When you’re talking about improv to the point where someone accidentally falls asleep, you know some gems are about to bestow themselves on to you. Some of them are half asleep attempts at rationalizing how to edit within a two person group and those are nice, but sometimes you hit the real nugget that makes you think heavily about improv in a way that you’d never expect. This is my attempt to share the best things I’ve ever heard about improv and why they seem important.
I think this one we’ve all heard, but it doesn’t make it any less important. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it or how many classes or workshops you’ve gone through, if you’re not having fun, something’s wrong. It seems like such a simple thing to do but is probably the most difficult thing to do once you’re an adult. When we are children fun is just a part of the deal, but somewhere down the line that changes. All of the sudden we become self-conscious and wonder what people think of us and now all of the sudden we are ashamed to wear dirty sweatpants in public because of how people might view us. And wearing dirty sweatpants might be really fun. The thing about fun is that it’s always there. At any point in our lives there exists a potential for fun, be it on the train, at work, or when you feel like you’re doing meaningless work. Fun is like air, it’s all around us, we just can’t see it. So if you ever think, “I’m not having fun on stage, how do I fix that?” start by having fun off stage, worse case scenario: you have FUN.
I was recently in Chicago and got to sit in on a friends rehearsal and my mind towards improv was shifted with the words “It’s ok to be you”. In improv we have a tendency to mask ourselves and our truths because we are on stage and we feel like we need to play a character that is not us. I definitely thought this way and most of my characters ended up being two-dimensional as a result. However, when you play a character but you add your personal spice and flavor to it through your own truths and opinions on things, the character becomes alive because we no longer have to force truth to let it flow naturally from us. We all have opinions on things in some way, shape, or form and it’s ok for these truths to come out during a set. If you feel self conscious thinking that people will hear your opinions on something, guess what? The audience won’t think it’s you, because you’re playing a character. As people we all have different opinions on things and that’s what makes our opinions so beautiful is that they are different and should be shared in a place where there is no right or wrong.
“Aim for Excellence”
I was listening to a Improv Nerd podcast with David Pasquesi recently and he said that whenever he does a show he doesn’t aim for funny but rather for excellence. He says that if you aim for funny, you’ll most likely hit something below funny and that’s not good, but if you aim for excellence, you will end up having a great show or a funny show even. This is not to say that there should be any pressure on the set to be excellent and anything else won’t suffice, it’s that whatever mindset you approach the set with is usually how it will end up. Kanye West has a line in his song Homecoming that goes like this “Reach for the stars so if you fall you land on a cloud”, this exemplifies exactly what Pasquesi is talking about, we may not reach the stars but by shooting for them, you’re going to end up a lot closer to that goal than if you sell yourself short. Aim for excellence, but don’t be downtrodden if you don’t hit it. Perfection is an unattainable ideal, but we can accomplish great things by trying to get there.
“Never let improv become the most important thing in your life”
I first heard this a couple years ago when the Second City Touring Company came through town and one of the members told me this. This almost seemed hypocritical at the time because after all, when you’re on Tourco, isn’t improv your life? I realized later what she meant by this. Improv can never become the most important thing in your life because the second it does, you have nothing to bring to the stage. What makes improvisation great is that it is completely based off of us, we like to say audience suggestion, but let’s face it, everything is because of the people you are on stage with. We each bring interesting viewpoints to the stage and no two people will think the same about everything. If improv becomes our top priority we also lose track of our lives around us, and let’s face it there are plenty more things in life that are more important than improv, but it doesn’t make improv any less amazing.
“Remember how fortunate you are”
This one comes from a guy who asked TJ Jagodowski what he thought about before stepping out before a show, the first two are nice: Don’t Panic and Make an Emotional choice so you’re safe. But it was this third one that caught my eye. We really do need to remember how fortunate we are to be able to do what we do. In perspective, we are incredibly lucky that we have led lives that have made us come to this point to do something not everyone gets to do. I am always blown away by the fact that people will pay money to come see a show where everything is made up right then and there. We also are fortunate enough that we get to provide the world with laughter, which, according to the Muppets is the third greatest gift in the world. But what I like most about this quote is that it reminds me of the mantra for my mother’s non-profit organization which is “To serve is a privilege” and the more I think about it, it truly is a privilege to serve and help people. It is also a privilege to be able to step up on a stage and have a great time and make people laugh. We have been given a great gift and we must always remember how fortunate we truly are.
Here’s a picture of a kitten to remind you how fortunate you are to be able to look at pictures of kittens.