Paloof & Manstuff Found the “Societatis Extempore Comoedia,” New York’s first Improv School

As the next generation of Dan and Jay’s Comedy Hour took over, Paloof and Manstuff, now retired from the Dan and Jay mantle, took what they learned on that fateful night on the Titanic (and aboard the Carpathia, the ship that brought Titanic’s survivors to New York) and started to teach it to other performers.  They started with the Three Rules of Impromptu Comedy, established over their four days attempting to entertain those aboard the Carpathia:

  1. Make them care
  2. Use your surroundings
  3. Make them come back

After realizing that they not only had a captive audience, but an audience who needed mental escape, Paloof and Manstuff realized that they had the makings of a perfect comedy world aboard those ships.  If you have a theatre audience who wants to leave, the only thing you can do is perform something reliably funny, or lock the doors.  What if, they asked themselves, you could find a middle ground – what if you could make your audience feel like the doors were locked without having to violate the fire code or kidnapping statutes?  The key here was to make them feel like the performers depended on them.  Paloof would say, “Ask the audience to write the keystones of the sketch for you.  They’ll feel invested and, if they don’t, they’ll at least feel guilty enough not to depart the theatre, knowing they were a part of the making of this thing they may now want to leave with all of their being.”  Keeping them in the seats was always the answer in comedy, and they’d found a new way to almost guarantee it.

Using your surroundings was a concept that Manstuff realized was integral to their work.  When the Carpathia passengers no longer wanted to make suggestions for people, places and situations, Paloof and Manstuff simply looked around the room.  “We did so many sketches about carafes of milk and life preservers that you’d think the audience would have stopped caring,” Manstuff said, “and you might be right, only we made each sketch just slightly different enough that they were compelled to see what was different.  After all, where else were they going to seek entertainment?”  In practice, this was much easier.  Their first performance space in New York was littered with props and furniture from failed shows and from street corners, to inspire the actors who paid to learn from these two masters.

The only concern they had with translating their sea-bound comedy experiences onto dryland was that the only true escape from their comedy on the Carpathia was jumping overboard into ice cold waters and to certain death.  They quickly realized that the thing keeping everyone together on this brief, but traumatic journey, was all about the bond these people had created with one another.  Trauma was keeping them bound as a group.  To their first group of students, they explained that if they can’t bring the audience together with trauma, they should do the next best thing – bring the audience with them.  What if the audience was entirely composed of family and friends, they asked their students.  They’ll have to come back, they explained – if they don’t, they aren’t good family or friends.

It was a “suspense sandwich” between two slices of “guilt bread,” a recipe that kept the school in business for the next decade, at which point the school was taken over by a sex cult.

Author: Jay