More than a month ago, my friend Kelly and I started attending a 10-week long comedy class here in DC. We meet weekly with a group of people with absurd talents and a similar interest in learning the rules of improv because, believe it or not, there are rules!
I knew Kelly was going to be awesome at the class; she is naturally eccentric and hilarious. She has stories out the ying-yang of various characters and people in her life. (Just ask her how she feels about Djibouti.) I, on the other hand, was absolutely terrified.
This class was *not* something I considered to be in my wheelhouse, but, as the weeks went by, I constantly found myself excelling in some improv areas that surprised me (and, of course, falling short in a few areas as well.)
At a higher level, I realized that the class was teaching me a lot about life in general including:
1. You’re going to be in a lot of awkward situations in your life.
In our class, we play a lot of awkward games. The one that makes me the most uncomfortable is called Go. Everyone stands in a circle and one person starts off in the middle of the circle pointing at someone else. The “someone else” then has to say “Go” — and as the first person in the middle is walking towards them to take their spot in the circle – “someone else” has to point at another person and wait for them to say “Go.” (Repeat process.)
The game is super awkward because when you point your finger you want to say “Go” instead of waiting for the other person to say it.
We play a lot of similar warm-up games to this one and then we talk about how they make us feel, which is… weird. But, what I realized is that, by playing these games, I become more comfortable with being awkward. Instead of reddening up, sweating like a hot mess or stuttering over my words, I just go-with-the-flow of oddity until I don’t feel it anymore. Woop!
2. Sometimes you have to be confident with the first words/ideas that come out of your mouth.
One of the building blocks of improv is becoming comfortable with being “put on the spot.” Most of the time, we are only given a suggestion for an idea/object/word and then we have to come up with an entire story or character based on one item.
Since time is a limiting factor, I usually try to come up with a character/action very quickly so I can just roll with it until a story evolves. One of my favorite skits, so far, is when I was presented a fruit basket (imaginary of course) and my classmate and I turned the scene into a nagging wife and her “disappointing” husband. Once the fruit basket was presented, the first words out of my mouth were about how the “fruit basket arrangement” was not the way I envisioned it and the skit just evolved from there. It was funny!
The situation reminds me of how, in many life events, we have to be comfortable with our initial reactions and intuition even if we don’t have all the puzzle pieces yet. Life is too short to be worried about the first weird words that come out of your mouth.
Eat your fruit, kids!
3. There is no bad joke, wrong answer or misinterpretation of anything.
Similarly to the examples above, another one of the fun things about improv is that there is no wrong answer! People often take suggestions and turn them into characters or stories that are only mildly related to the original word.
The other day, I took the suggestion “Dances with Wolves” and became a girl desperate to reach ballerina fame. I don’t think the character worked supremely well in the scene, but the point is that your interpretation can be whatever you want it to be. How fun is it to live in a world where nothing is wrong?! I definitely want to start incorporating this motto into my everyday life – thinking more creatively, buying weird foods at the grocery store, guessing odd answers during Jeopardy – hey, I can’t be wrong?! ;)
Ps. Google the lyrics to Ja Rule / J. Lo’s 2001 hit “I’m Real” and sing both Ja Rule and J. Lo’s lyrics back and forth to your friends. Freakin’ hilarious. Trust me on this one.