I’d really like to say — no, I’d love to say — that improv would definitely change your life.
I’d love for everyone to have the experience with improv that I’ve had with improv. I’d love for everyone to come away from every class so energized and happy and beaming that they can’t even get to sleep for a good hour or two afterwards, despite it being their bedtime. I’d love for everyone to love improv so much that they scarcely think about whether or not they’re any good; for them to love it so much that they are good, but neither notice nor care. (Which is why they’re good. Chicken and egg here, as you can see.)
But the best I can say for sure? Is that it might.
The best purchase I’ve made so far this year was a lamp.
Now, I guess I should add a bit of color here — I read and write a lot. And our apartment faces a courtyard and for some inexplicable reason my boyfriend likes to keep the shades closed anyway, and had (pre-me) decked the place out in these “warm, muted” (read: dim) accent lamps acres away from where I sit to do my “word things.” So when I formally moved in, it was the one thing I demanded. I wanted a good lamp, and now I have one. (It’s like 8 feet tall and LED. So. Be amazed.) And every time I pad out and plop down on the couch early morning to get to reading / writing / opening my notebook to a fresh page to watch out of my peripheral vision while I surf the web for 30 minutes first, I soak it all up in that bright light and sigh contentedly thinking, “damn, this shit is nice.”
That’s the best purchase I’ve made this year.
But one of the best decisions I’ve made? Taking improv classes.
I thought about it for years and finally pulled the trigger. And here are the two biggest, life-changing, mind-blowing, heart-busting things that I’ve learned.
1. If you struggle with: Taking Action
(You might call it: “procrastination,” “planning,” or “waiting for the right time/idea.”)
Take your excuses and shove them
All of that bullshit you tell yourself, as to why you’re not jumping and doing something? Nobody cares about hearing it in improv. It literally doesn’t exist. You’re either playing or not playing, and nobody gives two shits whether your fear was “valid” or not, or whether your need for “absolute certainty” or “the right moment” was real. The only thing that matters is getting in, and if you’re not in, you might as well be dead. You don’t exist.
Improv will teach you to get in. Improv will teach you to get over yourself. Improv will show you that everything beautiful comes from action and engagement, and that pristine picture you’re waiting for is garbage compared to the way jumping in feels.
And yeah, this can still feel like an impossibly hard principle in real life
Because real life is not improv, and our real life people have less tolerance for make-believe or mistakes. Real life people don’t just “yes, and” regardless of what you say, and vice versa. Real life requires reason and rationale and for things to make sense. And I get it, because if people in my real life were to read this, most of them would be like “she doesn’t jump in at all!” And it’s like, yeah buddy — see: reason for taking improv.
Because all of that aside? You’d be amazed how much of life is really just jumping in. Like no, you can’t just start off a conversation by announcing “I train circus bears” or “I’m running from the law” (especially if it’s true) like you can in improv, but improv will show you how beautiful it is when you jump in with anything.
In short? Improv takes the scariness of being “right” away — clears the plate of “certainty” and makes it totally not a thing at all — for the sole purpose of showing you: look! look at how good it feels when you do something!
Improv will show you that you can do it. You do have this skill set — the same skills you silence and swear up and down you can’t exercise until you know it’s “right.” And, not only that, improv will show how much freaking better it feels to jump in than stand with your ass stapled to the wall waiting for “the right time.”
Improv is like a gateway drug to being action-oriented and over yourself.
2. If you struggle with: What Others Think
And have a fear of being judged — or failing publicly.
Connection is everything
You are not the star of this show. Not the improv show, and not the show of your life.
I mean, okay yes, clearly your universe starts and ends with you — it has to. So yes, to you, special snowflake, you are the star. And the hero. And the prince or princess. But what I mean here is that the minute you’d like to create something real and external, it involves other people, too.
Everything anybody does is because they connected with at least one other person — even if they’re focused on the same, external shit. There were two Wright brothers. More than one man went to the moon. Even Edison and other brilliant “lone-wolf” inventors had some lab-rat assistants milling about.
Improv doesn’t work without other people. And by that I don’t just mean “material” or “someone to take the heat off when you’re out of ideas.” I mean a human being — not the brain, but the body; the chemistry. Maybe we’ll see improv partners replaced with software or AI or robots in our lifetime (sure), especially for practice (I want in!) but at its core, improv takes a pulse. And so does life.
If you’re afraid of what others will think, improv will help. A lot of people compare it to ToastMasters for improving public speaking skills, and the whole idea makes me laugh. I did ToastMasters when I was in banking in my early 20’s, and these two things are totally and entirely not the same. It’s like comparing an old, grimy, dimly-lit lap pool to a kiddie pool. Filled with toys. Like, yeah they’re both technically water… but that’s pretty much the end of that.
ToastMasters is stiff. In fact, its “stiffness” is the number one reason I quit. Every time “Ze President” brought that actual gavel down, I was suppressing laughter in the corner. Like are you people kidding me with this??! ToastMasters is 1993 and so tragically out of date it’s actually funny, but prides itself on never, ever changing — ever. It’s a series of preordained, one-way conversations to hyper-critical, over-eager audience members pawing corrective “clickers” to audibly mark every mistake. ToastMasters is the opposite of improv. ToastMasters can’t get over itself.
Improv is play. The only gavel you might see in improv is imaginary, and odds are fair someone might get fake-hit with it.
Improv is relationship. Improv is love. You might not believe me (or you might not think you care) — I didn’t until I went — but every player has a deep drive to make you look (and feel) good. That’s the entire point of the game. So if you struggle with a fear of judgment in real life, playing improv with a bunch of strangers will, over time, show you an overarching truth: people want to see people do well. That’s not an “improv partner” thing. That’s a basic “human being” thing. (And the most judgmental ones are usually the ones in biggest need of this lesson. And a hug.)
If your fear of public speaking is other people, don’t do ToastMasters — do improv. And if your fear of anything is perfection or planning or certainty, do improv, too.