By Darren Held

Are You Gonna Get a Job Doing the Improv?

Today’s improv wisdom comes from my homie, Kendra Nicholson:

I was talking on the phone to my dad who lives in Missouri. After a few moments of yelling, he finally put in his hearing aid so we could converse at normal levels. He asked what I was doing, and I told him I was getting ready for improv class. We then had this conversation:

DAD: You get paid to do that acting stuff?

ME: First of all, it’s not acting. Improv is completely different than acting, and secondly… No. I do not get paid to do it.

DAD: Well, when you’re done with them classes, are you gonna get a job doing the improv and then get paid?

ME: Ummm… No.

DAD: Then why do you do it? What’s the point?

ME: I do it because I love it. I do it because it’s changed my life for the better. We learn to say “yes” in improv. We learn to just accept what is happening in the scene and run with it. I find myself saying “yes” a lot more in my daily life too. I’m learning to be more spontaneous and to stop planning so much. When you stop planning and worrying about what’s going to happen later, when you let go of your agenda, you can just be in the moment. It carries over into my daily life. You can simply concentrate on what is happening right now, and let those anxious feelings go. Improv has helped me become a better listener. We learn to hear everything our scene partner says before we respond, and when that carries over to your everyday life, it’s a wonderful thing. I used to find myself planning my responses to people I was talking to as they were still talking. I would simply be waiting until it was my turn to say something too. I wasn’t really listening to all of the information. I was just getting bits and pieces. I think most importantly though, I laugh a lot more. I find humor in places I never looked for it before. I have also met some amazing people. I have so much fun with my improv peeps. They are an incredibly supportive and funny group of people. So… That’s why I take improv classes.

DAD: (Crickets… Crickets…)

ME: Dad? Are you still there?

DAD: Huh? Oh… Yeah… I’m here.

ME: Did you hear anything I just said?

DAD: Not really, sis. When I put in my hearing aids, I was able to hear the TV, and that Judge Judy gal was really lettin’ some fella have it! Do you watch Judge Judy?

ME: No. No, I don’t watch Judge Judy.

DAD: What were saying about that acting thing?

ME: Not much. Just that it’s helped me become a better listener.

DAD: Oh. I already know how to do that.

ME: Yeah. You’re a great listener. Can I talk to Mom?

By Darren Held

Anxiety About Improv? Awesome!

And now a word (well, a few hundred words) from our Fearless Leader, Darren Held! Yay!

About three days a week, I wake up with a pang of anxiety about starting my day. What could happen, and what if it doesn’t go the way the film reel is running in my head? And what will people say about me when they see me in this state? Then I look to my cat, Moto, for answers. As usual, she is confident and self-consumed. Not much help. All this thinking and trying to change my anxiety usually makes things worse. Yet inevitably, once I start doing the numerous things running through my head, I’m fine. I’m present. I’m enjoying the productivity.

It’s Not Too Late…

I remember how anxious I used to get in my early improv classes. I’d be on the highway headed to L.A., watching every exit, thinking “You can still turn back and go home, it’s not too late”. Perhaps I’d had a bad day and thought it would be best not to share my freaky energy with everyone. Then I’d get to class, waiting my turn to go on stage, and I’d be eyeing the door (“It’s not too late, you can still slip out”). But you know what? I didn’t. And once I finally got on stage, I used that anxiety to my benefit. And that is a beautiful thing about improv comedy.

Energy, no matter where it’s stemming from, is energy. And energy is king in improv. So taking your anxiety and transferring it into a character can offer great richness to a scene. You can take your shaky, anxious self on stage and create an anxious character, and guess what – people will believe it! Because you are inhabiting the truth of that character. As long as your neurotic character reacts to the information in the scene through that point of view. Expressing that much needed emotion can also be extremely cathartic, and about $105 less per hour than a good shrink.

Energy Is Energy

When you don’t want people to notice your nerves, you stuff it down. Stuffing the energy down gets you in your head and makes things worse. You don’t always have to play anxious – you can use those nerves to create someone who is elated, horrifically depressed, or outrageously horny. Any of those grand feelings work when you realize that energy is just energy, and let it work for you.

You may even want to try it at the dentist.

By Darren Held