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Classic post: The Jeopardy Effect

The Jeopardy Effect

originally posted Nov 1, 2006

I’ve gotten laughs on the stupidest, most obvious lines.  I’ve stolen them from my scene partners.  Here are some examples.  After my scene partners set up a kitchen with their deft mime and object work I walk in and say “I’m in a kitchen.” (huge laugh).  After a partner flies away on a mimed jet pack I say “Nice jet pack.” (enormous laugh).  In a scene where I’m seated opposite a lady and another actor enters pretending to be a waiter I say “We are on a date.” (crazy laugh).  What’s going on?  Why should I get a reaction on something that is plainly obvious to anyone paying attention?

Because of the Jeopardy Effect.

Why do people watch the t.v. show Jeopardy?  There is no chance for the viewing audience to win anything. Nothing explodes.  People watch Jeopardy because they like to feel that they’re right.  They hear a question and guess at the answer and feel proud if their right.  They get a chance to say “I knew that”.

We can harness the Jeopardy Effect in our improv by calling out the obvious.  Give a name to the things that the audience sees or has been strongly alluded to.  That’s it.  It’s very easy.

To reference the above examples, the audience knew that the scene was in a kitchen before I said it, they knew the other player was wearing a jet pack and they could safely guess that the restaurant scene was a date. They just wanted to hear that their assumptions were correct. “I knew that!”

I’m not saying go crazy inventing details that haven’t been defined yet but if your scene partner mimes washing dishes and asks “You’re home early, how was school today?”, please say “It was fine, Mom.”

-Bonus-

Mom is actually the most important part of that above response. Is it funnier to say that school was fine or terrible? Both choices have an equal chance of being funny and neither one defines the characters or relationship better than the other so that part must not be very important.  But imagine if rather than “it was fine, Mom” you said “It was fine, Dad.” or “It was fine, Carl.”  The relationship turns on that word.  Why is Dad home early?  Why is Dad doing the dishes?  Who is Carl?  What fun!


Posted by bill@billarnett.com on December 9th, 2010 :: Filed under Uncategorized
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3 Responses to “Classic post: The Jeopardy Effect”

  1. Dan
    December 23rd, 2010

    wonderful! i’ve never tried this tactic myself, though i’ll certainly try it out now.

    and i realized that my comment was generic enough that i sound like spam.

    and now i’ve said the word spam in my comment. twice. that’ll for sure make it more suspicious. hmm…

  2. Ouardane
    January 18th, 2011

    Is it the jeopardy effect, or is it the fact that for a brief moment, you make the 4th wall just a bit thinner, saying “I know you guys are out there, and we’re playing for you, and so that we’re clear, this IS a jetpack”. And as the spectators feel cared about with good-nature, they feel welcome in the scene and laugh ?

    Also, I could not agree more with the bonus of the post, but I’m afraid, some people get it wrong, and try to stretch situation in order to be original et clever. It’s not about being original and exotic, but about introducing a bit of mystery still being obvious !

  3. Nephi
    September 5th, 2011

    All of these articles have saved me a lot of heaadhecs.

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