Eugene is Eating Pencils Again

by Chris Petersen

This is an improv set by some of the cast of House of Lies, a show I never watched. It’s probably a good show. Of the group, Ben Schwartz, Lauren Lapkus, Eugene Cordero, Josh Lawson, and Ryan Gaul have had improv experience. Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell have none (as far as I know).

I’ve watched this video several times and I’ve realized there’s a lot it articulates about improv for me, particularly about when something works against the rules, or when the improv is falling apart and how to recover. “Recover” isn’t the right word: they simply work with what might be a problem as if it wasn’t a problem in the first place (and it wasn’t). And my watching it over and over hasn’t been just for educational scrutiny; I find this set genuinely funny.

They make mistakes, miss details, run over each other, but somehow these things never remain awful, glaring issues. Part of that is being skillful at getting things back on track, but I’d say a bigger reason is their focus of having fun with the show. ‘Having fun’ doesn’t mean lowering quality and not taking it seriously. In an improv show, it means understanding there will be unexpected moments and not only allowing them, but celebrating them and seeing if they’ll take you to interesting places. “Getting into good trouble” is how I like to describe it.

You’ve no doubt seen improv shows where the players are all firmly toeing the improv rule line, all to the detriment of any expression of fun onstage. This is not a call to break all the rules, set fire to the opera houses, etc, but I offer this clip as evidence that willful rule breaking (and adjusting to the results) doesn’t automatically sink a set.

Below are some on-the-fly observations:

  • Any fuck up that happens (saying ‘kitten’ instead of ‘kid’ in the first scene, for example) gets jumped on immediately. There’s the game.

  • No waiting around. If an idea has run its course, they get out of there, good ending or not. It’s interesting how they don’t seem too concerned about good endings (by which I mean: there aren’t any).

  • During the restaurant scene, they are clearly trying to find a game and trying every game under the sun.  Bunch of waiters, to Kristen afraid because she didn’t tip, to different kinds of water, to Ben is about to propose, to bringing out champagne poorly, back to proposing, to everyone has a musical instrument. What a mess. Everyone has been in those scenes where nine people are throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.

  • I think Eugene Cordero just wanted to stick his Luis Guzman impression in somewhere. Even the pros want to force bits into shows.

  • Don Fucking Cheadle. Man’s a national treasure.

  • And so is Kristen Fucking Bell.

Posted on March 25, 2019 .