Starting with Clapton

“I also think if you’re an actor and you can improvise, when you go on an audition and you can improvise you’re just a genius. If you can, you know, take a Tide commercial and you can just say one funny line that’s not in the commercial they think you’re a genius.”
Amy Poehler


Starting with Clapton

Eric Clapton may be the most famous guitarist in the world. He plays rock and roll with a very heavy blues influence and it can be comfortable as blues proper. Signature to his style is the guitar solo with a suggestion of inspired improvisation.

Starting in the mid-60s with The Yardbirds and then Cream, one can feel astonished that rock and roll was only ten years old! Most historians will tell you that 1956 was the year with either Rocket 88 by Ike Turner or Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets.

But, you only have to listen to Roll ’em Pete from 1938 to know that no matter what the historians say, rock was on the rails and rolling down the line.


The guitar solo was nothing new at all. All through the Swing Era we saw solos by the great musicians like Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie or even the drum solos of Gene Krupa. The rock and rollers were doing nothing unseen before.

Improvisation was something new. It was part of the new art form defined as Post Modern and began around 1960ish.

All the artists in the 60s grabbed onto the idea of improvisation. Miles Davis with jazz music was one. Richard Foreman began his Ontological-Hysteric Theater in 1968 and is still cooking today; colleges hire him to show the kids what improv is all about. The Groundlings, the famous improv comedy group began in 1974 and is still doing stuff now. Candidly, I can’t think of a good example for improv-dance as a company. I will think about it.

One time I sat in the theater watching a improvisational theater show. A woman sat behind me and made these little gasping noises as if she were being shocked and enlightened by the work. Wotta noob! The whole thing was a crock of shinola.

Improv sucks.

First of all, 80% of presented improvisation has been rehearsed. That rapper in a rap battle is no more spontaneous than a quip from Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin Table. Eric’s long rambling guitar solos sound a lot alike night after night with only a little variation. The improv comedy guys get laughs mostly because they are supposed to be funny.

Will Ferrell sucks. We laugh at his “San Diego is a whale’s vagina” joke because we are shocked into it. How did that make it into the movie? And he is one of the better improv guys.

How bad is it? I saw a Melissa McCarthy movie where her co-actor kept backing her up like a truck to have her deliver different variations of a the joke. This made it to the movie, printed and wrapped.

Improv doesn’t suck.

I can’t really blame Snoop Dog and Tina Fey and Eric Clapton for doing improv work. As artists, they are stuck. There needs to be a new thing to counter improv but nothing has come along.

In the brief, really, sixty years of Modern we got: Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract, Impressionism, Expressionism, Minimalism, Absurd, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Pointillism and (lord save me) Avant Garde all as established artforms.

It was super exciting at the time to see a blank white canvas with a red dot in the corner because it was rejecting a prior artform and a defining a new one. Jackson Pollok really did spatter paint but he was freaking serious about it and must be appreciated in the context of ever changing art movements.

The 1960s gave us Post-Modern with it’s defining improvisation and we are stuck in it. There should have been a new thing in 1963 and then in 1967 and then a rejection of it all and a redefining of art in 1969.

Cubism for sixty years would suck too. Imagine sixty years of actors shouting out “macaroon!” in the absurd style of Ionesco; your sit-coms, your dramas, your music and your comedy.

It is unbearable.

I was at a jazz concert one time. The horn player was enthusiastic and solo-ing to impress the girls. The guy next to me said, “He’s only playing scales”. And he was, it was do-ray-me-fa with urgency as if it had meaning. Once it was pointed out to me, it was easily dismissed.

Robert Altman made some genius movies like MASH using improv. But, he had a darn editing room to sort all of that stuff out. That dude was smart. The improv was a part of the process but not the product.

So: improv is great fun to perform.

It is horrible to watch.

We need a new artistic movement that redefines what making art is all about. We need something new really really really really really badly in the most important way.

And then we can reject it and move on to another new thing.

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