When I lived in Chicago a few years ago, I started improv comedy training at Second City. My love for the stage and comedy and propensity for randomness meant that improv would probably be a good time. Also, I’ve had a long-standing dream of performing on SNL, and Second City is essentially the “Harvard” (sigh, I know) of training programs that feed into a possible SNL career (or season standing in the background, which still counts). When $300ish is all it takes to “get into Harvard” and start following your silly (but unwavering) dream of comedy semi-stardom, you should just go for it. So I did, and I made some great friends and had some incredible experiences.
Having to leave the program before finishing (to move to San Francisco) kind of put a damper on my comedy career development – too trained to justify starting over, too inexperienced to start auditioning. But after moving to Cambridge and going to see an improv show (and being the most vocal audience member when asked for suggestions, and also giggling uncontrollably when offering said suggestions, resulting in the nickname “Gigs”) I realized I needed this in my life, even if it meant starting (re)training from the beginning.
I already knew that the rules of improv were a good guide for life, but thinking about them again at this juncture made me realize how absolutely applicable they are to a life after moving somewhere completely new. So without further ado, I present to you all “The Rules of Improv As Applied to a Post-Move Life,” a piece in, I don’t know, maybe 3 parts. Maybe 4? Some parts. This is Part 1.
For a classic (and much funnier) explanation of these rules, please refer to Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” wherein she outlines “The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat*.” Tina Fey is my hero and unwitting mentor, but I promise to you that I am not plagiarizing her here. These are just the rules of improv. They will change your life if applied correctly. They will probably not reduce belly fat.
Rule Number 1: Say YES. In an improv scene, you’re trying to build a world out of next to nothing, so it’s up to you and your partner(s) to build that world as quickly as possible so you can get on with the scene and let the hijinks ensue. The fastest way to do that is to say yes to (the dress?) everything. Imagine standing up there shooting down idea after idea – you’d never get anywhere in the scene, and you’d bore the hell out of and lose your audience very quickly. (Audiences are usually drunk, but they’re never stupid.) Worse, if you say no all the time, no one in your improv group will ever want to play with you because you’re a total buzzkill.
So say yes. Your partner says you’re a squid? They’re goddamn right. Someone declares you allergic to clothing? Absolutely. When asked for an audience suggestion for a celebrity impression, an audience member declares you, a very white and only mildly funky chick to be George Clinton, leader of the P-Funk All-Stars? Hell yes.
When you’re living somewhere new, living by the “rule of yes” is the most important thing you can do. It forces you out of what you think is your comfort zone and throws you into a world of possibility. Of course, the “real world” has limitations – financial, social, physical (you’re not going to be able to transform into a squid, sorry) – but it’s important to push yourself to try new things and meet new people. Go to that weird blogger event, join that random volleyball team, take that improv class even if you’ve already done most of the training at Second City. Nothing bad will happen. Probably good things will occur. And, hey, it’ll keep you from moping around on the couch, so maybe it will even reduce belly fat.
You can read Part 2 here!