In recent years, improvisational comedy (improv for short) has taken North America, and the world, by storm. Improv is a form of theater in which each word, interaction, and scene is unscripted and made up on the spot by the improviser(s). Many admirers of this art form watch in awe as the improvisers on the stage seamlessly create an infinite world with their imagination, right in front of the viewers’ eyes, occasionally making us think, “That was hilarious! How do they do that?”
I remember watching the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? with that same admiration and awe. Ever since I was a small kid, I would crack jokes left and right, doing what I could to make those around me laugh. I was always curious about improv, and when I finally joined my first class, I quickly realized that this art form is about so much more than making people laugh.
When you first delve into improv, the first concept you learn is the importance of “Yes, And…” Being able to say “Yes, And” to your scene partner is crucial to co-creating a scene, as opposed to saying, “No, that imaginary thing you’re holding in your hand isn’t what you said it is. It’s actually this thing over here.” You find that after long periods of practicing scene work, instead of knocking down an idea, however generic or emotionless it may be, you always want to build on top of that idea; and you figure out, after a while, that you can turn almost any idea into an engaging and comedic improv scene.
It’s not as much about accepting everyone’s ideas just because it’s their turn to have one as much as it’s about supporting and taking care of your partner, and then also taking that scene, raising the stakes, and creating a compelling story with nothing but your imagination.
Another critical part of improv is taking every opportunity to make your scene partner(s) look good, and most importantly, knowing how to take care of them. This lesson goes hand-in-hand with “Yes, And…,” but it also adds the dimension of keeping your scene partner comfortable. While you always want to make big, bold choices when starting a scene, you also shouldn’t suggest doing something that’s impossible to carry out or overly awkward.
For instance, you don’t necessarily want to start squatting at the start of a scene, demonstrating that you’re on the toilet, talking to your scene partner that’s in the other imaginary “stall.” Even though sitting on a toilet at the start of a scene would probably be hilarious, it isn’t always the case that you want to make a poop joke, in turn possibly making your partner lose focus. Being conscious of your scene partner’s needs is very important, so we have to make sure we don’t throw them under the comedy bus.
Not only is improv a great way to have fun with friends, it’s also a special tool that’s being used to encourage teamwork, enhance communication, and build relationships among coworkers in the workplace. Before my improv teacher began teaching full-time, she worked for a company that went to large businesses with the mission of inviting their employees out of their comfort zones, getting them to work together, and teaching them how to “Yes, And…” (with some exceptions, of course) in their work and in their everyday lives through the power of improv. When she told the class about that, I could only think about what a noble thing it is to do that for people; and now, I feel that even more after realizing how important improv really is in my life and how it has made me a better person.
Since my first class, my personal mental growth has been incredible. Improv has taught me how to not only support my teammates, but also to say “Yes!” to life. It has made it easier to stop listening to that voice in my head that says my idea isn’t good enough, and that it’s acceptable to make mistakes and embrace them for what they are—an opportunity to learn and improve. Plus, it’s a great teacher in how to trust your instincts and shout, “Yes!” before you know what to do or say. The power of improv is immeasurable, and the impact that it’s had on my life is priceless. It is truly what my soul desires.