Improv is a tricky thing. A damn tricky thing. When you’re in practice, you just want to be good. And when you’re on a stage, you just need to be good. And with all the techniques you’re been studying – the ‘yes and’ing, the ‘if that then what else’, the ‘playing to the top of your intelligence’ – it sounds simple enough, right?
Every once in a while, it actually does feel quite simple. Everything comes together beautifully. Your brain is clicking and your energy level is right where it needs to be. You and your team are having the time of your lives up there, while the audience pays you back in laughter. I can’t accurately describe the fantastic feeling you get when you make a connection in your head, play it, and a collective burst of laughter emerges from the darkness behind those lights. At the risk of sounding lame as shit – it makes you feel alive. Like the most powerful person on the planet. “Muahaha! Yes, you will all laugh when I tell you to laugh, and I shall live forever!”
But on the flip side, and perhaps more often than not, there are those times you are up on that stage with those lights in your face and so many ideas are flashing through your mind that you can’t seem to catch one long enough to use it. The result of this inability to make a decision is the empty sound of crickets in the audience. That is the purest feeling of ‘failure’. You want to apologize, “I’m so so sorry, you guys. Maybe we should just call it quits today and you can all come back tomorrow and I’ll try to make you not hate me again?”
The easiest way to get through these bad days is to remember that it will all be over soon. Someone will sweep the scene and you can head back to the safe world of leaning against the back wall, watching your team members pick up the slack and do that thing for the audience that makes them laugh and laugh. And in a few moments, they’ll forget about the catastrophe you just created up there. But the bad news about this is that this “safe world” against the back line totally and completely sucks! I mean, it SUUUCKS. It’s boring and shameful and NOT the reason you spend all that time practicing improv, watching improv, and studying improv.
In my experience, when I’m spending too much time on the back line, it’s because I’m so far inside my head that nothing on the outside happens. And all the audience gets to see is a coward, and this cheats them. They didn’t pay money to watch someone stand still and think up funny stuff in their mind for a half hour. They paid to see funny stuff.
My last three shows I feel I have been acting a coward. This is not who I want to be. Not in improv, and also – not in life.
So in my efforts to find the root of the problem, I’ve been forced to trace this cowardly behavior all the way from leaning against the back wall, to how I act on a day-to-day basis outside of improv.
And I’ve found that there are situations and things in my general life that need to change. This couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s Thanksgiving next week. Christmas is right around the corner. And after that? Ah yes, 2010.
The Coward Inside: But, changing things means you won’t know what will happen. That’s so scary!!!
The Rest of Me: Shut the fuck up.
I’m going to change a lot of things in 2010. Big things. And if you’ve been finding yourself acting cowardly lately, then maybe you should think about changing some things too. Because ultimately, making bold and confident decisions the only way to get the laughs, and that’s really all we want anyway, right?