One of the founding members of the Bangor University Comedy Society and Thespianage, Rory discusses one of his favourite games to start a show!
Party Quirks. – usually 4 performers, 1 to host the party, the other 3 are guests. The guests are given quirks by the audience without the knowledge of the party host. They arrive at the party one by one and leave the party as the party host guesses their quirk.
If you don’t like this game, then you’re doing it wrong! A real standard in the improv world (or certainly in our group) but how can it still be so engaging?
Basically, it’s depth.
- The audience is involved. From the very beginning, with the performer who is the party host leaving the room, the audience are directly addressed and invited to give suggestions for the three party guests. The quick succession of suggestions requested settles the audience and by the third ask, they often come up with the funniest idea – which usually means the hardest for our performers to act out. Excellent. Party Quirks has a second element of audience participation too (aside from the laughing), it gives encouraging “oooohs” when the party host is close to guessing their guests’ quirks.
- Guessing games are real favourites. I’m sure this improv standard was born out of someone’s take on a parlour game. Parlour games are basically the original short-form improvised pieces where everyone in the room is in on the scene and invested in the moment (maybe because other distractions hadn’t been invented yet such as YouTube and Love Island). Party Quirks is a simple, accessible format (everyone’s been to a party) and not knowing who someone is whom you really should well, that’s a feeling we can all relate to! The audience want their suggestions to be guessed by a witty and clever party host, and are willing to help, which makes it all the more funny when they just can’t get it i.e. when they fail!
- The party host can be just as funny as the guests. The party doesn’t necessarily have to happen in a home or to celebrate a normal occasion. (Once, when I was party host, I held a super blood moon party – topical that week – complete with telescopes). This scene setting gives other objects or topics for your guests to interact with – allowing a greater potential for laughs. Another simple trick is that before the guests arrive, the party host can give a funny description of what’s in store, such as “today’s party is brought to you by the letter ‘H’”. Who doesn’t live a hummus, haggis and hornpipe music party? Furthermore, as long as the party host isn’t too disparaging, being annoyed at the guests and their behaviour (or their own inability to guess guests’ quirks) can make for big laughs too.
- Opportunities for teamwork. This should be a real focus for improv groups who are completely comfortable with performing this game i.e. no problems entering, being funny, giving progressively easier clues and exiting when guessed. Sometimes, your buddy just needs a helping hand with their quirk (where was “reluctant avocado” ever going to go?) – perhaps by incorporating simple questions into your performance such as “did your guest’s characters know each other before?” or “do you have different views on current affairs?”. Alternatively, you may offer the set up to a joke knowing your fellow performer’s quirk will finish it off nicely. To show real awareness, a performer could enter the party with real energy for a change of pace if the show atmosphere has become a bit flat, helping all fellow performers by saving the game – great teamwork!
- Every type of performer welcome. After being an improv troupe a while, you start to realise other members’ performing nature. There’s the one who does a lot of stand alone jokes (or puns); there’s the one who can do many good impressions; another relies on physical comedy – in Party Quirks, these all have the chance to shine. Individual performers too can approach each suggestion in a different comedy ‘style’ to add variety and contrast to other party guests.
- The host of the real life show can get involved if the party host is stuck. In an improv show, everyone is performing – not just the performers in games, but also the host of the show. The show host knows the individuals in their group and what sort of suggestions they like (and then choosing the ones they dislike). They also hold the power of letting a helpless party host keep squirming as they still fail to guess or they can stop the game and give sympathy by super easy clues for the party host.
For me, the above just about sums up what I love about Party Quirks and why it’s not dropping off our repertoire anytime soon! Do you have a fond Party Quirks memory? Is it a game you love to hate? If you have anything to add, I’d be interested as to what your thoughts are so leave a comment.
The above is written from the perspective of an improv comedy group specialising in short form.