Call & Response Connections

Dang, it’s been along time since I posted. There is a site re-design in the works and I have been working through teaching online. So lots of good things ahead for

But here it is Halloween night 2020. I’m feeling a little hopeful (knock on wood). And an interaction just inspired me to knock out this little post.

My daughter is digging into her bag of treats and said, “These gummies are delicious.”

“As a matter they are, she said,” I said.

My wife laughed.

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Super Satisfying Simple Patterns

Sunday November 10th filled me with pride. My 301 Patterns & Games class performed their showcase. And it was great.

Their energy was high. Their support, unwavering. And their commitment to building collaborative patterns using the rubrics’ guidance led to hilarious moments.

Those rubrics? The One Person Scene. To The Ether games. Help Desk games. Hey Everybody games. They’re narrowly focused on different ways for a group to build a pattern together. A group doesn’t need to be narrowly focused on them to be successful; as I hope this site makes abundantly clear, a “good” game is whatever a group builds together.

But, uh, oh man, when a group keeps it simple with a quick, clear progression, it’s easier to keep the mechanics tight and more likely the game will heighten to a satisfying punch.

Just watch. Continue reading

Help Desk Cartoons

Building a game out of heightening the pattern of an interaction isn’t just for improv.

It’s a creation tool. At least if you’re looking to create something coherent.

Both of these cartoons appeared in The Washington Post’s Sunday Cartoon section on September 30th. Read Jef Mallett’s Frazz and Tim Rickard’s Brewster Rockit below – but also just read them in general; they’re great.

Brewster Rocket Help Desk

Frazz Help Desk

How could they not remind me of our friend The Help Desk rubric group game?

In a Help Desk Game, the progression of the scenic games establishes the pattern, and that pattern’s evolving repetition serves to heighten a personal game or theme.

What’s just beautiful thinking about these comic strips as improv scenes using the Help Desk Dynamic, is how they get to call lights before they have to get to the punchline. By setting our expectations in the first interaction, WE – the reader or audience – laugh at following the second interaction in our own heads based on the first. Our Lizard Brain laughs at the recognition of the pattern – and that’s enough for your edit!

Patterns allow us to play confidently. Thanks for the illustrations, Jef and Tim!



High Jobs Tag-out example

Here’s an example of a Tag-out from The Johnsons. Notice how they leverage the Help Desk dynamic, repeating/heightening the sequence of dialogue.

I’d’ve preferred they’d’ve never sat down, instead playing out being high on the job. It’s hard to keep a scene active while sitting down.  Chairs are a privilege, not a right.

The Johnsons are Scott Beckett, Shawn Hambright, John Hilowitz and Jonathan Nelson.

Doubling & Tripling Down – Split-Screen Help-Desk Game example video

Not a super fan of a scene?  Don’t sweep it under the rug – you may want to forget about it but the audience may not be able to.  Better then to double down on it.  Use the Help Desk dynamic to heighten the interaction and turn a “not great” initial scene into the base of a beautiful run of collaborative pattern play.

That’s what The Johnsons do.

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1.5 – Help Desk Games


Two players meet in the middle of the stage and focus on figuring out the scene together.

I want to return this vacuum.
What’s wrong with it?


I want to see a manager.
Ma’am, he’s on a break.


I bought this and it won’t work.
I’m going to need to see a receipt.


That’ll be five ninety-nine.
Okay, I have ten eighty-eight.

I don’t want to see improvisers question, oppose, negotiate with or engage in transactions with each other. Even written, honed, acted and edited these scenes can prove tedious. But we can salvage these boring scenes with our good friend, the pattern. Continue reading

Help Desk Game exercise

Help Desk Games:  A pattern can be based around a series of interactions.  This game rubric can be especially helpful in making scenes that had been bogged down in transaction, negotiation and/or conflict look good.

Suggested Exercises:

HELP DESK – Have a player assume a character and introduce a place of business; “The Help Desk is open for business.”  A second player comes in and interacts.  Players on the wings pay attention to language, reactions and the scene’s progression.  A third player will enter the scene (replacing the second player) to heighten the interaction – repeating some parts exactly and heightening other details/reactions.  A fourth player will participate in a third interaction – keeping the same the things that stayed the same and heightening the things that heightened.


  • Start at the beginning; remember the end – once we know we’re heightening the interaction, we can want to start subsequent interactions on the funniest part of the first interaction.  But starting at the beginning (heightening or repeating the first line of the initiating interaction) will build power heading into the funniest part.  And while over-excited improvisers will often cut off the end of interactions as they rush to start the next, remember that repeating/heightening the final line of an interaction will set up the progression’s edit.
  • Don’t rush the pacing – Lines that came out naturally the first time can be hurried once they’re known. The cadence of the dialogue is part of the pattern. Stick the dialogue’s natural rhythm – it’s part of the pattern and you’ll be rewarded in laughs if you try to match your fellow players’ delivery as well as their words.
  • Don’t skimp on the emotion – Player Two might have been simply overwhelmed during the Offer dialogue, but Player Three and Four heighten the emotion of being overwhelmed characters. Emotions connect players and audience, and heightened emotions will ensure an earned edit even should all else fail.
  • Don’t ignore what you perceive as “bad” moves – you can make anything look good through repetition. By employing the mechanics of a Help Desk game, you can make a boring scene exciting, you can make an unfunny move hilarious, you can make an uninspired character the star of the show.


  • For more than terrible scenesin heightening/repeating any interaction, utilize the Help Desk pattern mechanics.  Have players do any two person scene and have a third person initiate a Help Desk Set move.
  • Heightening Context a married couple complains about their house; a couple of mice complain about their hole; a couple parasites complain about their host.  These juxtaposed vignettes can leverage Help Desk mechanics and make for an interesting stage picture.
  • Tag Outs if we approach our Tag Outs with the same patience and concentration to patterns as our Help Desks our Tag Outs can be more robust.