How to improv(e): If you´re not trying you´re doing it right

I was terrified of my first improv class, I was surrounded by actors who were natural talents. I wanted to sink in my seat and not be called to the front and have to make something ridiculously funny with whatever and whoever I was given.

Well, I finally did end up in front of the class frantically trying to produce something that would make me look good… which was definitely not the case.

You might find yourself in the same boat or are about to experience improv for the first time or maybe in fact you feel comfortable in front of an audience coming up with creative ideas… whoever you are I’m confident you can draw something new from this article not only for your acting toolbox but also for life in general.

I was engulfed in the thought of having to be entertaining and coming up with funny ideas that I was trying too hard and instead of creating an environment for creativity and freedom to flow, I was tense and so immalleable to the ideas of my partner.

I noticed the best improv people were the ones who didn’t seem to be trying. They made it look effortless but hilarious at the same time. How did they do it?

It took me several Wednesday nights (our obligatory improv classes) to learn it wasn’t actually about me and what genius idea I could bring to the table. Instead it was really about embracing the fact that I didn’t know what was coming next and making it about about my partner.

This mindset allowed me to go into the scene without feeling the pressure to come up with a brilliant idea. I was so focused on my partner and what he or she was doing that I didn´t care how I looked (and that´s not an easy thing to say for me). I began to enjoy improv and embraced the awkward moments of not knowing what to do next and not frantically trying to save the show.

Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill

This learning curve didn’t only transform the way I see improv and even acting but also how I relate with people in my ordinary world. I noticed how the funniest people to be around were the ones who were trying the least to actually be funny. These people would rather feed off what others were doing and create an inclusive environment.

One of my acting teachers would repeatedly say: “Really listen to each other”. If I was to forget everything else I learned in acting school and only retain one thing it would be to incorporate this valuable piece of wisdom into everything I do.

Really listening to my partner and having the courage and serenity to fail opened up a new world to me and enabled me to share it with others.

Personally, I don’t think I’ve laughed harder than I have when watching people do an almost effortless improv performance. It´s fascinating how the group would take ideas from the audience and then make it work (like a plumber and a cab driver selling shoes in a leper colony). I can always tell who is trying too hard to be funny and who is actually making it about the partner and the story they’re telling. I’m convinced when the latter happens the audience tastes a little bit of heavens humour.

In life we’re taught to try harder next time and to learn to say no. Well the opposite goes for improv. The less you try the better and the more you say YES the funnier the situation will be.

With this in mind I encourage you to stop trying and make it about your partner and continue creating worlds to share with your community.



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