The unusual medical test I had to take the following morning at 8am required staying up all night without the assistance of caffeine. Trying to stay awake while staring at the clock at home sounded more stressful than doing so roaming around out on the town.
So I searched the Internet for things to do at midnight on a Tuesday in July in Los Angeles. A small comedy club in Hollywood advertised an open mic night. I figured laughter would be a good way to christen my overnight adventure. It would be my first stop.
On that night, rather unexpectedly, each of the comics ran out of material before his ten-minute set ended. There were only seven of us in the joint. Suddenly, I was invited up to the stage to pick up their slack, and accepted.
“I am not a comedian,” I deadpanned into the mike. The stand-up comics laughed. “No, really, I’m not. I’m just going to tell a few funny stories about my life.” And then did, continuing to improvise for them for the full ten minutes! I felt like I had a captured a momentary glimpse into my past…and into who I still was as a person.
The rest of the night, while taking photos of neon lights around Hollywood, I thought: I used to make people laugh. I used to make a good living in front of people as a corporate trainer. I used to love being in front of an audience. I used to be social. I used to be razor sharp and intellectually nimble. I used to make shit up.
I had lost all of those qualities in an unexpected – and lengthy – health crisis that took me away from my job, friends and joy. My focus, necessarily, became my physical health. In continuing to rehabilitate myself physically, I have discovered rebuilding my psychological and social well-being to be just as vital.
One afternoon shortly after my comedy club debut, I saw a Held2Gether flyer tacked on the bulletin board at Hot Java coffee shop in Long Beach. It caught my eye and I got to thinking:
Improv isn’t stand up; it could be better. I’ll learn something new. It’ll force me to be social. I’ll have to work with sharp people to create something together on the fly. I’ll laugh my ass off. And I can make lots of shit up.
Hmmm, improv could be a fun and effective method for brain rehab.
Instead of debating the merits of stand up vs. improv and doing it vs. researching it, I just said “yes” and signed up for a Level 1 course.
Throughout the first six weeks, my brain pounded at the new rules, the nimble social interactions and emotional commitment required to be a basic player in improv. But it wasn’t a headache causing the pounding; it was the painfully glorious feeling of force feeding my creatively-starved cerebellum the tasty brainfood it had been missing for so long. I howled with laughter – and was making others laugh – more than I had since 2012 when I had fallen ill.
I finally started “getting it” the last two weeks of class and really started to see the beauty and genius behind improv therapy. It provided the structure, tools and platform to rebuild the social and psychological confidence that I had once possessed. But it was also an activity that stimulated my creativity, brought me joy and provided me a sense of connectedness with like-minded people.
Truly, where else would I find other smart loons willing and able to instantly drop their egos and consciously collaborate in the name of fun? The answer: nowhere. My second class starts tonight!
Improv has provided me the gift of healing, hilarity and happiness. It’s boosted my conversational confidence. So many relationships have improved and blossomed because of it. Improv is not just for budding comedians and thespians; it’s for anyone wanting to improve themselves.