SANTA MONICA, California — Pity the plight of the poor writer. Whether it's Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" or Christopher Guest's "For Your Consideration," the funniest movies of 2006 are still making audiences guffaw, and they're doing it without that time-honored Hollywood tradition: the script.
The next salvo from the quick-minded comes courtesy of the dim-witted officers at the center of "Reno 911!: Miami," a film based on Comedy Central's popular satire of a long-running reality-TV show, which features actors from the comedy troupe the State (see " 'Reno 911!' Flick Reunites Kooky Comedy Troupe The State").
Opening February 23, "Reno 911!: Miami" is hilarious and completely off-the-cuff — a large departure for a group of actors who were previously best known for their "meticulously scripted sketches," director and star Ben Garant pointed out. "For some reason we started doing this show and it worked out that everybody could do improv. None of us ever did it until the very first time we were on the set of 'Reno.' We were a sketch group and scripted every word we ever said."
"As a sketch group we were terrible at improv," co-star Kerri Kenney added.
So how does a group of actors go from "terrible" to terrific? By learning the science of improv, say Garant and co-star Thomas Lennon — and then ignoring every single rule as often as possible.
"There's a science [to improv], but we don't do it. You're supposed to say, 'Yes, and,' no matter what anybody says to you," Garant explained. " 'We live in an ice cream shop!' — you agree with them and then add something to it — 'Yes, an ice cream shop in outer space!' On 'Reno 911!' we say, 'No, shut up, f--- you, we're not in an ice cream shop, sir.' We kind of ignore what you're supposed to do."
"We do 'No, stop' instead of 'Yes, and,' " Lennon laughed, adding, "The thing you're always trying to figure out in improv is 'What does somebody want?' We always want the exact same thing, which is whoever to stop doing what they're doing. It makes our agenda very easy."
Another thing that makes their agenda very easy, said Garant, is the fact that reality TV is so ubiquitous, everyone comes to the show with a "common vernacular." "A lot of times when you're trying to do improv, everybody's doing a different style. Some people talk like [they're in] a '50s movie. Somebody else comes in and they watch a lot of Tarantino. It's very weird, very difficult to get a groove going," he said. "But because everybody has seen 'Cops' and knows what 'Cops' is, they come to our set and know what to do. Everybody on our set is speaking the same language."
Even though they're improvising with a common vocabulary, castmembers are quick to point out that what looks like unfettered spontaneity on TV is in reality drastically edited content.
"We do takes that are usually 8 to 12 minutes and edit," Garant observed. "It's interesting because it will usually be really funny at first, then there's a middle part where you can tell everybody's feeling out which way it's going and it's not so funny, then it will hit a groove and get really funny again. It's really like you're seeing a highlight reel of about 20 minutes of improv."
It's a formula Lennon credits with making the show such a huge success.
"I think the fans of the show can tell that everything we're saying is coming to us right then. If we bothered to write it down I think kids would tell that there's an insincerity to it," Lennon said. "I think people like that it really feels like real people saying real, off-color things to each other. In fact, many cops have told us they feel like it's the most accurate cops show on TV because of the way we talk to each other."
Check out everything we've got on "Reno 911!: Miami."
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