First, the basics.
Party Quirks is an improv game for four to six players, known to most as one of the centerpieces of the ABC show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?". One of the players acts as the host of a party (birthday party, bachelor party, TGIAW party, whatever), and the other players act as guests at the party. Each guest is assigned an idiosyncracy (quirk, even) unknown to the host, who must then guess the guests' particular oddities while still maintaining the party to some degree.
Possible quirks include:
And so on in that vein.
But now the problem:
Party Quirks is a terrible game. And here's why.
- It's too darn hard. No, seriously. Even the professionals—people who do it on Whose Line, people like Greg Proops and Ryan Stiles—have serious difficulty with this game; watching novices play can be downright painful (Aside: To the bewilderement of improv pros, audience members want to see this game played to the exclusion of all other games. No adequate explanation has been offered for this phenomenon, aside from its Whose Line? popularity.) Audiences, with rare exceptions, like to see people doing improv succeed rather than fail, and seeing a floundering host begin guessing randomly both detracts from the audience's enjoyment and from the group energy of the performers. You may be asking, "Why's it so hard?" Well...
- Too much going on onstage. Say what you will about actors, but a key part of theatre is controlling who has the focus of a scene, and making sure that the right person (or people) has it. Having one person onstage who is a Tyrannosaurus rex, one who has Tourette's syndrome, one who thinks everyone is a terrorist, and one person frantically trying to figure out what the hell is going on flat-out contradicts this principle. But an even greater flaw exists.
- It runs contrary to what improv is all about. The top priority in improvised comedy is the development of a scene. Yes, this comes even before the entertainment of the audience, because they can't laugh if there's nothing coherent to laugh at. Unfortunately, the rules of Party Quirks quite literally preclude this from happening. Guests enter the party for no apparent reason, acting out whatever bizarre scenarios they have been given, and when, at long last, the host guesses what they're doing, they exit with no motivation for doing so. Things still have to happen for a reason, even if the reasons are bizarre.
By writing this node, I hope to prevent future improvvers from being so tempted to play the game, and, after watching it crash and burn (as it does virtually without exception), clutching the tattered remains of their lives and muttering, "What went wrong?" It's not your fault, it's just a bad game.
If by some chance you do get snookered into playing, here's some tips to help stem the bleeding:
- Keep It Simple, Stupid. Start off with easier quirks. Plunging right in with ones you've seen on TV (I've lost count of the times I've heard "He's a fireworks display!" suggested; apparently that one was on Whose Line once) is a sure-fire recipie for disaster. Knowing which generation your host belongs to is also important, if you're dealing with pop culture quirks.
- Guess coherently. Nothing sucks more than seeing a host onstage shouting frantically to a guest that "You're a flowerpot! You're Groucho Marx! You're Sputnik!" If you're going to make a guess, work it into the scene somehow. Instead of saying, "You're Jimmy Hoffa," try saying, "So, how're things down in the end zone at Giants Stadium?" Assuming that everybody knows what you're talking about, this will get a better reaction and it makes more sense.
- Know your role. As I mentioned above, focus is critical to a good scene. Therefore, when another guest is interacting directly with the host, keep doing whatever it is you're doing, but tone it down a little, so that the focus will be on just the one guest (and the host, of course, but the focus is almost always on the host, as he's the one breaking out in a cold sweat). It's hard to "tone it down" when you're, say, a pyromaniac, but do the best you can.
- Four on the floor. Four players—three guests and a host—is the maximum that this game can tolerate. Five is a possibility, but any more than that and the flaws outlined above become fatal and send the game screaming into a wall of burning tires at Mach 3. I have seen this happen, and it is a terrible thing to behold.
That's about all you need to know about Party Quirks. Good luck