By Darren Held

The Little Wheel Thingy Goes Round and Round

by Sonnjea Blackwell

You all know how I feel about the dreaded plateaus… Not. A. Fan. And yet, there is nothing inherently wrong with a plateau, whether in improv or in anything else you might be pursuing.

As a matter of fact, plateaus are not only normal, they’re necessary. You learn a bunch of new stuff and, at some point, your brain is like, “Whoooaaaaa, Nellie!” because it has to figure out what to do with all that information. It has to store it and build new neural networks to access it and make sense of it and figure out how to implement it on demand. And for a little while, no more new stuff can get crammed in there while your brain is making sense of what it has recently learned.

You know when you’re saving a huge file on your computer, and that little wheel thingy is going around and around, and for a few minutes, you can’t do anything else? And if the wheel thingy goes around for too long, you start to worry that your computer is going to crash, only then right when you think it’s hung up… Voila! The wheel thingy stops and your file is saved and you can continue working!

That’s all that’s going on when you hit an improvy plateau. No big. It’s science, people.

The only time a plateau is dangerous is when you decide – either consciously or subconsciously – to stay there. Becoming comfortable, complacent, content (whatever C word you choose) is a sure-fire way to make what is supposed to be nothing more than a rest stop, a permanent destination.

I’m currently in (yet another) plateau. I’m happy, because this one is a result of tackling some of my deepest and most long-standing improv weaknesses. Unfortunately, for the time being, that means I’m not doing very good improv. I still recognize funny, so that’s a relief. But I’m having some trouble bringing it. I don’t care because I know from past experience that this is a temporary state and that, soon enough, I will be back to my usual hilarious self.


I had big plans to start this year off with all sorts of improvy brilliance, so the fact that the little wheel thingy chose now to start going around and around, saving some big-ass file I thought was already saved, is friggin’ annoying. On the other hand, what better way to start a new year than with the knowledge that your brain is taking a moment to sort out everything you learned last year so you can put it in place and call on that new information whenever you want?

So it’s all good. I’m pretty sure my brain won’t crash, and soon the little wheel thingy will stop going around and around and I’ll say something funny. Yay!

By Darren Held

Do I Look Like Wayne Brady?

by Sonnjea Blackwell

It’s easy to assume that, as much as I am in love with improv and all the many ways it can improve our regular lives, I must be in love with every aspect of improv.

That’s crazy talk. I mean, I love sushi. But sea urchin… not so much.

So there are certain parts of improv that I don’t embrace wholeheartedly. Oh, okay. There’s one part. Singing. Song improv. Musical improvisation. Whatever you want to call it.

Oh, and by “I don’t embrace wholeheartedly” I mean, “I friggin’ hate.”

When I signed up to do improv 5 years ago, I signed up to make up scenes on the spot based on audience suggestions. I did not sign up to sing those scenes to the audience. I am not Wayne Brady, okay?

But as fate would have it, Fearless Leader Darren Held is all about the music these days. Which means, whether or not I hate it, I have to do it.

But here’s something I learned after botching a song in our show last Saturday night… as with any other part of improv, commitment will carry you. Sadly, I learned this on Monday, after I failed to commit in my musical number on Saturday, but better late than never, I say. A musical improv instructor explained that if you stand up straight, with good posture and LOOK like you are great singer… well, you won’t necessarily SOUND like one, but you’ll commit to your song and the words will flow more easily and the audience won’t be cringing with worry about whether or not you’re going to have a stroke on stage. Sing off key! Lose the rhythm! Screw up simple rhymes! Just do it boldly and with confidence and bravado, and the audience will love it.

The truth is, that is WAY more fun to watch than a scared person quivering onstage who somehow manages to squeak out a perfect song.

I’ll be honest – I don’t like having bad scenes. Nobody does. We all want to hit it out of the park and make everybody laugh. So I’m not thrilled that I bailed and let my fear show in my musical number. But it was also good for me to experience that and to remember how terrifying it is to do something that far out of my comfort zone, because that’s what I expect of my new students every session. It would be easy to forget how frightening improv can be in the beginning, and I never want to take for granted how much my new students are pushing themselves. Sometimes it’s good for me to be thrust into a situation that scares the bejeebers out of me – and it’s even good for me to fail in the attempt – just so I always remember what I’m asking others to do every single week.

But for all our sakes, I’ll try to remember the advice I got this week and sing it like I mean it next time. And to Richard and Sean, who carried that scene – thank you, and I’ll do better next time. Pinky swear!

By Darren Held


by Sonnjea Blackwell

Let’s talk about buts. That’s one “t” buts, people. Don’t get all excited; this isn’t that kind of blog.

In improv, you not only want to agree, you also want to ADD some information of your own. That’s why the rule is “yes, and” and not just “yes.” The thing that happens when you say “but” is you’ve actually subtracted information.

Yeah. Improv = math. Wait till we get to word problems.

The reason that “but” takes information away is because it negates or neutralizes what came before it. Even though you said “yes,” the “but” that follows it cancels out the information you’re saying yes to. It’s not as strong a negative as a flat-out no or denial, but it’s close.

But is also a way of making things okay, which of course you never want to do in improv either. If I say I hate you and you respond with, “But I’m really not that bad. You just don’t understand me,” you’ve sorta neutralized my feelings towards you AND made yourself not so hateable, and in essence you’ve taken information away from the scene. Now we have to find something else. On the other hand, if you respond with, “Arrrghh. I know! I killed your cat!” you’ve added information and we have another building block in our scene.

So just imagine the word “and” as a + sign, and the word “but” as a – sign. That made everything crystal clear, right?

Yes, and…

By Darren Held

Decisions, Decisions

by Sonnjea Blackwell

One of the most important skills that improv teaches is one we rarely talk about. It’s just such an inherent part of any improv exercise or game, that we don’t even list it amongst the rules; and yet, it dawned on me today that we should really call more attention to it.

I’m talking about making decisions.

Improv is all about making an instant choice. You get a suggestion from the audience, and BAM! you gotta make a decision as to what that means to you and go with it. You don’t get to wait, or weigh the options, or make a long list of pros and cons. You have literally about 2 seconds to decide what you’re going to do. And, having made your choice, you have to commit to it 100%.

Holy crap! That sounds scary when I spell it out like this. No wonder we don’t talk about it in class much; everyone would run screaming from the building.

It is scary, of course, which is why oftentimes students really DON’T commit 100%. In the back of our minds, we’re thinking, “Dammit, that was a stupid choice. I’ma hold back a little so nobody thinks I’m in love my idea because it’s clearly a really stupid idea.”

I know that’s what you think sometimes, because that’s what I think sometimes. But the thing is, you MADE A CHOICE. You instantly made a decision, which many people struggle to do in their day-to-day lives. Some more than others, of course. I was trapped behind a lady at Trader Joe’s yesterday who seriously could not decide between potato chips and corn chips. For the love of god, woman, neither choice will result in WWIII. Pick a bag and get out of the way!

But I digress. The thing is, we agonize over so many of our decisions in life. And for what? I mean, really, unless you are in fact a brain surgeon or a nuclear physicist or the guy who pushes the button when we’re at Def Con 1, making the “right” decision is crucial maybe 10% of the time. The other 90% of our lives, it really comes down to making A decision and then playing it out.

It’s what comes after the decision that really matters, right? Your commitment and adaptability and going with the flow and all that. But we stop ourselves at the decision part. Improv doesn’t let us stop there. You literally have no choice but to make a choice. Yay you!

I guess I just wanted to write this to point out to all of you that you ARE able to make decisions, even split-second decisions – I see you do it all the time! So give yourselves credit for that ability, and let it carry over into your real life. Don’t agonize so much. When life throws you some random suggestion, make an instant choice, commit and see where it takes you.

Or don’t. Your call. It’s just a suggestion.

By Darren Held

What Happens In Improv Class?

by Sonnjea Blackwell

With the first 2014 session of improv classes set to kick off next week, I realized some of you may not know what to expect in a beginning improv class. So let me enlighten you!

Unlike certain other improv schools in the greater Los Angeles area who shall remain nameless, Held2gether is not designed specifically FOR people who are or want to be in the entertainment industry. We welcome those people, of course (Welcome, entertainment person!) but we have structured our classes to be accessible to anyone. ANYONE can do improv. It’s not a special power handed down to only the elite few, you know. If that were the case, I sure as heck wouldn’t be here, what with my stunning lack of eliteness and all.

Anyway, shows like Whose Line have made brought much more awareness to improv comedy, which is both good and bad. It’s good because people know what it is and see how fun and exciting it can be. It’s bad because people watch the show and think, “Wow! It’s magic! I could never do that!”

Improv is magical, in the sense that just by playing games that seem to have no purpose whatsoever, you get braver and more outgoing and more willing to share your ideas and more accepting of others… That’s effing magical, for sure. However, what you see on Whose Line is the magic of television. There are edits and cuts and bloopers and outtakes, and I’ve seen video of them trying about eleventy billion times to get through ONE version of Irish Drinking Song.

So the final 2-minute bit that we see on TV might’ve taken 2 hours to get. People think they have to be able to do that perfect bit in improv class, when the truth is even the masters of improv didn’t do that perfect bit! It’s trickery and subterfuge.

Hmmm… it looks like I went off on a tangent. That’s odd, that almost never happens.

Anyway, my point was this: In H2G’s beginning improv classes, we do games and exercises that will be fun and challenging (hopefully in that order). Everyone is super nice and friendly, and the class is always uplifting and supportive; no matter how scared you are, you will be FINE in our classes because our #1 goal is to support you in YOUR goals. Ultimately, the games and exercises will help you build the foundation of good improvisation. What you do with that is totally up to you – you can use it to get along better with your boss, or to be less shy, or to ask out the person you’ve been too afraid to ask out, or to do better in auditions – I don’t judge. No, really. No matter what Stacie told you, I really don’t care what you use your improv skills for. I just want you to HAVE them.

Classes start next week.

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