By Paul T

Improv as brain rehab? Yes, please!

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.

By Darren Held

Welcome to the Family

One of the things that continues to blow my mind about improv is the sense of community it provides. I was reminded of this once again last Friday night. I attended the “H2g Playground” , a monthly community event designed to give improv enthusiasts an opportunity to perform, watch or socialize in a relaxed happy hour type environment. The idea kicked off last month, and this was its second outing. I really didn’t know what to expect.


What turned out was a diverse group of people full of warmth and laughter. Plenty of current and former students showed up and put their names in a hat to perform with troupe members. Their friends came to support them. To my surprise, there was a rather large pocket of people I hadn’t seen before. They came in couples and groups. They sat by themselves at first, yet eventually began mingling with everyone else.


As the show started, students’ names were randomly pulled from a hat, leading to excitement for every scene. Each performer received a huge round of applause, and everyone in the audience became personally invested in their success. It was more like a birthday party than a show. As intermission arrived, we all felt like we knew each other. But we didn’t. Who were those folks that I hadn’t recognized?


As I rose to introduce myself, I was stunned to discover a handful of folks who had never been to an improv event before. They came for the good cause (all proceeds benefit an Improv Scholorship Program), to mingle with creative people, and see what improv was like. This was an unexpected highlight of the night.   I was delighted that their first experience with improv was one of warmth, laughter and encouragement.


At home in bed, I thought about it some more. What was so surprising? Improv has a way of creating community. I have been involved in the art for 15 years, and each school, each city, has a unique personality, an inviting place for eccentric individuals to call home. I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I hope we can continue expand our family, and share the joy of laughter.

By Chris Brennan

First Class Personality Disorder


Oof..that first time…after being away from it for a couple of months…or years. So much can go wrong.  So many thoughts.  Too many.

Nerves kick in…I am not comfortable in this new space…I want to do the best job possible for my partner, but I feel like I am letting them down. Am I going too fast? Too slow? Am I trying to hard? Am I being judged? Does my partner notice just how much I am sweating here?

Why did I do this to myself again? I totally could have been home nursing an IPA or 4 and watching “Million Dollar Listing” with my dog, Murphy.

But here I am. Trying so hard to be “present”…”in the moment”…”vulnerable”. I want to give myself up to the night. I want this night to be glorious.

Wait..did the teacher just write something down about me?

I have been performing in front of people off and on now for about 25 years…so why am I always so uptight about the first day of a new improv class?

On this first day of class, I am overflowing with multiple personalities. Yes, if you must know, I am a Gemini, but this is freaking ridiculous.

I am the “I’m Not Good Enough” Chris. This is the me that expects to walk in and immediately be told “Chris, you really really suck. Not just as an improviser, but as a human. Just really really awful.” This me is fully anticipating that everyone in this room will at least be at the level of those dudes on that improv show. Not only that, but they will all hate me for just how terrible I am.

I am the “I’m Better Than You” Chris. This is the me that tells myself “Hey, I’ve lived in New York”. This particular me seems to think that paying exorbitant rent to live in a closet, eating Cup of Noodles daily, and being wayyy too comfortable with the smell of human urine, somehow makes me better at improv than anyone else in the room.

I am the “Competitive Improv” Chris. A psychotherapist would tell you that this is clearly a mixture of the 2 previous personalities. In my normal day to day life, I am not competitive. I don’t really understand someone like Kobe Bryant and his sick obsession with winning. Actually, I would rather you win, so you like me more. (That’s perhaps another personality for another time.)But something happens when the first class starts. I lose all sense of reason, and somehow try to “win” at improv. I want to show everyone that I am the most funny, have the quickest ideas, and am the generally the best improviser in the history of improv. (Screw you, Greg Proops!) During our scene, who cares what you have to say? This ain’t about “listening”! I will say what I want, and I will win the day!

The sad truth Is, of course, that no one “wins” at improvisation. In fact, the only way you can “lose” at improvisation is when you try to “win”.

I have just begun my 3rd class with Held2Gether. Yes, the personality disorder still exists, but because of the warm, accepting styles of Kendra and Darren, I find myself moving through the personalities with relative ease. They have somehow created a culture here that seems to be unique among other classes I have taken. A culture that places an emphasis on acceptance and joy and this thing called “play”.

It may take a few more classes to finally be rid of the First Class Personality Disorder, but that’s okay, I can always Tivo “Million Dollar Listing”.


-Chris Brennan

By Kendra Nicholson

You Look Great in Feathers

There are many rules of instruction when it comes to improv comedy, but you’ll often hear that the #1 rule is:  “Say Yes!”  Perhaps it’s a variant of this, like:  “Listen to your partner,” or “Never Deny.”


So, what do you do when, given a scene that takes place on a farm, your scene partner comes out on stage and clucks, “I’m A Chicken!”?  Suddenly, all those other rules your improv teachers drove in, freak your sensibilities:  Be Human! Do Object Work! Create an Important Relationship! Ground your scenes in reality!  And here this fool comes out as a chicken and ruins it all for you!


These choices may arise:


  • Tell your partner they are crazy and didn’t take their medication today


  • Be the farmer and kill the chicken, mercifully ending the scene


  • Scream “No you’re not! You’re my Uncle Lou and we’re losing the farm!”


Of course none of these work, because in translation you’re stating “You’re idea sucks, so I’m going to change it.”  What I recently learned is the importance of why that person came out as a chicken. Most likely they are nervous, or green, and feel like they don’t know what the hell they are doing. We’ve all felt this way. What did you desire most at that terrifying moment? To be held like a baby and comforted while you cry? Probably pretty close!


You wanted to be taken care of.  Someone to say “Yes! I accept you, you crazy chicken, and I will do my best to remove the mad streak of terror underlying your need to cluck right now.”  This got me thinking about the true #1 foolproof rule of improv comedy:


Make your partner look good.


There are times when all improv rules need to be broken. As you can see from the above choices, those basically destroy all the good things your teachers told you anyway, so by thinking about how you can make that clucker look like a superstar, you may come up with the following:


  • Yes! I am so happy I taught you to speak, Mr. Chicken. I’ve been alone for so long on this farm!


  • Yes! I’m a chicken too! Let’s cluck up an idea on how we can escape this coop!


  • I know, Chicken Kevin, and I’m sorry to say your days are numbered. I love you, but my family needs dinner.


Will it be a rocky scene? Perhaps. But not if you continue to make your partner look like they made a great choice. You’ll be a rock star. The audience will marvel at the unexpected turn you created and will probably leave saying “My favorite was the chicken scene! Who saw that coming?”


So learn to love these moments. They are the perfect opportunity to make an anxious person smile. And perhaps even create a new genre: “Birdlesque”.




By Kendra Nicholson

Don’t Give Up!

— a blog post by Ruth Brenner
Running and improv are much alike for me.  I’m not a natural at either one, yet I keep plugging away at them because of the challenge and enjoyment I derive from both. 
I wasn’t the class clown or the kid who was in all the school plays.  Unless you count the sixth grade drama class I took instead of shop, I’ve never studied acting.  So it’s not surprising that improv has not  been easy for me.  But the thing I’ve learned is that you keep working at it.  Even when it’s not perfect – especially when it’s not perfect – you don’t quit on a scene.  Find your way through, learn what you can, make it better the next time, repeat. 
Even more so than improv, I have no natural abilities when it comes to running. I make molasses look fast.  Still I run anyway because I’m stubborn like that.  But that didn’t mean I wasn’t scared when I lined up for the start of the 2015 L.A. Marathon.  Not only was I slightly sick, but it turned out to be the hottest race in the event’s history. 
It was not pretty.  When it hurt the most, I repeated most of the same things I say to myself in improv: commit, don’t quit, you can do this, you have to finish because your car is in Santa Monica.  It took me a long, long time to reach the end.  Yet it was a transcendent moment because it was the toughest wall I’ve ever faced when running, and I knocked that mofo down.
By the way, Ryan Hall, the fastest American marathoner EVER, was in the race.  I beat him…because he didn’t finish.  It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t give up.
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