FAQ247: FAQ: What makes a Good Armando Monologue


The Armando and its variants, UCB’s ASSCAT & TNM’s The Megaphone, employ a special component in each show other formats do not, a monologist.  This is both what makes the format risky and enthralling.  If you’re not familiar, the megaphone has a special guest share stories that improvisers use as inspiration for the show.  The surprise element comes from the guest and their experiences which has the potential to be a harrowing experience (like those that attended the Del Close Marathons in 2011 where it was reported that the monologist retold a date rape incident as the perpetrator) but it can be, and most of the time it is, a magical experience of sharing and crafting that everyone in the room experiences together and becomes one like a gaseous breathable intoxicant.  There are a few elements that are key to the latter event occurring and I happen to believe this is pretty easy to achieve.


The Monologues are Honest.

The stories, or monologues, must be truth.  I could nerd out for days on why and how all comedy is rooted in truth, and will gladly do just that if approached with such a request, but will assume some of you are reading this for the subject matter it was presented to you.  But all comedy is rooted in truth.  Also, we are truth detectors.  We are so world champion, ninja level, freaky savants,  at telling when people are disingenuous that it hardly even registers as anything above a low lying feeling of “meh”.  Conversely, our eyes and hearts open like our first beer when we feel and see truth.  So, it’s imperative that your monologist not make up a story for the sake of comedy.  It reads as disingenuous and at the very least irks the audience and at the most leaves the performers with nothing more to play with than the idea that you’re a liar. 

The Monologist should not feel charged with being funny.

This is tied to the first key element, that the stories be rooted in truth, but more on the actual context of the story.  If you have the incredible opportunity to have someone come to your show and share their experiences for the sake of your craft and the audience’s entertainment do everyone a solid and remind the monologist it is never to be assumed that they be entertaining in any way.  Because we respond to truth in such a way (see above argument) this is an unnecessary bourdon for the monologist to carry.  As an improviser in the megaphone show you should also know that you absolutely carry it.  The monologist’s story about how their wood-glue dried is a totally acceptable story and anything above that is solid gold for your show.


That being said, there are elements we love and those that allow us to manipulate the story into a relatable premise.  Sure, stories that contain concepts, explicit details, ideas, perspectives, philosophies, metaphors, and names all trigger flags in a megaphone players brain like the first chords of the ice cream truck but we’ve also worked diligently to make our brains work that way.

The beauty of this form is the way in which we relate to truth, interpret ideas, and most importantly the opportunity to all be in on the same joke.  Much like anything else we do, complicating this with rules retracts from the experience.


The Armando: Pitchers & Catchers

Are you a Catcher or a Pitcher?

If you are doing Armando, get ready to be both. Just remember to take turns.

Have you seen the Megaphone Show on Wednesday nights at TNM Austin? The red room is warm with sexy young people packed together, ready to watch. The lights go out. The ritual begins. Throbbing dance music rocks the bodies of the players on stage, causing them to gyrate wildly like crazed baboons in a heated sexual frenzy. The lights turn on. One of the players, breathing hard and sweating, explains the way the show works:

A monologist tells the story.The players then do scenes with each other using the driving concepts and tantalizing details told to weave a show, live, on the spot.
For your pleasure.
It’s so good, afterwards people ask us if it was our first time (hearing the story) and we say “Baby, It’s ALWAYS our first time.”

What is being pitched and caught? Visualise it. Long, hard premises; boiled down scene ideas getting strongly initiated into their willing partner’s yes-and holes. I want to get all up in that scene if you ask me.

But how is it done?
First the players listen to the story. Hard. They soak up every detail like wet, sloppy sponges.
At the same time they are thinking. So hard. The funny parts of the story are being processed and whittled down into core concepts. Specific details are replaced with different details. Possible ways of conveying ideas clearly and quickly to the other players are considered.

Essentially the players are racing to think of improvised sketch comedy scenes based on the stories before the monologist can finish telling them. This is very different, and much more difficult, than drawing inspiration from a single word suggestion. It’s considered bad form to pull individual words the monologist says out of context to build a scene. Otherwise, what would be the point of hearing the whole story?
Say, for example, the story has a part where two brothers fight over a Hot Wheels toy truck. If a player initiated a scene with “Mom! I want Hot Wheels for Christmas!” this choice wouldn’t be as clever as it could be, because all the audience had to hear was “Hot Wheels” to understand the connection between the story and the scene. However if the player was to start with “Quit being a dummy and let me drive the squad car this patrol shift!” the whole concept of “the funny way brothers fight” is pulled through and put in a different situation. The police officers don’t need to be brothers, they just need to have that type of relationship.

Hopefully most of the players can think of at least one of these types of ideas for a scene by the time they step onto the stage.
This is were the Pitcher/ Catcher concept comes into play. How do the players decide whose idea to go with first?
Each player must quickly decide if they are a Catcher or the Pitcher for the scene.
The Pitcher has the job of communicating what the scene is going to be about, while
the Catcher has the job of receiving the “pitch”, latching onto it, and supporting it.

Being a Pitcher has an element of premeditation and strategy, in the sense that a lot of the mental work is being done in the seconds before the story is finished or during subsequent scenes. Pitching usually requires a strong initiation that encapsulates the core concept being put across, without “calling out the game”.
Catching, on the other hand, is about being soft and malleable; a selfless vessel for other peoples’ ideas.

I like to make it a personal rule of thumb  to never walk on stage without a pitch cocked and ready. It’s good to have a plan in ones’ back pocket.
But lets say everyone also has a pitch ready to blow?
Who goes first?

This is tricky. First of all, eye contact is incredibly important. The look on a players face when they have something they are dying to pitch is very different than when they are looking around hoping someone else has a good idea.
One way to think about it is: the first person to start talking is the Pitcher and the person who listens and responds is the Catcher.
There can only be one Pitcher, but many Catchers in any given scene. This is to fight chaos, the enemy of improvisation.

First everyone should decide how much they like their idea. Is it the most baddass move ever? If so, maybe you should just blurt out your strong initiation. Communicate it as clearly and simply as possible without calling out the game.
Do you feel like the idea could be lame or mediocre? Walk on stage and lock eyes with the other players. Now, you have one second to decide if you are going to initiate the back-pocket safety idea or convert to a catcher.
There should be one pitch per scene! Even if you manage to insert a second premise idea without fucking everything up you are still using up elements that are likely needed for scenes later.

This is what I personally do:
I listen to the story and wrack my brain for premise ideas while soaking in as many details as possible.  Usually I can come up with, on average, one good pitch and one kinda half baked premise.1
I stay on the sidelines for the first scene. This is because someone on the team will come up with at least one really good pitch right away and I like to give the most eager players some space. So that’s covered.
Then I step on stage in the second scene and make the pitch/catch decision. Hopefully someone else has something for me so I can practice my catching and save my good pitch for later. It is a long game and deferring early on is both strategic and polite.

When the audience and players hear the story for the first time, together, it’s like they are in on the same joke. Everyone is privy to the same intimate knowledge about the monologist, bringing everyone in the room closer together, whether they know it or not. The Armando is about taking full advantage of that special dynamic.

Remember, if you see me at the megaphone show, I have a hot load with your name on it.

-Milo Harkness-Smith


Show 1 footnote

  1.  In case one of my ideas is EVERYBODY’S idea I try to rack up as many as possible.