questions photoPhotos by Raymond Bryson

Why improv?

I just started a brand new class this week teaching the Art of Improvisation. As I was driving to class with David (my partner in crime for this session), we were discussing the finer points of the class itinerary (e.g. what we were going to do if nobody showed up, or if everybody showed up).

As we were talking about what to do and say (you know, two improvisors planning what to say) David says, “Ask them why they are here.”

It seems like a good question to ask new students. You know how to market the next class, what sales technique worked, get to know what newcomers wanted, needed and were looking for. So I did, and I got the run of the mill answers. People looking to meet people, people wanting to learn something new, people wanting to try a different way of thinking. One guy lost a game of rock-paper-scissors. These are all great answers that improv teachers get all the time. These are also the same answers most improv teachers give themselves. They are very honest and very true. While being very similar, they are still deeply personal and unique in their own way.

But as I thought about it, while being honest answers, they didn’t really say why they chose The Art of Improv. Like, as opposed to learning the art of dancing, or the art of art. Why pick a relatively obscure form of performance art to try your hand in? Improv is not the easy A of the art world(which is interpretive dancing by the way). Anybody who has seen improv has seen it fail. Veteran improvisers can almost always recall a recent bad show, or scene that went terrible. (In my most recent performance, both David and I played in the first scene, and both of us thought it blew. Luckily for the audience, the rest of the team decided to play way better than us for the rest of the night)

So why improv? Why not dance? The people you meet will most likely be in far better shape. Or why not take up painting? You get a real tangible thing you can put up on your wall, impress your friends. Or learn some lines, become an actor! You might even make some money.

But in improv, none of that. The people you meet will most likely be in just as bad a shape as you are, because just like you, they would rather get together and joke around than work out. And you won’t get to take it with you when you are done. It’s one time and it’s done, you don’t get to look at it on your wall and wonder if you could have done it better, you don’t get to judge your improv. In fact, most Improvisors have already forgotten their shows by the time they get off stage. And you won’t really get to play all the great roles of Shakespeare, or any of the famous roles, really. If you do, you will probably be playing it with your tongue firmly in cheek, rather than for drama and acclaim.

So. Why. Improv?

This whole blog is not to firmly discourage people from taking my class, or anybody’s class. I just thought about it and I figured, if I, a guy who dedicates a bunch of his life to this art-form, a guy who teaches this art-form, if I can think of all these reasons why not to do improv, so can everybody else.

Clearly I am pro-improv. There are plenty of other people who agree, lots of people smarter and more successful than I ever will be have written lots of papers about why improv is good for you, your heart, your brain, your business, etc. So this is where I should do the dramatic turn and refute all of my previous argument like all those smarty-pantsez, right?

But I can’t.

The simple truth is that The Art of Improvisation is an imperfect art. It doesn’t always do what it sets out to do.  When you dedicate yourself to this art form, you work really hard without having much to show for it. And when you actually do it live, with a huge audience, and do have a great time, you can’t always put your finger on why it was good.

Improv is an imperfect art, and the improviser is an imperfect artist. That is what makes it beautiful. And that is what makes an improviser beautiful. And that’s why audiences enjoy the art so much when they see it. Because it’s not perfect, it’s not practiced, and it’s not always being done by the best looking smartest or “best” people out there. The Art of Improv is done by regular old imperfect people working together. Regular old imperfect people creating together. And regular old imperfect people getting together to have a good time.

That’s why improv.