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by Darren Held

I talk about the rules of improv all the time. Agreement, adding information, commitment, not asking questions, not being sarcastic, not bailing, you name it. Some of you know my improv-y pet peeves by now. And most of you know that I am BIG on playing by the rules… but you might not know why.

I’ma tell you. Cause, you know – that’s how I do.

It’s not because I’m so enamored of rules in general. I don’t like being constrained by rules and regulations any more than the next person. But there is a time and a place to rebel, and smack dab in the middle of your improv scene is neither.

Unlike not swimming for 30 minutes after you eat, the rules of improv are not designed to keep you from having fun. To the contrary, they are designed to help you have MORE fun. That’s because the rules (if we must call them that) define the structure of the game of improv, within which funny stuff is simply more likely to happen. To me, doing good improv is the goal and that’s what I want to have happen – and the rules are there to assist in that endeavor. I can be a rebel and deny my scene partner, or choose not to add information, opt not to commit, ask questions, be sarcastic, bail when I don’t like something… and what have I accomplished? I have created bad improv, which (unless you are doing bad improv on purpose at a party at my house) is not nearly as much fun as doing good improv.

When you roll your windows down and drive along PCH at 95 mph on a sunny day singing Life is a Highway at the top of your lungs, you get the rush of speed and the feeling of freedom – and breaking the rules makes sense. Or so I’m told. Not that I would ever break the law. Ahem.

But when you break the rules in improv, there’s no rush. There’s no feeling of freedom. There’s just the blech feeling in the pit of your stomach when your scene tanks and there’s no way to save it.

So try not to think of the rules as rules. Think of them as your friends. Your friends who really, really want you to succeed at this improv thing.

They’re nice friends.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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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