These past eight weeks, I’ve been doing improv class every Saturday at Second City. Our instructor, Mark, gave us two great insights, which I think are worth sharing.
The first was to not try to drive the scene; to not have a pre-conceived notion of what you want to do when you go in. You just want to go in blind, and say the first thing that comes into your head. Whatever happens, happens. If it doesn’t go the way you planned it, no problem, just go with it. It’ll be better because of it.
I think this is important advice for life as well as improv. Sometimes, you just want some specific thing so bad, that if you don’t get it, you feel like everything’s ruined. For example, at one point in my life, I wanted to fall in love. And I decided I found this great woman, and really fell for her, but she just wanted to be friends.
I didn’t see at the time that being friends would’ve been for the best. If I didn’t try to drive that relationship to where I wanted it to go, hell or high water, well, maybe I’d still have a friend. If I had known, if I had been taught this (because this isn’t innate), to let things just go naturally where they want to go, it could have prevented a lot of pain. I guess that’s the essence of Buddhism, and also, that great Rolling Stones song: ‘you can’t always get what you want/but if you try sometime, you just might find/you get what you need.’
The second part we learned about is the yes-and. This means, whatever your scene partner says, you agree with it, or at least with the reality of it, and then add your own statement. Go along with it, and see where it ends up. Even if you get a ‘no’, just keep going, adding statements, and have fun. Don’t depend on an outcome, but just be there to support your scene partner and keep adding. In life, this means to be there to support your friend, and to keep adding ‘ands’. Don’t be nervous about sounding stupid, because no matter what you say, it’s you, and it’s who you are. There’s no such thing as a wrong thing to say.
In my life, there are a lot of moments I keep going back to, thinking and wishing I had said this or that, but didn’t, because of nerves, or thinking it might come across as stupid. When I invited a friend to see a show at the Pantages theatre, we were both pretty impressed by the interior of the lobby. I wanted to quote Larry David from Curb, with his classic line, ‘Well this is pretty, pretty, pretty… pretty good. Pretty good.’ But, I didn’t; I overthought it, thought it might sound dumb or she wouldn’t even know what Curb is. So I just said, ‘Well, this is pretty cool,’ or something like that.
Or the time we saw a movie, and I was sitting there on the bench in front of the theater. I was pretty nervous again, and I was looking around for her, because she was a bit late. So I saw her coming up from behind, and she said, ‘Aw, I was gonna surprise you!’
And I just said, ‘Oh, oh… yeah.’ I think about that a lot. Even in that moment, I wanted to say, ‘Well, I guess I’m just too quick for ya!’ But, I was nervous. These are the things I come back to sometimes, and turn over and over in my head. Where it went wrong.
If only Second City had come along sooner! But, lo, I go forward not with the gloom of the past weighing me down; no, I go forward with a sense of beaming bright optimism for the future, because there is always something new to learn, and where there is life, there is hope.