Waiting for Sandy Jim...

Life is short. Improv slots are even shorter. The latter was never more apparent to me than the night my team met Sandy Jim…

I am part of The Parentheticals, a London-based improv comedy team. We are a narrative longform group and our format is a fantasy quest.

We typically have fifteen to twenty minutes to complete these ad-libbed adventures, so we move quickly. You can only have dessert (action, high emotions, devastating losses) after you are done with your main course (set up and exposition). We will never fight a dragon if no one mentions that’s who is guarding the sword.

We must get to the point fast. This was a lesson made all too clear by Sandy Jim.

This is not Sandy Jim. Photo credit: Skeeze (via Pixabay).

This is not Sandy Jim. Photo credit: Skeeze (via Pixabay).

Thursday 16th February 2017. Our tenth outing for the format. A fifteen-minute slot.

I was one of the protagonists. We were searching for an armadillo, so naturally we had gone to a pet shop. The store owner told us about a wise magical being called Sandy Jim who could teach us about timber. If we brought wood back to the shop, we would get our armadillo.

I know, I know – SUCH a hacky plot…

Sandy Jim lived up a mountain. At this point in the show, we were running out of time. Our allocated slot was almost up. We should not go to a new location.

We went to a new location.

Our protags duly went to meet Sandy Jim. Instead of imparting lessons about timber, he toyed with us. Wanting something resembling closure, I blurted to my fellow hero “you were the armadillo all along”. Yes, a cheesy take on “the real treasure was the friends we made on the way”, the cliché so beloved by Twitter that it’s a popular joke format.

That ended up being the last line of the set. It made no sense. We should have had, according to our watches anyway, two minutes left in which to justify it, but no. The end!

When a show is done, we usually focus exclusively on the positives and collectively recap all the show’s best bits. Not that night though. We were in no mood to dole out praise. Nobody hung around at the pub afterwards – we wanted to get home to mope.

The Parentheticals, mid-quest (photo by Yung-Yi).

The Parentheticals, mid-quest (photo by Yung-Yi).

We have performed many quests since that night. Each one helped improve our format or understand how to succeed within it. Whenever a story implodes in rehearsal, our next run is always sharper.

Sure, a “bad” gig is frustrating in the immediate aftermath, but making mistakes is part of the process of getting better. Glorious failures hurt, so we remember them. We are now better prepped to avoid similar pitfalls.

In this case, Sandy Jim served as an excellent example of getting to the point. With the sole exception of the absurdist theatre classic Waiting for Godot, discussions about someone who is not onstage are dull (especially if their absence is not integral to the action or themes). It is funnier to see characters try to act civil around a foe than watch them badmouth an enemy who is not there.

We should have got Sandy Jim on immediately. We should have followed the fun. His name alone suggests a silly character that audiences want to see and that we want to play. If we had introduced Jim sooner, he could have sent us somewhere silly or granted our wish. Either way, we would have been rewarded with an armadillo…

The Parentheticals now know we will have far more fun if we get to the point quickly. Screw delayed gratification! Bring on Sandy Jim.