We all know there are a lot of great parallels between the wonderful things we learn in improv and life skills that can help us be better people. Becoming a masterful and attentive listener, always looking for a collaborative opportunity to say “Yes and”, taking care of your needs first so that you’ll have the strength to support others; all these skills translate well to making us more fulfilled friends, family members, and even employees or bosses.
However, there are some other improv lessons that will lead to your death or disfigurement.
Making it Worse
In an improv scene we know that the path to heightening often leads right through the choice to subtly worsen the circumstances the characters find themselves in. In comedy it is fun to make our neat-freak girlfriend pick up our dirty underwear, then find a can of rotten beans we fed the (now sick) cat, and finally to puke right inside her brand-new shoes.
In real life, we would have to find a new place to live.
Don’t Talk About It / Calling out the Game
Communication is the key to healthy interpersonal and business relationships, but in improv we know to never mention what is really happening on a deeper level at any given moment. If we lived our lives that way we’d be so tangled in deceit and ignorance we couldn’t see our hands in front of us. In summation: in a scene never outright say that you resent your friend for showing you up and are therefore trying to get them arrested – in real life you should talk about it before it gets that far…
For a group scene we often adopt two perspectives: that way things stay nice and tidy and we can heighten quickly. Having only two points of view also guarantees that any conflict will stay just as it is; if no one switches sides or goes off on a tangent, the circumstances of the scene can become more dramatic but are certain not disappear all together. So yeah, in an actual group situation try to avoid having two sides, unless you’re idea of a fun time is the cold war.
In improv we frequently play a game that presupposes that a character acts a certain way all the time, and that he or she will never change or grow.
Try that out with a lover sometime.
Keep bandages and whiskey handy.
Also on the short list of ways to make a good improv scene that will also result in a black eye, is the idea of using everything someone says to get further along an emotional trajectory. Sure, getting increasingly pissed, frightened, or sad in improv is a golden ticket to fascinating-land, and yet we can all easily see how unwise it feels to do that off stage.However, going kookoo joyful can be just as bad. Think about it: it is awesome to be psyched about a cookie, but you will lose friends if you are psyched about your sister’s cancer and your mom’s abortion. So, maybe you owe someone an apology letter?