A “Blackout” is a short scene with one big punchline. In sketch, or in improv with a tuned-in booth operator, the lights would go out on stage after the punchline, designating the end of the scene and earning the name “blackout.”
Blackouts are fun. They can help vary the pacing of a long-form show. They can be great when it’s clear there’s not going to be a bigger laugh beyond the first big punchline, but even if there is life beyond the punchline it can be enjoyable to cut the scene “early” so you can bring it back later. Will Hines and I had a scene where, in crossing stage, he asked if I had “a roll of quarters in my pants.” I did, I removed it and that was the end of the scene. Later in the show he asked if I was smuggling a zucchini in my pants; again, I was. Repeat.
I really love this Blackout from Horse Apples’ District Indie Improv Fest Show. Joey Tran kills it by being authentic. Truth is he doesn’t believe he can whistle; that’s honest frustration in his “no” to my question. And the audience believes him. So when he tries – and he legitimately tries because, again, he doesn’t think he can – and, lo and behold, he succeeds!, the surprise is also genuine. Honest, in-the-moment, shared with an engaged audience, emotionally reactive… that’s improv as improv does best, folks.