Improv 101 — Spelling Bee

One of my friends showed me this game, and it’s a lot of fun, but situational. It’s something that, in my estimations, should never be performed on stage, and doesn’t work as well if you have a sizable audience (meaning over, say, fifteen people watching). I say this having never played it in either of those parameters, but the general vibe I get from this game is that’s its best just to mess around and have fun with rather than playing it to entertain an audience.

It’s a team hoop game, meaning four people jumping through a hoop rather than building a scene. In this game you have two people: the heads of the speller, and the MC. This game is a lot like Dr. Know-it-All, because the speller is three people, and the idea is pretty much the same, only instead of answering the audience’s questions, you are spelling words that the audience throws out. The humor here is that the three people have to play it like a spelling bee. They all say the word in unison, spell it, then say the word again. Depending on how you play and whether or not they spelled it correctly, they can either pronounce it differently after they spell it, or just say it normally. (i.e. “Journal! G-u-r-n-i-l! Gurnill!”) My troupe plays this game very specifically, however, and it goes as follows.

The MC, one of the improvisers, introduces the other three as one person, the “spelling bee champion” of ____ school. (I like to say ridiculous things like “Upside-down Dolphin Elementary School”, or “Sentient Paintings University.) You can have the speller introduce themselves by spelling their name, in which case the MC should call them by their name often, regardless of how hard their name may be to pronounce. Then, the MC grabs words from the audience, asking for a monosyllabic word, then moving on to two syllables, then four, then an “exotic” word, meaning either a huge word or something that is very difficult to spell, like rendezvous. We’ve always played this as a very congratulatory game, where the MC is extremely impressed with their spelling skills, even if they are terrible. After spelling the really difficult word, the MC gives them a medal, a degree, doesn’t matter.

The cool thing about this game is that, especially since we play it for fun, we can play it very differently every time. The MC can be a PTA mom, the janitor, doesn’t matter. The MC can have them spell a ton of different things, grabbing words other than from out of the blue from the audience. For example, you could say, “What color is that man in the front row’s hair?” and see what the speller does. You can create different personalities for different heads (they are in reality different people, after all).

The reason that this game wouldn’t work in a performance is because the gimmick is very simple. With Dr. Know-it-All, there’s a ton of different answers you can give for any question, but in Spelling Bee the game will pretty much always play the same as last time you played it. There’s only so many different ways you can spell something wrong. Throwing in apostrophes and numbers can only get you so far, and you should never do something like that more than once in any one game! So while it’s a lot of fun, it doesn’t have enough diversity to be able to take the game outside of an improv practice session.

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