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The Culture of Improv

The Culture of Improv

Improv can help you to be more open, naturally funny, prepared, and ready for anything. The term improv is short for improvisation, meaning you and partner or a group of others work together, on the spot, to create a scene.  Typically it’s comedic, but it doesn’t have to be. I first learned about improv when reading Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please. She was one of the founding members of the Upright Citizens Brigade, and I firmly believe her improv background is one of the main reasons she is so versatile, easy to work with, and funny. Improv can do all that and more.

The key to improv is learning to say yes. There is really only one rule you ever need to know when doing improv: the words “yes, and...”. No matter what anyone else says, you agree and build upon their statement. This positive outlook on life is a great way to approach any interaction, ever. You’ll find that it’s always easier to come to an agreement, find an answer, or work together when you say yes.

From there, you have to learn to trust yourself and your partner. You start with nothing, and by the end of the scene, the two of you may be holding hands and preparing to sink or swim together. It really takes two to tango, so if you want to succeed, you have to hold up your end in a way that helps the other hold on to theirs. To build a scene, you are simultaneously trying to stay with the action while also making the other person look good. This is called being a good team member. Living your life in a way that makes someone else look good ultimately reflects well on you, and an entire team benefits from a good team member.

The more you practice the skill of thinking on your feet, the easier it becomes.  Basic interactions in everyday life become quicker, deeper, and more engaging, simply because you are trained to listen.  No more interrupting to get your own thoughts and opinions in, but instead focusing on your partner, allowing and trusting them to finish a full thought.  If you try to do improv without listening to your partner, you end up doing a very poor stand-up set, and you will look very rude as well. The best improvisers are engaged, because they are constantly listening to find a way to build upon what their partner just said.  If you have a good partner, they’re typically trying to help set you up to give the punchline. People give you more hints on a daily basis than you may originally realize, unless you lean in, focus, and really listen.

I could go on for hours, but there are so many others who have done it before (and better).  Here are some improv books to get you started:

UCB manual : for learning the basics of improv.  If you ever plan on taking classes at UCB, you’ll need this book, so it’s worth it! Very in-depth, a great “how-to” book.

Yes, And : How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” : describes how improv can apply to many facets in our life, as well as improv on a broader basis.

How to be the Greatest Improviser on Earth: written by a UCB hero, has great tips for improving your improv.

Improv Nation : gives you a big overview of improv culture, and how it’s changed over the years.

Improv is my lifeblood. I feel better about myself, about the world, and I feel more alive with improv.  Listening, trusting, accepting, and laughing: these are the foundations of improv. Improv allows me to connect in ways I wouldn’t be able to typically, which is exactly what society needs today.  Even if performing improv isn’t your cup of tea, even just looking at the basics of the form allow you to embrace your best self. Just say yes (and)!

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