This is the story of how I joined the local comedy cult and why I want to remain a member. More importantly it explains why I believe improv comedy is such an important tool in helping anyone more effectively deal with what life throws at you.
I started taking improv comedy classes at the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) as a lark. My friend, Bob, and I were eating at the Angry Dog on Commerce in Deep Elm. Just down the street there was a neon sign that read “Comedy”. We decided to check it out. We saw a couple of great shows and were really impressed. The emcee let the audience know that classes were starting the next week and were open for anyone. Bob and I decided to join for level 1 together right then and there.
Bob did not attend the first class…or the second…or, in fact, any classes ever. I did. And I went through all five levels and graduated. Now I take workshops with Nationally acclaimed teachers. I went to a summer retreat just for improvisers. I am halfway through the sketch program at DCH. And one of the teams I am on actively pursues performing at improv festivals in other cities which we have done. How did I go from never doing improv three years ago to performing and training every week and reading as much as I can about the art form?
Why Improv Comedy Is Important to Me
There are a number of reasons that I love performing and practicing improv comedy.
- Everyone is very nice and welcoming
- People have fun
- It is a supportive community
- It teaches you to swerve well
- It is a challenge
From the first time I walked into the club people welcomed me in. It is in the nature of people who love to improvise to be accepting of other people. In fact, that is a fundamental of how improv works. Whatever your scene partner says or does you accept it as fact and move forward.
People who hang out at DCH are funny. Some more than others. And, like everyone, they like to have fun. There are a few people who are trying to make a career in comedy but most are taking classes just for the fun of it. Because of this the atmosphere is always relaxed with people trying to make each other laugh. Plus because everyone there knows the feeling of being on stage without a script there is a tremendous sense of camaraderie. We have all been in TERRIBLE shows. We all know the feeling of doing something on stage and getting NO reaction. The kool aid we drink is flopping on stage. And it makes the community very supportive of each other. Supportive both with our DCH activities but also with real-life activities. Case in point: when the family that does custodial work at the club lost their home the community contributed $3000 in less than 24 hours to support them.
Why it is Important
The most important lessons that you learn from improv is to swerve well and not worry about making a mistake. In fact, making a mistake is one of the greatest things you can do on stage. If you mispronounce a word, or misunderstand what your scene partner has said, or just stare at your partner not knowing what to do all of these are opportunities for something wonderful to happen. The key is to just swerve with the flow of what is going on. Don’t call out that you made a mistake: YOU DIDN’T. You made a choice that will lead to something wonderful. This is a golden rule that I hope everyone learns at some point in life. Mistakes are always opportunities.
Improv Comedy is Easy/Hard
Improv is very easy and very hard. It is easy because it requires nothing more than listening to your scene partner and responding honestly in the character you have chosen to what they have said. It is very hard because to do it well you must remember everything that is said so you can bring it back up later, do physical work in an empty space (make a cake on stage with no bowl, spoon, counter, refrigerator, etc.), use emotions effectively, and make it all seem natural.
But no matter how hard it is I will continue as long as I can. Some people play golf: I do improv comedy. A couple of friends and I are going to try to something that Jason Alexander says is impossible: musical improv. We want to make up a 25 minute musical with new lyrics, melodies, and story when we walk on stage. It is very likely that we will fail miserably. But we will have a great time trying.