You’re here because you want to know how you, a mere mortal, could possibly do improv. You wouldn’t even know where to begin. That may be true, but I am here to tell you that you, a mere mortal, are perfectly able to do improv. Not only that, but you are completely qualified to start doing incredible improv right now.
But what does that mean? What does “doing improv” actually mean.
You might already have some ideas about what it takes to do improv, and you can go here to find some common improv myths debunked. But that still leaves us wondering – what IS improv? And what does it take to do it? Also, why? Why should you even care about doing improv?
Let’s dive in.
A simple google search reveals a lot of BS on what improv is and isn’t. I thought about quoting something from one of those sources, but then I realized that I can just add my own definition to the mix.
Improv is unplanned activity with the purpose of creating something new.
This can take place on stage or off stage and in many different contexts. It can be performed or not performed. It can be funny or dramatic. It can be almost anything, except for planned. It is most certainly not planned.
So what do you need to do improv?
1. Get out of your head and stop thinking.
Many people spend their lives chained to a desk, typing on their computers and prioritizing tasks. Or they’re constantly trying to think of the best, the fastest or the most efficient way to do a task.
Improv is this exact opposite of all this mental foam. The more thinking you do in improv, the worse it is. The more you’re in your head forgetting about your body, the more bored the audience is. Stop thinking and start doing. Do anything. Can you make a choice and commit to it? Then you can do improv.
2. Give up control.
In improv, by definition we don’t know what’s going to happen. That includes you. You do not know what’s going to happen. Instead of plotting the course of a story in your head (see above), start listening to what your partner is putting down.
Did they do something unexpected? Awesome. Roll with it like you’ve never rolled with anything before.
It’s not all about you. Just like in your relationships, you need to pay attention to what’s going on. Stop thinking of your next line and actually take in the words and the actions of the person that you’re speaking with or on stage next to. They will tell you what you need to do. Stop thinking and planning, start listening and doing.
4. Say yes.
Whatever your partner gives you is brilliant. Whatever the audiences yells at you is perfect (most of the time.) Whatever you do is incredible. Say yes to everything.
If you think what you’re doing is terrible, you will act like it’s terrible, and it will become terrible. The stage is your piece of art and if you whizz all over it and get ready to apologize for everything, don’t expect anyone else to think it’s great either.
5. Kill your ego.
You are not the smartest, funniest, most improv-iest improviser that has ever existed. Your ideas are not better than anyone else’s. You have no right to control anything and have every right to build off of other people’s ideas.
This is the part of the story where we take the weight of the world off your shoulders and let you breathe. Someone else is the idea woman today and all you need to do is show up and help make their magic happen. They’ll do the same for you.
6. Be fearless.
Don’t be afraid of looking stupid. No one is cool here. Don’t be afraid of making the wrong choice. There’s no such thing. Don’t be afraid of being unfunny. Embrace it. It’s not your job to make sure the improv is good. That’s everyone’s job.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Go after it. Fear can make you get into your head, ignore what’s going on around you, and make you look like you’re just a sweaty person on stage. Don’t let it do that to you. Be fearless.
7. Be real.
Have you ever talked with someone who was incapable of communicating without making jokes? After about fifteen minutes, wasn’t it tiring? Didn’t you just want to say something real? Even talking about the weather would have been welcome. When you first start improv, saying “random” things will be really fun. Corndog Slippery Nut Face!
But that kind of humor gets old, real fast. Instead of trying – key word here is trying – to be random, just say the first thing that comes to mind. Stop trying so hard. It’s not a good look on you. Just be real.
8. Dare to be unfunny.
Nothing can be more annoying than the “funny person” trying to do improv. These are the people that will ignore everything you do in a scene, force their own decisions on a group and in general tire everyone out and make things really unfun. I’ve been that person, but you don’t have to be. Please don’t be that person.
Dare to be boring. Dare to be unfunny. In fact, free yourself of the need to be anything and just be. Whoah doesn’t that feel nice?
So them’s some of the founding principals of improv. But you’re probably wondering….why bother?
Why should you put yourself through all this crap. Your life’s pretty good right? I mean after all, you are using a smart device to read this article. Take it from me, improv is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s not even a get-funny quick scheme. It’s not a get anything quick scheme. Learning improv is (SPOILER ALERT) not quick.
And it is a learned skill. Let me repeat that for you. Improv is a learned skill. You will not be good at it when you first start. It might come more or less naturally to you than others, but that means nothing. But if you work at it and give time for your classes and performances to marinate in your brain cells, you’ll notice some things.