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Finding the "Button"

I'm writing today about happy endings.

The very last line or beat of a scene is called the "button". The button can be a funny line that sums up the whole story, or a pun that ties everything up in a funny way, or simply the final remark. When you get good at delivering a button, you can dramatically improve the lasting impression of your scene.

The button is hard to master - it's half in the delivery and half in the content. I've seen many terrible scenes (because they were not going anywhere or not clear) vindicate themselves because an improvisor quips in with a clever ending line that makes everyone feel better. The button saved the scene! I've also seen many great scenes seem to fizzle at the end because they couldn't find a neat way to wrap it up.
Thinking of a good button .....

So here's how to master the button: It's a mix of delivery and content.

The delivery: The button has a certain definitive sound. It usually ends on a downward inflection versus an upward inflection that would make it sound like a question and continue the scene. This aurally suggests to the audience that the scene is done. "And that's why I'll never eat cotton candy before going to a bike shop ever again!" Try reading that sentence with a downward inflection at the end. You can make it FEEL like the end of a story by going up on the word "ever" and down on the word "again". The delivery can indicate that it's the final line. Get used to feeling when a scene is coming to a close and experiment in the timing around delivering that button. There will be a window of opportunity when it's clear that the scene needs a good button to end on. Sometimes it can be sooner than you think.

The content: A good button sums up a scene. It can be what a character learned from the situation, what was experienced in the scene, or simply a positive note. This is the time to think back on the suggestion that inspired the scene, what happened to the characters, and what the audience liked about the scene. Ask yourself if there are any loose ends that you could tie up in that final line. Is a pun coming to mind? If none of these options are obvious, you can always end on a positive note "... and that was the best trip to the doctor I've had since she used to give me lollipops." Ending positive will always be a good note to end on, whereas a negative ending can be a drag if your joke doesn't land.

Jon Snow's button is often "winter is coming"
So, pay attention to endings! They often contribute to your overall reaction to a scene. Master buttons, and feel confident that you're going to tie everything up at the right time with the right words.

And, scene!


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