“Pimping” lesson with exercises

Objective: To responsibly and recklessly endow scene partners (with characteristics, information, activities, etc.) that s/he must accept.

Contrary to Ice-T’s assertion, Pimping is easy. Hell, a real world pimp probably knows that between he and his ho, his is the better end of the stick. When we “pimp” on an improv stage we force our scene partner to deal with an endowment we aren’t taking on ourselves. “Allow me to introduce my limpy, lispy brother.” “Let’s hear that song you wrote about the color orange.” “Brian here was just going to detail for us the myriad causes and outcomes of the Franco Prussian War.”

Yes, most likely if there’s pimping there’s a dick involved. Demanding that your scene partner say, do or be something detailed on-the-spot puts a lot of pressure on that player. And that is why…

Trusting Teammates are required for pimping. If you don’t have a decent relationship with your scene partner – on and off stage – don’t pimp them into anything. Even if they handle what you give them, there’s too much chance of resentment to make it worthwhile. As a general rule, I avoid pimping anyone into any situation I wouldn’t feel comfortable being pimped into myself (though players have special skills that I like to force them to showcase – break dancing, foreign languages and impressions for example).

Pimping is not directing. Once you give your scene partner a gift, it’s theirs to do what they want with. You may enter a scene to paint a performer into the romantic moment he first sees a female improviser, but if the performer subverts the set-up to note the booger on her lip and move on, that has to be okay with you. Don’t give the gift of expectations.

Give them something they can use. Pimp with endowments. Endow your scene partner with characteristics they can heighten. “I love your three-corner hat.” “It came with my wooden teeth.” Endow your scene partner with an attribute they can exhibit. “I’d bet you can’t balance all these plates spinning on your nose, but you are the four-year reigning World Champ.” Endow your scene partner with an emotional reaction trigger. “You’re afraid of chocolate? This is Hershey, Pennsylvania.”

Pimp with specifics. Giving your scene partner the title “Doctor” is a fine endowment, but “Hey, it’s the doctor who prescribes in rhyme” is pimping.

The audience loves a good pimp.  They’re told in improv shows that “this is all made up,” but they don’t always trust us; “C’mon, you’d rehearsed that,” they say.  But the audience knows that the pimped improviser is being forced to make something up on the spot.  And in knowing that, they are sympathetic and primed to laugh at just about anything you come up with.  Pimped improvisers can milk that sympathy a bit: giving their pimp a glare, taking a moment to look insecure, etc.  It’s a good opportunity to show the improviser to the audience (note, I don’t see this as “breaking character” because really the audience always sees the improviser).

And, of course, all the standard standards of good improvising are applicable in pimping.  Don’t undermine the scene for a laugh (if your scene partner is clearly an old man, don’t pimp him into being a duck for your amusement).  Lead by following (the best pimping always feels “called for” by the preceding scene).  Bring fun to your scene partner (at the end of the show you want your scene partner to say, “Thank you for that choice,” not, “Nice move, asshole”).


Introducing…: In this very simple exercise, players are pimped into playing a certain character by the name given to them by a scene partner.  Get everyone to stand in a circle.  One player provides a character name; for example, Madam Livesay of Compton.  The player to the right then must generate a few lines of dialogue following the inspiration of the given name; for example, “I do say, please pass the chronic unto me.  Here, boy, bring us both gin and juice posthaste.  My gentle brethren are wont to get down.” Then the player who just portrayed the character provides a new character’s name to the player to his/her right.  And the game continues.
Any choice committed to is better than stress-waiting for the “right” choice.
A character is more than words. Take on a posture, let that inform you.  See the world of this character, let that inform you.


Witness Stand: This exercise is about asking questions that add information.  One player is the attorney, examining another player as the witness.  The attorney is charged with infusing questions with endowments; for example, “You were dancing at The Go Go that night, correct?”  And the witness is charged with “yes, and”ing the endowment; for example, “Yes, DJ Tanner was spinning so I doused myself in Day-Glo paint and went.”  We never have to know what the case is about, we can just enjoy the heightening of accepted endowments.
Make it a three person warmup scene with a defense and a prosecuting attorney.  Pimp the witness into accepting contradictions.  “You loved your wife, yes?” “Yes.” “But you wanted her dead for throwing away your socks?” “Yes.”  Again, don’t fixate on solving a case; just have fun exploring the details.


Excuse Me, You Have My Bag: This exercise was used as the Opening for a show of which I’m particularly proud.  We got a suggestion of a type of bag (specifically not “dime” or “douche”).  We then turned our backs to each other on stage and started physically interacting with the bag we had.  Then we turned to face each other and explain, “You have my bag.”  The fun was in pimping each other into owning the items we found in their bag; for example, “You’re stocking up on baby wipes,” “That vegan sausage of yours looks gross,” “I see you’ve got Fifty Shades of Gray there. I thought buying that for my wife would give her some ideas for us, but she just spends more time reading in the bath.”
Strangers allow themselves to be known by sharing opinions. Improvisers are taught to avoid scenes with characters who don’t know each other because they tend to be cursory – too polite, too surface – as our interactions typically are with strangers in real life.  But people who share their opinions become “known” real quick.  Don’t just say, “I see you’re wearing a Green Day shirt,” opine that, “Your Green Day shirt says you can’t discern music from farts.”
Just because you’re accepting, doesn’t mean you have to like it.  Yes, whatever your scene partner says is yours is yours.  But, you can be an embarrassed owner or an owner in denial.  That’s fun.  Right, Austin Powers?


News Reel: Click HERE for a fun warmup (added to this post 3.4.16) that’ll have players performing monologues and engaging environments based on Places, Times, Names and Things they’re pimped into by their team.

7 thoughts on ““Pimping” lesson with exercises

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