There are times when I go just a leeettle ‘off book’.
Shocking, I know. But it’s true. I can take a set of rules, fully understand and agree with and digest them, and then completely ignore them. At least the inconvenient bits. Which is usually most of them.
Take this week’s assignment for the sketch writing class I’m taking over at ImprovBoston, for instance. We were asked to write something absurd — as though anything else is possible — and started with a quick exercise to generate ideas.
First, we listed ten occupations. This is the part I did right.
(Because I’ve found in life that you should always do something right, just to give the impression that you’re actually making an honest effort.
Even when you’re not. Which is always.)
One of the occupations on my list was ‘bank robber’. Hold onto that; it’ll be important in a minute.
Next, we were asked to think of ‘superpowers’ that would make those occupations easier — or harder — to perform, preferably in an unusual and absurdly hilarious fashion.
This is where things broke down, just a tad. For one thing, not that many superpowers came to mind. Super speed, maybe. X-ray vision. The ability to tell if the milk is past the date without tasting it.
But none of these fit especially well with my occupations. And the ones that might would be tough to use in a sketch. Unless Clark Kent or Usain Bolt answered the casting call, most of my superpower ideas seemed pretty impractical.
“I got a look. The same look I’ve gotten from my wife, my mother, my dog, my boss, my next door neighbor and elementary school crossing guards for the past forty years.”
So I went ‘off book’. How about a bank robber, I asked, who’s narcoleptic?
Okay, came the answer from the instructor. But that’s not really a ‘superpower’, now, is it?
Maybe he’s super sleepy?
I got a look. The same look I’ve gotten from my wife, my mother, my dog, my boss, my next door neighbor and elementary school crossing guards for the past forty years. ‘Move on,’ that look says. ‘No good can come of your nonsense.‘
So I changed my idea. ‘Narcoleptic bank robber’ was clearly not what they were looking for. And I adjusted accordingly.
I made him rob a convenience store instead. But he still falls asleep at the drop of a hat. Or faints. Maybe that’s not narcolepsy, clinically speaking. In which case, maybe it is a superpower, and I did what I was supposed to do. Even if I didn’t mean to.
All I’m saying is, I met ’em halfway here. That’s sort of my own little superpower, I guess. Just call me “Captain Compromise”.
In the meantime, here’s this sketch. Got a lot of blank stares in class. I simply can’t imagine why.
[RAJ sits behind a convenience store counter, head down, sleeping. MIKE enters, looking nervous, then whips out a gun and points it unsteadily at Raj, who quickly wakes up and throws up his hands.]
MIKE: All right, get your hands up! And no funny business! You do exactly what I say, and nobody-
[Mike crumples to the ground mid-sentence. Raj looks confused, then walks around the counter to investigate. Just as Raj bends down for a closer look, Mike jumps to his feet, still pointing the gun behind the counter.]
MIKE: -gets hurt!
[Mike looks around for Raj, sees him nearby, and motions him back behind the counter.]
RAJ: Whoa, take it easy. I just wanted to see if you were dead.
MIKE: I’m not dead. Now hand over the money, before I do something-
[Mike falls to the floor again. Raj peers over the counter, but doesn’t move. As he checks his watch, Mike leaps back to his feet.]
MIKE: -we’ll both regret!
RAJ: Okay, seriously. What’s up with the falling? Is this, like, a Punk’d thing? Is the gun the camera?
[Raj peers into the barrel, smiling and waving.]
MIKE: No! This is real, pal! It’s just… look. I have this condition. When I get over-excited, sometimes I… faint.
RAJ: Well, can’t you take a No-Doz or something before you go out robbing?
MIKE: It’s not that simple.
RAJ: We have coffee. You want some coffee? Half price.
MIKE: It doesn’t work like that. Now, seriously — hand over the cash.
RAJ: I can’t.
RAJ: The money goes straight to the safe. There’s nothing here; look for yourself.
[Mike leans over the counter to see the register.]
MIKE: Aw, son of a-
[Mike slumps, lying limp across the counter and faintly snoring. Raj waits impatiently until Mike stirs, holding him again at gunpoint.]
RAJ: You ever consider maybe this isn’t your ideal line of work?
MIKE: Gee, ya think? It’s not like I’ve got other options.
RAJ: Why not?
MIKE: Well, I didn’t go to college. Obviously.
[Raj looks confused.]
MIKE: Standardized tests? Reeeally stressful.
RAJ: Ooooooh. Right. Well, I never went to college.
MIKE: You probably never fell face-first into the nacho cheese warmer, either.
RAJ: Point. So what now?
MIKE: Now we discuss — very calmly — how to get the money out of the safe.
RAJ: Fair enough. We just need the combination.
MIKE: Okay. Progress. Good. Who has the combination?
RAJ: Let’s see… my boss has it, but he’s not here. And the bank — but they’re closed.
MIKE: Fine. Calmly, now — who else can open the safe?
RAJ: Well, the police. And I hit the silent alarm a while back, so they should be here any minute. They can get your money!
MIKE: Perfect. So I’ll just– wait, what?!
[GARY, a policeman, approaches the convenience store door, speaking through a bullhorn.]
GARY: I know you’re in there! Come out with your hands up!
[Mike faints while Gary is talking.]
RAJ: [shouting] He can’t hear you!
GARY: Why not?
RAJ: He’s sleeping!
GARY: Well, wake him up! He needs to hear this!
RAJ: It doesn’t work like that, apparently!
[Mike jumps to his feet.]
MIKE: What’d I miss?
RAJ: You catch the ‘come out with your hands up’ part?
RAJ: You’re good.
MIKE: Right. [shouting] Hey, copper!
GARY: Yeah? How was your nap, sunshine?
MIKE: Oh, laugh it up. I’m getting real comfortable in here. I got me a hostage, and beer, and enough Doritos to last a month.
RAJ: Uh… we don’t carry Doritos.
GARY: This is your last warning. I’ll come in there if I have to.
RAJ: He’s out again!
GARY: Jeez. Can’t you give him a No-Doz or something?
RAJ: That’s what I said!
[Mike leaps to his feet.]
MIKE: How we doing?
RAJ: He’s coming to get you.
MIKE: Crap. Crap. Crap.
[Mike runs behind the counter with Raj.]
GARY: That’s it — I’m coming in! Hands where I can see them!
[Mike and Raj raise their hands. Mike glances at Raj, thinks a moment, then bonks him on the head with the gun. Raj falls in a heap; Mike drops the gun on his body. Gary enters, gun drawn, and sees Raj lying on the floor.]
GARY: That the perp?
MIKE: That’s him, all right. Real nut case.
GARY: Yeah, they always are. Come on, Sleeping Beauty.
[Gary lifts Raj to his feet and leads him away. Raj is too groggy to speak or know what’s happening.]
MIKE: Hey, by the way — can I get the combo for the safe? I want to make sure he didn’t get into it.
GARY: Combo? Pfft. Those things are never locked.
[Mike falls limp on top of the counter. Gary pauses before following Raj out the front door.]
GARY: Jeez, these guys. Always sleeping on the job.Permalink | No Comments