Improv, not comedy

Colin Sumner, Business Manager

Photo by Netflix
Middleditch and Schwartz poster.

Middleditch & Schwartz, a Netflix original series of completely improvised comedy specials premiered recently on Netflix. The show’s two stars, Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz, may sound like unfamiliar names. However, if you were to take a closer look at their experience, you would find they have been in popular television shows such as Silicon Valley and Parks and Recreation.  Their new series is completely unscripted and recorded in front of a live audience at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. 

The special is a long-form improv; it uses no costumes, props or special effects – just Middleditch and Schwartz.

The show always begins with the same question posed to audience members: “what is something that you are looking forward to or dreading?” After, both Middleditch and Schwartz have a conversation with the person who shouted out the event, and the audience member’s story dictates the plot and characters for their improv show.  At this point in the show, the pair are trying to figure out from the audience member the who, what, where, when, why, and even how of the audience member’s story. This back and forth with the audience sets the stage for what is to come next. 

Middleditch and Schwartz hold up to their promise of performing based on just one conversation. The talent of both Middleditch and Schwartz is remarkable; they are able to improvise for nearly an hour. In addition, they have mastered the ability to switch between characters very quickly. Moreover, an important note within their performances is their ability to switch places with each other and add to the character that they have created. 

However, many times, there can be too much happening on stage. Too often it seemed like they had forgotten the names of the people within the storyline but were able to slightly recover from this by using distinct voices for each character within the scene. But, the point of watching something humorous is to enjoy the program and laugh. All together, the jokes and their routine did not come across as very funny. 

Something special about going to see improv is being in the room and experiencing the show first-hand. In addition, some improv performances’ greatest laughter can root from the use of expletives within the show. In this instance this was not the case; instead, Middleditch and Schwartz used profanity to highlight an emotion rather than to tell a joke. 

Overall, the audience wasn’t shown all that much as compared to other Netflix comedy specials. On the rare occasion that the camera did pan to the audience, some had a smile on their face and some were laughing. Instead, I heard constant laughter and it felt as if people were being forced to laugh. 

Over television, the feeling of being part of the performance is lost and instead, it feels like you’re rewatching the game you taped the night before. Therefore, it felt more of a chore to get through than a true comedy special or even fun improv show.