make the rest of the actors continue talking, such as, “and…”, “but…”, “also…”, etc. It’s really funny to the audience when one person in the group does not allow the rest to cease talking.

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