To the 98% of people who have never taken improv and have a healthy fear of the stage and doing anything on it except drunken karaoke, improv is a mystery.
To the 98%, improv is not only difficult, it’s impossible to do if you’re not smart, funny or talented, and you’re definitely screwed if you’re an introvert, have a day job or have ever been sexually rejected.
But I have good news for you.
I’m here to tell you that the improv you speak of does not exist. In fact, I’m going to let you in on a real secret. You can do improv.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s break this down myth by myth.
1. You need to be funny to do improv.
This is one of the most powerful myths of all. Unfortunately, it’s caused a lot of “funny” dudes to steamroll everyone on stage while the audience gets so bored and uncomfortable they start online dating.
The truth is that you do not need to be funny to do improv. You don’t need to be witty, smart, or clever, and you definitely don’t need to be Chris Farley. In fact, the only thing you need to be is yourself and be okay with it.
2. Improv is hard.
There are only a few things that come naturally to humans. These are eating, sleeping, crapping, and being self-concious. Everything else is a learned skill and was hard at one time or another, but you stuck it out and learned them anyways. Just think of where you’d be if you thought walking was too hard to try.
Improv is not difficult. I could throw a dog on stage and it would do incredible improv. Would it be good? Maybe not, but that doesn’t matter. Just like any two year old can scribble on some paper and call it a drawing, so can an adult can step on stage and call it improv. Get on that stage.
3. It takes a certain kind of personality to do improv.
Let’s get this straight right here. There is no improv person. Look in the mirror at yourself. That is an improv person.
Fat people, short people, men, women, introverts, extroverts, geniuses, dummies, white, black, jeans, skirts, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take a personality, it takes being willing to kill your ego and connect with another person.
If you’ve ever compromised in a relationship, you’ve already done some valuable improv training. If you haven’t, then maybe you should try stand-up.
4. All improv is like “Who’s Line is it Anyways.”
Improv is like cooking food. There are a million and one ways to do it, but the general goal is the same: you want to make something that a creature can eat. Maybe it’s lentils, maybe it’s a gluten-free dog bone. It doesn’t matter because you’re still in the kitchen throwing things together hoping Kipper will love you more after you do this for her.
So improv is not just “Who’s Line is it Anyways.”
I’ve heard of improvised plays, movies, Shakespeare, mime acts, music, musicals and then there’s long-form improv, and short-form improv with a gazillion different forms and games and the variety is truly exhausting, and I don’t really want to go into it so let’s just go ahead and agree there are lots of different styles of improv and move on.
5. You should only do improv if you think you’ll be good at it.
Another comment I often hear from people when I tell them they should do improv is, “Oh, I’d never be like those guys on “Who’s Line is it Anyways.”
Yeah, duh. Of course you won’t.
Those guys trained for years before being able to perform at that level. At some point in time, they were terrible. At some point in life, they were unfunny. Believe it, friend.
Also, who cares if you won’t be good at it? Why do you have to?
I can barely draw but I still doodle. Some people say my driving isn’t spectacular, but that doesn’t stop me none. Why put that level of expectation on yourself?
Even people who are at the top of their field – doctors, designers, engineers – came through an entire heap of failures to come out all shiny on the other end.
So don’t say you can’t do improv because you wouldn’t be good at it, because you won’t be, just like the other 98% of people who do improv. Get over yourself and join the club.
6. Improv people tell jokes.
Sometimes when people hear I do improv, they ask me to tell them a funny story, or a joke or to do improv for them on the spot and it makes me want to freeze up and die. I used to get annoyed at this but now I realize that most people don’t know anything. And why should they? Improv is a niche market.
First of all, improv people don’t tell jokes. That’s what stand-up comedians do. The more an improviser tries to think of funny things to say and then say them in a scene, the less funny it will be, because that’s not how improv works.
Improv is not a planned activity, and it’s not the place for you to masturbate to your own ego and get off on your own humor. That’s what work is for. Improv is about building funny with other people.
The good news is that if you’re terrible at telling jokes, improv is probably for you!
7. Improv is a sure-fire way to make money.
8. I can’t do improv.
Yes you can. All it takes is the guts to sign up for a class or a session, the intestines to follow through on it, and the entrails to stick it out to the end to realize that you had no idea what you were so afraid of.
You won’t be the best at it, but why would you want to be? You might fail, but that’s awesome because it means you’re challenging yourself. Stop trying to be perfect and just have some fun. You will get more out of it than you could have ever imagined, so don’t deny yourself that chance.
If you’re picking up what I’m throwing down and want more of this ish, check out my blog and subscribe to the weekly newsletter that will enlighten, tickle and delight with updates on shows, humorous pictures, and advice on how to make life awesome.
I’m on this journey with you. Barf.