This interview-based game that I know as Good, Bad, Worst Advice promotes strong characterizations, clear points of view, and insightful steering on the part of the Host.
You’ll generally need four improvisers for this scene: three will assume the roles of experts or guests – typically sitting on stools or similar in a line – with the final team member serving as the host. It’s helpful to acquire a topic or theme, such as home improvement, college life or public transportation. The three guests each assume the stature of an expert or pundit on the topic: the first offering “good” or sound advice, the second providing “bad” or questionable thoughts, and the third sharing the worst advice of all. The host provides various questions – moving focus between the three candidates – allowing each to express their varied thoughts on the established topic. The scene usually begins with a brief preamble from the host followed by character introductions. It’s also helpful for the experts to physically position themselves in “descending” order across the stage and for the questioning to generally follow the titular order as well.
The scene continues based on the topic of “dating” after the host has established the premise and the characters are known…
Host: “…Which brings us to our next audience question. What words of wisdom do you have for someone keen to make a good first impression on their date? Seth?”
Player A: (“good” with an almost saccharine level of intense sweetness) “An excellent question. First impressions are crucial when you’re dating, so I’d recommend taking that extra moment to put on something that makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Pamper yourself a little, play your favorite music while you’re getting ready. Let your date see you at your very best.”
Host: “Excellent advice. What would you like to add, Kristen?”
Player B: (“bad” with an air of slight indifference) “Look, I want to be real with everyone. I think it’s a mistake to make a date feel like a job interview. Be comfortable, really comfortable. It’s easy to like someone who is on ‘their best behavior,’ but you’ll really know if the relationship has any potential if they like you as you really are, sweatpants and all.”
Host: “An interesting approach. Has that been working for you?”
Player B: “Well I don’t like to brag… and on an unrelated matter, if anyone out there is interested, come and see me after the recording…”
Host: “Well, okay! And Akin, how about you?”
Player C: (“worst” sitting in a slouchy posture with a beer and an esoteric demeanor”) “Would you repeat the question? I was checking out the audience…”
Host: “Of course. How do you make a good first impression on a date?”
Player C: “Impressions. What exactly are impressions? But leaving your mark, so I’d strongly advise that your write your name and number on everything you can so that everywhere they look they will always remember you…”
Clicking into a point of view or attitude helps so much in this game as it gives you an immediate take on the question even if your perspective continues to evolve and tighten as the scene continues. If you don’t thrive in or particularly enjoy formats that tend to expect us to “bring the funny,” this character-based approach can really make a difference as the humor will develop from your behavior as opposed to your quick wit. This advice also applies to the host who shouldn’t feel the need to be “neutral” in their facilitation.
Traps and Tips
1.) “Good” advice. The host should generally start with the guest occupying this position so in some ways your primary responsibility is to set the tone and introduce the conceit of the game. With a slightly quirky point of view it’s often almost enough to just answer the prompt at face value or with a slight edge or tilt. I’ve found that a lot of the playfulness of this role can come from their reactions to and interactions with the other two guests, although exercise caution in not bogging down the sequence too much. There can also be value in offering up a satire of good advice by pitching replies with a level of exaggeration that might reveal interesting tensions or assumptions in commonly held “wisdoms.”
2.) “Bad” advice. Each subsequent guest should be sure to find their voice based on the choices established by their teammates (hence the importance of a quick introductory round.) To this end, be cautious of mining material or assuming a perspective that aligns too closely with either of the other guests. In some ways this position can prove to be the trickiest in that you don’t want to be too bland (something “good” can do with a wink) but you also don’t want to be too interesting or inappropriate (which is the terrain of “worst.”) Finding this balance becomes easier as you develop a sense of where others are going, but it’s good etiquette to at least take a moment to assess the third expert’s energy as the scene begins so that you can move in a different direction if you initial instinct was similar. Seek generosity as the “worst” expert can have the weight of landing the climactic punchline or perspective.
3.) “Worst” advice. This role can simultaneously feel both the most frightening and the most exciting. There is built-in permission for “worst” to go off the rails a little (although this isn’t a must) and such a stance can provide a great energy that the others have to playfully wrestle. Make sure that you are “reading the room.” Worst advice isn’t synonymous with offensive or ugly advice. In fact, I would offer that this is the trap of this final position as there are so many gateways into terrible advice: naivete, passion, narrow mindedness… Finding a playful (dare I say likable) quality can frame the mischievousness in a more palatable manner which, ironically, then allows you to push boundaries a little further. Often this role can become the engine of the scene so make sure you’re throwing the focus sufficiently to your teammates for them to continue their own games as well.
4.) “Host” advice. There are a lot of the traditional hosting functions involved in this role, such as defining the premise, modeling the rules, and moving the focus between the various players. Chief amongst these duties is facilitating the scenic arc and helping the guest characters find their unique perspectives in a way that serves the greater scene. Give characters sufficient time to define themselves in the opening moments of the game as later material is likely to develop more effortlessly and land more successfully if this groundwork has been laid and the audience “knows” the gist of each persona’s deal. Some side conversations with the host can help in this regard; but, be cautious of slowing the momentum down too much. Some hosts like to gather questions from the audience: be aware that this practice might not give you a good build or organic escalation and you might need to do a little polishing. And while the game usually benefits from moving predictably from “good” to “bad” to “worst,” don’t become married to this order, especially if the fun or funny has unexpectedly developed elsewhere. If a character is on fire and “worst” is struggling a little to find their angle, there’s no reason not to shuffle up the order.
A little warning from the trenches that this game can expand considerably especially if everyone is in their stride. I vividly recall hosting the form as my first offering of the night in a Gorilla Theatre show where each director gets a cumulative time limit of fifteen minutes for all their scenes. We were having so much fun basking in the characters and relationships (one of the guests ended up being endowed as the host’s disaffected teenage child) that I ended up accidentally using over twelve minutes on my first scene alone – although it was worth it!
Most improvisers will have an innate preference for one of the four positions above but as each role truly offers up a unique set of lessons, take the risk of rehearsing or rotating into the other positions as well. The “worst” position can feel the most glamorous but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing as the other two guests as well. In fact, if you consider yourself a more aggressive improviser, assuming an earlier guest spot can help you to cede some control for the joy of your teammates and the betterment of the scene.
Connected Concept: Hosting