My Cowardly Improv Story

D.
Singapore Improv & Comedy
3 min readJul 8, 2021

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Feel-bad story

I’m writing 30 essays about Improv in 30 days, and most have been pretty happy.

Here’s one of my worst experiences ever.

The Pride

We got an opportunity to play with a Malaysian improv troupe; we were invited to travel across the causeway, stay with a friend, and perform for one night.

Actually, it was our second opportunity. The year before, a few of us had been invited to perform in a festival. They flew us in, put us up in a fancy hotel, the booker even picked us up from the airport in his car. They treated us like celebrities.

We killed it, of course. We delivered a great show. The audience laughed a lot. I played up the Arrogant Singaporean Sneering At Malaysians character and they loved it.

The next year, they invited us again, and we did another set.

And we fucking bombed.

We didn’t kill. We bombed. We died on stage.

The Fall

I don’t know what went wrong. I’m not even sure why it didn’t work. But everything we tried wasn’t clicking.

The second-biggest mistake I did was trying the Arrogant Singaporean Sneering At Malaysians character. Somehow it didn’t work. They booed. A team member stepped in and praised Malaysia, and won some goodwill back.

The biggest mistake I did was I froze up. Entirely. I remember crouching at the side of the stage, watching the scenes fail, watching the show go to pieces. Another cast member hissed, “Do something! Get in there, try to save the show!” but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I froze. Shamefully, I hid in the wings and didn’t do anything.

The show died. The audience were nonplussed, uninterested, unimpressed. They left.

I let the show die on my watch.

Shot through the heart, and I’m to blame

The Winter

The friendly Malaysians took us to supper. They sat and said comforting words. They gave us encouragement — “Have you been playing long? Is this your first few times performing?”

They had no memory and couldn’t remember us at all, of course. And they thought we were rank amateurs. I wasn’t going to remind them otherwise. I just soaked in my failure and shame, and didn’t even thank them for their grace and kindness.

Malaysians improvisers are the best.

The Lesson

If a scene is dying, I will jump in and try tosave it.

If a show is dying, I will jump in and try to save it.

You can’t win them all. Some shows die. Some shows are just terrible. There will be bad shows.

I think I mind less that the show sucked, than I did nothing about it. What haunts me isn’t the show being terrible — god knows I’ve had bad shows before.

But I will never let it die on me again without trying. I’ll get my hands dirty. I’ll jump into the line of fire. I’ll do that scene in Platoon, parodied endlessly, where I throw myself forward and my body is riddled with bullets and I drop to my knees, arms in the air, before collapsing.

I won’t stand by again. I will do something about it.

But that memory of being cowardly onstage haunts me, even today.

(There’s no happy ending here.)

This is inspired by a 30 Essays in 30 Days Challenge.

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D.
Singapore Improv & Comedy

writing creativity improv teaching hacking self-improvement stoicism mindfulness critique eloquence faff: I am D, and views are my own.