Common in long form improv, meta moves are typically choices that examine the nature of the scene, the form, perhaps even improv as a whole, generally breaking the fourth wall. A lot of popular improv troupes are touted by fellow improvisers as being “so meta,” and that’s meant as a compliment.
Of course, meta moves can be clever and entertaining, but I have a very specific bone to pick with these choices: they’re difficult to relate to.
There are comedians that are referred to as “comedians’ comedian,” which has two distinct meanings, which may both be in play at once.
Good: You are a favorite of other comedians, because they love to watch you perform.
Bad: Your jokes only make other comedians laugh.
My concern with meta moves is that they appeal primarily to people who understand improvisation. They may go over well when you have fellow improvisers in the audience, but non-improvisers will be left in the dark, wondering why that weird move was considered funny.
Meta Moves = Pop Culture References
Have you ever tried to pull out a reference to a movie, only to find that no one in the crowd has seen it? Felt pretty bad, eh?
Meta moves should be treated the same way as pop culture references. If you’re playing specifically for a group full of improvisers, then by all means go meta if the scene calls for it.
If you’re playing for a crowd that’s only ever seen Whose Line Is It Anyway?, then recognize that your references to improv gimmicks and forms will likely fall on deaf ears.
Fundamentally, it’s about reading the room and respecting the audience’s sensibilities.