I’d like to start by pointing out just how ridiculous it is to break down the story structure of a completely improvised show. But I actually think there's value in the exercise, and I'll dig into why in a bit. Also, once you've typed the sentence, “Kathleen says she made romantic, nasty-style love to Short Paul," you become at peace with ridiculous.
On today’s Storyclock Research Log, we’re analyzing “Parking Lot Wedding”, one of the three new Middleditch & Schwartz improv comedy specials that made their way to Netflix this month. As usual, we watched the special and used the Storyclock Notebook to visualize it’s story structure in the form of a clock. Are we the first blog to analyze the structure of an improvised comedy special? Without doing any research on that, yes.
Let's Break It Down
Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz are so smart and witty that analyzing their special isn’t really that weird. They created a full-fledged story with multiple character arcs, solid drama, and even some story symmetry!
- Opening: Dave gets ready for his wedding.
- Normalcy: Cory visits Dave in his room and they shoot the shit.
- Normalcy Disrupted: Cory gives Dave some news he just received– turns out Kathleen (the bride to be) used to date Short Paul.
- Herald: Dave gives Cory a mission: to stop Short Paul from saying something mean at the wedding.
- Acceptance/Break into Act 2: Cory gets promoted to best man and takes on the mission. Dave tells his douchebag brother, Sebastian, that he’s 7 of 7 in the groomsmen ranking.
- B Story Begins: Enter our antagonist: Short Paul. He talks to the maid of honor, Marnie (aka Amber? We don’t really know) and tells her that he used to make sweet sweet love to Kathleen in the 6th grade and saved her from a clown robber that mugged them after an opera one day. In the 6th grade. Marnie says that Dave tells the same story, except in his version he saved Kathleen.
- Midpoint: Short Paul vows to get vengeance. Excuse me– revengeance.
- Things Get Worse: At the wedding, Short Paul says something mean and confesses his love for Kathleen. Kathleen confirms that they used to make sweet sweet love.
- Hero’s Last Resort: The Ghost who is officiating the wedding claims that the rule is that if someone says something mean enough, the lady gets to choose.
- Game Over: Before Kathleen chooses, it’s revealed that the Ghost is actually the clown from the opera-mugging story. He says that neither Dave nor Short Paul killed him, and it was actually an accident.
- Break Into Act 3/Hero Gains Upper Hand: Kathleen obviously chooses Dave over Short Paul and they get married.
- Ultimate Breakthrough: Dave promotes Sebastian to best man and he’s suddenly an amazing brother.
- Final Image: Ghost gets sent to heaven after Sebastian says he loves him.
Stuff That Stood Out To Me
- Oddly symmetrical moments: Dave (then “Dan”) makes Cory his best man / Dave makes Sebastian his best man
- Oddly symmetrical moments: Short Paul tells Marnie he used to go steady with Kathleen / Short Paul says something mean, aka tells everyone that he used to go steady with Kathleen
Here’s the thing with improv– you would never use a method like this to develop an outline or a story. Because improv. But you know what you can use it for? Research.
These guys may not walk out onstage with a plan, but what they do walk out there with are years of training, writing, and performing under their belts, and an innate sense of what a loosely structured story looks and sounds like. All that wisdom and experience allows them to go out there and do what they do (and make it look so damn easy in the process).