What Improv Taught Me About Life

Life lessons from improvSo I started taking improv classes. I just did it for fun, and to meet other people and find out if my humor could translate to the stage. Three months later, I’ve accomplished almost all of my improvising goals, including being told by the teacher to try “less yelling.”

Unexpectedly, I also learned things that are useful for life, lessons I believe are helping me become better at sucking out the marrow of life’s ribs.

Other people have also found improv valuable. Heck, this guy even wrote a blog with the same title as mine.  It’s valuable for writers who want to write better, for actors who want to act better, and for humans who want to human better. The really incredible thing is that I have different points to make than these other chucklenuts. Let’s get going.

1. Live in the moment

It’s impossible to improv effectively if you’re inside your head, thinking about how the act is going, what you should do next, or what you could have done better. Every moment spent inside your skull monologue-ing to yourself, is  moment your body is occupying space onstage and going nowhere. Be present. Don’t over-think it. Silence the inner critic.

The same thing applies to living. How can you live effectively if you’re always thinking of what you could do better, judging yourself, or comparing yourself to other people. Life is going on outside your skull, and it’s meant to be lived, not tiptoed around.

2. You have a body

All day long, we use this body of ours to do things like type on computers, sit in chairs, stare at powerpoint presentations, make coffee, see patients, put on clothing, digest food, pick other people’s noses, etc. But how often are we conscious of it, of the weight we support on our frame, of the way our ankle feels when the other one is resting on it, the rhythm of our own heartbeat, the blood in our veins and the juices in our stomach.

Taking a moment to consider the universe of our own being is somehow relaxing. It helps define a space for me, reaffirms my existence, and helps me connect to the essence of what I am, namely, a being made of animated atoms. Wild, isn’t it?

3. There’s no right answer

Improv is not about being funny. It doesn’t matter if you say “thumb-flavored jello snacks” instead of “a pink ruler,” so long as you say something. The reality is that everything is right and good. My partner throws out something about being in a kitchen. Awesome. Yes. Or maybe she throws out something about me as her daughter that’s recently been having trouble wetting the bed. Awesome. Yes.

In life, I get so caught up with trying to find the ‘right’ idea or the ‘best’ idea that I don’t end up trying anything at all. I’m paralyzed by indecision, and the end result is much worse than if I’d run with something and improved it along the way.

4. Nothing’s funnier than the truth

Yes, space aliens that sprout wings anytime someone says the word “kerfuffle” are interesting, but so are work crushes, parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers, churches, bars, hair salons, the whole mix and everything. Our everyday life and relationships are incredibly rich, laden with beauty, pain, and humor.

What makes improv really great, and all humor really great, is its ability to relate to the truth in a unique way or portray it in a new light. That’s the gotcha moment, when all of the sudden you’re on the floor crying from laughter because of a scene about someone eating a donut. That’s where the real magic is, it’s in the everyday, the mundane, and the banal. That’s also the title of my next improv show. I hope you come.

P.S. I’ve been taking improv with Leela and am really enjoying the classes. If you’re in the Bay Area, you should definitely check them out.

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10 thoughts on “What Improv Taught Me About Life

  1. tedstrutz says:

    This is an excellent post, Emily.

  2. […] I get a “real job” and time speeds up. I’m busy almost every night, either with improv, which is now a huge part of my life, tech meet-ups, concerts, lectures, or friends. I find it […]

  3. Schmal Talk says:

    I’m a few months deep in improv too and agree with all your points 100%. Plus improv is SO MUCH CHEAPER than therapy.

  4. […] you liked this post, you might also like: What Improv Taught Me about Life, The 24-Hour Starbucks on California Street, and The Elastic […]

  5. I like all of these points but yes, number three really rings true. Thanks.

  6. Improv is great. Except when it goes wrong, then it’s like watching your own humiliating death. But other than that, it’s just pure, intense, reckless fun.

  7. tomwisk says:

    I like number three.

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