Ben Woolf died today from injuries he received when he was struck by a car three days ago. Ben was part of the workshop for many years, until he left to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. He was just starting to find success, having appeared for two years in the cast of the network television show American Horror Story. Online you’ll find better descriptions of his career than I’d be able to write here. Instead I want to take a moment to remember him during his time here at SBIW.
Ben started coming to the workshop sometime in 2005, and the earliest pictures I have posted in the blog show him working with the group in 2006. Ben was great fun, an enthusiastic improviser, and everyone liked working with him. I know I did.
Ben worked with us for many years, as a student in the workshop and as a performer in our shows. Even after he moved south to pursue an acting career, Ben would come by the workshop from time to time. We all had a great time when he did.
I’ve got far too many photos of Ben to post them all. I’ve just picked out a few from throughout the years. They aren’t in any particular order or theme, just photos that I think captured Ben’s whimsical humor, but also his range of performance.
I saved these last photos because they are from a workshop when Ben’s father Nick also attended. It was great fun seeing the two of them perform together.
We’ll miss you Ben. You touched me and everyone who knew you with your wit and charm. I’m glad you were able to reach as many people as you did with your success on screen, but you were taken way too early.
There are few people I know who can authoritatively write about the difference between improv and comedy. John Kinde has just the right skill set, and a great article to prove it.
John has an interesting background, and it includes teaching improv. Right now he’s living in Las Vegas, but for several years he lived and taught in Santa Maria. One of his venues for learning was here at the Santa Barbara Improv Workshop. For several years he drove down every Wednesday night. He also put on amazing improv shows in Santa Maria and always invited the Santa Barbara players to participate. If you ever get the chance to take one of his workshops, I recommend it.
He’s also a public speaker, gives workshops on using humor in public presentations, and writes the blog Humor Power where he shares his knowledge and experiences. I read his writings regularly. Today John posted an article discussing the differences between comedy and improv, and it’s great read. I think he nailed the differences and also talked about what makes improv funny.
Ben Whitehouse over at the Improvoker has written an interesting article about comedy in improv. He discusses the difference between going for a quick gag in a scene vs. building up a truthful scene that is funny in a complex, emotional way. The sort of difference you’d find between fast food and a complex, gourmet meal (my poor metaphor).
In my opinion, good improv should not be about winking to the audience or just focusing on laughs – not ever. However, itâ€™s also not necessarily about being â€œreal.â€ Itâ€™s about being â€œtruthful.â€
I find the distinction between real and truthful to be a helpful one. I try not to get hung up on whether the setting or the offer is “realistic”, but instead I focus on my character’s (or my own) emotional reaction to the setting or the offer. Given the situation (however bizarre), and my character (however extreme), how would I feel and then how do I react from those feelings.
And the audience’s reaction isn’t always the best measure of whether what we are doing is good improv. I don’t necessarily mean to ignore the audience (although I’ve had instructors who were contemptuous of the audience), and I’m certainly susceptible to an audience’s feedback (it’s tough playing to a quiet audience), but I think the quote in the article from Del Close is a sobering truth:
Just because theyâ€™re laughing doesnâ€™t mean weâ€™re succeeding