Dramatic Foolery

How to Steal Material Without Getting Caught/Intro

An online multi-part workshop on applying creativity tools to physical comedy. [For more information on many of these tools, see books by Edward Debono, Roger Van Oech, and Douglas Hall. Links soon to follow.]

I used many of these games while I was creating my most recent one-man show Help! Help! I Know This Title Is Long, But Somebody's Trying to Kill Me. I wanted to come up with as many surreal vaudeville act ideas as possible as well as transform stock vaudeville gags. The games also gave my rehearsals focus and direction, somethings often hard to find when working by myself.


The Problem
You see someone perform a gag that you like—a lot. This bit would fit perfectly into your act. The gag may be easy to perform. You might even test it out on an audience and the gag gets a great response.

The rationalizations begin, “It’s probably not original anyway. There’s nothing new under the sun. I’m a performer, not a writer. No one will know where it came from—especially if I get famous first.” (Add to this a subconscious rationalization: Work is hard. Easy feels good. It’s easier to copy someone than to come up with an idea of my own.)

If so far you have no feelings of guilt, and agree 100% with these rationalizations, congratulations! You probably will become famous. You may leave this workshop now.

A Solution
But for the rest of us, starting from a blank page can be almost impossible some days. And we don’t create in isolation from other performers and the rest of the world. We are standing on the shoulders of people standing on shoulders… What I’m trying to do with the following games and exercises is to provide methods of creating gags based on other gags—to steal the essence from or to improve upon or to get inspiration from the original gag—to truly make a gag one’s own.

These tools aren’t just for stealing. They can also be used on stock bits that have worn out their welcome, or even on a mediocre gag in your repertoire that needs improving. Perhaps you have a signature gag that seems to sum up your character and/or style and want more material like that gag.

The Example
(you are free to use this example and follow along, or choose your own gag to play with.): I believe this is a stock gag, but let’s steal it from Bill Irwin, who uses it in The Regard of Flight.
The curtain opens to reveal the performer finishing a costume change and now wearing top hat, baggy pants, and a tailcoat. He adjusts his collar. He looks uncomfortable. The performer wriggles and squirms. He reaches behind his neck, as if to scratch an itch, and pulls out a coat hanger. He looks at the hanger in brief amazement, and then throws it into a trunk.

Next: Part One/The New Switcharoo—Replacing Props

Copyright ©1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 by Drew Richardson