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by Darren Held

By Sonnjea Blackwell

I’m not sure if Lisa was egging me on, or in some way insinuating that I would be unable to tie Breakfast Club and Beverly Hills Cop to improv, but in any event I certainly don’t want to let her down. So here are important improv skills found in 80s movies, and ways to apply those important skills to your own life. Of course, Held2gether improv classes in Long Beach are probably a better way to learn these skills, but consider this a preview.

Beverly Hills Cop
Premise: A hilarious Detroit detective is a fish-out-of-water in uptight Beverly Hills and uses his unorthodox approach to solve crimes the by-the-book cops can’t solve. Lots of shooting and swearing.

Improv skill: Thinking on your feet. Axel Foley was never at a loss in any situation. Being staked out? Put a banana in the tailpipe. Notice a guy in a long jacket on a warm day? Assume he’s a robber and pull a gun on him.

How it applies to daily life: Not that we’re advocating either of those exact actions, but improv classes teach you to think quickly and respond in the moment to whatever random action or information comes at you. When your boss makes an unreasonable demand, you have a quick and logical reply. When your 2-year-old throws a tantrum in Target, you handle it with aplomb. When the idiot in front of you swerves for no good reason, you react quickly and safely. All because you’ve been taught skills in staying present and thinking quickly. You’re welcome.

Dirty Dancing
Premise: The guy from the wrong side of the tracks and the sheltered girl overcome obstacles to their relationship by, um, dancing. At summer camp.

Improv skill: Commitment. Johnny stands by Penny and helps her after the botched abortion, even though he wasn’t the father. And he never outs Robbie as the father, even when Baby’s dad blames Johnny for everything.

How it applies to daily life: We talked about commitment yesterday. Learning to commit to an improv scene is helpful in learning how to commit in real life. Seriously, I’ve been in scenes that were painful to perform AND painful to watch, and you just pray for a meteor to strike you. If you can learn to stick it out when you’re that uncomfortable, you can learn to stick it out in pretty much any situation.

The Breakfast Club
Premise: A group of high schoolers with nothing in common spends a day in the library for detention and learns that they aren’t so different from each other after all. Wow, what a brilliant concept! Anyway.

Improv skill: Labeling. In improv, you want to label your partner early on with specific traits and characteristics that will help them play their part in the scene. The kids in The Breakfast Club all felt stifled and constrained by their labels – the jock, the brain, the princess, the criminal, the basket case – but giving your scene partner labels like those is the best gift you can give them, and the audience!

How it applies to daily life: Um, well… In real life, of course, none of us likes to be reduced to labels or stereotypes. HOWEVER, I promised that I can justify anything, and I will not let you (or Lisa) down. Labeling essentially comes down to giving information, and learning to be comfortable sharing information is a skill that is useful in the workplace (“Mr. Williams, we can increase productivity and profits and reduce waste by eliminating toilet paper in the bathrooms”) or on blind dates (“I’m the opposite of a vegetarian: I only eat meat”).

Of course, you can always feel free to use your REAL improv labeling skills in the workplace (“Mr. Williams, you are a pompous ass and you wink your eye whenever you say something you think is smart”) or on blind dates (“I actually hate dating, and you, and this restaurant. Just sayin'”). But we won’t be held liable for the results. Just sayin’.

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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