By: Raymond Simeon
The monologue, a staple in openings, auditions, and an integral piece in ones improv tool belt, can at times seem like a daunting thing. So we turn to Matt Besser for help.
Below are some of my favorite tips that he gives for how to get through and make your monologue great.
WHATEVER MAKES A MEMORY A MEMORY MAKES IT INTERESTING
“Often when people don’t do so well in a monologue…it’s because they’re racking their brain so hard to be funny that they’re just not honest and don’t just tell a true story, which is what we want.”
“You don’t remember everything in life, you just remember certain things—so, why this one? Well, it’s because it was an atypical day, for better or worse. Something happened which makes that day stick out…that’s what makes it interesting.”
WHEN IN DOUBT, FREE ASSOCIATE
“It’s important not to get too hung up on having a story that’s exactly on what you’re suggested to speak about. You can use it as inspiration or a launching point.
I (Matt Besser) did my improv show earlier today and I asked for one-word suggestions… (I was given) Pumpernickel. So, have I eaten pumpernickel bread? Maybe. Do I have a story on it? Definitely not. …” “I can’t force myself to have a memory about pumpernickel if it doesn’t occur to me right away. So I have to free associate.
…Bread… – “What kind of bread? – How about fancy bread? Oh, that makes me think of the deli that my dad would take me to when I was a kid over in Little Rock, Arkansas.
I could just say my dad took me to a deli, but it’s more interesting to say that my dad took me to a deli in Little Rock, Arkansas, as opposed to New York. That’s another thing to look out for—details. Details make the story better.”
So, my dad used to take us to the only deli in town, which also makes me think that we were basically the only Jews in town. We used to go to this deli, and we would get lox. Lox, that’s a very Jewish thing.”
WATCH YOUR BLIND SPOTS (I.E., DON’T BE A JERK)
“Sometimes people can be offensive and not even realize it.”I pulled into Home Depot, you know, where the Mexican guys are always hanging out.” Even if there’s some element of truth to it, the way it sounds is racist. Some people get so caught up in fishing for details that they forget to think about how they’ll sound to whoever they’re audience is, and that’s a mistake… Just about everybody has that blind spot…”
IF YOU GET FUZZY ON THE DETAILS, ADMIT IT AND MOVE ON
“You can always tell when people make shit up. It’s usually toward the end, because they can’t come up with an ending so they throw on some detail that makes you say, “What? Did that really happen.”
… There should be a bunch of “Oh yeahs.” If the details aren’t coming, then they weren’t that interesting. The interesting and important details should be there. When I hit a foggy part where I can’t exactly remember what was said or what happened, I just say that. “I can’t remember what I said to that cop, but it was something like…” Sometimes when you say, “And I told that cop…” you’re like, “Really, you remember what you said to the cop.”
NO GREAT ENDING? CLOSE WITH A SUMMATION OR A LESSON
“We all hate those stories that end with “And that’s the story.” There’s an expectation that you’ll have an interesting end, but life doesn’t always have such a storybook ending. If there’s more of a plot to the story, you have to at least have a plot point or a summation to end with. You might not have the ability to file away some detail for the ending, but as you’re telling the story, it’s like therapy, and you’re talking to yourself. Just look for the lesson or observation so that by the time you end your half-story, you can go,
I guess that’s what made me feel this way about these things.” Something about telling the story should lead to you forming an opinion, and you can always end with making that clear to your audience.”
Now with these tips let’s see Tina Fay put it into action. Here is a monologue by Tina Fey on ASSSSCAT (jump to 1:48 to dive right in), see if you can notice the use of extremely detailed specifics and free association with the suggestion of Ham