I signed up for an Intro to Improv class recently, and I was honestly quite humbled. After watching so many seasons of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, I was thinking I will kill in this class. I was looking for the props (my favorite game) on day one.
Improv, my friends, especially for the novice, is not easy. But it’s a lot of fun.
The first concept I struggled with is: Don’t try to be funny. That’s really, really hard when it’s your life’s goal to make people laugh. Like a class clown, there’s nothing I enjoy more than breaking up the room with a quick line. But coming up with a quick line in the game of improv ping-pong (you feed up the line or your partner feeds one to you) isn’t like a classroom situation, or the perfect set up at an office meeting. The best lines are the ones that come out of left field, that surprise everyone, even yourself. Your mistakes are often gold.
You also accept anything another actor gives you – the “Yes, and…” concept. It’s totally affirmative. It’s also a best practice to make your partner(s) always look good. This positive environment is simply awesome. I left my first class with a smile and 15 new friends. There wasn’t one person in the room I didn’t like; and that's a first.
I’m not an actor, so a lot of this is brand new to me. I actually took the class because I want to be more spontaneous in my writing. I love my reactive comedy, but writing doesn’t work like that. I need to start it. I also want to give standup a shot, and I really have to build my confidence on stage. This will help me do that.
Another core concept is: Don’t think about what you’re going to say before you get up there. Again, not easy! But it makes total sense. Improv is not scripted. Thinking about what you’re going to say and delivering the perfect one-liner sounds contrived to the audience and simply disappoints. And you can get caught off guard when another actor goes in a direction you’re not expecting.
If you believe what you’re saying, so will your audience. But when I clear my mind, it often stays that way and I freeze. And then I don't know what I'm saying, let alone selling it. And that is humbling.
Then I worry so much about not being funny, that I fulfill my own prophecy. So I’m going to work on keeping my mind empty, not freezing up, not trying to be the class clown, and see what comes out of my mouth.
And I can’t wait for more games and techniques. It’s so much fun! Even when I tank.