I think I’m at a point in my life, far enough removed from college, that most people don’t know that I was part of an improv comedy group. For about a year or so in college, I was a member of Hello Dali, an improv comedy group. I was an art major with a theater minor and had quite a few friends who were theater majors. One thing led to another, and soon I was auditioning for the comedy group. Terrifying, yes, but also exciting and energizing. There are days when I look back on my time in that group and really miss it. Being in an improv group taught me things about life, business, marriage, and parenting that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time. But before we get into that, how about a photo from my improv days.
You may not have been to an improv show in person, but surely you’ve seen, or at least heard of, Whose Line Is It Anyway? If you haven’t, do a YouTube search. Quick! I’ll see you in about 3 hours after you’ve laughed so hard you hurt. So what has all that taught me?
Improv comedy has taught me…
1) That everything is an opportunity. Improv is unscripted. Only the games are discussed beforehand, so you step on stage not knowing what your teammates will say or do, which creates a lot of opportunities. Life isn’t scripted either, even though there are times I wish I knew what was coming next, but this creates opportunities daily for greatness.
2) To keep going. Sometimes jokes fell flat, but you had to keep moving the scene. If you didn’t, people would get bored in a hurry. No matter what life throws at you, you have to keep going. Stopping or quitting isn’t an option, because if you stop, life would just go on without you.
Sidenote: I was growing my hair out from a pixie cut and HATED this stage of it.
3) Commitment. Once you start, you’re invested. A scene plays out much better if you’re fully committed to whatever is happening in the scene. Your life and your relationships will also play out much better if you’re fully committed and not just doing it halfheartedly.
4) To trust. Trust your instincts and trust your team. In the improv group we played a game called “Freeze”. During this game we played out a scene and it usually involved a lot of physical action, because that made it funnier when the leader called “freeze” and meant that we were often climbing on top of each other and counting on our teammates to not let us fall during “freeze”. You have to trust your own instincts and you need to be able to trust those around you that they won’t let you fall, or that they’ll help you up when you do.
5) To take risks. Improv comedy is all about risks and taking chances, hoping that the outcome is good. Isn’t life much the same way? You have to be willing to step out and try something, knowing that you could fall flat on your face, but also knowing what could happen if you succeed.
6) To go with the flow. Sometimes you just have to let go and go with it. You may walk on stage planning on being a cowboy in the wild west, but your teammate says a line about being an astronaut on the moon. You can’t stall the scene and redirect, you have to go with it. The unexpected happens every day, especially when you have kids. You plan a relaxing and fun roadtrip and then someone gets car sick and you’re on the side of the road cleaning up vomit. It happens. You just have to adjust and go with it.
7) To make someone else the star. In improv, it’s great when you can give someone else something to build on. This allows them to be the star. When it works it makes it more fun for everyone. There are always opportunities to help someone else shine and sometimes you need to provide that foothold to give them a boost.
8) To say “yes, and…” If there is one rule in improv, it would be to not say no. You agree with what your teammate says and then build on it. If she says “let’s go see a movie” then you say something like “yes, and let’s get popcorn while we’re there.” You don’t change, argue, or disagree with what she said. Everything is positive. This concept teaches me to take the ideas of others and build on them, instead of dismissing them.
9) Confidence. You have to own it. Go in like you know what you’re doing. Speak confidently, but not arrogantly. You are capable of great things, believe in yourself. As my toddler says, “You got this.”
10) Laughter is medicinal. I walked away from each show with my belly and cheeks sore from laughter. It didn’t matter how I was feeling coming in to the show, I left feeling energized and joyful. Laughter can cure a lot of stresses and heartaches. When you’re hurting, it’s important to have those friends who can make you laugh through the pain.
Bonus: Improv comedy taught me to not be afraid to look foolish. I think it’s safe to say that much of my fun and achievements have resulted from me initially appearing foolish. It’s part of taking risks. And with my kids, at least, they have the most fun when I act like an goofy idiot.