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Thinking 'bout: Justification


"It's hard to find a picture of justification, so here's this guy being a king."

--Danny Hughes

This post is a continuation of my series on Improv Knowledge. Click there, if you haven't read that post. Or don't, and you'll probably still follow!

Justification: So What?

As people, we constantly want to know why something happened. We're curious. It's why we worshiped the sun. It's why we studied the sun. To know why is why we do things. In our minds, humans want to believe that everything has a purpose.

So, your audience is going to rightfully ask "so what?" They're going to sit there an watch you dance around like a chicken during a Congressional hearing and they're going to laugh...then they're going to ask "why is this happening?"

And they should get an answer. And as long as that answer is pretty much anything except "because," then it'll be just fine.

Why Justify? The Actor Side

Often, the person who needs the answer to the "why" most is you. Justifying helps you get your feet under you. If your scene has good base reality, then you don't need an elaborate reason to be there. If you're in a coffee shop at 11 AM on a Tuesday, then maybe you're working there? Or on a coffee run? Or people watching? All of those are fine, and funny will happen from them.

But then, you do something completely bonkers. You jump behind the counter and bathe in the coffee beans. You're not sure how and why you got here, but you did.

So why did you do it?

If you're working there, you believe you have to really connect to your product before you can sell it.

If you're on a coffee run, then you'll do anything to invigorate your team! Including coming back smelling like dark roast.

If you're people watching, then it's pretty evident that people are only truly themselves when they're not being watch.

Pick a belief. Believe in it hard. This gives you, and your team, a road map to success.

Why Justify: The Writer Side

Without justifications, an improv set will just be a random assemblage of crazy, disjointed shenanigans. I've done plenty of sets that were exactly that. They were sometimes still funny, but it's the ones that thread together that are really magical.

And one of the keys to that magic is justification that your teammates can play. If your character jumped into those beans because his grandfather owned a coffee plantation and he wanted to make him proud, that might be funny. But where does it go from here? Probably to that guy talking to his grandpa's ghost.

But if you jumped in to invigorate, then you've just opened up a whole map of different scenarios where people do crazy things to invigorate people.

Jump in a vat of acid to become the super villain rival they need to succeed.

Take the defibrillator off of the wall and shock employees who need that 3 PM pick-me-up.

You get it.

Justification: Grounding and Breadcrumbs

Basically, good justification endows you and your team with the comfort of knowing generally what to expect. At it's best, a justification is a gift to not only yourself, but your whole team. Improv scenes can quickly become a complicated maze, so leave yourself breadcrumbs to navigate it. Justification gives you and your team a framework: when this thing happens, I do this thing, because I believe this.

It's tough. You're going to mess up. That's cool, just remember there's no real right or wrong here. There are strong choices and weak choices. Strong choices allow others to play your philosophy as different people later. Weak choices box you into to one story line.

So, I've been thinking about justification...

So, I wrote a blog post.

If you're into the blog, check out my podcast with Kerri Shannon, Gettin' Biggie with It. We interview a new member of the Baltimore Improv Groupevery Thursday! Get it where you get your podcasts!