Improv 101 — Questions Only

A lot of people have heard of Questions Only, and it’s pretty straightforward, but as improvisers soon learn, it’s hard to master. We don’t typically perform this one, because a big group game that isn’t high energy makes it hard to fit into the lineup of a one hour show. That being said, it still very much has its place in improv practice, as long as the improvisers have broken the beginner mistakes of asking questions in normal improv games.

So, as I said, Questions Only is a group game. Conventionally, it’s an elimination game, but this only works if your cast is strong enough to know how to reply to things in the form of a question. (If an improv troupe is bad at this game, it’s more likely that they would simply take turns rather than play it as an elimination. Typically you’ll have two lines competing against each other. The two people that are first in line will play (and you’ll only ever have two performers at a time), and people that are eliminated step out.

But, as bad experience will show, it’s easy to banter. If you say “Where are you going?” and I reply with “Where do you think I’m going?” it doesn’t do anything. I didn’t come up with my own sentence, I just reworded yours. That isn’t improv.

The way to play Questions Only is to treat every interaction as a two person scene. Every scene should start off as ABA, and establishing CROW is still paramount to “winning”. In addition, and this is the hard part, every question needs to move the scene forward. For example, if you say “Where are you going?” I could say “To buy groceries, want to come?” Now, I have added something to the scene, and we now have more insight into our characters and location than before. Breaking the habit of asking useless questions is definitely the most difficult aspect to this game, but its the only way to make it entertaining to an audience.

An interesting thing about this game is that it is virtually autonomous. You can get suggestions from the audience for location or relationship, but it’s not necessary. Furthermore, the only thing the ref has to do is call people out when they mess up. He/she doesn’t point to people, doesn’t give them directions, or anything. As long as the improvisers know what they’re doing, they should be able to perform the game with enough entertainment value as to not need any sort of help or interaction.

The funny thing, is that you see this game played a lot by non-improvisers. I’m sure you’ve bantered with a friend or a sibling in the car where you only ask questions. This is simply taking it a step forward where you introduce characters in the context of a scene. It’s for that reason that this game seems easy, because everybody does it for fun, but is actually hard because of that non-intuitive rule of not asking useless questions.

This is a great example of this game being played right, but pay attention in the beginning where Colin simply repeats whatever Ryan or Wayne says. That’s an example of what not to do, but luckily he doesn’t do it enough to overshadow the humor!

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