Comedy improv could be considered the worst form of public speaking ever imagined. Not only do you have to get up in front of a group of strangers and talk, but you have to do it with no lines, no notes, and no other form of preparation. The only resources you have are your wit and the people on stage with you (who also have no idea what they are going to say). And to top it all off, you’re supposed to be funny.
To some this may sound like some cruel form of torture, but for me it is the best therapy available. After performing on an improve team for five years, I’ve seen the affect it has on people (both on stage and in the audience), and I have discovered that I believe in improv.
Every Saturday morning my improve team gets together and “practices” improv. Often people will ask how you are supposed to practice something that you make up on the spot. Our common response to this question is to say that we practice the skills of improv, such as miming the environment we are in or just sharpening our wit. This is one way of describing what my team does each Saturday. The other was is to say that we get together and play for three hours. I think we refrain from giving this response because it sounds strange to say that a group of adults is “playing.” But that’s exactly what we are doing, and it is part of what makes improv such a great medicine.
At the end of each week my team and I spend three hours forgetting about the stresses of work and school, and we simply let our inhibitions go and have fun. It’s a lot like a group of kids getting together to play pretend. One minute I’ll be pretending to be a kangaroo car salesman, and the next my friend and I are pretending to be two pool cleaners trying to save a live donkey chained to the bottom of the pool. It’s ridiculous, and I would probably be embarrassed to have any of my coworkers or fellow students see me acting like this. But it’s healthy. In a world that demands me to grow up and constantly be thinking about my future, it is nice to revert to my childhood days once a week.
Of course, there is more to improv than just acting like an idiot. There is also the thrill and gratification that comes with performing. There is little that can compare to the feeling of coming up with a great punch line, delivering it, and hearing the audience roar with laughter. Nothing builds confidence like that. But improv isn’t just about the glory that comes with knowing that other people think you are funny. There is a great deal of gratification that comes from knowing you brought some joy to people. At improv shows, my team and I put ourselves on stage acting like fools in order that the audience can enjoy themselves. Nothing feels better than real, primal, from-the-gut laughter, and being able to give that to people feels great. People look their best when they are laughing, and improv allows me to bring that out in people.
Improv affords me a way to let out all of the childishness that school and work demand me to keep bottled up inside of me. It is my light at the end of long weeks filled with exams and papers. Improv has taught me the power of laughter, and because of that I believe in performing improv.
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