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Coming To A Comedy Club Near You: The Chloe Veltman

August 3, 2010

Beatles_Ringo_Starr_1964.jpgThe idea that language is an arbitrary construct, a manmade and sometimes haphazard system created to help us get through our days without too many terrible misunderstandings, is an old one. But it resurfaced in a conversation I had yesterday in an unexpected context.

The conversation centered on the naming of a type of long-form improvisation known among improv circles as "The Harold." The Harold came into being in 1967 in The Bay Area through the efforts of the seminal but now long-defunct San Francisco-based improv troupe, The Committee. It's basically a structure for organizing an improvised theatrical sketch that's organized in three sets of three scenes.

One of the troupe's members decided to name the format Harold, according to Committee founder Alan Myerson, because he was inspired by a scene in the Beatles movie Hard Day's Night. In the film, an interviewer asks Ringo Starr: "What do you call that hairstyle?" To which Ringo responds, "Arthur."

Hence, Q: What do you call that form of improvisation? A: Harold.

I read somewhere that a few members of The Committee later regretted giving the improv form that name. So I asked Alan what he might have called the format were he given the chance to re-title it. Without hesitation, the great improv producer and teacher answered:

"I would call it, The Chloe Veltman."

"Huh?"

Alan's reasoning was this: "The idea of The Harold came out of the immediate circumstances happening in the present and immediate situation in which they found themselves. That's what improvisation is. And that's what life is. You can't name the format we came up with back in 1967 anymore than you can name string theory. I don't know that there is a better name for The Harold than The Harold. But The Chloe Veltman would be fine as an alternative."

Speaking of improv, check out the San Francisco Improv Festival which starts on August 12 and runs till August 21.

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