While word play, quirky characterizations and punning aren’t always examples of Gagging, these tendencies certainly all draw from the same bag of tricks. World’s Worst offers a way to train and tame these comedic habits without potentially stepping on the grounded scene work of your teammates.
In this line game a caller (or fellow member of the ensemble) periodically elicits a new occupation for the awaiting players who stand against the upstage wall. When inspiration hits, improvisers step forward and embody an example of the world’s worst… [insert job or role here.] Improvisers scroll through several rounds with the game typically ending on a particular high (or low) note.
The audience suggests “best man.”
Player A: (stepping forward in a flustered and disheveled fashion) “I’d just like to apologize again to the happy couple for over-sleeping this morning… and for missing the actual ceremony… and for losing the ring…”
Player B: (assuming a rather cynical air) “So we all know mathematically that there’s a good chance we’ll be back here in a few years doing this again, so I’ll keep it short…”
Player C: (clearly inebriated) “Well, I for one will admit that I never thought I’d see this day: Rob’s criminal record alone – which I promised not to mention – should have been a deal breaker…”
This game benefits from attack and finding both jokes (one-liners) and humor (ironic behaviors) through strategically exploring characters from unexpected angles.
Traps and Tips
1.) Seek contrast. As the very game title suggests, much of the fun comes from seeing a variety of clearly ill-suited characters step into the named job or function. As much as a great zinger can land, there’s usually a lot to mine from simply exploring behavior. Think opposites and contradictions: if the role usually requires reliability, empathy and discretion, what would the inverse of one or more of these qualities look like? Or, put another way, who is the last person you would like to meet in this job (or perhaps have encountered in this job?)
2.) Inhabit the role. Quick hits certainly belong as part of the mix, but I find it helpful to consider each example as a small vignette in its own right. Snap into the character point of view and don’t rush to the punchline haphazardly. The way you embody the character will often create as much joy – if not more – than the joke they are enabling or embodying. Well-crafted characters also increase the likelihood of callbacks, runs and echoes which add depth to an otherwise simple game. Perhaps our over-sleeping best man returns later in his day job as an ill-equipped surgeon, explosives expert, or time management consultant…
3.) Seize your moment. Line games live or die based on their level of attack. If the row of improvisers all loiter fearfully against the theatre’s back wall, rehearsing and then dismissing possibilities in their heads in search of comedy gold, the game can quickly stall and feel lethargic. Step forward – even if you only have the seed of an idea. If fellow players are becoming tentative such an approach guarantees that the game doesn’t lose momentum. A brave and charming choice will usually land well, and even if it’s a little shaky, your generosity will buy your teammates a few extra seconds to find their own footing.
4.) Celebrate the effort. An astute caller – either standing aside from the action or playing beside everyone else – can help set everyone up for abandon. I quite like just the simple device of ringing a bell or verbally announcing a button once each character has had sufficient time to play out their angle. (You can also encourage the audience to clap, laugh or groan so that efforts aren’t met with suffocating silence.) This editing device also offers a safety valve if an improviser had something but can’t quite find it now they’re standing in front of the audience. When the caller (and the ensemble in general) really communicates a sense of joy, this does a lot to reduce the sting of a “less than stellar” attempt. Furthermore, keep an eye out for when an energy drop or home run invites a new suggestion or calling the game as a whole.
Line games tend to privilege individual wit and a more gag-infused style of play. Although these facts hold true for World’s Worst, the frame also encourages and rewards more character-centric choices and develops a taste for irony, inconsistency and contradiction. These are all improv tools that will serve you well across multiple games and formats.
Connected Concept: Gagging