Laugh and Go serves as a rather metatheatrical game as the audience gets to see the increasing chaos of various players trading in and out of roles. Some level of Corpsing (or breaking) looms as almost inevitable although a performance absent of this quality can prove quite breathtaking. I first encountered this game at Sak Comedy Lab and it has since become a regular offering in our Gorilla Theatre shows.
A suggestion that (at least seemingly) leans towards a more serious topic serves as the inspiration for the scene. The game is often playfully introduced as an exercise in dramatic acting, and the audience is notified that if any of the players should elicit a laugh during the performance they will be immediately replaced by another member of the company. The scene begins and, as promised, any significant laughter cues an actor swap with someone entering from the wings who then immediately picks up the action from exactly where it left off. As the scene continues, and the onstage cast grows, swaps may occur between onstage players as is deemed necessary and enjoyable.
Inspired by “bullying,” Player A and B begin a scene as parent and teenage child. Player A enters the family living room to begin, masking their face.
Player B: “You’re home a little late, Alex.”
Player A: (sheepishly) “I’m just going to go up to my room.”
Player B gets off the couch and approaches…
Player B: “Is there something wrong? Let me see your face…”
Player A pulls away abruptly, garnering an unanticipated laugh from the audience.
Caller: (announcing) “Alex.”
Player A leaves the stage and their exact position is then assumed by incoming Player C.
Player C: “It’s nothing. I don’t want you to make a big deal about it…”
Player B: (insistently) “Let me see it, Alex.”
Player C slowly turns to reveal their face and B recoils a little too dramatically in horror. The audience laughs…
Caller: (announcing) “Alex’s parent.”
Player B is quickly tagged out by Player D…
Much of the joy of this game comes from the collective struggle of trying to hold it together: keeping track of the story details and character mannerisms, playfully honoring the seriousness of the context, knowing which player is embodying each character at any given moment, and struggling to retain personal composure in the face of it all.
Traps and Tips
1.) A caller is your best friend. My experience with this game would suggest that an attentive caller can make a world of difference in terms of how the scene builds and lands. From the stage it can be challenging to distinguish an isolated giggle from a more pointed audience response, or perhaps identify which player was the primary source of the pertinent reaction. A dedicated caller can quickly pause or assess the action and make these decisions in real time, unequivocally naming the offending player as in the example above. As the scene launches the caller can also judiciously choose to ignore individual audience chuckles or insincere guffaws. The inherent stops and starts of the game may cause focus challenges and this helpful steering hand can go a long way to maintaining a satisfying scenic trajectory. Onstage improvisers can assist in this regard too: once a call is made, it’s important to immediately honor and execute it (even if you’re inclined to throw a little shade as you slink to the side of the stage).
2.) Start with sincerity. Although it is almost a given that the sincere or serious suggestion will likely have collapsed in on itself by the scene’s completion, it shouldn’t become a fait accompli. As the scene begins, earnestly dig into your acting reserves and strive to perform without a comedic wink or expectation. Arguably, this is how you should really play the whole scene, but it is of particular import as the scene makes its first steps as you need to establish and honor the central conceit and give the story a solid foundation for the madness that will likely follow. Invariably the audience will laugh, and typically at something minor and unexpected. Allow this first prompt to occur in its own time and way. If you look for or crave the laughter, the scene will suffer for it.
3.) Give the scene room to grow. While there will always be earnt exceptions, this game works really well when you start with two characters on stage (or one player soon joined by a second). The tight focus of one staged relationship makes it easier to establish some strong personality traits that others can pick up and mirror later, and generally allows a more solid scenic foundation. Tag outs during this early phase should be crisp and clean so the audience can easily grasp the logistics involved. Once you have three or four characters on stage this will usually necessitate players to switch with each other (as opposed to trading out with someone waiting in the wings). This dynamic is definitely bracing and exciting, but if you get there too quickly the game of the scene may have nowhere to go.
4.) Try to hold it together. If (when) corpsing does occur, it lands more effectively if players have done everything in their power to keep their act together. Almost all the elements of this game conspire against the players maintaining their composure, between the stark contrast of material and staging, and the sudden casting changes and audience interruptions. If players become inclined or tempted to almost cue the audience’s laughter, the game’s conceit and integrity will degrade in the process. (For example, while it’s helpful to have clearly distinctive characters to make them easier to track, overly broad or gimmicky choices can unnecessarily serve as spoilers.) As the scene reaches its typically chaotic climax, you may have little ability to keep it together, but the audience will certainly relish your efforts to do so!
If you’re working in an overtly comedic short-form tradition, the “now we’re going to perform a serious scene” construct of Laugh and Go can add a delightful new hue to the night while simultaneously garnering you some big laughs and full throated audience involvement. The format also works equally well as a team or all-play game. Don’t rush to the perceived finish line though but rather savor each silly slip and chuckle along the way.
Connected Concept: Corpsing