Are you someone that’s currently engulfed in the wonderful world of improv comedy or thinking of finally registering for a class after all these years of wanting to? Well go ahead and see below for 5 things to keep in your “back pocket” as you pursue your passion.
1. Use Class to Get Better*
I know that sounds obvious, but hear me out. When first starting out in improv, a lot of people are thinking about one thing: to get on a house/harold team/ensemble, somehow, someway. The route thought to get to that goal is to get big laughs in the classroom. The easiest way for a person to get laughs in the classroom is to do what they’re best at; using whatever “moves” that may entail. That’s not a bad thing or wrong by any means, as being funny is a great attribute to have when performing comedy. However in doing that at times, a very critical thing can get lost along the way: making yourself better as an overall improviser, actor and performer.
Improv teachers tell you to take risks and explore different ranges in class because like in sports, class (practice) is the time to try things and improve on what you may not be as good at. This is the time to strengthen the weaker part of your game. In order to get better, to learn, evolve and enhance your performances you need to use class time to “fail.”
Improvisers have an amazing luxury over other forms of live comedy. Stand-up comedians try out new material on stage at open-mics in front of a live (sometimes brutal) audience. Sketch show sketches need to be “previewed” in front of live audiences as well to see what works and what doesn’t. On the contrary, improvisers get the opportunity to make big choices (that they may at first be hesitant to make on stage) in the supporting atmosphere of class. Take advantage of that! Try not to think down the road at harold teams, house ensembles, touring companies; that stuff will be there when you’re ready! In the meantime, use class time to get better.
2. Be Open and Honest to YOURSELF About Your Goals
I found in my own personal experience that when starting out in improv (now this may vary depending on which city you are studying in), that no one discussed their long term goals. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re polite and don’t want to come off cocky, or even fear that others will view their goals as too far-fetched for their skill level, or out of reach. But really, who cares! I am not saying go into class, drop your messenger bag on the ground and scream from the mountain top that you want to be a writer for The Daily Show. But you should be proud of what you’re working towards. If you happen to have a goal in mind and someone asks you what that is, well then tell them goshdarnit. Down the road that person that asked you what your goal was may be working towards the same thing (aka new collaborating partner). I mean come on; most improvisers will scream bloody murder on stage over a fake alien fetus that died (or whatever amazing scene you have organically created), but you won’t say out loud where you want to be? There’s something very respectable about someone that comes in with a goal. You want to be on SNL in 6 years? Awesome! You’re taking the right baby steps to maybe make that happen someday!
Please note that another great trait to have in this field is patience.
3. Do Not Judge Someone’s Off-Stage Personality Based on Their On-Stage Choices
Like basically everything on planet earth, improv can and does get cliquey. Don’t push someone to the side outside of class because they may have asked too many questions in a scene or edited at the wrong time inside of class; you may be missing out on a great relationship. In sports, the first string usually hangs out with the other first string players. In business, CEOs hang out with other CEOs. In improv, a lot of “good” improvisers hang out with other “good” improvisers. However, something very cool and unique about improvising is that a “good” improviser can make a “less strong” improviser better at any time! If you’re chummy off stage with someone, then on-stage they’re going to feel more relaxed and confident, and everyone will be more open to supporting their decisions and choices, on and off stage!
Best case in point is Tara Defransico’s weekly show at the iO Theater in Chicago where she takes a student and or regular audience member from the crowd and creates a 25 minute, 2 person show (link to show).
4. You WILL Meet Some of Your Future Best Friends
Walking into an improv class can be pretty scary at first, especially for beginners. You’ll encounter people from all walks of life that are there for many different reasons such as:
They just love comedy and want to make people laugh.
Their agent recommended they take classes for their resume.
They’re a retired war veteran looking to just have fun.
Their friends told them they were funny once seven years ago.
They’re seasoned comedy vets trying out a new school of improv to better their craft.
They work a 9-5 job and this seemed more fun than co-ed kickball once every week.
They have a crush on someone who’s really into improv.
Regardless of the background and reasons of your classmates, you’re all crammed in a small, dimly lit room, “playing comedy” now. So relax and have fun. Here’s a very dramatic take on this “you’re all from different backgrounds, but now you’re all doing the same thing” thing:
Take a look around the diverse room. There might be a girl in a weird cat shirt that you’ve never seen before who decided to travel all the way from Boise, Idaho to take improv classes at a world-renowned institution (like Second City, Groundlings, UCB or iO). Or take a look next to her at the guy that may seem too cool for school right now, checking his twitter before class officially begins. Really take a look! These people may help you move one day. They may be in your wedding. They may be involved in one of the top 3 craziest nights of your life!
Once you decide to take an improv class you already have something very unique in common. So enjoy the people who you probably would have never met in your life if it wasn’t for this class.
5. Do Not Compare Your (future) Success/Career To Anyone’s
Thanks to the fake social media world we live in now it is hard not to be jealous of someone else’s success/happiness/selfies at certain times. When you’ve had a bad day and you see Person A, whom you considered to be a peer, just having the time of his/her life on Instagram and Facebook, it’s easy to go right to a dark place about it. BUT DON’T DO THAT! You have absolutely zero control over what anyone else does in their life. Each person is 100% their own unique story regardless of how much you will want to compare yourself. Instead of getting down over someone’s career path, pick their brain about how they got where they are!
It’s absolutely normal to feel jealous. Jealousy is an initial, warranted reaction to other’s success at time, just don’t be bitter about it. If living in LA has taught me one thing, it’s that this industry is very much a “who you know” or more importantly “who do you get along with” type atmosphere that gets you places. So be friendly, be upbeat, be optimistic! And when all else fails, just “yes and” life…
*A while back while taking classes at the iO Theater (Chicgao), I was told a story about John Lutz that always stuck with me. When he was in classes (yes, the majority of successful comedians took classes) he was told by a teacher that he was great at getting angry on stage and that was his bread and butter. However, Lutz was told he wasn’t going to get any stronger than he already was if he kept just doing what he knew he did well. He decided to put that emotional response “in his back pocket” and concentrate on the weaker parts of his performances. For a great listen, check out the Improv Nerd with Jimmy Carrane’s podcast interview with John Lutz – http://www.feralaudio.com/41-john-lutz/
Post by Anthony F – Follow him on Twitter
Anthony Fanelli is an actor, writer, producer and comedian whose credits include NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), How Superman Defeated the KKK (Discovery), My Haunted House (A&E), Black Water Vampire (feature film), Kidney & Apple (feature film), Spare Change (feature film), Little Knockers (funny or die exclusive), The Next Steps (funny or die), United Airlines, Chase Bank, Philips Norelco, Huffington Post/AOL, among much more. He has written and/or starred in over 150 live comedy shows (one-man shows, news parodies, improv, sketch). For more information, please visit his links: Professional Site, Funny or Die Page, IMDB, YouTube, FULL RESUME