Posts Tagged ‘Improv’

Be Better Than Bad TV News Banter

This happened Monday night on TV in Vancouver…

credit: Brick Tamland

Female Anchor: Did you guys see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 60 Minutes last night?

Male Co-Anchors: No. Nah.

Female Anchor: (visibly shocked)

{Awkward silence}

Female Anchor: Well, anyway…

I know point out bad banter on TV is like pointing at rain drops in Seattle, but there are important takeaways for radio anchors and hosts hidden inside this gem.

Be Prepared. As someone who works in and talks about news for a living it is imperative you take time to watch/read/listen to the things that your listeners are talking about that day. Not only does it make you more credible and authentic, it allows you to develop an opinion about it, reflect interests of listeners back to them, and it reinforces you commitment you have for your job and the product to you co-workers. Your team needs to be able to trust that you’re up to speed and able to carry a conversation or, in this case, what would likely have amounted to a 15 second banter.

Never Kill A Bit. With due respect to Nancy Reagan – don’t say “no.” Saying ‘no” always kills the bit or the banter. It stops conversation cold. It makes everyone on set look bad. Even if you haven’t watched/read/or listened — find a way to say yes and keep the conversation going. “Boy, everybody is talking about it today. What did you take away from it?”

Don’t Assume. Before you make assumptions that a co-worker must been up to speed on a story or event, take a minute off air to ask, “Is it okay if I ask you about…”

The main idea here is work harder to put you and your co-workers in a position to win every minute of every show even if it’s 15 seconds of banter at the end of the show.

Six Tips for Co-Hosting a Radio Show or Podcast

Co-hosting a radio show or podcast seems like it should be easier because there are two of you, but that also means there are twice the problems. Here are some basic tips that I’ve collected from two-person shows I’ve coached over the years including; Mike & Mike in the Morning, the Ron & Don Show, Mason & Ireland and others.

taking-turns-award-certificate1. Creators and Reactors. The best shows alternate which host is creating or driving the segment and which host is reacting*. Knowing your role at any given moment of a show is critical or you’ll be simultaneously creating the segment. That leads to talking over each other and confusing the listener. A creator is developing the topic, telling a story, or creating the parameters of which the discussion will take place. The reactor responds to the creator, adds insights, details, color, emotion, and asks questions in attempt to build the topic and move the conversation forward – not poke holes.

*There are some exceptions to this rule, most notably KFI’s John & Ken who I characterize as “crusading hosts” – simultaneously pushing the same message towards the listener in an attempt to change thinking or behavior. This is much harder and takes additional preparation

Cocktails And Comedy Benefit for the Fit Community2. Improv Rules Apply. Once a reality is established by the creator you have to roll with it. The core rule of improv is “yes, and…” If the first thing out of your mouth is “no…” – YOU have killed the bit. Add to the segment/topic/story don’t dismantle it and start over.

3. Avoid One-upmanship. For some reason co-hosts have a hard time letting each other get the laugh, get the final word or own the spotlight for a moment. I hear this all the time. A co-host will have a funny line and the other host fires back with a zinger of his own and then she tries another line and then he tries another… It’s what my buddy Travis labeled “break degeneration.” Suddenly, the hosts have forgotten all about the listeners and creating content and they’ve entered a one-line comedy duel which gets less entertaining and less funny with each quip.

4. Establish Boundaries. Great shows have three to five rules in place to help establish boundaries of comfort and decency. “I’ll talk about my kids, but never use their name on air,” “My sexual adventures are off limits,””We’ll never put each other in a position to fail on-air,” We’ll never intentionally embarrass or humiliate each other on air,” etc. You need boundaries so you can trust each other. And you MUST trust your co-host.

Communication5. Communication. This holds true for any show but the hosts need to communicate with each other, the producer, the board operator and any other team members. Early and often! Establish the best means or communication for your group. It could be email, texting, a phone call, a Google Doc or something else. But figure it out early and use it!! The more your team knows what you’re thinking the more they can support your ideas and help bring them to life.

6. Have a Plan. This is critical. Know what you are talking about, when you are talking about it, what your resources are, and who’s leading the topic. All shows, every show. Map it out. Before the show you should hash out angles, ways to evolve topics and develop stories.


How Do You Get Better? Improv(e).

March 21, 2013 2 comments

Me: Hi my name is geek

Everyone: Hi Larry!

I am a recovering high school drama geek. I was in the plays and musicals, auditioned for and was accepted into a collegiate theater program, I wore a dance belt and tights (a few times), I took piano lessons, learned how to breath “properly,” explored the history of theater and more. (Lucky for me, the radio station was housed in the basement of the theater – thus, avoiding a career as a New York City waiter.) Of all my theater experiences, the one that comes in handy in every job I have is improv.

On the air or off – improv skills have served me well. Let me just say upfront, if you are a producer, a host, an anchor, a reporter, or a programmer – invest in some improv classes for yourself – it will make you better at your job. It teaches you how to be in present in the moment and hones your ability to listen, react, adapt, create, innovate, play, contribute, and actively engage with the people you work with. Who doesn’t want that?

TinaFeyBossyPantsI was reminded of this while watching Tina Fey discuss the rules of improv while on Inside The Actors Studio this week. (A show that I unabashedly enjoy and one that I’ve paid homage to in my Inside The Bonneville Studios interviews – here with Luke Burbank, Linda Thomas, Brock & Salk and Dori Monson). Tina Fey honed her skills at Second City in Chicago before going to Saturday Night Live. In her book, “Bossypants,” she wrote down the rules of improv that she’s adapted as a world view and she claims they’ve changed her life.

“The Rules of Improvisation that will change your life and Reduce Belly Fat” (p84-85)


  1. AGREE – always agree & SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun” and you say, “That’s not a gun, it’s your finger” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if you instead say “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is a Christmas gun. In real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. but the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open minded place. Start with YES and see where that takes you.
  2. Not only say yes, but say YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here” and you say “Yeah…” we are at a stand-still, but if you say “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures” now we’re getting somewhere. YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.
  3. MAKE STATEMENTS – Don’t ask questions all the time. If I ask continuous questions I am putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers. Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. Make statements with your actions and your voice. For instance, instead of saying “Where are we?”, make a statement like “Here we are in Spain”.
  4. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bike, but you think I’m a hamster in a wheel, then now I’m a hamster in a wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discovered have been by accident. For instance, Reese’s PB Cup & Botox.

So, how many times do you or your on-air partners disagree with, disregard or discredit something the other said so you can one-up them, make a better point, or deliver a pithier punch line? Or you’re not sure what to say about a topic or how to move it forward, so you continually just ask questions of your co-host or the audience? Or a sound-byte doesn’t fire and you feel a need to explain to listeners it was supposed to be there – maybe even through your board op or producer under the bus – when in reality the audience had no clue it was coming? All of these are violations of improv.

Other improvisionalists have other rules. For instance, at TEDxVictoria, David Morris offered seven rules.  (10 minute Ted Talk here)

  1. r_davemorrisPlay. The idea of engaging in something just because you like it.
  2. Let Yourself Fail. LET is the key. Failing is easy. The hard part is being okay with it. As soon as you start fearing failure you get trapped in your head. Failing does not make you a failure. Just fail, improvise and start again.
  3. Listen. Listen with all your being. Most people listen just enough to be able to respond. True listening is the willingness to change. If you are not willing to change based on what someone is saying, you are not listening. You are just letting them talk, before you respond.
  4. Say YES. A series of YES’s will take us somewhere. A single NO shuts down the entire journey.
  5. Say AND. YES-men are great. AND-men are people we want to work with. They say, “Yes, I like your idea!” AND they add to the creation.
  6. Play the Game. Anything that has rules is a game whether that’s playing Monopoly or filling out a job application. Rules free us up to improvise. Restrictions funnel our creative process to a create a product.
  7. Relax and have fun. It will lead to a more enjoyable life.

Improv isn’t about comedy. As David Morris’ pointed out in his Ted talk, MacGyver is one of the great improvisers of our time and he dealt in explosives. Whether you’re trying to save the World, save your ratings or save a segment; learn to improvise.