How Can Everyone Be Right and Wrong About Improv?

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If you are a newer improviser and you’ve had more than one teacher, you have already gone home confused.  Why is it that this teacher said that “Yes and…” is the only rule and this other teacher said that “No” is okay? Who is right?

Improv comedy is an art with a universal goal:  laughter.  Even that statement gets people riled up.  “It’s not about jokes!” I agree with that. It’s not about jokes, but it is about laughter.  You can’t categorize your theater or club as a place for comedy and get upset when your students want to learn how to be funny.

If the goal is laughter, then why are there so many methods to get there?  Shouldn’t there just be one way?  How can two players with opposing views develop a successful scene?

The reason that anyone can improvise with anyone, regardless of background, style or point of view is because it’s all nuance.  Once we agree that improv is about impromptu scene work for laughs, the rest is all minutia.

 

Instructing improv feels a little bit like parenting.  As a Dad, I have these kids and I’m teaching them how to be good people… but from my point of view.  I didn’t grow up with a bunch of money, my parents are still married and even though I grew up going to church, my kids won’t have to.  My life experiences helped define my method of parenting, but it’s obviously not the only way to parent.  My definition of a good person is pretty much the same as anyone else on this planet:

  • Doesn’t kill
  • Doesn’t purposefully hurt others
  • Is kind to others
  • Is respectful of others

That kind of stuff.  If you ask me how to become a good person, my answer may begin to differ from others:

  • Ask others how you can help
  • compliment people
  • look for something likable in everyone you meet

Maybe other people might say

  • go to church
  • volunteer at a homeless shelter
  • keep to yourself

Even though the answers above don’t contradict each other, they seem to be different.  Different enough for you to believe that they might contradict each other.  Asking others how you can help doesn’t contradict “keep to yourself”.  You can be respectful of someone’s privacy, but still offer yourself to them so they know you are available.

In improv, it’s the same.  The nuances seem to be massive differences, but from a 30,000 foot view, improv is just people on stage making it up as they go and developing funny scenes.

I would caution if you hear “the way I teach is the best way” or “that place is bad” or “that style is bad improv”.  The art of improv is constantly changing. Audiences are getting more sophisticated, so the actors are too.  Some markets prefer different types of humor, different formats and different actors.  The most important thing to understand as a new improviser is that you will always be a student of improv no matter how successful you become.  Your style of improv or the way you look at the craft needs to serve you and you alone.  If you are proud of the work you are doing, then keep doing it.  If you are struggling, listen to what others are doing.

At Sick Puppies Comedy, we believe that you can never go wrong if you have a strong emotional connection to your scene partner.  If you are willing to invest an enormous amount of energy into the person on stage with you, you will rarely fail.  Check in with your partner, listen to what they are saying, react to what they are doing and care more than you should.  Of course, that’s just us.

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