Character Growth in Fandom Improv

by Alan Leightizer

Alan at the 2017 Pirate Festival
Photo by OOC Photography

When thinking about comedy, many people don’t think about character development. Character development happens though – and it’s vital, especially in fandom improv. But how does that character development happen? What inspires it?

The inspiration for character development in fandom improv – and outside it

I play Worlds Adrift, a PvP (player versus player), MMO (massively multiplayer online) game where you build flying machines to take you from island to island in a huge skyworld. Along the way, you interact with other players – sometimes helping, sometimes fighting. One day, while I was playing, I ran into a pirate crew that was bullying new players into giving them resources. I tried to fight the crew off, but just got myself beaten up. Before the crew took off though, I exchanged a few playful barbs with them. The next night, I needed a bad guy NPC (non-player character) for my Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I riffed on the head of the pirate crew – who spoke in ALL CAPS during our entire engagement, creating a bard who always yelled as my bad guy.

My plan was for the bard to be defeated at the end of the session; but, instead of offing the character, my players recruited him into the party by sharing tales of avarice and bardic skill. Now that the bard is a member of that party, his character is evolving, taking on a life of its own, outside the original inspiration.

The same thing happens with each character in The Dandies’ long-running fandom improv shows.

While our fandom improv characters start as simple spoofs, satirizing the original show, they turn into complex beings, driven by their own wants, needs, and personalities.

The perfect example of this is our Harry Potter fandom improv show. In it, I play Almost Stumblemore, the bumbling – and occasionally wise – head of the wizardry school. While Stumblemore began as a comedic guide for Larry Otter, he’s already growing into his own entity.

What’s exciting about fandom improv is that you don’t know how your characters will develop; their evolution depends on what happens onstage, in the moment. While Stumblemore is still a comedy send-up of Albus Dumbledore, his experiences from show to show are already causing him to grow into his own being, beyond the confines of the source material and entirely unlike anything I could have planned out alone.

Interested in the other types of growth fandoms can spark? Check out how Star Trek helped shape Dandies’ musical director, Jason Zinger into the man he is today!