I recently joined a Level 1 Workshop on Improv. I‘ve completed 8 sessions, and have a showcase coming up soon. Suffice it to say that I’m incredibly nervous and excited; which is probably the best mixture of emotions.

I just thought I’d share how my journey’s been thus far, in case others are looking to learn about Level 1 and what it’s like.

Why Improv

I have always wanted to try out Improv, for many reasons-

  • I am a huge comedy nerd and I love SNL. Most if not all of the comedic greats spoke very highly of Improv and how it shaped their career and their life.
  • Improvisation has always been fun for me. It’s the reason I compose new music when I sit with my guitar; I never liked learning songs just for the sake of performance.
  • My comedy style has always tended towards Improv. I am terrible at jokes; I tend to forget stories easily and I always muck up the delivery. But I’ve always felt I’ve been my funniest on the spot; when there’s context around and I can find the funny in it. So Improv helps me find my sense of comedy, understand it, and nurture it.

These reasons coupled with the fact that I wanted to try something new clinched the deal. I was gonna learn Improv one way or another.

Challenges

It was difficult for me to understand Improv at first. Mostly because there’s not as much to learn, as there is to unlearn. We all arrive with a lot of social conditioning that has been inflicted on us as part of everyday life. And letting go of these rules is hard. But let go you must.

1) There is no I in Improv

Yeah, you read that right. In order to be a good improviser, you must forget yourself. You must shed your Ego and your desires. You must start thinking of yourself as the scene, the characters, the relationships.

This concept was very hard to wrap my head around. I wanted so much to be funny and get laughs on the spot. So I stopped paying attention to the scene and started thinking of how I could make the scene funny and win laughs. And invariably, since the control was out of my hands, I used to bomb. This is what they call in Improv “not listening”.

I knew it as it was happening, but I wasn’t able to help it. I simply wasn’t able to think of the scene without thinking of myself and how I could make it funny. I had to keep reminding myself to let it go every time I consciously realized I was doing it.

2) You must learn to handle the pressure

The pressure is omnipresent in Improv. You will feel pressure when you have to

  • Come up with something on the spot
  • React in moments while multiple improvisers depend on you
  • Step out of your comfort zone
  • Remember many patterns — Names, Relationships, Objectives, Environments
  • Listen
  • Perform on stage
  • Be funny (an internal pressure for beginner students who haven’t managed to let go of their Ego)

This is probably the hardest of all the challenges and one that I’m always working toward getting over. I am still figuring it out, but experience and practice helps in understanding how to overcome it. However, the one thing that seems most important in handling the pressure is Team Work.

3) Team work is everything

This is probably the most fundamental concept in Improv. Without a team, you cannot do Improv. This ties in to the first point about there being no self. Once you get this right, pressure becomes simple to handle, because when you work as a team, the pressure gets shared among its individuals. And in order to work with a group, you must learn to communicate.

4) Communication takes many forms

Communication is two way. In order for something to be communicated effectively, both the speaker and the listener must work together. You cannot just say something and walk away. You must make sure the message is conveyed and understood. So listening is very important in Improv, and in life.

However, the thing that baffled me the is the sheer number of forms of communication. When you’re listening properly, you understand so much about another person. You understand when he’s in discomfort, when he’s uneasy, when he’s excited and rearing to go. When you learn to effectively communicate, you can wing it in every situation with the other person.

You can know when your teammate is struggling and help him. He will know when you’re struggling and take over. You can understand where you should let him lead, and where you should take the lead.

With communication, you can “harmonize” effectively.

The details of each type of communication and their uses is pretty vast. Maybe I’ll include them in a different article.

5) The only time that matters is now

There are many things going on in an Improv scene. Your date is acting like a fish. You are in a restaurant where every waiter is a penguin, trying to low-key eat her.

In order to be able to react to all that’s happening around you, you must have razor sharp focus. I think the only way to understand and incorporate this is by conditioning yourself to it. Which means experiencing and doing a lot of Improv.

Conclusion

I think my journey with Improv will be a life long one. I will be detailing the process. So do subscribe and stay tuned for more of the same. I highly recommend Improv to everyone. Go to your nearest comedy theatre, or find a troupe in your city; they will have workshops you can attend. Keep learning and improvising.

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