I’m currently coaching this long form for Classic Andy and All Made Up and teaching it as part of my Hoopla advanced class. It’s a nice simple one and fun to play. I wrote this cheat sheet for my students, so I’m hoping it might be useful for others.
I learned the Living Room as part of an IO class in 2013 taught by Charna Halpern. Me and Tony Harris then played our version ‘At Home with Katy and Tony’ at the Hoopla Comedy Club in London Bridge for a few years. The Maydays also perform it at the biannual improv retreat in Dorset. As with any format, things morph and change via different groups and teachers and this is the version I have ended up with.
Charna tells me that the form comes from long form group The Family. They would chat in Charna’s living room and because they are improvisers, they would jump up and do scenes during their conversations. Charna loved watching them, so she took her living room furniture to IO and asked The Family to improvise on stage exactly like they did in her home, beer-drinking included.
The format itself is very simple. There is a sofa on one side of the stage and an open playing space on the other with a couple of chairs. The form starts with an audience suggestion, the players chat, the players do one scene, the players chat, they do one scene and so forth until the time runs out. It really is one scene at a time and not a run of scenes.
The show can run from 15 minutes up to an hour. If you do an hour, you should really make sure the pace changes, the stories evolve and characters come back. We’ve also played it where we do the show in 2-3 chapters where we switch up our guests.
Number of players:
In class, we used 5 or 6 players. On stage we sometimes had more. It’s also possible to play the form with more people by allocating the chats to half the players and the scenes to the other half, perhaps with a switch in-between. It’s more fun if you all get to do everything, though.
This is what you get from the audience to begin your show. Me and Tony would ask; ‘What’s the weirdest house-warming/Christmas present you ever received?’, ‘Is there an object in your house you’d like to get rid of, but you can’t?’ or similar. We’d use the suggestion to inspire our conversation. You can ask for anything, though I wouldn’t get a story, because you’re about to do a bunch of chatting.
It’s important that everything you talk about on the sofa is TRUE and that you make that clear to the audience beforehand. It’s generally more interesting if it’s about you personally, rather than you telling a story third hand. Be careful of falling into pop-culture conversations. Amazingly, it’s more interesting to hear about your life and your opinions than it is to discuss what just happened on Game of Thrones. None of the chat part of the show has to be funny. The scenes generate the comedy. In fact, if you use up the funny on the sofa, it’s sometimes harder to get ideas to bring into scenes. Rather than grilling other people on their stories, try and bring in your experiences. After the first beat, chats can be inspired by the call-out, by previous topics, or the scenes that have gone before.
The scenes are ‘follow-me/premise-style’, which means that improvisers will only start a scene when they have an idea based on the conversation that is happening. You can do this any way you like, but here are some ways in:
Mapping; putting one situation on top of another. I.e. A familiar cop scenario ‘You’re just too much of a maverick, Kelly, I’m gonna need your badge and your gun’ mapped onto a flat mate disagreement might be ‘You’re just too much of a maverick, Dave, I’m gonna need your fridge space and my towel back’.
Game; a premise where the moves are laid out (or found) up top. I.e. you get angrier every time I mention food. In this form, the game is likely to be laid out in the first line or two rather than found.
Character: Embody a character that was described and put them into the worst/best situation to bring out their characteristics.
Emotion: Take the overwhelming emotion of the subject and put this into the worst/best scenario for it to be explored.
Point of View: Use a strong point of view from the chat and set it in the best/worst scenario.
Quotes: If you particularly like a line that was said, quote it directly as the initiation of your scene, or play in a world where it is super important.
Questions: If you question something that was brought up within the chat; i.e. an incorrect fact or something you just don’t understand or relate to, you can play this out.
Edits are the moments when we move from a chat to a scene or vice-versa.
Edit from the sofa by talking.
Edit from the stage by moving back to the sofa.
You can also use tag-outs and tag-runs within a single scene.
Tag-outs are where you replace one or more characters in the scene, therefore keeping one character from the previous scene. The idea is to add more information pertinent to what was just said or discovered and to cut back to the original scenario. To tag, tap the person(s) on the shoulder that you want to replace.
Tag-runs are multiple version tag-outs where one character is kept in for 3 or more short scenes illustrating one point. A simple example from our show, is one of our improvisers on the sofa saying ‘who rings the doorbell at midnight?’ at which point we illustrated a lot of instances when that might happen. ‘Pizza?’ [tag out] ‘Hi, I live upstairs, could you keep the music down?’ [tag out] ‘Some water is seeping into my flat…’ [tag out], etc.
The timing of edits is different to other shows; you are not waiting for a good edit point from the sofa, like a laugh, the end of a story or an insight, you are merely waiting for an idea. As soon as you have one, edit. No matter how rude it may seem to do it then! We can always revisit the story and there’s a lot of comedy to be had in following the inspiration. It’s also much funnier to have a sofa than chairs because it’s pretty awkward skipping onto the stage from a comfortable lounger. The energy of edits in this show is particularly important, as there is a lot of sitting and talking.
We discovered that sitting in a different seat on the sofa every time you returned was a nice way of changing up the energy.
Drink beer; it makes the show feel different to a regular long form and makes you a little sillier and more confessional! The visual of people drinking on a sofa also helps transport the audience to a living room atmosphere.
Remember that the audience is there! It’s sometimes quite hypnotic talking to the other 4+ people, so talk out and remember to project.
Warm-ups for this style:
8 Things about me
Word at a time story in a circle
Tag-out scenes in a circle (keeping one of the characters each time)
Anecdotes: Three of you describe (to-camera, mockumentary style) a shared-experience.
Have fun with this form and thanks for reading!
About the Author:
Katy is a London-based improviser who plays in Destination the improvised podcast, a whole bunch of live shows including Project2 and The Maydays and teaches improv classes.