Friday, August 2, 2013

Improvise Your Life: Finding the Funny

"More of me comes out when I improvise."
--- Edward Hopper 

I love, love, love, love finding the funny.  I can take some pretty seriously horrible scenarios and pull out the funny like you can't imagine.  Finding the funny, I believe, can save your life.  When I was sitting in an oncologist's office discussing my youngest son's adrenal tumor when he was seven weeks old, I started cracking jokes.  "So, doc, he's gonna be TOTALLY laid back, right?  This missing adrenal gland will make him the Spiccoli of his generation?"  Pulling the humor out of a situation keeps everything in perspective for me.

Our SUPER FUNNY Harold team.  See me in the red?
A few years ago, I took improv classes at this amazing theater in Carrboro, NC called the Dirty South Comedy Theater.  I was looking for something new to stretch my mind and, let me tell you, THIS was IT.  I ended up taking a series of classes, becoming a member of the company for a brief time and performed on a Harold team in the Del Close Marathon in New York City.  Have I mentioned I'm a bit of an extremist?

If you've never taken time to see a comedy improv show OR take an improv class, you should RUN to your nearest comedy theater to try it.  (HIGHLY recommend DSI if you are in NC.  Highly.  They have tons of classes..and they're so not even paying me to say that so that means it's true. I drove over an hour at least once a week for two years to take classes and perform there.)  Here's the basic gist:  the performers take a suggestion (or two or three or more!) from the audience and then they perform funny (hopefully) skits that are made up totally on the spot for your amusement.  That's breaking it down to a very base level...what the performers actually do is SO MUCH MORE than that.

But the performances are not what changed me.  I'm talking change at a BASE LEVEL.  What happened during my experience with improv is that my whole mindset...shifted.  I took the concepts we learned in class and on the stage and I started applying them to my LIFE.  And it worked beautifully.

All I ever needed to know in life, I learned in improv.  

  • Yes, and.  This is a basic principle of improv.  You have to AGREE with whatever your scene partner says (that's the "yes" part) and then you have to ADD something to move the scene along (which is, obviously, where the "and" comes in).  Here's an example:  Say, your partner holds out his empty hand and says "Here is your trophy for winning the Nobel Peace Prize."  If you looked at it his outstretched hand and said, "That's not a trophy, it's NOTHING, you idiot," then the scene would be over and no fun would be had.   BUT, if you agreed that it was a trophy and then added your on idea, magical things can happen.  "I'm thrilled to win this trophy.  (Take a bite and chew solemnly.)  WHO KNEW these things were made of chocolate?  I LOVE the Swedes!" then you might have the start of a scene.  If you apply this principle to your LIFE, you might be amazed at what happens.  Try it today.  Seriously.  Next time someone comes up to you with an idea, don't shoot holes in it (like you usually do, right?).  When your colleague comes up and says "We should have Mexican for lunch today," you don't have to respond with "No, I hate you."  Nothing funny can come of that.  Instead you can say, "Yes, Mexican sounds great....and we should drive separately."  Then you can go back to your desk in amusement while he scurries off to find his car keys.  See?  Totally works!
  • Support your scene partners.  This kind of carries "Yes and" a little further.  If you're on stage with someone and they're trying their damnedest to make some stuff up on the fly and you shoot down every idea they have, they are a) not going to like you very much and b) might actually wet themselves from crashing and burning in front of a live audience.  If someone I was in a scene with said they were a purple gorilla, by golly I offered them a banana.  They were grateful for the banana and it left them free to grunt wildly and leap across the stage to fulfill some unmet childhood need.  Same principle in life again:  support the people on your team.  Lend your spouse a hand.  Talk to your kids.  REALLY listen to your friends.  Be present.  Ask the people you care about what they need...and then give it to them.
  • Don't be afraid.  OK, I can't remember if this is the EXACT concept I learned in improv, but it's what I carried with me.  You're out there making stuff up in front of a whole bunch of strangers.  Take a deep breath and just go for it.  Relax.  Let your imagination take you somewhere.  You don't need to know where it ends when you start....but GET STARTED.  Life is like this.  I don't know about you, but no one handed me a script when I was born and said, "Kel, learn these lines."  Every day of your life is improv.  You're just making stuff up.  Keep it fresh, OK?  
I loved my days in improv.  I may try my hand at it again at some point.  Or not.  Life is full of so many awesome things to learn from, isn't it?  I've been thinking of fly fishing...and learning to play the piano...Until I decide what my next Great Adventure will be, however, I'll still be here finding the funny.

Seriously.  Go find an improv class today.  Yes!  (And we'll just see what happens, won't we?)

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