Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Last night CF and I were treated to an amazing show by Blackalicious. It was great to see Gift of Gab looking so happy, healthy, and inspired. The guy was radiating, simply beatific. Of all the great performances I’ve seen him and Chief Xcel put on this was the smoothest. Nice. But I do have to say I always feel a bit of the old dubiousness whenever one of these genius rappers says “Time to freestyle, yo!” and proceeds to spit out some flawlessly rhyming Homer-on-meth epic tale of charming boasts complete with comic twists and crowd-pleasing references to local landmarks. I just can not believe it’s
off the tops of their heads, and I usually spend the entire time trying to convince myself that my cynicism isn’t just envy. Just because I couldn’t improvise my way out of a beatnik bongo circle doesn’t mean that other people can’t. I mean, this is their job, right, and they probably get to practice a lot, like for hours everyday, and the DJ is lookin’ at him like he’s never heard it before sooo…
I’m wondering if other people experience such twinges of doubt. Do those of you who are actors just roll your eyes because there’s some trick taught in Improv 101 all the suckers (like me) are oblivious to? And what about you poets? Is your writing process just pen-management, keeping things legible as the words flood in dangerously fast? Or are you like me and you take an hour to write two lines, your notebooks ugly with cross-outs? Just curious.

10 Comments:

At 7:03 AM, Anonymous FM said...

time to freestyle:

-Rip rap rippity rap
-i'm makin souffle and you're makin some crap

-rip rap my raps rule the world
-while you're working part time nights at Pearle
-Vision trying to sell glasses
-so you can see me comin
to step right up and kick your asses.

That truly was freestyle, off my head, at 6:55 am.

 
At 7:10 AM, Anonymous MP said...

Yeah, I've sensed that at shows before, where the seemingly "unique" performance was actually a carefully calibrated moment. I remember being younger, and I was SHOCKED when I found out that the story Bruce Springsteen told about his father at the beginning of "The River" on the Live Box Set was a story he told night after night--not just this magical moment caught on tape.

Years later, and after nine Springsteen shows, I realize I love the "peformance" of these moments, too--it's all part of the sparkle of a live show. Whether it's Bruce falling over, James Brown-style, so Clarence Clemons can pick him up, or Gab going through a freestyle that's probably been done night after night, seeing a good live show makes me forget it's not totally unique.

When I saw Blackalicious a couple of years ago, there was a similar freestyle, and my mouth was on the floor...

Anyway, I'm not sure if this directly responds to your post, even...

 
At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Blade said...

once i asked FW if improv actors start laughing on purpose in order to engage and endear the audience a bit.

but i can't remember what he said.

 
At 10:30 AM, Anonymous kts said...

I always wondered about that on 'Who's Line Is It Anyway?' when they would just improvise a song in a certain style about an audience member. Especially Wayne Grady's- they were way too good to be off the cuff!

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger tina said...

Pete, check this out.

How to Survive a Freestyle Rap Battle

Il-lew-minating.

 
At 10:54 AM, Blogger tina said...

Oh, shit! Not illuminating!

Hang on.

How to Survive a Freestyle Rap Battle

If that doesn't work, then screw it. The information is out there!

 
At 12:50 AM, Blogger pete. said...

Thanks! 8 Mile 2: The Petening, watch out!

 
At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. I'm an actor who's done a lot of improv and in my experience, it's 100% off-the-cuff, genuinely sprung from the moment. In fact, I was always surprised at how often audience members would sidle up to me after a show and try to get me to admit that it was pre-planned. It wasn't. Generally when you see it done so well that you doubt it, the reason it's great is because the performers know each other very well and therefore trust each other and will go anywhere with each other. And they're probably funny and have a knack for it or they wouldn't be up there. Also, when you're in a live audience, you're a part of the magic and spontaneity of it all, so it seems more brilliant than it would if you saw the same scene on a sitcom where it actually was scripted and pre-planned. Does that make sense? It's almost funnier or more brilliant-seeming because you know they're making it all up on the spot. Also, most people can't conceive of themselves being able to get up on stage without a script which makes it more unbelievable to them that anyone can. Unfortunately, no secret rules and no suckers. Now, all that said, I had a friend who was on Whose Line a couple of times and he said that it wasn't 100% pure improv there. I mean, you never know what suggestions you're going to get from the audience, so there's definitely an element of improv, but he said that if the producers saw one of the actors doing something really funny in rehearsal, they'd ask them to repeat it in the show, if possible. And repeating yourself is obviously a huge no-no to most improv actors. Which leads me to another point--you feel like a phony amongst your fellow improvisers if you repeat a line in front of an audience because it got a good laugh in rehearsal or in front of a previous audience. The audience doesn't know, so they'll laugh it up, but then you have to look into the eyes of your fellow improvisers backstage and feel like a cheap assclown.

 
At 11:31 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Anon makes a convincing case...

& even if Gab did have that all memorized -- it's still just too much...

He didn't drop one line.

 
At 12:01 AM, Blogger pete. said...

Yeah, it must be annoying for genuine improvisers to constantly be doubted. I've heard fiction writers complain of people insisting their story must somehow be based on real events.

 

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